First, tomorrow I will post pictures of why I have been the web’s worst digital “friend” lately. More importantly – I got to a place with THG 3 where I found Deanna in placeholder mode, being written around, not about. Sad to find yourself so lame. I knew she needed to know this priest-to-be as he turns up as an aside. And I took the opportunity NOT to write in my normal voice, for exercise. No said. Tightly abbreviated action tags. Direct adverbs once in a while (sorry). A new-ish way, for me, to write internal dialogue without “Thought” or “felt” or any of those. Deanna in Cambridge, as a feminist to be, not as an afterthought. LONG READ – See if it moves along at a decent clip.
Deanna’s flat, Cambridge U.K / Early May, 1979
“Fair Deanna’s this way, Father.” Merriam caught Sheridan Wyckstone by the elbow and turned him away from the living room where a heated discussion on global finance was taking place on Cat’s couch, a discussion accompanied by two large, fresh, fragrant pizzas. “We’re none allowed in there and well for it. Boring lot of shit, theirs.” She shouldered Deanna’s stubborn bedroom door open.
“We’ve heard the same said of Chemistry and Divinity, Meri.” Over his shoulder, “Pizza would be –”
“Aye, it would, and sooner you’re on task, sooner it will be.” To Deanna, pulling on a sweater. “He’s his wee bag of tools and no Bible.” Back to Sheridan, up on him. “Earn your keep, Father, or you’ll be eating pizza here in your dreams.” A slide past him, pat on his shoulder. “Few lads have seen this room, and none gone home a’ smiling.” Merriam pulled the door closed on her way out, they heard her door open and close, continued to hear the heated but muted discussion from the couch.
“Paper walls, these flats.”
Startled, “You don’t seriously think, you and I, that this –”
“No,” rueful smile. “No. Tools out and I’m back in the shed with m’dad. Swearing like a pair of sailors gotten together. I was only eight when I learned the where and when and proper volume of it.” He shrugged out of his long divinity school cassock, saw her door missing a hook to hang it on. She took it from him, in no manner carefully folded, and laid it on the thighs of her crossed, bed sitting legs.
“You were swearing?”
“Right. Eight I was. I came out of my chair, mid evening tea, mum says, ‘And where are you off without a word?’ and I say, pointing to my half-eaten plate, ‘Don’t be daft, woman, I’m not done, just off for a piss.’ I can still feel the blow landed on my ear.” He knelt as if to pray, peered under the dresser.
“Did you have your piss?” She wanted to giggle, the first time in months, caught it.
“I did. And another whack or two and a good solid hellfire sermon. Dad got a scorcher of a ‘talk’ from mum, lasted gone half ten at least. I’ll use the best bits of both for guilting sinners from the pulpit when the time comes. Pass the torch from the bag?”
“Torch?” What the –
“Torch. Batteries. Switch it on, light in the darkness?”
“Divinity gives you an electric Jesus?” Bewildered, rummaging. “Flashlight?”
Under his breath, “Colonists and bloody women, I…shit” His hair caught in a dresser crack on the way up, he spun half around on his knees, dumped the contents of a small, dirty, oiled canvas bag out on the end of the bed. Located the stubby, means business blind you in the dark flashlight, held it up with a thumb and finger. “This is a torch.”
“Flashlight!” Giggled. “Kel-lite. A real flashlight. I’m proud of you. We used those in…” No. No stories yet for the priest to be, even as he’d opened the door. Don’t get comfortable, England’s not forever.
He looked for a face-saving response on chance that she’d heard. Couldn’t find one fitting, smart ass or on the fence, spun back down to the floor, pulled the strands of his hair from the dresser, shined the light around. “Do you have a cleaning woman?”
“We have a dust mop with a long handle that goes flat. I’m sure it has some stupid other English name. Merriam sprays lemon oil on it. I don’t like places where creepies can hide. Shoes, under furniture, I need to know what’s… Why, is there something…AHHHHHHHHH.” She screamed, swatted the hair dangling from his fingers that he’d swung up and into her face. “You asshole.” She flushed, picked up a reloaded from the tap Perrier bottle, drained it. “Ass fucking hole.”
His turn to laugh. He took an adjustable wrench, slip joint pliers and a decent sized flat head screwdriver to the floor.
Deanna shifted elbows to knees, knuckles to chin for a better view of whatever Father Sheri was going to do to unbolt her furniture, a task he claimed wouldn’t ‘take but ten’. He could have been John Lennon’s cousin. The same thin, arching nose, round glasses, perfectly straight near shoulder length dirty blond hair with a small Fifties beach bikini ingenue up-flip around the bottom. A face bordering on fishy from profile, the hair then a cartoonist’s affectation. He wasn’t a priest, yet, but Father had stuck to him from Merriam and Cat, long before Deanna’s arrival.
She found the lurid t-shirt he’d worn under the cassock, adorned with a female in very little shredded clothing along with the names of several bands she didn’t recognize in sharp contrast to his air of floaty equanimity and often mildly arrogant, unbothered and above it all priestliness. Unfair. Most of the males she’d encountered at Cambridge, scholastic and townies, plaids and crests and indies, all wore a small hatful of the same air of superiority for reasons she had yet to discover.
“What happened to your hair?” Another question from the floor in a long string of them she had answered vaguely, in monosyllables if possible, if at all. The questions followed a pattern. On the heels of unsuccessful grappling with the aging bolts.
“I cut it.” Curt. Obvious. Uninformative. “Do they teach inquisition in Divinity? To sort out possible heretics?”
“Curiosity. You’re different than when I met you fresh. Hardly a heretic.”
“I’m not. I’m the same me. I’m always the same me, no one understands that. It’s not hair or clothes or ‘pretty’, it’s…” Hardly a heretic…more haughty assholeness. “If it will stop the inquisition, here’s my whole story. I was a feminist. Am a feminist. I, well the only reason I’m here is to be a better one.” Please, that should be enough. The thump on the bottom of the dresser was the loudest one so far. Success?
“Shit!” Shocked. “Christ on a fucking stick.”
“You’ve never met a feminist? I know the church doesn’t give a damn what women think, as long as they’re obedient, but…” She’d been obedient long enough, learned all the British names for tools while she handed them back and forth, dodged his questions, asked her own, and picked up some new, possibly useful strings of profanity.
“What? Obedience?” Mumbled, his brow furrowed, knuckles of his left hand in his mouth. He pulled the knuckles from his lips, bleeding from the three between thumb and little finger.
“It was just a nick, first time. Even second. Nothing, really. But this,” hand up, concerned, angry. “Bloody piece of shit.” Frustration and shoulder slammed into the dresser, nice bobbling save on Jackson’s picture when it fell. Deanna took it, set it on the bed, assessed Father’s knuckles. Skin scraped up into ridges, white tissue exposed, bleeding.
“No bone showing. You’ll live.”
“Bandaids. And Bactine.” She was back before he’d had a chance to decide what he thought of her ass inside the slightly to outright baggy jeans she always wore, the picture of the guy she’d snatched away and if there was any heretical disobedience value in ‘feminist’ all jumbled together with a little pain.
He reached for her supplies. “I can do it.” Mildly, on the whimpery side of manly.
“One handed Bandaids on fingers and hands never work. They get wrinkly or stick to themselves and then you’re screwed.” She sat, edge of the bed, dropped the bandaging supplies, pulled him down by the wounded hand he offered, pulled Jackson’s picture out from under his butt with the other before he landed.
“Hardly.” Her quick gaze full of confused fondness. “My idiot brother got drafted by the Miami Dolphins.” A pause while she set the picture on her nightstand. “American football. He’s two of… Of this guy. You wouldn’t know it, the way he is around Doug and …” She gathered two pillows and the bandages into her lap, dropped his wounded hand on top. He leaned over, kissed her lightly, got a hard shove in the chest for the effort.
“I didn’t believe you and Cat gay for an instant, known her forever. Why the lesbian act? Him?”
“Jesus.” Eyes huge even after her lips wiped with her wrist. “Why the gay priest act?”
“I could be Episcopalian. Vicars have wives. Mum would like me a Catholic. She doesn’t do well with me and other females. Only child, y’see. Dad wanted a footballer, I never had the size. He says if I do go queer for a career don’t tell him. Act keeps the padre groupies at bay…”
“There is such a thing?”
Again. “The picture?”
Long pause, wiping Bactine overspray from his fingers with a Kleenex. “The thing about Bandaids on knuckles, they need to be tight. But you need to bend your fingers. Too tight and your finger turns blue, not tight enough and one bend, kablooey. Bodine always made our knuckle-buster Bandaids. Sport tape and non-stick gauze, antibiotic cream.” She sighed, squeezed his two good outside fingers with a vice grip he hadn’t expected.
“Bodine?” Incredulous. “You keep a picture of a Bo-Deen on your –”
“Bodine was another jock, like my brother. He got his degree in architecture and design, we worked with him all one summer. Well, Jax for two summers, that’s how we… He married a nurse I didn’t really like. Well, she didn’t like us. Amber and me. Well, not me so much, I was always the kid sister cheerleader around those guys. But Amber’s older, and she’s something. All California cool in that wispy, gauzey way. Blonde hair down to her butt like Lady Godiva. Ballet and piano lessons forever. Every move she makes is graceful and floaty.” She floated her hand up trailing an open Bandaid as demonstration. “Blind as a bat without her glasses or contacts. That’s how she met…her glasses. Jax went for my birthday present and…” Choked off again. “She had prescription work goggles, even. Really, really smart. Spacey, too. If she wasn’t cool and beautiful she’d be the biggest nerd…” an internalized laugh, a dash of smile. “She’s a lawyer now. I bet Amanda let her put the Hendrix picture in her office.” Still, his face full of questions. “Hello? Jimi Hendrix? Guitar? Amber has a picture of her big sister and her on either side of him. He signed it. Some concert. Blondie California girls and Jimi. Pretty cool.” Idly, almost dreamily, in a happier place, wrapping his middle finger with a Bandaid doomed to last an hour, less if he continued to work.
“Him?” Frustrated nod to the yellow metal frame on her nightstand.
“Oh…About him,” she tapped the frame’s glass. “I don’t know where he is. He sort of… vanished, after I… I wish,” drifted to somber, further to an inaudible but obvious spark… “What I do know,” disgusted, “is that he would never use a stupid crescent wrench on a bolt unless he was 12 and the bolt was on a bicycle. He’d have taken one look and found a socket that fit, or a box end wrench with a bunch of teeth, not a Japanese one with just six that strips out. I know because I got the cheap tool lecture so many times that summer from him and Bodine you wouldn’t believe.”
“You know tools, do you?” Slightly arrogant, some disbelief. “Then what would you advise?”
“If this was one of our reclamations, I’d know that dresser for the piece of shit it is, and the floors in this place, a couple of planks trashed, no big deal. I’d take a two-inch cold chisel and a five-pound sledge to that bolt and the hell with it when it tore a hole in the floor coming out. Jackson or Amber, one would be behind me, one would be on the floor below waiting and they’d start to pop the flooring when I’d shoved that fucking dresser down a dumpster chute. But since it isn’t mine to dump, and since the vanished guy in that picture would be laughing his ass off at me because I let a fake gay priest in a sexist trash t-shirt kiss me,” she started loading his assortment of tools into the canvas bag, wiping the sweat that transferred to her hands on her guy’s corduroy jeans, “I’ll have to figure this out myself.”
He caught her hand, not aggressive, enough to stop the tool loading. “Wasn’t much of a kiss. A peck, not a right snog.” The smile was genuine. “I’ll go for pizza,” bowing, “if you’ll forgive the misguided personal intrusion,” upright, “and old Stag-nos ‘round the corner will do. Then you’ll tell us about reclamation, my sexist shirt and the rest.”
Pizza box mostly empty, Merriam’s glass of scotch and water and Father Sheri’s Danish beer the same, Cat’s tomorrow’s bankers crew off to the pub, Deanna, mouthful of pizza, explicating.
“No, no, no,” fallen crumbs caught with her left hand. “You don’t see. I was their feminist. Amanda’s and Jackson’s. Well,” a thoughtful and polite long chew. “To be clear, I was Morisé’s feminist. And I’d had it with their attitudes, all of them. Amanda’s ‘you’re a sucker, little girl’ and all Jackson’s looks and ‘you stupid whore’ silent treatment.”
Merriam, unusually quiet, letting her talk, sipped scotch. “Sucker?”
“She said I’d never amount to anything pretending to be a feminist if I let every ‘swinging dick with a vanity tickle’ distract me. That was because in Washington, well…” Well, he had been cute, the aide. No, attractive was the big word for older guys. Too attractive. Too well dressed, his perfect suit, the right cologne, had to have shaved once an hour to stay that fresh and too full of perfect teeth and flattery and hands on her elbows and come to dinner won’t you, the Senator insists you share your insight, entertaining, one so young and bright and beautiful, so much to offer. A Women’s Conference, Jamaica, fact finding, issue quantifying, for prioritizing you see, in a few days. Ms. Morisé hadn’t said? No! How regrettable you weren’t informed, but you must. The Senator, pull some strings, get you in, don’t concern yourself with expense…
“And that wasn’t it, the vanity tickle. At all.” Protested louder than required. “I was curious, that’s all. About politicians. And, and…I had some ideas I wanted to…” She groped for some measure of credibility realized might have been lost, more to herself, possibly, than her audience.
“Politicians?” Contemptuously from not yet priest. “All politicians care about any cause – religion, feminism, anarchy, socialism – is how many voters might believe in them and how much time each gets allotted in a speech, and which are dispensable. How that makes you a, um, ‘sucker’ I don’t know, unless they meant it in the…” There was a word he wanted. Sexual? Yes –
“Not sucker that way. But I went. To Jamaica. There was no conference. Well there was, but it was a year earlier, I didn’t really look at the brochure, I was…” Suckered. Distracted. That goddam aide, drove her to the airport, shook her hand like a limp dish towel, the queer, lightweight lying… “He, uh, the Senator, he was already there when I flew down, and he wanted sucker that way, yeah. He said, out loud, he wanted to fact find how flawless my skin would be if I was completely naked under a glaze of coconut oil on the deck of his yacht. Small yacht, but… And I…I spent three days locked in my hotel room. Crescent rolls, coffee and honey butter. Nobody believed me when I got home and ragged on me non-stop. So…I thought that, well, they could all blow me, you know, go fuck themselves and I’d go here, come here I mean, and get smarter and be my own feminist.”
“Known you but a Lent Term and some, love, but I say more than the one bit of arseward forced you into our hands, and far more to the lad than he’s lost, and you were tired of being his pet feminist.” Cat turned her scotch glass, intent only on Deanna’s response.
“I…Well, shit. Okay. I think I was a bitch about it. Some of it. Maybe. Leaving, I mean. And not saying. But look,” flaring, “they didn’t have to treat me like I was stupid all the time and my ideas were too narrow or too broad or too this or too that. Or I needed constant coaching or refining and editing of everything I wrote all the time or reminding me to be a good girl and try to stay out of trouble when I traveled because I fucked up. Some. Probably a lot, sometimes, okay? But it wasn’t on purpose and it, it –”
“It gave you an excuse to run.”
Perceptive little fuck. Was it Divinity, or was it true? Priests were born, not –
“I’ve discovered dad’s bit of survival tool bag for a clergyman in training isn’t fit for fuck all.” He crossed himself, glanced heavenward. “Yes Sir. Had my swearing for the day.” A foul look at his empty tilted bottle, “I’ll have a bloke around about the dresser.”
“The last thing I want is ‘a bloke around’ about my dresser. Ass cracking plumbers and strangers? No. I told you, I’ll get it done another way. But,” shy, “thanks for the pizza. And for trying. Father.”
“Not all tradesman wear ill-fitting trousers. Know a few wear jumpsuits.” The smile again. “My pleasure. You, Hendrix’s Lady Godiva, the Destruction Giant and the mystery musician whose rib you are that kissed your finger when you needed stitches for following his lead…Can’t get that at the local.” Bandaged fingers splayed out past the pizza box. “When I couldn’t get a kiss for three. The power pull of the vagina, perhaps? Something to be considered, feminism as weapon. Or would that be femininity…” Immobile, his look confused.
“Pushing your luck, even for a pious gambler on righteousness’ side, Father. Black bag under the sink, just there,” Merriam pointed with her chin. He pulled until the bag unfurled above his waist. “Perk, lad.” Dry smile. “Chemistry lab supplies.”
“Cambridge repays in strange ways. I’m told the benefit of Divinity is the betterment of mankind’s spiritual condition.” The table trash disposed, his fingertips glanced under the tap and dried on his black jeans. “What could be the benefit, I wonder, of making of oneself an improved feminist?” A wink at Merriam, her eyes rolled, Deanna’s spring immediately over-wound.
“That right there is about some arrogant, snotty shit from a sexist, patriarchal, gender discriminating glorified altar boy would be heretic busting priest. The betterment of womankind, for a start, Mr. Blames his tools, and…”
Cat pushed Deanna back down into her chair, took the beer out of his hand before he could open it, yanked his cassock from the back of his chair and led him, dragged him to the door, opened it for him. “See what you’ve started?”
“Might be worth a listen.”
“I’ve been down this road with her, and you I’d well charge to hear her go on. Think your lot have a corner on the conversion of heathens rhetoric, think again.”