Falling toward Heaven
by John Bennion

IV. Eagle River, Alaska

[p.247] “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit,
even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
For we are saved by hope.”
—Romans 8:22-24

Chapter Sixteen

[p.249] According to the new détente, any subject was open for talk. They practiced on smaller decisions, such as whether or not he would actually fly to Juneau for marine biology courses. They weighed the cost, the time away from each other. He finally decided not. He could graduate with a degree in biology in one year at Anchorage and wait for graduate school to specialize. Meanwhile, when graduation approached, she would shop around for a job in a city which had a suitable graduate program.

“We’ll talk about swearing next,” he said.

“Hell no,” she said. “Do you want me weighing my words when I talk to you?”

“Yes.”

One day when she was just back from the North Slope, he drove her up above Eagle River, about half an hour from Anchorage, and showed her a wooded plot. He spread slick brochures across the hood of the Mustang—Lincoln Log structures in various stages of completion. “You buy the precut logs and just put them together.” She stared at his excited face and laughed at the strange rhythm of her life, at Eliot’s fables coming true. He presented her with a list of building materials that reminded her of Thoreau’s list at the beginning of Walden:

[p.250] precut logs—$12,000
foundation—$1,000
land—$15,000
wiring and plumbing—$2,000

“Is it insulated?” she asked.

“I’m sure it is,” he said. “Why would someone sell non-insulated cabins in Alaska?”

“Have you ever built anything like this?”

“I built a hog farrowing house once,” he said. “Really, it’s easy. I built all kinds of sheds on the ranch. I know the basic principles. And I can read. No more $800-a-month rent for a one-bedroom ­apartment.”

She saw that he was determined. “Write it down,” she said. “List every expense and then double it.” She decided that it would give him something else to do, occupy his nervous energy. She made him borrow $35,000.

“We won’t use it,” he said. “We’ll be paying interest on money sitting in my checking account.” For his first try at a loan, the bank rejected him, so she said she’d pay half, and then co-signed with him for his share. “We’re breaking our post-connubial agreement.”

“Things change.”

After sales tax, the pre-cut logs cost nearly $13,000; then he discovered that the bathroom and the kitchen cupboards and counters, all shown in the photograph, were not part of the original package. He could buy the materials from them for $6,000 or he could buy the plans for $200 and go to a local lumber yard. He had to pay $1,000 for bulldozing the spot where the cabin would rest. He’d forgotten about wiring. An electrician estimated the job at $1,200. Allison worked hard at not even thinking, “I told you so,” and he worked hard at not apologizing for his mistakes.

Allison knew what was coming next. It’s my turn for compromise, she told herself; he’s given up more than I have. She pictured him checking off his list: “The nest, the west, and you, dear. A cradle and a baby.” She believed that two of the four, she and a nest, would not satisfy him for long.

[p.251] One Friday he called her at work and asked if she would be on time coming home. “I have a surprise for you.” When she stepped in the door, the house was full of the wonderful smell of broiling steak. Tonight, she said to herself, you’ll make yourself talk about it.

Before he could get to whatever emotional arguments he had cooked up—maybe sitting on the couch, looking at pictures of his nieces and nephews when they were babies—she said flat out, “If I get pregnant, I could lose my job.”

“Wait! We’ve got apple pie and ice cream.” He was Mr. June Cleaver; Allison choked on a laugh. He grinned, too. Watching his face, though, she saw how close to the edge he was.

“Could you do some work at home?” he said.

“I wouldn’t be able to go up to the North Shore for half a year, or more,” she said. “They won’t let me on the plane after I’m six months along.”

“How do you know that?” he said.

“I asked.” He leaned forward beaming and touched her on the arm. She swallowed once and bit back the dammit-to-hells. “But that doesn’t mean we’ve decided. Part of being open is the guarantee that bringing up a subject doesn’t mean that we’ve already decided.”

“Don’t you think you’re important enough to Lead Dog that she’ll keep you on?”

“Our income would go down.”

“I could get another job.”

“You should finish school.”

“We could start saving.”

“By not buying a house?”

“Does it come down to house or baby?”

“No,” she said. “Nothing as absolute as that. We just can’t save as much.” She bit hard on her lip, then couldn’t resist asking. “Why? This is a test question.”

“It is biological,” he said. “I want to make a child with you.”

“And part of me wants to make one with you. I want a little Howard around.”

“Howlison,” he said.

[p.252] “It’s because every one of your damned ancestors had ten children and you can’t stand not to have even one.”

“Probably. Just because that’s a dumb reason doesn’t mean there aren’t other reasons.”

“Namely?”

“It’s what we do. We make copies of ourselves. God sends spirits to inhabit the bodies. Then we carefully raise the children. It’s what God made us to do.”

“So for you it’s biological and cultural and, dammit all, spiritual. Can you understand how that last one repulses me?”

“No.”

“What happens when we have sex? Are there spermlike intelli­gences swimming in the air, waiting their chance to dive into my belly? I don’t believe it. So it’s like a lie for me. You say that spirit and matter are one, but you still believe that something exists when the body dies. It makes no sense.” She found herself on the edge of tears and was angry with herself. “Michael’s gone,” she said. “It feels like courage to face that fact. It feels like cowardice to avoid facing the truth.”

“I can’t argue with you,” he said. “Neither of us can convert the other.”

“Will you take the child to church with you?”

“Do we have to decide this now?”

“Yes. I want to have a child. It makes no damn sense to me, not a particle of sense, but I want a child. I want to have a child in my arms who looks something like you, but without your cowlick. I want to raise it up carefully. I’ve started thinking that we can maybe help a child avoid the damage done to both our parents. Raise a child in a moral and ethical house.”

“That’s the best reason for a compromise between a Mormon and a heretic,” he said.

“Atheist,” she said. “We should give my belief its right name.”

“We’ll let her choose,” he said. “We’ll teach her both perspectives; she’ll be bilingual.”

“And confused.” She frowned. “But it’s as close as we can come. We’ll talk and talk and talk to her, when she’s old enough to under-[p.253]stand. But if you want her religious, you’ll have to teach her God when she’s young. Otherwise she’ll never believe.”

“This can’t be a contest,” he said. “We’ll have to invent a non-polarized way of talking.”

“Nearly impossible. It would take a couple of geniuses to do it.” She showed her teeth like a wolf, mostly because she believed their talk had been too idealistic, too impractical.

“So, we’ve decided,” he said.

“Not yet. I haven’t told you my reasons.”

“Such as?”

“It’s something you want, and I trust you in this, don’t ask me why. It’s something I can give you. Also I want a baby myself. I’ve wanted one for some time. Again don’t ask me why, because it hardly makes sense to me. I don’t want to wait until I’m thirty.” She shrugged her shoulders. “You’ll have to wear condoms for three months.”

“All the time? We used to emasculate bull calves with little circles of rubber.”

“You’re so perverse,” she said.

“Shake on it?”

“On your perversity?”

“No. On our agreement.”

“The hell with shaking,” she said. She moved past his arm and wrapped her arms around him. “I want more commitment than that.”

Memorial Day they flew to visit Emily for a few days and help her paint the trim of the old house, tear down the barn, and plant tomatoes and squash in her garden. Raking the plowed garden, Emily was somber. They worked and then talked into the night, sitting in the old kitchen. “I’m going to rent an apartment in Salt Lake this fall,” Emily said. “All my friends are in Rockwood, but I can’t stand it here ­anymore.”

Allison hoed small hills and pushed squash seeds into the dirt. “You’ll love the city,” she said, but Emily didn’t appear to be hopeful.

“I can’t look at Bishop Hansen, no matter how caring he seems, and think the same as I used to about him. I was dead wrong to do what [p.254] I did, borrowing priesthood I had no right to. I went through a fence I shouldn’t have, and now it seems real good over there. How could it be unrighteous if I felt God’s power flowing through my hands? Bishop Hansen said I was mistaken. That it couldn’t happen that God would color out of the lines, so to speak.”

“He said color out of the lines?” Allison stood from her planting.

“Of course, he didn’t. Sitting here, I decided I was a fool to let a handful of men beat me. It’s not just their church; it’s my church, too. My ancestors sacrificed. I have years of service. But then I thought I’d be a bigger fool to fight them.” With the hose, Emily filled holes with water for the tomato plants.

“Wouldn’t work anyway,” said Allison. “They’re all the same. You get any three men together and they’d work you over the same way.”

“I don’t believe that. My bishop will never ‘work me over.’ What stopped me thinking about rebellion as a solution is I’ve never known any good to come from fighting. I’d just turn myself into a bitter woman, mourning like Howard for my lost dream.”

“This is no world for idealism,” said Allison.

“I’m learning that,” said Emily.

“I knew it when I was two. And Howard’s finding his way out of bitterness.”

“I shouldn’t have said it that way. I can see he’s not bitter. What did you do to him?”

“Gave in on every point, other than living in Utah.”

“So,” said Emily, “you’re going to have a baby?”

Allison stared at her. “We’re working at it.”

“It will be a beautiful child and you’ll raise him well. Can you imagine how happy this makes me?”

“That was part of the decision. How could something you want be bad for me?”

“You trust me more than I trust myself. The bishop made me promise not to give any more blessings. I’m permitted to hold their hands and pray with them but not to even say the word priesthood.”

“Oh, Emily,” said Allison. She touched her on the arm.

[p.255] “I gave him my word.” She pulled a flat of tomato plants toward her and began laying the small plants into the muddy holes. “I imagine all us women sitting in heaven. We have our feet up, and we’re drinking Cokes out of icy glasses. Below us are all the men in the world, all the husbands in hell. We’re sipping our Cokes, and they’re begging for some. But if we pour out a little, it just evaporates before it can reach their mouths. So we say, ‘What’s the use?’ and go back to our talk.” She pulled the flat behind her, crawling across the garden.

If Emily was somber, Howard was anything but. He was jubilant to be home in the spring. Calves were butting their mothers’ udders across the valley and all that new life inspired him. Their trip to Utah marked the end of the three-month wait for the contraceptives to be gone from her body, and they made vigorous love in the upper room of the polygamous house. She made comments about bulls and bucks in spring, but he apparently found her wisecracks stimulating because the next night he was even more energetic.

Predictably, a month after their Utah visit, she missed her period. She was stuck up on the North Slope and couldn’t be sure, but the morning of the summer solstice, when she returned to Anchorage, she peed on a strip of paper.

“My garden’s been planted,” she said to Howard, when she flew home.

“Hello and hallelujah!” he said, apparently missing her sarcasm. He was unbearably smug for several days, smirking around the apartment when he wasn’t at school or work.

She called her mother. “I’m pregnant,” she said. “We’re keeping it.”

“Well,” said her mother. “Frank,” she called. “It’s Allison. She’s having a baby.”

Her father lifted the other phone. “A grandfather,” he said. “Damn. My only consolation is that thirteen years from now I can observe your pain.”

“I was a model child,” said Allison.

“Aunt Jenny claimed you were possessed of seven devils. She wanted you exorcised.”

[p.256] “Will you stop drinking?” said her mother.

“Already have,” she said. “I got pregnant in Utah. In an old polygamist house.”

“You should have stayed out of Utah,” her mother said.

After Allison hung up, she had an odd daydream: Walter and Howard’s other ancestors peered through a microscope, which let them observe the horde of Howard’s swimmers fanning out as they invaded her uterus. When one of the swimmers sank its head into her egg, they cheered and drank root beer to celebrate.

Howard’s first use of the loan money was to buy a chain saw with a long blade, which he used to cut down the largest trees on their lot. Brother Yamamoto from Howard’s church was a contractor. He showed Howard how to dynamite the larger stumps and cut around the roots of the others. Toward the end of June, they drove up to watch the bulldozer clear the brush and smaller trees, and flatten the area for the cabin. The smell of diesel reminded Allison of driving the tractor in the desert.

She discovered that Howard was a competent organizer. He rented forms for the foundation and bought spacers so that the floor wouldn’t crack. Brother Yamamoto brought cement working tools and, most importantly, knowledge. Together the three of them connected the forms and tied the iron. That afternoon a truck poured the footings and the slab. Allison strapped on knee pads and helped, using a trowel and a rake to smooth the cement.

The Fourth of July fell on a Sunday, the first anniversary of their meeting in Hermann Park. Howard planned to make good use of the long weekend. He arranged for the logs to be delivered on Saturday. He talked to Todd, his friend from the botany lab, and Brother Yamamoto convinced four other men from Howard’s priesthood group to help. Allison invited Mark. The semi loaded with the pre-cut logs was supposed to arrive at seven, but it was late. Howard handed out axes, shovels, and grubbing hoes, and everyone set to work on the tangle of wood and brush pushed up by the bulldozer.

“Let’s play ball,” one of the men said, standing spread-legged and [p.257] swinging his axe. Howard pulled the cord and started his chain saw. The men pulled on their gloves and swaggered toward the work, watching each other with side glances. Mark wielded his axe as if it were a part of him. Allison tried her hand, imitating Mark’s motions.

“Whooo,” whooped one of the men. “Look at her go.”

“Solid,” said another.

Brother Yamamoto said, “We can do this. You sit.” She smiled and kept chopping.

Mark cut with three strokes what it took the others six, but after half an hour he was resting more. “Too long in an office,” she said, nudging him as he sat on a log. “Even the brothers are outdoing you.”

“Brothers?”

“Brothers from the hood, you know. The white bread brothers.”

He glared at her and attacked a thick tree, still attached by the roots. “Who’s resting now?”

Allison leaned on her axe and watched Howard’s face, which was vital and intent. For a moment she saw him as a rancher managing a spread, ordering his hired hands. She and Emily had saved him from that isolated and impoverished life but did so against his will. She moved close to where he used the chain saw on the last stubborn root of a five-inch fir tree. He turned off the machine.

“You all right?” he said. She was silent.

“You could have left me,” she said quietly. He looked up, sweat dripping off his face. “Anytime in the past year you could have left me.”

“But I didn’t.”

“Yes,” she said. “I know that.” She turned and went back to work.

They had almost leveled the pile of dirt the bulldozer had left when the semi arrived. The driver used a forklift, which she had hauled behind the truck, to set down the bundles of support bars, logs, and trusses, as well as the plywood, tar paper, and shake shingles for the roof.

The walls fit together like Lincoln Logs. The brothers and Allison carried the timbers, one by one, to the wall and handed them to Howard and Mark, who stood on step ladders. They lifted the logs high and slid them down the long bolts which had been set in cement. Brother Yamamoto supervised and made sure the logs didn’t bind as [p.258] they slid down the supports. By lunch time they were half done; by evening the walls of the house were up.

Monday they lifted and fastened the trusses into place and nailed down the pressed wood sub-roofing. Brother Yamamoto and the four others shook everyone’s hands and walked toward their van, clapping each other on their shoulders.

“I thought I was stiff Sunday morning,” said Mark, “but I’m really going to be suffering tomorrow. Still it sure felt good.” He trudged toward his car.

“Thanks, Mark,” she said.

“It was nice,” he said. “Showed me how much I hate the office.”

She and Howard walked inside the cabin; she looked up at the white wood of their own roof. “One day,” she said. “I can hardly believe it.”

“Now it slows down. Working after school and before work, it’ll take me all week to get the shingles on. We won’t finish until well into September.” They sat on a pile of logs in front of the cabin as the forest darkened.

“Show me what to do,” she said. “I have two weeks.”

“That’s good,” he said. “Soon we’ll be in our own place.”

“I didn’t think we could do it,” she said.

“Thank you,” he said.

“For what?”

“What you said earlier.”

“I wasn’t apologizing,” she said. “I couldn’t have lived there.”

He shrugged. “I sure could have,” he said. “But not without you.”

Far away she could see the faint strip of the inlet, but hardly any of Anchorage. They might have been alone in the wilderness. She was no Eve, but he was like the best of Adam and Eve combined. He had adapted to her world, made it his own. She had never before heard of a man who had done that.

Still, sometimes he was so—what?—Howardish that she could hardly bear to talk to him. Coming home from work once, she found brochures of pregnant women spread across the kitchen table. He said, “I’ll be there for you.”

[p.259] “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I’m your coach. I hand you chips of ice and help you breathe to manage the pain.”

“Damn the pain. I just want to be put out.”

“They don’t put people out anymore. You need to be awake and alert so you can bond with the child. After you’re already well into labor, they give an epidural to help with the pain.”

“This is coming too fast. Ice chips?”

“For dehydration. You can’t have liquid in your stomach because you might vomit and aspirate if you have an emergency C-section and they knock you out.”

“You should have this kid. You’re the one who’s studied all about it.”

His hand explored her stomach; she lifted it away. “What? You don’t want me touching you?”

“Touching is different than an examination. You’re weirder than hell about this.”

A month and a half later, she found herself again on the North Slope, crouched over the toilet bowl. She felt as if she rode a small boat on a heaving sea. A foreign matter had inhabited her body, pumping its waste into her bloodstream, disrupting her hormonal balance. All day at work she had been unable to consume anything but saltine crackers and small sips of Coke. I wanted this, she said to herself. I wanted this.

She imagined another self who had stayed with Eliot. She could have had dancing in Houston bars, more howling at the night. But while Howard was repressed a dozen ways, he continually stretched his own boundaries. Even in the short time they’d been together, they had both changed dramatically. Life with him felt like an adventure of significant negotiation. Eliot never stepped outside himself. Even his dancing was careful. Too sensible in bed, too cerebral, like a controlled and elegant opera, more noise than dancing. After all, he was the inventor of STIV, which assumed that sex was not a mystery but a language. Especially since their marriage, when Howard had become more ­relaxed with her, sex was like jambalaya. Despite his tangled background, he possessed a slow courtesy. He took sex seriously, even [p.260] ­reverently; procreation is like a sacrament for Mormons. Despite his Victorian morality, he had shucked off embarrassment. Probably because of his ranching background. He had once bragged to Allison about all the beasts he’d watched copulate: cows, horses, sheep, chickens, and hogs; also rattlesnakes once (writhing, coiled around each other), skunks, and porcupines, which he claimed did it in the high, thin branches of willows or pine trees. He said that the male emits a shriek of pleasure at climax and falls from the tree.

She said, “You’re anthromorphizing.”

“About falling from a tree?”

“No, that a porcupine feels pleasure.”

“They all feel pleasure,” he said. “All of them.”

Despite his faults, or because of them, he was Howard, her remarkable, unpredictable Howard.

Through August he framed the inside of the cabin walls with two- by-sixes, making space for thick insulation. Then he framed the downstairs rooms. A common area took up half of the ground floor, a kitchen behind a bar and a bathroom, the other half. Above the kitchen and bathroom was an open loft, the bedroom.

“There’s no privacy,” she said.

“And there is in our apartment? We want to get away from other people, not each other.”

He bought some used cabinets from a man in the ward who was remodeling. He hired someone to tile the kitchen floor, bar, and counter top. He bought interlocking, hardwood floorboards and knocked them into place with a rubber mallet. He rented a sanding machine and smoothed the floor, then laid down a polyurethane finish. He built a chair and a bed out of poles, bought mattress and cushions.

September 20, close to the anniversary of their first year in Anchorage, they moved out of their apartment. “Eliot read it in my face,” said Allison, as they hauled in their meager furniture. “He knew I’d end up in a cabin in the wilderness.”

“Hardly wilderness,” said Howard, pointing to the outskirts of Eagle River a mile below. He hung his tomato plants from the balcony. [p.261] “I was going to plant them in our own soil,” he said. “But I decided I want to take them inside in the winter.”

She laughed. “Howard, you have permanent dirt under your fingernails. You’ll never get it out.” Something that felt like gas bubbles moved inside. “I keep thinking that I ate something to give me a bad stomach. But really it’s that something has possessed my body. A snake with teeth is going to burst out of my belly.”

“That’s morbid,” Howard said.

“Whatever happens now, I have to deliver it. Scares the hell out of me.”

“Women have done it before,” he said. “You’ll be great.”

“I wasn’t worried about how I’ll do. This is a more significant worry than that.”

“Hey,” he said. “Do you remember Peterson?”

“Of course, I remember Peterson,” she said. “He made you seem like a liberal. He made you seem logical. He’s what fooled me into loving you.”

“He sent me a card. He married the mission president’s daughter, and they’re pregnant, just like us.”

We’re not pregnant. I’m pregnant. She’s pregnant. But you and ­Peterson sure as hell aren’t.”

“Anyway. I thought it was a remarkable coincidence.”

Despite all the mental walls he’d broken down, Allison knew that he still thought of time as a straitened path, laid down by God at the dawn of creation. Foreordained. Perhaps the path changed behind and before him, transformed by the act of walking, but it was still a conveyor belt, moving toward heaven. You got on it or off of it; and God knew all the steps from the beginning. She thought of time as a coiling, whipping snake, sometimes swallowing its own tail.

Emily was not happy in Salt Lake. “I’ve started my major classes,” she said on the phone. “I’m failing—literally failing. The accounting equations and the math just won’t fit into my head. I’m older than everyone in my classes.”

“Talk to your teachers,” said Allison.

[p.262] “I’ve tried, but it’s as if we speak different languages. I think that my age and my Utah accent make me seem stupid to them. I’ve never failed a class in my life.” She complained that her apartment was small and unfamiliar. The women in her Salt Lake ward had friendships already formed. They were friendly on the surface, but couldn’t relax and spend an hour talking. “As if I had the time to spend talking with all my school work.” She said she missed her friends in Rockwood; she also missed the women who came to her with their troubles.

Allison was surprised at her mournful tone; she had thought Emily would bear up under any challenge. She said, “Become a sociologist instead of an accountant.”

“I don’t know if I can manage college,” said Emily. Then she told Allison that Bishop Hansen, her one faithful friend, called her every week. “We have an appointment. Five o’clock Tuesdays. He tells me what’s going on in town. He talks to me and listens.” The smell of the city bothered her, the inability to get away from people. “And all of them strangers. When I smile at them, they look at me as if I’m a fool. If they look at all.”

Later Allison described the phone call to Howard. “She’s really bummed,” she said. “Have you ever seen her depressed?”

“No,” he said. “She’s always been the one to cheer up everyone else.”

“Well she’s depressed now. She’s different. She’s wondering if school was a good idea.”

“Maybe it isn’t, at least for her,” said Howard.

She frowned.

“What?” he said. “You think that your self-absorbed definition of what is good for her has ethical superiority over my self-absorbed definition of what is good for her?”

“You are so bizarre,” she said. “You think like a New Age redneck.”

Toward the end of October, Allison drove him to the Mormon stake center in Anchorage. Except for the boulders which covered the Rockwood building, this one looked the same. Both were Mormon [p.263] suburban in style. Howard’s bishop had arranged a meeting with the high council to review Howard’s spiritual condition, and possibly return him to full fellowship. His bishop had spoken on the phone several times with Howard’s former stake president in Utah, and they both agreed that his repentance was nearly complete. Walking in, Howard asked her for the seventh time not to say anything, no matter what. The bishop, who had the most toothsome grin Allison had ever seen, greeted them. But she could forgive him his mouth and nervous manner because he was trying to help Howard become happier.

After half an hour of waiting in the hall, she saw Howard smile as he emerged. She followed him back in and shook the hands of sixteen grinning men in white shirts and ties.

To celebrate, they ate dinner at an Italian restaurant. They touched fingers across the table, feet underneath. “I want to know you when you’re ninety,” she said. “I want to see you now that you don’t have anything to brood about.”

“I’ll always have something to brood about. I brood to gestate my life. To masticate my life.”

She lifted her glass of wine. “To Howard, may his eyes always flash fire.”

“Flashed fire?”

“Today you were your jubilant self. Your Houston self.”

“I’m right with God. I no longer fear him.” Then his body was seized with sobbing. She slid across on the bench and held him tight, rocking with him as if he was a child—a large handicapped child.

The next morning they skied up the valley near their cabin. The conditions were bad—a heavy sludge that stuck to their skis. But the sun glanced off the snow, tree shadows lay parallel across the snow. They flashed in and out of shadow. It was jogging on skis, jogging through country that was so green and white that it hurt to look at it. At the top of the ridge, they turned back, took off their gloves, and stamped in the stinging wind. The gray inlet spread below them. “This could convince me to become a country girl,” said Allison.

“Funny. All fall and winter, all this passed in front of my eyes, ­invisible.”

[p.264] “You weren’t up here,” she said. “You were wandering Anchorage.”

“I prospected in places like this,” he said.

They swooped down through the trees like two falcons. He wove back and forth behind her, crossing and recrossing her tracks.

Then a girl ran away from Rockwood to be with Emily. “Another abused girl,” Emily said on the phone. “Happened when she was small, about ten years ago. Back then, it was her Sunday school teacher. Took advantage of a monthly class party they had at his house. Last week he was made advisor to the horse riding club she’s a member of. She’s frightened he’s going to start with her again, so she took her parents’ car and drove to Salt Lake—too frightened to sleep another night in her house. At first she just sat on my couch, crying. Then she told me who had abused her. Someone who is a fine citizen of Rockwood. `I dreamed he came into my bedroom,’ she told me. She checked all the windows and locked the door, but she was petrified. She sat on her bed with a bat, waiting. When she went back to sleep, she had the dream again. She said that when it was happening, he threatened her, said that he’d start with her sister if she ever told. Said he’d hurt her parents. Ten years later she’s still petrified. Even after telling me everything, she was still beside herself, but I had promised the bishop I wouldn’t bless anyone, so I just prayed with her, I held her hands and prayed. She seemed calmer.”

Allison was silent.

“Please don’t tell me I should have gone ahead and blessed her.”

“No,” said Allison. “That wasn’t what I was thinking. I was thinking that she drove two hours to be with someone she trusted. It’s ­remarkable.”

“I called the man and told him what she said.”

“No,” said Allison. “No, Emily.”

“What?”

“You have to be smarter about it.”

The phone was silent. “I need your encouragement, Allison. I know it wasn’t smart. He just denied everything. He says she made it all up.”

[p.265] “I’m sorry, Emily. I just mean—my mother is good at this kind of confrontation. It takes a certain kind of ruthlessness. Your strength is not in being ruthless. I just hope he doesn’t do anything to her.”

“I’ve thought about that. Or what if he gets frightened and runs away from his family? Both would be bad. I helped her report it to Child Protective Services, which is the state organization my bishop in Salt Lake said to call.”

“Good.”

“He said he’d sue me and the girl for defamation of character.”

“I don’t think he can do that.” But Allison wasn’t sure. “Do you know a good lawyer?” Idealists wander this world like lambs, she thought, but she didn’t want to see this one hurt.

“He’s also talked to the stake president in Hamblin and turned him against me. I know both those men are pressuring Bishop Hansen to do something about me. The bishop was honest enough to tell me that much about what’s going on. And that’s frightening—the uncertainty. I’m sure the bishop thinks I’ve broken my promise.”

“Talk to him.”

“No. I have some pride. Bishop Hansen needs to trust me or not trust me. I won’t go to him apologizing.” She paused. “I’m sorry about what I said, Allison. I do need to be smarter.”

“What’ll the bishop do?”

“I don’t know. It would be ironic if I have to face disciplinary action for something I’ve stopped doing.” She paused. “That man told the family of the girl that I may have had improper relations with their daughter. They’ve considered bringing charges against me. I’m facing a suit, perhaps criminal charges, and perhaps a church court. I thought that moving away I’d be free of this kind of tangle. Now I’m in it to my neck.”

After hanging up, Allison lay in her bed, her arms folded across her chest. “Dammit,” she said to Howard. “I wish we were there right now. I’d go hunting, by damn. I’d show that man the wrath of a Texas woman.” But Emily wouldn’t want it, she wouldn’t approve even verbal violence. Allison strained to understand her forbearance.