Heresies of Nature
by Margaret B. Young


[p.55] Callin’ all the blood cells
Go! Go! Go!
Take your strength
And make it show!
Callin’ all the muscle!
Callin’ all the nerves!
Let us see ya hustle!
Show us all your curves!

Elaine Boswell was cheering Elizabeth’s handsprings while Cody and Merry watched, framed by the sliding glass door. Sometimes Elaine turned and pressed her powdered nose into the glass, making pig faces for Merry.

“We’re working for you, Merry! This is for YOU!”

There were two distinct worlds then: outside, full of noise and acrobatics, and inside, behind the glass, where the aquarium whirred and Merry silently sat, sinking deeper and deeper into her chair.


Journal Entry:

February 1, 1973

I’m a mother! I gave birth yesterday to the most beautiful daughter whom we will name Penelope, after Ben’s grandmother. [p.56] (I wanted to name the baby Elizabeth, but we’re compromising here, so our next daughter gets that name.) I had the baby over at the commune where this wonderful, earthy, very fat midwife did the delivery. I didn’t mention the out-of-hospital birth to Mom since she’d positively die.

I have never in all my life felt such a sense of love and responsibility. Suddenly, Ben and I are in charge of a little life. We’ve become a family. We’ve poured our heritage, even our looks, into a teensy baby girl. I see all of eternity, backwards and forwards, when I see the three of us together, and my life is suddenly very important. I am connected to the people I love, and nothing in this world will ever, ever cut that connection.

Penny looks to me like she’ll be blonde, though I can’t tell really. She definitely has Ben’s nose. I hope she has his brains, too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mother. I know she felt this way when she had me. I wish I had been a better daughter— less willful, more loving, more grateful, more ooey gooey sentimental sometimes. When I look at my daughter, I feel so bonded to Mom. I called her yesterday to tell her the news. We both just cried.


Merry, what’s happened to Penny? There’s such darkness in her. What’s wrong? Cody did not voice these questions, did not need to. She saw them written in Merry’s eyes.


After two weeks’ hesitation, Elizabeth had accepted Cody’s gift of gymnastics. Still, Cody made her edgy. She knew Cody was bringing changes; Cody herself was changing. Her bleached hair was showing dark roots that seemed to widen by the day. And though it was a relief to have someone else handle the nursing duties, there was an intimacy in the family bond which Cody [p.57] didn’t respect. She rammed through it to get at Merry, to merge with her, voice her thoughts, explain what it was Merry wanted, what Merry was feeling, how scared Merry was, what flavor of yogurt Merry preferred.

When Grandma B. had asked her how she came by the job, Cody answered simply, “By invitation. Divine vision. In a Navajo sweat hut, the time I lived in Blanding.”

“Utah?” Grandma B. had asked, as though no good thing could happen east of California.

“Utah,” Cody had said firmly.


Elaine Boswell stayed two weeks. She would have stayed longer, but Ben finally told her she had to go. She was bringing tension, he said, insulting everyone.

It started during Sunday dinner when Elaine announced that she wished Janny would stop seeing “that boy.” Janny tried to hide behind the word “investigator” again, but it was too thin to conceal her.

“Invite me to his baptism, Jan, but for now, you tell him where to get off. You’re too young. Besides I don’t like that boy.”

“Why not?” Ben asked.

With a dainty shrug, Grandma B. murmured, “You don’t really want to know.”

“I do really want to know.”

“He just reminds me of someone else.”


She lasered him and didn’t answer.

“Of me?”

“You said that, Ben. I didn’t.”

“You’re afraid Josh will turn out to be—”

Her arched brows raised higher.

Ben put his fork down, took two deep breaths, and told her [p.58] she would have to leave. They had a brief, angry exchange, which ended when Merry’s head bowed so low it cut off her air. Cody rushed to her, hugged her head, and hissed, “Stop it! Now! This hurts! My heart! Merry’s heart!”

Grandma B. blamed Ben; Ben blamed Grandma B. They had another brief exchange as Cody held Merry. Ben concluded by paraphrasing the Bible: “A woman is to leave her father and MOTHER and cleave to her spouse. None else.” This was dangerous territory: God country. And well he knew Merry was homesteading it.

“She needs me!” Grandma B. said.

Ben gestured to Cody. “No, she’s got Cody now. Frank’s the one who needs you.” He returned to his wife. “I know you like having your mother here.”

“Maybe it is time I got back to Frank,” Elaine relented quickly. “You think so, Merry?”

Weeping, Merry blinked hard.


She left the next morning, kissing everyone including Ben and telling them to be good, have a nice day, etc., then knelt by the wheelchair. “I can be hard to live with. You know that better than anyone. But it is time I get back to Frank, I see that now. And it’s not your fault Ben and I disagree about things.” She took Merry full in her arms. “I’m always here for you,” she said. “Even at a distance. You know how that is.”

Merry moaned. Cody didn’t bother helping her spell and simply said, “She loves you, too. That’s what she wants to say.”

“I know.” Elaine stood and waved, then let herself out the door. A yellow cab was waiting.


Late that night Elizabeth heard Janny sneak out. Later still, heard her father and Cody in the living room, voices low and strangely tender. She could not make out the words themselves.