Heresies of Nature
by Margaret B. Young
[p.77] Fear. Desire.
Sweet, embarrassed, queasy love.
At breakfast, when Cody saw Jan, she knew.
“The way I see it,” Cody said to Ben on the porch, “my old man fell in love with Jack Kerouac and started trailing his ghost. Abandoned school completely. Just quit showing up.” They [p.78] were watching lazy snowflakes shuffle to the brown earth just after nightfall. It was an unseasonably warm night and this was the first time since Zion Canyon that Cody had talked to Ben about her own life. Usually their conversations concerned either Merry or rocks. “Then my old man up and left,” she said.
“Yep. I was twelve.”
Ben leaned back, stretched his legs. He was wearing cowboy boots, jeans, a red flannel shirt. He looked, in a way, like Tomás Yos, her dead man.
“That’s a young age to lose your father,” he said.
She and her Cakchiquel lover had had a conversation similar to this the first night they had met. That was lives ago when she was shy and unaware of her powers. It was Tomás who had brought her out, taught her magic words, let her take up residence in his soul, then taken her soul away with him to the jungle.
“When is the ideal age to lose your dad, Ben?” she said. “I’d say, twenty-seven.”
He took off his glasses to wipe snowdrops from the lenses. “Why twenty-seven?”
She had a small, “gotcha” smile for him. “I’m joking. There’s no good time to lose someone you love.”
He put his glasses on again like they were part of his
pain-mask. “No,” he replied, “there isn’t.” He was no longer stretched out but had drawn his feet up and folded his arms, wearing his burdens once more.
“You were opening up just now.” She touched his elbow, initiating a massage. “Getting more like you were at Zion. Until a second ago.”
“Yep.” Her fingers circled his elbow.
He nodded and, after a moment’s hesitation, stretched his legs again. “It’s good to talk. And joke. Sometimes I’m so close to everything here I forget how hard it all is.”
[p.79] “It is good to talk.” She scanned his profile, still fingering her way into his system.
“I want you to know, Cody, I appreciate all you do—not just for Mer, but for the girls, too. Elizabeth likes you a lot.”
He grinned. She felt his heavy aura lift from his body and make waves around the snowflakes. “You’ll break her down,” he said. “I can’t imagine anyone resisting you permanently.”
His eyes were her favorite feature—even behind the glasses. So blue, so full of love and life and need. She was going to mention how magnificent his eyes were but said something else instead: “Do you like me?”
He blinked. “Of course. So does Merry.”
“You enjoy talking to me, don’t you?” She moved her hands to his shoulders as he assured her with a vague smile. “Sometimes, it’s good to just talk and talk and not spell a thing.”
He moved his feet in again, calling back that lead aura. “I shouldn’t have said that.”
She massaged his shoulders deeper. “But you were thinking it.”
“What are you—psychic?” That was the question she had asked Tomás just before he taught her the dream words. And she answered just as Tomás had: “No. I never know the future.”
“But you do know things—you surprise me. You quote my memories sometimes. And you have gotten close to Merry.”
“You think I’m her spirit? The form she chose?”
“Come on—I didn’t say that. I’m not superstitious.” He was looking at the snow again, not at her.
“But you are a dreamer.”
“Though, if she did choose another form, she’d choose a wanderer like you.”
“But you’re not superstitious.”
He let himself laugh. “Not much.”
She did not laugh with him but waited until he returned his [p.80] eyes, then moved her hands from his shoulders to his forearms. “Do you want me to be her?” she said.
“What?” He pulled away slightly, but let his arms stay where they were.
“Don’t you believe in your own dreams? Don’t you think if you dream hard enough, the dream can turn real? Flesh and blood?”
“Courtesy of the Blue Fairy?”
“No jokes, Ben. ‘And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.’”
“Has Merry got you reading scriptures? She did that to me, too.”
“Listen to what I’m saying. Are you listening?”
“Yes.” But he was resisting everything.
“I want to see your eyes.” She left one hand around his forearm and with the other turned his face, removed his glasses.
“Now I can’t see yours, at least not clearly,” he said.
“You can imagine my eyes to be anyone’s. Am I blurry?”
“But you can hear me?”
“Keep looking. And listen. You’re right that her nerves won’t be coming back.”
“Surprise.” He was getting closer to her, straining to see her better.
“Every time I’ve touched Merry, when I’ve bathed her or massaged her or combed her hair, I’ve focused all my energy into her nerve cells. I’ve called on my hands to heal her, heal her, and my hands get very warm sometimes, like there’s light coming through my fingers.”
“But her nerves won’t be coming back? I believe I warned you.” She could feel his breath on her neck.
“We’re looking at things wrong,” she said.
“You’ve got my glasses.”
“No jokes, Ben.”
“We have a T.V. image of some red-robed preacher touching a crippled lady’s forehead and the next second the lady’s leaping across the floor.”
“I’ve never seen a televangelist show.” He was closer now, his heaviness had lifted.
“Why should healing happen the same way for everyone? There must be hundreds of ways to heal!”
“Or not,” he said.
She set his glasses beside her, held both his hands, rubbing his thumbs. “I never pictured just how these hands would send their gifts. I thought I’d be that preacher with lightning in her fingers. That’s not how it’s going to happen.”
“My hands won’t send gifts to Merry, they’ll receive her gifts—imbibe them.”
“What?” Barely a whisper.
“Like wilted celery soaks in the water. There are other ways Merry can move than through her own nerves.”
“You mean—what? Those computerized brain stimulators— those—”
“I mean she can move through me.”
His hands went stiff, then limp. “How’s that?”
“I can be Merry,” she said.
Now he withdrew his hands and reached for his glasses.
“Wait, Ben. Think about it. You want her—with all your heart—to get better.”
He gave her a tight smile and put his glasses back on. “It’s getting late,” he said. Cody thought the snowflakes changed their dance when Ben put on his weights again. The air became different.
“All that warmth I felt in my hands,” she whispered. “It wasn’t my energy flowing into her. It was her life coming into me.”
“Are these your new visions?” He stood.
[p.82] “What will it cost you to believe?”
“I’m not ready to find out just this moment. And I’m needed inside. Excuse me, would you?” He started for the house.
“Why do you have to leave?”
“Merry needs me,” he stated, not looking back.
“Yes,” she answered. “I feel that, too.”
Dec. 30, 1978
Happy to announce the birth of my third daughter.
I have not been healed, but God has given me Janny.
Cody could hear other words behind these, Merry’s voice— pretty voice, melodic, mellifluous—speaking them:
“She was a gift from God, huh, Benj.”
Ben washed the dishes; Cody rinsed and dried.
“You’ve got to see that photo album the girls are doing, Ben.” She was being careful, but he wasn’t resisting her tonight. He seemed embarrassed that he had left her so abruptly the Tuesday before. “Such a beautiful gift.”
He nodded and handed her a plate. “It was a good idea.”
“I was looking at your wedding pictures. At you two in— where did you go for your honeymoon?”
[p.83] “You’re standing on the rocks and she’s diving into the water.”
“I remember that one.” He was pleasantly vague, with a little shrug.
“You remember the honeymoon?”
“What was it like?”
She toweled the dish as though it might break if she pressed too hard, dried it as though it needed a massage. “The two of you,” she said softly, not looking at him. “I think it must be such the wondrous thing to marry who you love and go to paradise.” The air was changing again. She could feel him remembering.
“Oh. That. Sure.”
“You went to the ocean.”
The dishes were finished. He drained the water. “She surfed,” he said, wiping the counter. “I hadn’t known how good she was at surfing. She stood tall and I couldn’t even see the board under her. Raised her arms, totally free. It was wondrous.”
“And you made love for the first time?” She reached up to put a cup away, just past his shoulder, gazing at him now. He wasn’t averting his eyes.
“You made love.”
She stepped towards him, touched his cheek. He closed his eyes as she did, then half opened them, leaning to her. She knew he wanted this. Both hands moved to his face, spread over his ears and jaws. She stood on tiptoe and let him kiss her mouth—just once, gently. “It’s been such a long time for you, hasn’t it.”
“Years.” He was off balance, swaying towards her, starved.
[p.84] “She feels so bad about that. Denying you.”
Again, he leaned towards her, then straightened back up. “Does she?”
He stepped back, blinking like he was trying to focus.
“What?” Cody said.
“I—no. Look, I can’t—. With Merry—.”
“I understand that.”
“No, that’s not what I mean. It’s—no. No.” And again, more quietly: “It’s no.”
Voice subdued, she answered, “That’s not what you want to say.”
“Do you believe in God? I asked you before. I’m asking again.”
“Oh, I know. Merry sees God between the two of you.”
She touched his cheek. “Let me be her.”
He stiffened. “I can’t do that.”
“She wants you to be happy.” Her fingers drew circles on his cheeks.
“I can’t do that.” He turned and was starting for the door when Elizabeth entered.
“We got any milk in this house?” Elizabeth asked.
“Just skim,” said Ben. “Excuse me. I’ve got papers waiting.”
“Let me know if I can help,” Cody called after him.
“Thanks,” he said, not granting her even a glance.
Ben stared at the waiting papers.
There had been such moments of glory during their early lovemaking, moments when the heavens seemed to open. The smoothness, firmness of her flesh, her easy response, eager em-[p.85]braces and a body that allowed her. He remembered them on their honeymoon. They were in their hotel room on the Big Island, on the floor, the window open to a full view of smoking Kiluea. Only seventy yards away, the mountain was drooling lava into the sea, expanding its claim on the Pacific.
The disease hadn’t interfered with lovemaking for a long time, though Merry was always tired. Of course, as the m.s. progressed, sex—like everything else in their life—was broken down into process. Ben would arrange her body to accommodate his. She could not respond as she once had, but she could kiss him when he put his mouth on hers.
The last time had been four years ago. It was one of the two times he had wept over the m.s., collapsing onto her, clinging to her around the waist.