Heresies of Nature
by Margaret B. Young
[p.118] Ben sat grading papers by the aquarium three nights after Merry had gone. Cody went to him after the girls were asleep.
“We could tear my family apart,” he said at last, not looking at her. She thought he might cry again. He didn’t, though his face reddened. He came to her, still not meeting her eyes—his [p.119] kiss hungry but not passionate—guiding her to the floor. “My girls should never find you with me,” he said.
“Ben,” whispered Cody, “they know more than you think.”
When she left him, she went into the living room, picked up Merry’s journal, and invited Merry’s lost language to take her over again. But they were just words now; there was no voice.
June 9, 1989
Ben has been very sweet to write for me in the journal, but I’m doing this one on my own—which explains why it may not be legible. I could sense it was too hard on him to spend the time writing for me—even though he is such a sweetie to try. He’s so busy, so concerned about doing well in his teaching. He was up for Professor of the Year last month but didn’t win. Is that the right word? It’s not like it’s a competition, really. Well yes, it is a competition. To Ben, it is. He pretended it didn’t matter, but I know it did, the liar. So anyway, I’ve got the time and the determination and things to say, if not the muscles to make the words readable. So it’s me writing this.
Ben’s heart is so good. I love him. I wish I could get better for him. If I could get better, Ben’s faith would be lifted so high, and we would be so happy. I wish I could get that message through to heaven.
The other problem with dictating my journal to Ben—or to anyone else, for that matter—is I feel inhibited. I start talking about interior design, when that’s not what’s on my mind at all.
What’s on my mind is clubs in heaven. Seriously. I wonder if after we die, we’ll divide into cliques based on how we met our ends. There will be the “I drowned” clubs and “I took a bullet to the brain” clubs and “I got cancer” subdivided into variety for [p.120] bone, skin, breast, etc., and “I died of m.s.” The wimps will be the old geezers who kicked the bucket in their sleep after eighty productive years. I am so jealous of wimpy old geezers.
Anyway, I can’t picture angels singing ooey gooey songs all day or using their vacation time to deliver messages to sad mortals via some heavenly courier service. I think angels must have to bitch sometimes, don’t you suppose? And one-up each other. “You think cancer is bad? It’s nothing! You should try dying of leprosy! You wipe your nose and it falls off! Now that’s a way to go!” “Leprosy, nothing! I was tortured for two months in Cambodia! You ought to see my corpse! Torture—now that’s one helluva way to go.” And they all look downward. Helluva way.
Sick jokes. Sorry. I am turning morbid, I know, but whenever I write in this journal, I think about the tough stuff. Like this stupid disease and death and about God. Tough stuff.
Newest idea: I don’t think we’re given diseases to try our faith. That doesn’t feel right. I think crap happens because that’s how the world is designed. There must be opposition in all things, etc. But in the process of mortality, we’ve got to live by faith or what do we learn? We have to see the light in the darkness, answer the hardest questions not with a word or a sigh but with our whole souls. We BECOME the answer. If the question God is asking me is, Can you endure? I want to become one big YES. I want to become love, like Him, to see His light because I become His light.
Is that what Jesus meant when he refused to heal a child, so she could show the works of God on earth? But then, why did he raise the daughter of Jairus and heal certain blind people? How did they rate?
I am so jealous of the daughter of Jairus! I am so jealous of everyone!
Sorry, I don’t want to be jealous. I want to repent and be better than this—so much better! So sorry.
This entry should be burned. I wonder if when my daughters read it, they’ll think I was a weirdo, joking about leprosy—geez! It would be nice if I could write ooey gooey sweet stuff or stuff [p.121] like scriptures and my kids could read it and be completely inspired. With this stuff, they’ll read it and go “WHAT?!!!”
So burn it, but keep the paragraph about learning to live by faith. That one could maybe be canonized, don’t you think?
Cody’s dream, the first night she slept with Ben until morning: Buffalo Woman riding beyond Blanding. The white buffalo gallops, but Buffalo Woman doesn’t bounce; she floats. She floats past trees, past cinderblock box houses, past fat grandmothers cooking fry bread, past dirty children selling squash-blossom turquoise chokers, past teenaged boys tending sheep, past the bars where dreamless men drool away their lives, past rusted trucks. She floats to Zion.
The Three Patriarchs. Ironized sandstone, peaks as red as autumn maples, monstrous walls steep and sheer and pocked with caves. The Three Patriarchs are richer and rustier than any nearby mountains and rise higher. There are few trees on their faces, though the surrounding hills are covered with pines and oaks and aspens. Instead of greenery, orange cliffs jut from the unassailable, patriarchal walls.
Yet, Buffalo Woman rides the rocks. Her animal dances across the peaks, leaps over the cliffs, sails beyond the caves and paws the stone of the highest point—the central Patriarch—as she raises her arms and speaks like a cyclone: “Let go!”
Oh, yes. Her eyes are Merry’s.
Elizabeth was doing nighttime straddle splits in the front room, Janny watching beside her. They could hear Cody packing in the sunroom.
[p.122] “She’s after Dad,” Jan whispered so Cody wouldn’t hear, though they both knew Cody understood things without hearing them. “It’s so obvious. They’ve been doing it. From the very beginning. They started in Zion.”
Elizabeth didn’t answer.
“As soon as Mom couldn’t meet his needs, he started prowling around for someone who could. Buffalo Woman, my ass. Like she gets visions.” This was the most she had said to her sister in a long while. Her words came in an acid flood.
“So, maybe she does.”
“Bull. She’s not even Navajo.”
“So maybe it’s a gift of the spirit.” Defending Cody came naturally, felt almost scripted.
“The way she feels into things.”
“Like into Dad?”
“I mean spiritual things.”
“I’m talking body. I’m talking the way she attached herself to him.”
“More to Mom, wasn’t it?”
“That’s what they wanted us to think. I could tell from day one, she was moving into Dad, and he let her do it.”
“You don’t know that.”
“He invited her, remember? He’s the one who invited her here without even asking us first.”
“Come on, Jan—.”
“Haven’t you figured out how men are? They treat us like shit.” She spat that last word into the air. It settled before Elizabeth answered, quietly, “He’s still our dad.”
“He’s still a man.”
“You’re going to punish him for that?”
Janny’s eyes narrowed to azure slits. “The least he could do is wait. Is that so much to ask? Just resist her a little longer while Mom’s still here. Is that too much?”
“I don’t know,” Elizabeth said.
[p.123] “He’s sleeping with her,” Jan announced, as Cody opened the door.
Cody approached smoothly. “I’m leaving,” she said.
“Oh.” Elizabeth stretched her legs farther, pointed her toes. Her face was burning. “I’m sorry.”
“I still want to pay for gymnastics, though. Not just for you, Elizabeth; for Merry. For her soul. Like I told you.”
“That’s good of you.” She stretched over her right toe. “Only—.”
“Yes. Good of you,” Jan said woodenly.
“Only it wouldn’t be right to take your money. Besides, I didn’t make regionals. I fell off the beam.”
“It’s not the competition that counts, it’s the movement. It’s the—”
“Thanks, Cody. But no.”
“And thanks for taking care of Mom,” said Jan, like an etiquette tape.
“And we hope to see you every now and then.” Elizabeth pressed her head to her ankle.
“You will.” Cody started for the sunroom, then turned back abruptly. “I love you, you know that? Both of you?”
“We know,” said Elizabeth.
“And I love Merry.”
“We know that, too.”
“And Ben. I love him.”
Elizabeth looked at Cody hard and then outside where winter stars were shining, Orion swinging his club just above the porch, so near and bright she thought she could touch his belt. She pressed her nose to her ankle but couldn’t keep her focus off Cody’s face. In this moment of confession and departure, Elizabeth recalled Cody’s first appearance in the house. Her hair had been an inch-long bleach job, her body tanned, skinny, hungry-looking. Now she was almost beautiful, her hair goldish-brown, nearly reaching her chin—a style Merry had worn a decade ago. She was wearing less make-up than before [p.124] and looked younger, even radiant, standing in front of the cane lamp, the light giving her a halo. Yes, now Cody was someone they all could love—even Ben. She hadn’t been, not at first. Times had changed her.
Cody made her farewell speech: “Buffalo Woman brought me here,” she said, “after I went to the Navajo world. There was a reason. I know that. Life’s a big puzzle. But the pieces are all here. We just have to see how they fit. They do fit.”
“Sometimes,” said Jan.
“Yes,” Cody said. “Sometimes they fit perfectly.” There was an edge to her voice as she addressed Jan; it was not the same voice she used with the other Morgans. There was resistance between these two. Elizabeth had seen it in Jan, but this was the first it had shown itself in Cody. She replayed Jan’s words in her mind: “He’s sleeping with her.” She dismissed them and they played again.
“Janny says—” she began.
Cody turned her eyes to her, and they softened at once.
“What?” Cody prodded in a tone that knew without hearing.
Elizabeth blinked, then faced her head on: “Are you sleeping with our dad?”
Jan sighed bitterly; Cody locked eyes with her. “Well, Jan. Are all the secrets out now?” There was metal in her words.
“Are you?” said Elizabeth, not believing but knowing the truth suddenly. So this was how Cody sensed things: they presented themselves in the air like actual shapes. Like stars, bright codes you simply had to see to interpret. Outside were the recognizable constellations from the mind of God: Orion, Ursa Major, the Pleiades. Inside were these bright shards of human need and knowledge.
Cody turned to her, inhaling deeply, even sorrowfully, before nodding her head. “Yes.”
The stars melted, the word slapped. “You promised,” Elizabeth whispered.
[p.125] “Shall I tell your secret, too?” Cody asked Jan.
“I’m sure Elizabeth has figured that one out.”
“What?” Elizabeth said, and then it was there, written in the air, and her inner eyes were reading it.
Jan shrugged. “I’m pregnant.”
Elizabeth didn’t reply. She stared first at her sister, then at Cody, shivering, wanting the good nurse to leave at once, and take her gifts with her. She did not want any more secrets shining in the room. “Does Mom know?” she said at last.
“She knew before I did,” said Jan.
“How could you?” whispered Elizabeth to both of them.