Chapter Thirteen – The Washing Away of Wrongs
There was more than one reason she needed to see Bish. Only with Bish could she share her fresh discovery: that sex, the devouring ritual, can birth a new self. No wonder men thought they could become stronger giving themselves away. Would Bish proclaim this new insight “poem-worthy”? His highest accolade.
Bish transcended ordinary girlfriends because he lacked the spark of competition. He was all sympathy, all nourishment, all delight; just like the Bird Lady really.
She couldn’t say any of this to Ned; the healing she extracted from his body distanced them. Was that what always happened when another person’s being became a field of play? Now she was initiated into the secret Bruce had always known; Roy and Jarod, too. There was a first time for everything. Was this what being guiltless felt like? Like a warrior she flicked the pain away. Bish would sort it out. She was impenetrable once again.
Cinda and Bish’s house was in the kind of development Babe and Roy could bond in ridiculing. They were never so united as when running someone down. Babe would call it “Big Sky Country” because it lacked mature plantings; Roy would dub it “Alcatraz” because of all the floodlights. Bish would have laughed with them; he named it “Bolonial Estates.” This was reality; what an insurance adjuster and an editor working full and over-time, could actually afford.
Bish opened the door, notebook to chest, a smile on his eager face. He wore yoga pants and a Hard Rock t-shirt. He ushered her inside.
“Princess! Bless your psychic abilities; I summoned and you came. I need help on my poem. I know I should put it away and sleep on it but I whenever I close my eyes I’m afraid I might miss something wonderful– like you. Sleep is such a waste. A fifty year old man who hasn’t slept at all has lived a hundred years.”
He waved his notebook in front of her eyes. “I’ve gotten myself in an embarrassing knot, like a kitten with a ball of string. I need you to cut me loose.”
“Oh Bish,” she protested, shrugging off her jacket, “You know I’m no good with words.”
He ushered her inside. “Never run yourself down, princess. It’s not even true. By the way, may I say you’re looking especially ravishing this evening? Or should I say ravished? Love the bellybutton set to full exposure.”
She blushed, wondering what he would say if he knew this time she was the ravisher, and Bish’s face crumpled in delight.
“But enough about me! This needs to be all about you.” He took her jacket, murmuring thoughtfully, “Will you tell me or will you force me to guess? I warn you, Cinda’s not here so we only have one player.”
That was a relief. Cinda couldn’t keep a secret if her life depended on it. Gracefully as she could manage, Persey said. “I need you both. But I want you.” Bish purred with satisfaction. “I knew it! Well said. And you claim to be no good with words! Yet as we are promised to others we must yearn in silence.” She glanced around the living room with pleasure. Cinda and Bish’s house was always a mess, but it was a reassuring mess. “Lived-in” Babe the realtor would say, and she didn’t mean it as a compliment. But to Persey the house was as comfortable as a favorite pair of jeans; maybe not for every day, but treasured as the very definition of comfort and satisfaction.
“Feng Shui by way of Fisher Price,” Bish sighed, kicking a Big Wheel out of her way. Through the tumble of plants, books, kids’ toys and furniture in various stages of disrepair darted unnumbered cats with complex personalities and literary names. African and Native American art on the walls, Orientals on the floor, an admittedly fake fire – who had time to drag in logs? — glowing on the hearth, the violins of Mozart sounding low and sweet. According to Bish Bach was heaven’s official musician, but God preferred Mozart.
This was not a place Roy could ever visit, not with his allergies. No Roy. No Bruce. No Jarod. Batik draperies were drawn tight against the world’s judgmental eyes.
Bish shook a tempting bottle of sherry at his guest. “Nepenthe? I’ve got special glasses, just for you.”
As he went to get them she picked up the discarded notebook. Through furious cross-hatching she made out a few words.
The fountains of our fear shoot high at first
Across playing fields of ravishment and pain
Where soldiers murdered by hormonal burst
Bless fatherlands with bonemeal spiked with brain.
Severed quarters must ejaculate their dross,
As blood born of blood we consecrate to loss.
Persey fell into a mock Eames rocker. She was not psychic about Bish; Bish was psychic about her. He always had been.
“Your poem, Bish,” she called. “It’s perfect just the way it is.”
He appeared with a pair of cobalt-colored gold-veined shot-glasses. “It’s my footballer poem. Called In Heaven the Victors. I had this idea of heaven as a huge Viking feast where the victors are amazed to find the vanquished. All their enemies, in fact, everyone they defeated. So all of them sit down for a meal and a chat and get to know each other. But I don’t think I’ll ever finish. The best labors are the labors of eternity, I’m afraid.“
She looked at the shot glasses disapprovingly. “I thought I told you to use the gallon jug.”
“No, Princess, no. You have the metabolism of a hummingbird, and you’ve already had something to drink, I can see. I won’t be your enabler. Besides, you’re driving. Swallow, sister, o swallow. A thimbleful is all you’ll get.”
She flushed. “How could you tell?”
He sipped. “I know you, princess. Spend the night and you can drink all you like.”
For a moment she considered it. But that would bring Roy over here. Not a nice thing to do to a friend like Bish.
“I better not,” she sighed.
Bish sat on the sofa nearest her and rubbed her arm. “Princess, you’re all over bruises. Does the glam Nazi beat you?”
“Of course not,” said Persey. How to explain that Roy was just a rock and Jarod was a hard place? You’d never get a poet to agree that some things are just inexpressible, but she couldn’t tell Bish after all. Already, with his psychic powers, he seemed to pity her. And telling anything had added dangers because telling made things true. Time to woman up, she thought.
“I’d rather talk about your poem,” she sniffed, blotting her eyes with a gauze sleeve. “Inspired by your soybean field?”
He looked surprised. “Well no. Of course my experiences inform it, so to speak. But ultimately everything links to everything, in the end.” He patted her back. “Poetry is unimportant when a princess weeps.”
The sherry was so dry that, hornet–like, it stung and swelled her lips. She looked down into the empty glass. He was right about the booze. Here she was getting all maudlin.
“Where’s Cinda? Where are the kids?”
“Cinda’s out with Les girls from the office, ” said Bish, “Or so she says. One
never really knows.” He looked up at the dusty ceiling with a faraway glance. “She needs time off from parenting, as don’t we all? It doesn’t take a mere village, it takes factories, highways, convenience stores and banks open round the clock to keep a family on its feet. We all wimp out occasionally.” He looked at his watch. “The baby barbarians are now asleep and I’d like to keep it that way, so keep the tumult down. God knows how they ever lose consciousness with all that Ritalin in their systems. It doesn’t work that way on me. I can only assume they’ve built a tolerance.”
Focus on the goal. She resolved to expose Bish to as little risk as possible. But she did need that alibi.
“Has Roy called looking for me?”
Bish studied her intently, eyes bugging in clown-like astonishment. “Trouble in paradise? Well, blast my eyes, Princess, it took you long enough!
People might wail about you and Roy as the perfect couple, but I was never fooled. I could see that man was starving you to death. I thought you were the “anti-couple!” I knew you’d break your bonds in time. No, princess, Roy didn’t call, or anyone else. The phone may be on the fritz again. Those damn squirrels keep building nests in the lines; they want us to be their village.
Am I the first one honored with this revelation? Undress thy soul! Where did you meet him? Or is it a her?”
She smiled to think of Ned. A pleasure merely to think of him, going on and on about hope and justice. Everyone needs a light in the window, she thought. Without that we couldn’t see at all.
“It’s a him. You can’t even share this with Cinda,” she warned Bish. “I’m telling you and you only.”
Bish made the time-honored gesture of locking his lips and throwing away the key. “Oh, Persey, I’m so excited! I can’t wait to hear! Is he very, very beautiful?”
She laughed. Would anyone think so besides her? “He’s very, very beautiful.”
Bish sighed ecstatically. “Of course he is. Big and strong, I’ll wager, with a perfect six-pack and eyes like coal fires. Anyone I know? Did he pledge eternal fealty as he crushed you to his massive chest and showered kisses on your upturned face or was it just a skirmish in a restaurant cloakroom? Was it worth it? Did he remind you of me? Will it be happening every Thursday?”
She rose to fetch the sherry bottle for herself since her host had cut her off. She loved this pajama party atmosphere, but she hardly knew how to answer his questions. How many nights with Ned would erase Jarod? Bruce? Roy?
“It was worth it,” was all she could commit to.
Bish’s long sigh was like a gush of pleasure. “Don’t I get a play-by play?” She shook her head. “No. Maybe someday, if you’re good.”
“Curses! Drink all you want,” Bish told her, “Then you’ll change your mind.
You’ll see I can be the best girlfriend ever. Utterly discreet yet eminently supportive. Whatever you want, I’ll say. Cinda will never even guess. Oh, she would be so jealous if she knew!”
“I’m a little nervous about Cinda not being home,” said Persey. “We don’t want Roy getting jealous of you.”
“That would of course be the ultimate compliment,” said Bish. “If we hadn’t all known for years that Roy’s insane. I’m sorry Persey, but it has to be faced. Painful as it is for me especially to admit it, looks aren’t everything. He growls at people just like an animal.” He sipped his sherry thoughtfully. “OK. I’ve got it. You were babysitting. Cinda and I were both out for the evening. Capiche?
Nothing to be jealous of. Better say your car started its evening in the garage, in case he drove past. He’s not to know we’ve been unable to get any cars in there since 1999.”
Babysitting was good, thought Persey. Roy would have to buy it. Under the circumstances. Wouldn’t he?
“You’re awfully good at this alibi stuff,” teased Persey.
Bish preened. “I am a creative artist, remember. I make things up daily out of mustard and stardust. Let’s see, what time did you arrive?“
“Seven-twenty,” said Persey.
Bish’s grin deepened. He looked at his watch. “We have been having fun, haven’t we? All right, you came, we went. I’ll find out later from Cinda where we went — probably The Tropics Club. It’s dark in there, nobody ever sees anybody, and that’s the whole idea. You gave the kids dinner. Chicken nuggets, leftover Chinese and ice cream. That’s what they like, Princess, don’t look at me that way, I can’t help it. Believe me, we’ve tried to civilize them. It’s the fluoride – or the mercury –Algar — something poisoning their tiny brains. It’s like something out of a William Golding novel. They are such utter savages.”
“I guess we all were, once upon a time,” said Persey, thinking, but some of us don’t change. “What then?”
“You read a book – maybe Screwfly for the book club – I’ll give it to you — and they watched that goddam Dalmatian movie for the four thousandth time, and then the big one beat up the little one. The requisite tears before bedtime, the lachrymose moment before we say goodbye. The little one insists on it, she’s such a masochist. I suppose the boy’s a sadist but I prefer to think of him as an infant fauve. Would you like to have given them a bath? Bath night’s a hoot.”
“No, thanks. Too Much Information. Roy won’t want to know all this.”
Even I don’t, she thought, rising. Sadists, masochists, tears before bedtime was an unpleasant tour through the childhood of Bruce and Roy. She herself had longed for sibling as a buffer to distract her parents, but maybe it’s all about the hell you know, which, on the other side of the fence, could so much worse.
She looked at her watch. Almost midnight. She couldn’t just stay here swilling sherry all night, much as she’d love to freeze the moment. Her eyes searched for her jacket. “I can’t thank you enough,” she said, like a well- brought-up child.
His face collapsed in worry as he chased her to the door.
“How do you know Roy won’t go all caveman on your ass? Allow me to remind you that testosterone is a dangerous psychoactive drug. Princess, that man carries a knife with him everywhere he goes.”
But Persey knew the other Roy, the one without the knife; the Roy drowsing in the hot tub, naked and vulnerable in the shower, sweaty and boyish in bed. The other Roy was all fakery, like the feathery gills of a puffer fish. Jarod was his weapon, and poor Bish admired Jarod.
It was hopeless to explain.
“I know Roy. He’d never do anything to me.” She’d given him the opportunity, but the arm raised to strike her had been stayed. It was Jarod you couldn’t trust, and he was off and running. Had he been released by Roy or Bruce?
“Here’s your book,” said Bish, handing her the volume. “I know you’ll love it. One last question, princess, this new man; is he truly worthy of you?”
Persey closed her eyes, allowing the evening’s deepening skirmishes to play out in the slow motion of memory. The sinews of his compact body were hard as ripcords. He might as well wear a sign: Pull here to save yourself. She opened her eyes.
“I’ll answer that if you answer one for me.” Bish quirked an eyebrow in astonishment. “Anything.”
“I worry about being worthy of him.”
Bish’s face warmed, eyes crinkled, lips parted in a joyous grin.
“Oh, Persephone, you are so modest,” he sighed. “Your sweetness makes me
feel romantic. I can’t wait till Cinda comes home – won’t she get a surprise. Ask your question.”
“It’s about your poem. If the victors and the vanquished are all in heaven, then who’s in hell?”
Bish spluttered his amazement.
“Silly Princess! No one believes in hell anymore!”
“Oh, I do,” said Persey.