Maps in a mirror, p.82

Maps in a Mirror, page 82


Maps in a Mirror

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  When he said those words from the Bible, Papa Lem sounded like the voice of God himself, I’ve got to tell you. I felt exalted, knowing that it was God who gave such power to my family. It was to the whole family, the way Papa Lem told it, because the Lord promised Abraham that his children would be as many as there was stars in the sky, which is a lot more than Abraham knew about seeing how he didn’t have no telescope. And that promise now applied to Grandpa Jake, just like the one that said “in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” So Grandpa Jake set to studying the book of Genesis so he could fulfil those promises just like the patriarchs did. He saw how they went to a lot of trouble to make sure they only married kinfolk—you know how Abraham married his brother’s daughter, Sarah, and Isaac married his cousin Rebekah, and Jacob married his cousins Leah and Rachel. So Grandpa Jake left his first wife cause she was unworthy, meaning she probably wasn’t particularly sparky, and he took up with his brother’s daughter and when his brother threatened to kill him if he laid a hand on the girl, Grandpa Jake run off with her and his own brother died of a curse which is just exactly what happened to Sarah’s father in the Bible. I mean Grandpa Jake worked it out just right. And he made sure all his sons married their first cousins, and so all of them had sparkiness twice over, just like breeding pointers with pointers and not mixing them with other breeds, so the strain stays pure.

  There was all kinds of other stuff about Lot and his daughters, and if we remained faithful then we would be the meek who inherit the Earth because we were the chosen people and the Lord would strike down everybody who stood in our way, but what it all came down to at the moment was this: You marry whoever the patriarch tells you to marry, and Papa Lem was the patriarch. He had my mama marry my daddy even though they never particularly liked each other, growing up cousins, because he could see that they was both specially chosen, which means to say they was both about the sparkiest there was. And when I was born, they knew it was like a confirmation of Papa Lem’s decision, because the Lord had blessed them with a kid who gave off dust thicker than a dump truck on a dirt road.

  One thing he asked me real particular was whether I ever been laid. He says to me, “Have you spilled your seed among the daughters of Ishmael and Esau?”

  I knew what spilling seed was, cause we got lectures about that at the Children’s Home. I wasn’t sure who the daughters of Ishmael and Esau was, but since I never had a hot date, I figured I was pretty safe saying no. Still, I did consider a second, because what came to mind was the lady in Roanoke, stoking me up just by wanting me, and I was thinking about how close I’d come to not being a virgin after all. I wondered if the lady from Roanoke was a daughter of Esau.

  Papa Lem picked up on my hesitation, and he wouldn’t let it go. “Don’t lie to me boy. I can see a lie.” Well, since I could see a lie, I didn’t doubt but what maybe he could too. But then again, I’ve had plenty of grownups tell me they could spot a lie—but half the time they accused me of lying when I was telling the truth, and the other half they believed me when I was telling whoppers so big it’d take two big men to carry them upstairs. So maybe he could and maybe he couldn’t. I figured I’d tell him just as much truth as I wanted. “I was just embarrassed to tell you I never had a girl,” I says.

  “Ah, the deceptions of the world,” he says. “They make promiscuity seem so normal that a boy is ashamed to admit that he is chaste.” Then he got a glint in his eye. “I know the children of Esau have been watching you, wanting to steal your birthright. Isn’t that so?”

  “I don’t know who Esau is,” says I.

  The folks who was gathered around us started muttering about that.

  I says, “I mean, I know who he was in the Bible, he was the brother of Jacob, the one who sold him his birthright for split pea soup.”

  “Jacob was the rightful heir, the true eldest son,” says Papa Lem, “and don’t you forget it. Esau is the one who went away from his father, out into the wilderness, rejecting the things of God and embracing the lies and sins of the world. Esau is the one who married a strange woman, who was not of the people! Do you understand me?”

  I understood pretty good by then. Somewhere along the line somebody got sick of living under the thumb of Papa Lem, or maybe the patriarch before him, and they split.

  “Beware,” says Papa Lem, “because the children of Esau and Ishmael still covet the blessings of Jacob. They want to corrupt the pure seed of Grandpa Jake. They have enough of the blessing of God to know that you’re a remarkable boy, like Joseph who was sold into Egypt, and they will come to you with their whorish plans, the way Potiphar’s wife came to Joseph, trying to persuade you to give them your pure and undefiled seed so that they can have the blessing that their fathers rejected.”

  I got to tell you that I didn’t much like having him talk about my seed so much in front of mixed company, but that was nothing compared to what he did next. He waved his hand to a girl standing there in the crowd, and up she came. She wasn’t half bad-looking, in a country sort of way. Her hair was mousy and she wasn’t altogether clean and she stood with a two-bucket slouch, but her face wasn’t bad and she looked to have her teeth. Sweet, but not my type, if you know what I mean.

  Papa Lem introduced us. It was his daughter, which I might’ve guessed, and then he says to her, “Wilt thou go with this man?” And she looks at me and says, “I will go.” And then she gave me this big smile, and all of a sudden it was happening again, just like it did with the lady in Roanoke, only twice as much, cause after all the lady in Roanoke wasn’t hardly sparky. I was standing there and all I could think about was how I wanted all her clothes off her and to do with her right there in front of everybody and I didn’t even care that all those people were watching, that’s how strong it was.

  And I liked it, I got to tell you. I mean you don’t ignore a feeling like that. But another part of me was standing back and it says to me, “Mick Winger you damn fool, that girl’s as homely as the bathroom sink, and all these people are watching her make an idiot out of you,” and it was that part of me that got mad, because I didn’t like her making me do something, and I didn’t like it happening right out in front of everybody, and I specially didn’t like Papa Lem sitting there looking at his own daughter and me like we was in a dirty magazine.

  Thing is, when I get mad I get all sparky, and the madder I got, the more I could see how she was doing it, like she was a magnet, drawing me to her. And as soon as I thought of it like us being magnets, I took all the sparkiness from being mad and I used it. Not to hurt her or nothing, because I didn’t put it on her the way I did with the people I killed. I just kind of turned the path of her sparks plain upside down. She was spinning it just as fast as ever, but it went the other way, and the second that started, why, it was like she disappeared. I mean, I could see her all right, but I couldn’t hardly notice her. I couldn’t focus my eyes on her.

  Papa Lem jumped right to his feet, and the other folks were gasping. Pretty quick that girl stopped sparking at me, you can bet, and there she was on her knees, throwing up. She must’ve had a real weak digestion, or else what I done was stronger than I thought. She was really pouring on the juice, I guess, and when I flung it back at her and turned her upside down, well, she couldn’t hardly walk when they got her up. She was pretty hysterical, too, crying about how awful and ugly I was, which might’ve hurt my feelings except that I was scared to death.

  Papa Lem was looking like the wrath of God. “You have rejected the holy sacrament of marriage! You have spurned the handmaid God prepared for you!”

  Now you’ve got to know that I hadn’t put everything together yet, or I wouldn’t have been so afraid of him, but for all I knew right then he could kill me with a cancer. And it was a sure thing he could’ve had those people beat me to death or whatever he wanted, so maybe I was right to be scared. Anyway I had to think of a way to make him not be mad at me, and what I came up with must not’ve been too bad because it worked, didn’t it?

/>   I says to him, as calm as I can, “Papa Lem, she was not an acceptable handmaiden.” I didn’t watch all those TV preachers for nothing. I knew how to talk like the Bible. I says, “She was not blessed enough to be my wife. She wasn’t even as blessed as my mama. You can’t tell me that she’s the best the Lord prepared for me.”

  And sure enough, he calmed right down. “I know that,” he says. And he isn’t talking like a preacher any more, it’s me talking like a preacher and him talking all meek. “You think I don’t know it? It’s those children of Esau, that’s what it is, Mick, you got to know that. We had five girls who were a lot dustier than her, but we had to put them out into other families, cause they were like you, so strong they would’ve killed their own parents without meaning to.”

  And I says, “Well, you brought me back, didn’t you?”

  And he says, “Well you were alive, Mick, and you got to admit that makes it easier.”

  “You mean those girls’re all dead?” I says.

  “The children of Esau,” he says. “Shot three of them, strangled one, and we never found the body of the other. They never lived to be ten years old.”

  And I thought about how the lady in Roanoke told me she had me in her gunsights a few times. But she let me live. Why? For my seed? Those girls would’ve had seed too, or whatever. But they killed those girls and let me live. I didn’t know why. Hell, I still don’t, not if you mean to keep me locked up like this for the rest of my life. I mean you might as well have blasted my head off when I was six, and then I can name you a dozen good folks who’d still be alive, so no thanks for the favor if you don’t plan to let me go.

  Anyway, I says to him, “I didn’t know that. I’m sorry.”

  And he says to me, “Mick, I can see how you’d be disappointed, seeing how you’re so blessed by the Lord. But I promise you that my daughter is indeed the best girl of marriageable age that we’ve got here. I wasn’t trying to foist her off on you because she’s my daughter—it would be blasphemous for me to try it, and I’m a true servant of the Lord. The people here can testify for me, they can tell you that I’d never give you my own daughter unless she was the best we’ve got.”

  If she was the best they got then I had to figure the laws against inbreeding made pretty good sense. But I says to him, “Then maybe we ought to wait and see if there’s somebody younger, too young to marry right now.” I remembered the story of Jacob from Sunday School, and since they set such store by Jacob I figured it’d work. I says, “Remember that Jacob served seven years before he got to marry Rachel. I’m willing to wait.”

  That impressed hell out of him, you can bet. He says, “You truly have the prophetic spirit, Mick. I have no doubt that someday you’ll be Papa in my place, when the Lord has gathered me unto my fathers. But I hope you’ll also remember that Jacob married Rachel, but he first married the older daughter, Leah.”

  The ugly one, I thought, but I didn’t say it. I just smiled and told him how I’d remember that, and there was plenty of time to talk about it tomorrow, because it was dark now and I was tired and a lot of things had happened to me today that I had to think over. I was really getting into the spirit of this Bible thing, and so I says to him, “Remember that before Jacob could dream of the ladder into heaven, he had to sleep.”

  Everybody laughed, but Papa Lem wasn’t satisfied yet. He was willing to let the marriage thing wait for a few days. But there was one thing that couldn’t wait. He looks me in the eye and he says, “Mick, you got a choice to make. The Lord says those who aren’t for me are against me. Joshua said choose ye this day whom ye will serve. And Moses said, ‘I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live.’ ”

  Well I don’t think you can put it much plainer than that. I could choose to live there among the chosen people, surrounded by dirty kids and a slimy old man telling me who to marry and whether I could raise my own children, or I could choose to leave and get my brains blasted out or maybe just pick up a stiff dose of cancer—I wasn’t altogether sure whether they’d do it quick or slow. I kind of figured they’d do it quick, though, so I’d have no chance to spill my seed among the daughters of Esau.

  So I gave him my most solemn and hypocritical promise that I would serve the Lord and live among them all the days of my life. Like I told you, I didn’t know whether he could tell if I was lying or not. But he nodded and smiled so it looked like he believed me. Trouble was, I knew he was lying, and so that meant he didn’t believe me, and that meant I was in deep poo, as Mr. Kaiser’s boy Greggy always said. In fact, he was pretty angry and pretty scared, too, even though he tried to hide it by smiling and keeping a lid on himself. But I knew that he knew that I had no intention of staying there with those crazy people who knocked up their cousins and stayed about as ignorant as I ever saw. Which meant that he was already planning to kill me, and sooner rather than later.

  No, I better tell the truth here, cause I wasn’t that smart. It wasn’t till I was halfway to the house that I really wondered if he believed me, and it wasn’t till Mama had me with a nice clean pair of pajamas up in a nice clean room, and she was about to take my jeans and shirt and underwear and make them nice and clean that it occurred to me that maybe I was going to wish I had more clothes on than pajamas that night. I really got kind of mad before she finally gave me back my clothes—she was scared that if she didn’t do what I said, I’d do something to her. And then I got to thinking that maybe I’d made things even worse by not giving her the clothes, because that might make them think that I was planning to skip out, and so maybe they weren’t planning to kill me before but now they would, and so I probably just made things worse. Except when it came down to it, I’d rather be wrong about the one thing and at least have my clothes, than be wrong about the other thing and have to gallivant all over the country in pajamas. You don’t get much mileage on country roads barefoot in pajamas, even in the summer.

  As soon as Mama left and went on downstairs, I got dressed again, including my shoes, and climbed in under the covers. I’d slept out in the open, so I didn’t mind sleeping in my clothes. What drove me crazy was getting my shoes on the sheets. They would’ve yelled at me so bad at the Children’s Home.

  I laid there in the dark, trying to think what I was going to do. I pretty much knew how to get from this house out to the road, but what good would that do me? I didn’t know where I was or where the road led or how far to go, and you don’t cut cross country in North Carolina—if you don’t trip over something in the dark, you’ll bump into some moonshine or marijuana operation and they’ll blast your head off, not to mention the danger of getting your throat bit out by some tobacco farmer’s mean old dog. So there I’d be running along a road that leads nowhere with them on my tail and if they wanted to run me down, I don’t think fear of cancer would slow down your average four-wheeler.

  I thought about maybe stealing a car, but I don’t have the first idea how to hotwire anything. It wasn’t one of the skills you pick up at the Children’s Home. I knew the idea of it, somewhat, because I’d done some reading on electricity with the books Mr. Kaiser lent me so I could maybe try getting ready for the GED, but there wasn’t a chapter in there on how to get a Lincoln running without a key. Didn’t know how to drive, either. All the stuff you pick up from your dad or from your friends at school, I just never picked up at all.

  Maybe I dozed off, maybe I didn’t. But I suddenly noticed that I could see in the dark. Not see, of course. Feel the people moving around. Not far off at first, except like a blur, but I could feel the near ones, the other ones in the house. It was cause they was sparky, of course, but as I laid there feeling them drifting here and there, in the rhythms of sleep and dreams, or walking around, I began to realize that I’d been feeling people all along, only I didn’t know it. They wasn’t sparky, but I always knew where they were, like shadows drifting in the back of your
mind, I didn’t even know that I knew it, but they were there. It’s like when Diz Riddle got him his glasses when he was ten years old and all of a sudden he just went around whooping and yelling about all the stuff he saw. He always used to see it before, but he didn’t rightly know what half the stuff was. Like pictures on coins. He knew the coins was bumpy, but he didn’t know they was pictures and writing and stuff. That’s how this was.

  I laid there and I could make a map in my brain where I could see a whole bunch of different people, and the more I tried, the better I could see. Pretty soon it wasn’t just in that house. I could feel them in other houses, dimmer and fainter. But in my mind I didn’t see no walls so I didn’t know whether somebody was in the kitchen or in the bathroom, I had to think it out, and it was hard, it took all my concentration. The only guide I had was that I could see electric wires when the current was flowing through them, so wherever a light was on or a clock was running or something, I could feel this thin line, really thin, not like the shadows of people. It wasn’t much, but it gave me some idea of where some of the walls might be.

  If I could’ve just told who was who I might have made some guesses about what they was doing. Who was asleep and who was awake. But I couldn’t even tell who was a kid and who was a grown-up, cause I couldn’t see sizes, just brightness. Brightness was the only way I knew who was close and who was far.

  I was pure lucky I got so much sleep during the day when that guy was giving me a ride from Roanoke to Eden. Well, that wasn’t lucky, I guess, since I wished I hadn’t gone to Eden at all, but at least having that long nap meant that I had a better shot at staying awake until things quieted down.

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