When the Mormons come this time, I'm not my usual self. Sure, I've baked the cookies and yes, I have an apron on and there's even a little soft music playing, but today, I done, I'm a changed woman because you see, before my son came home from school, I found his stash under his mattress, and yes, I smoked three in a row. But it's not about the pot. No, it's not about getting stoned in the middle of the afternoon and having an Alice-in-Middle-Aged-Wonderland experience because you're pissed as hell about life, your life. No. It's about the truth. And the truth is this: I don't give a shit anymore. About anything. And I feel fine, oh so fine, that all I can do is stare at the frozen chicken breasts bobbing in a pan of water by the sink. Smile at dishes clean in the dishwasher. Think quiet thoughts about a load of laundry ready for the dryer downstairs. And wish my son well when he realizes he's not getting fucking stoned this afternoon, a towel pressed against the door jam. Because Mama took his bacon and she's frying it up in her pan.
I answer the door in my bare feet. And it's Charles. It's always Charles first, black and white shining.
"Well, hello, Mrs. Williams," Charles says. He stands erect in his little black suit, with his toes pointed forward. It makes me laugh today. "So good to see you again."
The other one—Garnett, nods his head slowly. "Yo," he says. Charles stares at him with grave, waiting silence, tapping his black notebook until Garnett straightens up, extends his hand toward me. "Hello, Mrs. Williams," he yawns.
Then I show those boys my sword.
"You have a sword," Charles says evenly, which yes, I do. It's my great-great-great grandfather's, Reginald Percy, who sliced people apart in the Revolutionary War and became a hero. I've been holding it for the last half hour, twirling it over my head, poking at the Berber carpet until it piles. It's very light.
I press my thumb to the tip and shout melodramatically, "Ouch!" and Charles pales slightly. So I put the thing down on the hall table right underneath the portrait of Reginald with his bald head and fat cheeks. "Come in, come in," I say in my expected happy housewife way, my lips turning up at the corners. Charles relaxes with his semi-genuflect at the door, so pleased to be inside a warm house that smells of cinnamon and Clorox. And Garnett, that boy with his lumbering slide-drag walk, like its too much effort to be here, like he's thinking he'd rather be on some street corner in the hip hop section of Salt Lake with his homies, not at some Connecticut colonial watching some old bitch cook dinner for her family—a banker dude who never comes home, and the son, the one who's always in his room.
"What are you making tonight?" Charles asks, looking around at the darkened kitchen. He leans over an apple pie candle snuffling in the counterfeit smells of safety, home. Garnett just leans against the wall. He holds his fingers together as if expecting a cigarette to appear between them at any moment. I look him over, this Garnett, and he knows it. He flips his chin over his shoulder and smiles a smile that says, yeah, come get it, lady.
I turn away from his frat boy face and stuff two cookies in my mouth, grab a handful of peanuts and it's heavenly the way the peanuts mix with chocolate mix with sugar. "Do you know," I say as I chew. " McCall's tells me that if I have sex at least once a week that I'll lose ten pounds in a month?" Pouring chips into a bowl, I hand them to Charles who spreads his mouth wide, hearing me say sex when I usually talk about recipes, gardening tips during their visits. I'm the only person in this neighborhood who lets them inside. Everyone else slams the door at them. Charles tells me these things and it just breaks my damn heart, the way people are in this world. You don't have to believe them; you just have to let them in sometimes.
"Oh, chicken!" Charles lifts two breasts up from the pan, the flesh dripping water.
"And I'll lose twenty pounds if I screw twice a week . . . " I cover my face, giggling, actually stick my fingers into my mouth for a moment to calm it all down.
"Baking chicken seals in all the juices," Charles continues. "Whereas if you grill, they drip . . . "
"Shut up, Chuck," Garnett says, his voice unhurried, bored actually.
"Excuse me?" Charles says flexing his hip against the kitchen sink as Garnett rolls his eyes and starts tapping his finger on the wall to the stereo now being blasted from my lovely son, Randy's room, a tidal wave of fuck and darkman and death flooding the house. Randy has some anger management problems. He's a Goth, which means he's sent home monthly for being a danger to himself and others because he lights small fires in the boys' bathroom with paper towels and occasionally carves die muthafuckahs on desks. He has a bad attitude and in Westford High School, Land of the Patriots, that's grounds for suspension.
"But . . . " I tap my McCall's. "What about if you haven't had sex in eight months, except with yourself, and your husband's jacking off to porn sites? Huh?"
"Mrs. Williams . . . " Charles looks pained as he places chicken pieces in a baking dish.
"Are there any articles on that? Any helpful tips on this situation? I think not." I fling those chicken pieces out of that baking dish.
"I think we should pray," Charles says.
Garnett peers around the corner toward Randy's room as another band screams blood and cock and funeral love.
"Let's start with the Lord's Prayer, Mrs. Williams," Charles says, washing his hands. He's aware of salmonella and bacteria counts on raw meat; he knows to keep everything clean and tidy, to wipe down counters, squeeze out the sponges, spray down chunks of food to disposals. He wants to become a chef after he finishes his mission, braising hindquarters, caramelizing onions, stuffing bananas between thick slices of French toast. "I want you to bend your head now." He waits. And yes, I usually sit with him while he prays, not because I accept anything he's talking about, but because I like how the words fill the inside of my head, help us, save her son, peace, love. That Charles can really calm me down. Make me feel part of something wider than myself. But today, those images of what's on my husband's Tittyass.com website just joggle my nerves so I just break open some Merlot. And Charles backs away.
Garnett hums along to Randy's music, nodding his head.
"Or perhaps we should try again with your son," Charles suggests, and this perks Garnett up. "Help him with a little scripture."
"Sure," I say. "Randy! Turn down your goddamn music!" I drain my glass of Merlot and Charles just stares and stares. He's used to me drinking herbal tea, water with lemon, an occasional cup of coffee, which he frowns about because caffeine defiles the human body, and when a body is considered a temple, that's really bad. Almost a sin. He looks ready to pounce on my glass so I hold it close to my chest as I shout again, "Randy! Turn it down!"
The stereo gets raised, bass thumping against the walls.
"He's totally spacing you, Mrs. Williams," Garnett says.
"No joke," I say, flicking my fingers in a way I've seen this singer, Vanilla Ice, do on MTV's "Behind the Music." Garnett just mouths, "not cool" past my face, and I want to slap him, pull his unzipped face to mine and smack those pink cheeks until he screeches. But instead, I just keep flicking my fingers in his face until he turns away.
"I think I have the ticket," Charles says quickly, clapping his hands. He tries to roll up the sleeves of his black jacket but they keep sliding down.
"Here," Garnett says, shoving the bible at Charles' chest.
"That was uncalled for," Charles says, but Garnett is already sauntering down the hallway, his hands cupping and uncupping his crotch in time to the music.
Randy's door is painted black and covered with nuclear stickers pasted into shapes of swastikas. I put my earplugs in, the ones I keep in my pocket at all times. I don't knock because if I do, he starts throwing things at the door, usually model airplanes he made when he was in elementary school, back when he was nice and I was nice and my husband was nice and we did nice family projects and displayed nice things because he wanted to be an Eagle scout just like his father, wear that pressed green and tan uniform to scout conventions and hold the flag, saying the Pledge of Allegiance and God Bless America, with me standing at his side, a Den Mother. Forget that shit now.
I just head on in, Charles at my shoulder.
"Ma!" shouts Randy. His face is milk colored with black lips, hair streaked purple and spiked. He's painting his toenails blue. When he sees the Mormons, he picks the polish up and whizzes it at the wall, a smash of welted blue against the lacerated wallpaper of baseball bats and mitts and hamburgers. "Get them fucking out of here!"
He pushes his lip out like he used to do as a child.
"Honey," I say, and Charles rubs my shoulder in support. I can feel his breath on my neck. I look at Charles the way I used to look at Randy just to make Randy remember. See what he is missing. All my lovey-dovey boo boo Mama love. But then Charles smiles this moist smile and I don't like it so I push him away, glaring at Randy. "Listen to them."
"There are many rooms in the Heavenly Father's house and I am going to prepare a place for you," Charles says quietly, even as Randy starts throwing dirty socks his way.
"Not that one, you idiot," Garnett says, pushing himself into the room. A burnt down candle hurtles past his shoulder. He hisses into Charles' ear, "Say this: 'Now for those enemies of mine who did not want me, bring them here and kill them in my presence'. He'll cruise with that one."
"I don't care for that scripture," Charles says, a book called The Arsonist flapping past his ear. "Do not be worried or upset . . . " Charles stands in front of me, chin lifted. "Peace is what I leave with you . . . " A shoe smacks his knee and he flinches slightly. "And peace . . . "
"No," Garnett says, whispering Jesus F'ing Christ to his chest. He pushes past Charles. "I do not come to bring peace, but a sword!" Then he yells along to the screaming lyrics of suck and slaughter and sweat and this seems to calm Randy, actually makes him stop throwing things.
Charles tries to give Garnett a high five, to celebrate this milestone of teenage wasteland salvation, but Garnett slaps his hand away a little too roughly and Charles backs away.
Randy squints slightly, stroking his chin, these sprouting hairs that he shaves into a triangle of black. Looking first at Charles then Garnett, he suddenly smiles a smile full of metal teeth and colored rubber bands. "You two lovers for the Lord?" he asks nonchalantly, gazing first at Charles then at Garnett, innocence mixed with Fuck this shit.
"Randy," I say and Charles looks to me to say more, but today, I just shrug. I need more Merlot.
"Jigging for Jesus?" Randy's eyes blaze because he's found a new button, different from the one he pushes with me, with his father, with school, with anyone who comes too close. But this time, it's very amusing, the way his lips twitch, how his shoulders are all loose and jumbled between his legs and the button's not on me, at least not yet. He hasn't looked under his mattress. I smile slightly, which makes him say more. "Screwing for salvation?"
And I'm seeing my husband in his droopy pjs in front of that Internet staring and staring at naked strangers screwing on the computer, in and out, in and out, and its all so sad, Brad the man who used to run marathons now pissing his pants. Brad mad at me like it's my fault he has prostate problems. Brad, his hand on a computer mouse instead of on me.
"Stop," I say, and Garnett is the first to stomp away. I grab hold of Charles and rest my chin on his head and stare at my son, the way he sprawls against his unmade bed, how a spike of purple hair droops over his forehead. "Why don't you . . . "
"Get the fuck out!" Randy shouts and that's when I pull Charles out of that room. The black door slams and Randy's stereo cranks louder than before. Even with my ear plugs pushed in as far as they'll go, the bass thumps against the mirrors lining the walls, the spotlit photos of Brad holding ribbons and trophies from the races, and me clutching onto him like he's some ticket to happiness.
Damnit, I say under my breath and Charles nods because he thinks he's disappointed me again, not winning Randy back. But I'm not thinking of my damn son, I'm thinking of food. Me and Brad after his races, that man so hungry, shouting more, more, more, and we'd stuff it into our faces with abandon and laugh with our mouths full. And Randy was always laughing, all of us at our special family suppers.
"That was bad today," Charles says and I nod yes. It's been three months of their visits and prayers and scripture and it's all failure. "Really, really bad." He goes into the bathroom, closing the door softly.
"It'll probably get worse," I say.
And I hear him moan.
When I get into the kitchen, Garnett is drinking a glass of milk, his black jacket off. He eyes me as he drains the cup, a mustache of white along his upper lip. He could probably beat the shit out of Randy and he knows it, would probably like to go back into that room and smash my son's face in with his Book of Mormon hands, throw him through a window.
"Here," I say, handing him the wineglass. "Fill it." And he does. But when he hands it back to me, he won't let go of the glass, just holds it tight, his hand over mine, and it's softer than my own, a little rough at the finger tips, but still smooth, like he hasn't dug deep into things or pounded nails into boards or shoveled snow or made his bed, like life has taken care of him, and now here he is to show it all off.
"You want a sip?" I ask, jostling the cup so wine splatters against both of our hands. He lets go of me.
"Bad, bad," he says, waving his thick finger in front of my face until I grab it and pull him nose to nose.
"Good, good," I tell him and he doesn't know what to do. I sort of like this, how his face rolls around on the floor, then up at me, into my silk top, then further down my hip, his fingers still on mine. I smile wide, stretching backward from him. "You have milk on your lip."
"And?" His eyes crackle.
"What's your Mama think of you?" I purse my lips.
"She feels blessed," he says in monotone. Then he crushes his mouth against mine, teeth against tongue against lips, and it's wrong and it's rude and it's naughty, and it's also a little bit unpleasant, all that spit and milk mixed, but then again, I'm not expecting to be saved, and I don't give a shit about sin, and I can tell my book club group about it next Tuesday, that I made out with a Mormon, and there'll be sick giggling as we get drunker and drunker, not talking about any damn books or authors.
And my wine glass collapses between us, red splashed against granite. I grin at Charles catching us as Garnett pushes himself away from me. I pour some more Merlot.
I hold my hands up in prayer and look to the heavens but it doesn't work.
"This is unacceptable," Charles continues. "Mrs. Williams is a married woman." He extends his hand toward me, like I'm a new car up for bid on the "Price is Right." Guess my price and win, win big.
"Not exactly," I say, shrugging. "I'm getting divorced."
"No," Charles says shaking his head.
"My husband sucks."
And this makes Garnett laugh, knocking his head against his cupboard. His eyes are flat on the wall and his hands are still twitching. I like that.
"Garnett," Charles warns, and he turns toward me, and I'm about to tell him more, about me in bed just waiting and waiting, smashing a pillow between my thighs, but then the phone rings. And it's probably school. Or else the rehab. But probably Randy's principal. Again. Wanting to discuss some threatening term paper of Randy's about bombs and boys in basketball jackets and grenades being launched from trees and how Randy wants the world painted black and I don't want to answer it, I don't want to meet again with the counselor, and talk about positive interactions and assertive communication and managing anger effectively. I don't want the glances from the secretaries and teachers as they watch me walk into school, oh there's his mother, look at her, she seems normal, but there must be something very, very wrong at home with her son dressing as a pierced Satan while all the other kids are in Abercrombie and Fitch.
"Aren't you going to answer it?" Charles asks.
"No." And the answering machine picks up, and it's my pleasant, well-adjusted voice saying things about not being able to answer the phone and please, please leave a message because we'll be sure to get back to you. I sound psychotic.
Charles walks back into the kitchen, singing Lord and lambs and things about burning bushes, and Garnett and I are alone again. So I purse my lips.
"Milk-boy . . . " I whisper.
"Mrs. Williams." Garnett comes over to me and click closes his eyes in some sort of Punk Rocker way. He holds his mouth open and his tongue is so pink, and I think, how nice, a bright happy snack, cotton candy mixed with strawberry ice cream mixed with what the hell and so I just grab it, my moment. I grab him by the back of his throat and suck it all dry, leaving him gasping for air.
"There," I say.
"Jesus," he says, pulling away, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
"Good, huh?" I roll my eyes over him, and I'm remembering the things I liked best about myself, how I used to fling myself around rooms, arms raised, kicking my legs out, and the men flowing around me, landing on top of me, and always telling me, "Babe, you're the best."
Then he says it. "You're like my mother's age." And he turns away from me.
"Your oven's ready . . . " Charles calls from the kitchen.
And I stare at Garnett's football back. And the way sun bolts around his buzz cut.
And there's this pressure pulling and tightening. It curves between my legs. Over my belly. And there's Randy's music humping itself against me. A chalky taste on my tongue. The shadows are falling hard. Too hard. As I run my hands over my face. Down my breasts. Too hard. So I snatch it. Reginald's sword.
"No, you're not, Buster," I tell Garnett. And then I belt out my favorite Cher tune, flipping my pageboy left and right. "If I could turn back time . . . "
When Garnett turns back to me, first with disgust and then fear, Cher just shooting out of my mouth, I press that Revolutionary sword into his young Tom Turkey breast.
"This is crazy," Garnett says.
"Yes, it is," I agree. "Now walk." I keep my face pleasant but I realize my voice is very loud, louder than I've had it in a long time. "You're staying for a special supper." And I whip that sword around in the air making calligraphy spirals. Garnett makes for the door. "Hey! Get back here!" And by accident—I've never really hurt anybody, not that I haven't wanted to—I clip the side of his ear. He screeches when he touches blood on his neck. Charles holds his stomach.
"Ma?" It's Randy.
"Hi, honey," I say, and this time he doesn't tell me to stop calling him honey.
"The sword's very sharp," I explain.
"Are you on drugs?" Randy mimics me in a pleasant-but-concerned mother's voice.
"Why, yes, I am," I say. Swords make good microphones. Easy to move around and light. I finish my Tina song. "What's love but a second hand emotion?"
"That explains it." Charles looks to Garnett for support but Garnett closes his eyes, ignoring him.
Randy arches his eyebrow, staring straight at me. I haven't had this sort of directness of attention in a long time. "Drugs?"
"I stole yours, dear," I say.
"You fucking smoked my weed?" Randy balances first on one leg, then the other as I shrug at him, nodding.
"Shut up. Just shut the fuck up," Garnet says, holding his head. "This is cracked. This whole thing." He bangs against the wall. "Riding around on a bicycle with people throwing beer cans at your face and calling you fuckhead, and now this crazy bitch stabbing me in the face . . . "
"She's not a crazy bitch," Randy says. "She's just my alcoholic mother."
"This is fun." I slice a Z next to Garnett's ear.
Randy shrugs his shoulders. Until I whiz that blade next to him.
"Jesus, Ma . . . "
"Maybe I'll bring this sword to our next school meeting. Slice through a couple of your social assessment reports." I nip the top of Garnett's head and he throws his neck back trying not to cringe. "What kind of weed was that, sweetie?" I ask, rubbing my son's purple hair. He lets me this time.
But before he can finish telling me Jamaican, there's a flash, and it's Charles, running head first into Randy's stomach, knocking him over, and then Charles swats me.
"Because of this, in one day she will be struck with grief and famine," he shouts. He pulls the sword from my hand and the blade slices right through my thumb. "The Lord God who judges her is mighty."
There's blood down my palm.
"I heard a voice from heaven." My son's hands are on my shoulders. "And it was right in the name of the Lord."
And it's almost a hug. It's almost a hug. And with that white makeup sliding off his face, Randy's whispering things I haven't heard in years, like Ma and oh Ma and I don't care that Charles is holding that shining sword high now over both of our heads. I'm just listening to my son.
My baby boy is quoting scripture. It's a miracle.
"The day of reckoning has begun . . . " Charles' eyes are wild, changed into something empty and dark.
My son holds my thumb tight.
"I will send my sinner ahead to open the way for you . . . " He knocks that sword against Randy's shoulders as if anointing him for battle. Then he raises the sword high.
"Yo, Chuck," Garnett shouts. And he smashes the portrait of Reginald over top of Charles' head. "Like the fires of hell . . . " Garnett sings.
" . . . burning the world . . . " Randy joins in. His hands are still on me. And it's beautiful, it really is. Especially with that answering machine going off and Charles' voice singing that Praise God song at the top of his lungs.
Garnett grabs the sword and holds it to Randy's mouth. "Sing it, dude." Together, they sing into the sharp blade. "Share the sin, you just can't win . . . "
"Honey," I whisper to Charles. "It's okay."
Charles keeps his head down.
"I forgive you," I say and when Charles looks up, his eyes have calmed back to Mormon blue.
"He is coming," he tells me.
"Jesus?" I ask.
"No." Charles nods toward the phone. "Your husband."
We sit together and listen as my damn pervert husband goes on and on about who's there with you and I'm so sorry, so sorry, and I made a mistake and I'll never look at Titty.ass.com again, I promise and that yes, I'll be home for dinner, sweetheart.
"Please stay," I ask Charles. He holds that sword like a newborn baby while my son brings me a band-aid. We sit together laughing and when Randy takes Garnett to his room, I tell Charles to help me in the kitchen.
We're in the middle of the prayer when my husband comes home. Randy and Garnett are in mutilated Boy Scout uniforms, sleeves torn, their lips painted black and I'm still dripping wet from my dive in the pool.
"Oh, Lord . . . " I say as with Charles.
"Yes, Lord!" Randy and Garnett chime.
"Thank you, Lord!"
"For all you have given us . . . " I add.
"Hell yes!" Garnett and Randy shout.
"For this bounty, this Lord's Supper . . . " Charles adds.
Our shadows dance to thrash guitar and drum solo, to broken glass and open wine bottle, to silent husband in a chair pushed to the corner. And it's not about the fucking Mormons saving me. It's not about anyone saving anyone because really who the hell cares if you are saved anyway in the end? We all go somewhere and I'll be ready for the ride, even if it's straight down to the man with the horns. What I'm talking about is this: everyone at the table and everyone finally eating some fucking dinner.
When we finally finish that prayer, I calm the hell down.
"Eat," I tell everyone. And I spear a slab of meat for my husband and he opens wide, like the choirboy he is.