Awakening at dawn, the Reverend Adam Leeds showered, shaved, and brewed himself a strong pot of coffee for the hours ahead. He would, he decided, rewrite his speech and then devote a few hours to outlining his sermon for Wednesday’s Young Couple’s Night at the church. Afterwards, with note cards handy, he would rehearse in front of the bathroom mirror, until he felt confident for his meeting with the elders of the church. He would not lose heart. He would keep his mind busy with positive thoughts today and begin the process of healing his failing career.
Yesterday’s effort to commit his wife had been a disaster. After this fiasco, he had asked God for a sign. No longer could his personal household spirit entice him; he wanted the Lord to speak plainly this time. Instead of God, it seemed as if the devil had, in three dreams, invaded his mind. After the last episode, in which he dreamed of murdering his wife, he felt a sense of resignation: it was up to God! But God had still not answered his prayers. After listening to an old televangelist rant about the Apocalypse, it appeared as if Satan, not God, was afoot in his house.
When he discovered that Cora had overdosed on a handful of pills, it was a perfect finish for a nightmarish day. Once again, after trying to help his wife, Adam saw the full fury of her wrath. After the day’s horrors, he was exhausted and emotionally drained. The speech he wrote last night reflected his negative state of mind. Now, after a full night’s sleep, he could scarcely believe what he had composed. Not only was it poorly written, but it sounded sappy and contrite. It began, fittingly enough, on an apologetic note: ‘I have made many mistakes, but I’ve learned by my errors…’
Promptly, without second thoughts, Adam highlighted and deleted the offending speech. The action was invigorating. With the cursor flashing on the blank page, his fingers hovered, as a pianist would, above the keys. Why should I be contrite? He entitled the first page. Beneath this question, in staggered sentences, he typed
Haven’t I always had their best interest at heart?
What is wrong with bringing them spiritual enlightenment?
Were my efforts wrong or simply too revolutionary for their narrow minds?
Several more questions followed, ending with ‘Am I responsible for the actions of my wife?’ Beneath each question, the answer came swiftly—fingertips-to-keys—as bolts of inspiration. Absent on his laptop screen, however, was the Lord’s illumination. Adam was again bewitched with new age enlightenment. To the devil’s satisfaction, with an element of misgivings, the Gospels gave way to philosophy for Adam, and Norman Vincent Peale replaced God. Adam had begun using a question and answer method to construct a defense of his ministry. After his defense, instead of groveling for his job, he decided to present a positive, not a negative, image of himself. He began searching Google for inspiration, if not illumination: a new focus or a fresh approach—anything to convince the elders that he could live up to their expectations and still bring a dynamic ministry to the church.
After several hours, in which he added the finishing touches to his speech and managed to do research on the sermon he would give Wednesday night, Adam printed a copy of the new speech, shut his laptop, and rose up with the copies clutched in his hand. Although he had gone over what he was going to say a dozen times while editing his speech, he now forced himself to practice for a half hour, as planned, in front of his bathroom mirror.
Soon he would be leaving Cora alone in the house for potential mischief—a fact that brought his spirits plunging back down to earth. In the past four days, he and Cora had eaten sparsely. In order to function properly tonight, he would have to fix dinner, if not for his wife at least for himself. Since this nightmare began, Cora had stopped being a housewife and cook, so it was up to him to scrounge up something to eat.
Mumbling prayerfully to himself, he walked bravely down the hall and into the master bathroom where Cora had been. Finding it empty except for her clothes, he followed a trail of smoke to another dark recess in the house. There in the guest bedroom closet, smoking furiously in spite of his ban, clad only in a robe, sat the thing he dreaded most in this world, a snarl appearing on her infantile face.
“Cora,” he shook his head “you know I don’t allow smoking in the house.”
“Go way,” she said, flicking ashes onto his shoes.
“Please,” he reached down, “let me help. For once in our marriage, let God help too.”
“So help me, I’ll claw your eyes out!” she spat.
“Plee-ease, Cora.” He knelt down carefully. “We’ve had our arguments and fights before but nothing like this…. I don’t want to leave home this way. I’m sorry about the cold shower, but I had to keep you awake. Next time you overdose, I might not be around.” “Come on, let’s put it behind us.” He reached over shakily to take the cigarette out of her hand. “You get cleaned up, and I’ll fix you something to eat…. Okay honey?” “Come out of the closet,” he coaxed, as his gorge rose in his throat. “Now drop the cigarette and stomp on it. Did that feel good grinding it into the carpet? That’s it honey, now take my hand, and I’ll fix our dinner.”
Cora recoiled at his touch. She just stood there in the shadows glaring at him with two hot blue coals for eyes. Adam felt physically ill during this charade. What he really wanted to do right now was beat her senseless, lock her in the closet and let her starve. Nevertheless, as Cora staggered out of the closet, he scurried ahead to prepare her meal. Hope filled him fleetingly, as she followed him up the hall, that she might miraculously change after tonight or that she would at least not make a scene.
His hunger pangs competed with the nervous knot growing in his stomach. As he scanned the kitchen, he shuddered at what he saw. He felt shame at his own neglect. Dirty dishes filled the sink, and the stench of rotten food hung in the air. It appeared as if the refrigerator door, because of a defective latch, had been left ajar for several days. Because of Cora’s negligence and his own neglect in monitoring the house, perishables, such as lettuce, meat, and eggs had perished. Items, such as pickles, mayonnaise and olives that could spoil spoiled, and dairy products, such as milk, butter and yogurt, that could sour, likewise soured. Other than the ice cubes, frozen daiquiri concentrate, and freezer-burned ice cream in the freezer compartment, they were left with only canned foods and a few stale crackers in the pantry. From the cans, he extracted a humble but wholesome meal of Spam, beats, and peas. There was nothing to drink but coffee, so he placed a steaming cup beside her plate. As Cora pecked at her meal, he ate heartily, himself, ignoring the look on her face.
“Eat.” He pointed his fork. “The beats are good. So’s the Spam.”
“The beats suck.” She curled her lip. “The Spam tastes like shit.”
“Then eat your peas,” he suggested, holding his temper in check. “At least drink your coffee. I want you on the road to sobriety before I leave.”
“I’m not drunk,” she snapped. “You smell booze on me?”
“No,” he feigned surprise “as a matter of fact, I didn’t!” “What was it Cora,” he asked wryly, “amphetamines? Where did you get those pills?”
“Guess.” She sneered.
“Listen.” He again pointed his fork “I don’t know who sold you that dope, but you know it’s against the law. Who’s your supplier Cora? Is it one of our neighbors? I saw the pills up close. They were lying all over the floor. They’re not the ones the doctor gave you to sleep. Who gave you those goddamn pills?”
“Guess,” she said, pushing her cup away.
He was doing exactly what he didn’t want Cora to do; he was making a scene.
“Drink the coffee!” He demanded sternly now. “Drunk or drugged, you’re going to sober up!”
“Ooops!” She said, jarring the table.
Coffee spilled out of her cup onto Adam’s lap. He swore, hit the table with his fist, and nearly choked on his Spam. After coughing violently a moment, he settled back breathlessly and watched Cora laugh. Once again he stifled the urge to beat her to a pulp.
“It’s not funny,” he said, rubbing his leg, “you scalded my leg. I almost choked to death!”
Doubling up on her chair, she giggled malevolently. For a moment, he clinched and unclenched his fists, grinding his teeth together in an effort to stifle the curse swelling in his throat. Bowing his head to avoid her gaze, he thought deeply about his plight…. Escape, the thought flashed like a marquee in his mind, I must escape! He also remembered his dream: the headless woman perched on her throne. Fortunately for Cora, there was no axe in the garage or cleaver in the house. She was safe for now, he thought, momentarily averting her eyes. But it would be so delightful at this point for him to begin punching and beating this creature until she nothing more than a mound of palpitating flesh.
With his head bowed and eyes tightly closed, he seemed to be talking to God. While his head had been bowed, Cora had lit up a cigarette.
“I must escape! I must escape!” he continued to chant.
“Are you talking to me now?” Whispered Satan, winding triumphantly around the room. “Oh yes,” it crowed silently, “you’re reaching out. It’s just a matter of time!”
“Are you praying for me?” Cora asked, blowing smoke across the table into Adam’s face.
“No,” he murmured, looking up slowly, as if he was coming out of a trance, “praying doesn’t work anymore—not on you.”
“Oh what a pity,” she said mockingly. “I guess I’m a lost cause.”
“I have to leave soon,” his voice had changed from dreamy to reflective, carrying a fearful edge that amused Cora very much. “Tonight’s my meeting with the elders. Thanks to your mischief, I’m a laughing stock at the church. I want you to behave yourself Cora. Do you understand me? No booze, no joints, and no more goddamn pills! Promise me Cora; you owe me that!”
“Don’t worry love,” she said with a giggle, tapping ashes into his plate. “I’ll be a good little girl!”
“I hope so,” he glared across the table. “I’ll be able to tell when I call, I really will. So help me God!”
Cora’s bloodshot eyes twinkled with mirth as he exited the kitchen. From a mischievous snarl, her fulsome lips broke into a crafty smile. In her distorted frame of mind he was the enemy. He had won this round but not the battle. If she could not drag him down with her, she would make his life miserable. She would do everything she could to undermine and distract him, until she had worn him out. And then she would be free free free!
Satan studied this paragon of vice, marveling at its creation. While Cora lurked through the house, Adam shaved, showered, put on a clean suit, then walked slowly back to his study. After collecting notes for his meeting, he placed them neatly into his brief case and stood staring into space. An emotional trinity of doubt, frustration, and despair drove him now. Hate had merely subsided in his mind. After hearing footsteps in the hall, these feelings converged into one inexplicable and overpowering emotion. Always at the corner of his eyes, sneaking through the house, was the one thing in his life that he could not control: his wife.
Everything that should be plain and simple—faith, love, and hope—were distorted and out of focus. His confidence in himself had almost vanished, except for the spark he felt now: a hope—or was it fear?—that tonight would bring a change in his life. As he looked out his door, a momentary strength stirred him. A fierce resolve swelled in his chest. He clung to this stubborn emotion prayerfully, his mumbling sounding more like a chant than a prayer. Tagging along behind its chosen, hovering invisibly outside, Satan waited for a chance to enter. All it would take would be that one irrevocable act that Adam had worked out in his dreams: the murder of Cora, his unholy wife.
With his briefcase in hand, he walked carefully and quietly out of his study, hoping to avoid his wife. “Ignore her!” He whispered to himself. “Open the front door, walk across the lawn and leave!” These were the same suggestions Satan whispered into his ear. Out of sheer habit, however, he stopped on the porch, as he had done in the past when bidding his wife adieu.
Out of the shadows then, she emerged, smoking again in spite of his ban, listing slightly, a devilish look on her face. As a dutiful husband and for the neighbor’s benefit, he now kissed her cheek to avoid her mouth. Her breath was mixture of halitosis and cigarette smoke. While withdrawing from this stinking orifice, it stuck its nasty tongue out and gave him a raspberry.
“What’s wrong?” She snickered, “do I make you sick?”
“Yes,” he replied flatly, wiping his face with his sleeve, “utterly!”
He couldn’t help showing his contempt. After watching the spittle she had ejected follow down her chin, he turned away in disgust. Cora caught his look of disdain and exploded in rage.
“You bastard,” she shrieked, “you self-righteous son-of-a-bitch!”
Adam’s shoulders slumped in mortification as obscenities were detonated off her tongue. Despite his belief that human frailty, not Satan, was responsible and accountable for sin, he was certain of one thing: there was, in fact, a devil. Cora had proven it to him.
“I knew it,” he murmured bleakly, “it never changes! Now, in front of the neighbors, she explodes. I almost made it to my car!”
“That’s right,” she screamed, “I want to see you squirm! I want to see you sweat!”
Adam looked around with embarrassment at his street. In the distance, an elderly couple was strolling up the sidewalk. Wallace Schoolcraft stood across the street in his driveway. Felicity Brown, their next store neighbor, was probably listening on the other side of the fence. Until recently, he had been able to hide Cora in the house. Until this afternoon, when the ambulance arrived, she had become his deepest and darkest secret. Now it was finally spewing out: the whole ugly picture. If she had her way, the entire world would know. She had misbehaved in front of his congregation. She had behaved badly in front of his friends. She wanted to ruin him and bring him down to her depths. That is why he had kept her out of the limelight for so long. But he had no control now, not after the past few days, not with that look on her face. Cora was enjoying his discomfort. The more he wrung his hands and looked despairingly at her the more she hurled insults. Her voice, hoarse with emotion, seemed demonic, as if the devil, himself, was feeding her lines.
“My husband’s a religious eunuch,” she called out to her neighbors, “an impotent lover, and sexless parody of a husband, masquerading as a man of god!”
Reaching out in a gesture of appeasement, though his fingers curled as if he wanted to wring her neck, he said as contritely as possible, wincing at her words, “All right, I’m sorry. I’ll take the blame for everything. It’s all my fault that you’re an alcoholic who’s on drugs. It’s all my fault that you’ve alienated all our friends and made us laughing stocking of the church. Even though you know better, I’ll take the blame for our bad sex life too. I’ve tried to warm back up to you, Cora, but you deliberately revolt me.” “Please, for the love of God,” he wrung his hands, “keep it down. The neighbors are watching! People are listening!”
“Oh yeah,” she hooted, “let’s give them a real show!”
She waved a middle finger at Wallace Schoolcraft who had begun watering his lawn. By now, there were several elderly neighbors drawn to the commotion, ostensibly on their daily walks.
“Cora,” cried Adam, longing to grab her throat, “that’s quite enough. Get in the house. If you have the least shred of decency, go inside!”
It had been the wrong thing to say to Cora, much like waving a red flag in front of a bull. “I don’t have any,” she said, pulling the cord to her robe, “not one shred!”
Adam reacted quickly to obstruct their view. Her robe parted further and further, however, as he opened his coat. Felicity Brown, who could hear but not clearly see the quarrel, dialed Misses Schoolcraft on the phone to report this event. Meanwhile Wallace Schoolcraft had moved up to the street section of his lawn, as he watered, to get a better view. A couple of octogenarians, Adam had never seen before, actually stopped in front of their house to stare at this scene. As the reverend tried shielding his wife, she swayed to and fro, fleetingly exposing her private parts. Scandalized by her behavior, the old man and woman shook their heads before shuffling away. Wallace’s wife, after being alerted by Felicity, appeared suddenly to yank her husband into the house. Felicity, herself, had brought a chair out from the house and now stood peaking over the fence. Cora, bereft of her senses, giggled maniacally, her eyes rolling madly in her head. The love-hate/revulsion-lust emotions playing upon him before, were absent as she struggled inside his coat. This time, in parody of a stripper, she made humping movements while attempting to flash open her robe. Adam, well aware of his predicament, had none of his previous ardor as she tugged at his pants.
“Listen,” he muttered frantically, “stop this at once. Please—let’s go inside. No, leave my belt alone!”
His concern for her modesty and his own modesty now clashed. As he tried shielding her private parts, he also tried protecting his. She managed, as he continued holding one side of his jacket, to overpower his free hand and undo his belt. Before he could grab his pants with both hands, he lost on both fronts: down came his pants and out popped her gyrating breasts, mons veneris, and bare bottom—all momentarily exposed to a new batch of onlookers on the street.
Brakes suddenly screeched as they grappled there on the porch. Felicity Brown gasped and called the Schoolcrafts again. A young woman out walking her poodle, held her mouth in horror, while her dog trotted over and defecated on the Leeds’ lawn. The symbolism seemed perfect for the occasion. By now, many of those eyewitnesses privy to this event, had called friends and relatives to gossip on what they had seen.
After pulling his pants up over his shorts, he took off his coat and hastily wrapped it around his wife. The effort seemed pointless now. The damage had been done. One of the motorists who had stopped, a swarthy looking man in a pickup truck, sat there a moment by the curb ogling the reverend’s wife, as he struggled with her inside the coat. Her robe, which had been hanging limply on her shoulders, now fell onto the porch. During the struggle, her knee came up, barely missing Adam’s groin. Grabbing her exposed thigh, he was able to throw her off balance long enough to grip her shoulders, whirl her around on her wobbly legs, and aim her away from himself toward the door. When her body slackened inside his coat, he reached down and scooped up her robe. With her teeth and knee pointed safely away from him, he tied the cord tightly around both garments, whispering heatedly “Someday Cora, you’re going to go too far and lose that snarling head!”
Inside the house, with the door momentarily shut, Adam stood a safe distance from his wife as she slipped back into her robe. Retrieving his coat from the floor, he pulled it on hurriedly, as she appraised him. Reaching down to grab the handle of his briefcase, he stood there holding the case protectively in front of his crotch. It struck him as the lowest of blows that she had tried to kick him in the groin.
Groping inwardly for faith—the merest spark, he felt the growing presence of Satan, the dark spirit encouraged by his mood. As he studied his wife, he wondered if fundamentalists had been right all along? Cora was truly unhinged or in a perverse frame of mind. Either way, a demon seemed in possession of her now. He swallowed an exorcist’s prayer swelling in his throat “In the name of Jesus Christ,… “ “That’s nonsense,” he caught himself. “This is all insane!”
“He-he-he-he,” she cackled, sporting a mirthless, twitching snarl.
Sunlight breaking through the curtains fell as a halo upon Cora’s dark locks, belying her impish face. At this point, he had to remind himself that he was, in fact, a Christian and this creature was his wife. It was up to him, her husband and spiritual adviser, to save her from herself. Such platitudes seemed inappropriate and disingenuous, yet he found himself trying one last time to leave on a positive note.
“Listen,” he said slowly, his gaze locked on her unblinking eyes, “I know you don’t like me to preach, so I won’t this time. But I’ve been good to you, haven’t I? I don’t make you clean the house or cook anymore. The house is becoming a garbage heap, but I’ve stopped complaining. I don’t expect you to do anything now but behave yourself and stay sober.”
When her eyes broke their focus and her eyelashes dropped to half-mast, he dared touch her shoulder, adding in desperation “Have you given up completely Cora? Can’t you at least try? Let me help you—just one more try? Please, take the first step with me! Just meet me half way, that’s all, and don’t shut your mind to God and our Christian faith!”
Again, he had chosen the wrong words. Fluttering her eyelashes now, she said in mock innocence “You mean go to church and get that old time religion?”
“No,” he sighed, dropping his hand “not at this stage. You’re not ready for that again. You probably never will.”
“What about the hospital?” she shot back. “I sure as hell wasn’t ready for that! You wanted to commit me, not save my soul!”
Tensing up suddenly, her eyes narrowed and nostrils flared. “Listen rev,’“ she poked him in the chest “the only kind of religion and therapy I need, you can’t give.” “As for committing me,” her face darkened, “you’ll have to kill me first!”
“I’ve never wanted to kill you,” he blurted unconvincingly, his voice cracking with despair. “I want to save you. You’re my wife Cora. I can’t let you destroy your soul, your body, and your mind!”
“Don’t worry about my soul,” she sneered. “Worry about my body! My body doesn’t need a doctor, it needs a husband, the kind it had before He came along.”
He found it cruel that she had attacked his manhood on the porch. This attack on their sex life was quite ludicrous since Cora had stopped long ago behaving like a wife. Clearly, thought Adam, unless a miracle befell her, Cora was lost. She saw him as the enemy. She saw Christ as the enemy too.
“How can you believe in a god who denied us children?” She motioned with her middle finger at the ceiling.
“You never wanted children,” replied Adam in disbelief. “God never denied you that!”
“Oh yeah,” she sneered. “What about my parents, who died of cancer—horribly after months and months of suffering, what kind’ve God would do that?”
“That’s ridiculous, Cora,” he looked incredulously at her. “Your father was an alcoholic with cirrhosis of the liver. Your mother died of lung cancer after all those cigarettes she smoked.”
“If I believed in your God, which I don’t,” she spat, “I would curse his name. He’s an evil god, who lets millions die in wars while letting millions more die of hunger and disease.”
There was no thunder in the sky. Cora was not hit by lighting or stricken blind for her words. And yet a terrible foreknowledge grew in him that her days were numbered. A sudden breeze warmed him as he savored this thought. He wanted to believe it was the Lord and not Satan blowing his way, but he could no longer be sure.
Through closed eyes, as he prayed, he sought the source of the breeze. Though God remained silent, he clung to the hope that it was Him, not Satan, knocking at his soul. As he tried blocking out her awful words, however, the warm current turned cold when she said: “I read something about those disciples of His; you know those guys who hung around the Prince of Peace. This ex-priest, I read about, thinks they were gay. That’s why they hung around him because he was really a queen!”
Wincing at her words, Adam likewise shuddered at the breeze. The Lord, he reminded himself, would blow warm constantly, not warm, then tepid, then cold. Something evil was blowing his way. Even now, because of his liberal theology, the notion was difficult for him to accept, but it was true: Satan was in control of his wife. Standing in front of Cora for the last time, he wondered how he had tolerated her for so long. He had done his best for her. He had given her all the love and understanding a husband was expected to give. He must no longer think as a caring spouse or one-time lover but as a man of God, threatened by an evil presence in his life.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Adam recalled Christ’s haunting words from the Book of Revelation. “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
“You’re mine,” came Satan’s icy whisper. “You just don’t know it yet!”
With Revelation 3:20 in mind, he straightened his shoulders as if to get a firm grip on the cross he bore, mumbled another half-hearted prayer, and heard the door slam behind him as he exited from the house and trotted toward his car. Whistling a hymn as he backed the car out of the driveway, he could concentrate on the meeting tonight with the elders with a clear conscience. Although apprehension followed him now, for a few precious hours tonight he would be a minister again, liberated and free, without a troublesome, unpredictable wife.
While he made his getaway, his wife wasted no time either. Only moments after he had left the house, she had showered, put on a flimsy nightgown, and prepared herself for lovemaking this evening. After applying makeup, brushing her hair, and dabbing perfume onto her bosom and neck, she paused a moment to glance in the bathroom mirror. Pausing also a moment over the telephone in the master bedroom, she checked a number scrawled on a matchbook. While she was at it, she tore out a match, lit a cigarette and began hastily dialing the phone.
As the phone began ringing, there was a faint rap at the front door, which grew in intensity as the stranger waited on her porch. For the time being, however, Cora ignored the outside disturbance and devoted her full attention to the stranger inside the phone.
“Okay, honey, you can come over tonight,” she said breathlessly, “he’s gone!”
The rapping soon became knocking as she listened to the phone. Finally, making out the response at the other end, she uttered desperately, “What do you mean you can’t make it? Everything’s set, just like last week!”
The knocking became intolerable and Cora could barely make out the last reply. Slamming the receiver down finally, she stomped into the living room to answer the door. By now the doorbell was ringing, the door was being hammered, and a man was yelling on the porch—all, it appeared, at the same time.
As she swung open the door, she was ready to tongue lash the intruder until she saw who it was. At that point, a perverse delight illuminated her face, for there standing in the doorway was the very man her husband had tried to shield her body from on the porch. It was evident to her that he had taken the gesture seriously. He had obviously driven around until her husband had left, and here he was in the flesh. The situation caused her to laugh giddily to herself. The man’s timing was perfect. When he introduced himself and extended an open bottle of scotch, she was sure that she had hit rock bottom. And this amused her most of all. Yanking him inside the living room, she took a long abandoned swig from the bottle and quickly led him down the hall.