Suddenly Adam’s intuition was stirred by the quiet. It was, he decided, as he walked down the hall, too quiet. Most of the times, after a period of drinking, he would find her in a conscious or semi-unconscious state or find her bent over the commode. When he reached the bathroom, he found the door suspiciously locked. Unless she was up to mischief as she had been last week, Cora didn’t lock the door. Her normal pattern throughout the day was to get slowly drunk and sleep it off on the couch or bed. When she locked the bathroom door, she was planning on an all out binge. This time, however, he did not find her bent over the toilet, collapsed on the bed or sprawled on the living room couch. Once again she had locked the bathroom door.
“Cora,” he began calmly, “open the door.”
Pressing his ear against the door, he listened patiently but could hear no response.
“Cora, please open door,” his voice rose a notch, and he began knocking progressively louder on the door.
From the interior, there was absolute silence, not so much as grunt or snore.
“Why?…Why?…Why?” He asked, shaking his head and leaning his forehead forlornly against the door. He tried to pray again, a strange blend of curses and exhortations aimed both for and against his wife. Help her or destroy her had been the main gist of his prayer. But, as he listened to the silence, all his patience might as well have been flushed down the commode.
“Cora,” his voice rasped, “I’m at the end of my wits with you. I’ve done everything humanly possible to help. Nothing seems to work for me. I can’t help you. God can’t help you. Are you listening Cora? Do you even remotely care?”
As he pressed his ear against the door, Cora opened her eyes briefly but remained mute. As she hovered between wakefulness and unconsciousness, Adam began pounding angrily on the door.
“Cora, I’m sick to death of your shit!” He shouted at the top of his lungs.
Not having the key on him now, Adam picked feverishly at the lock with a paper clip he discovered in his pocket, until he found himself bodily slamming the door. At this point, all traces of his Christian charity vanished from his mind. Cora had become what Satan had wanted her to be: a millstone around his neck. Now its weight seemed to be more than he could bear.
“You filthy, degenerate wreck,” he growled, “I ought to drown you in that goddamn commode! You hear me bitch? Answer me! Open this goddamn door!”
Moving faintly, an eyelid then a toe, Cora was again aware of her husband’s ire. But it was, for a few more moments, at a primitive level of stimulus-to-response. She was in no condition to understand what he said or even what she felt. Was it that dream again—the one she had the other day about the devil in this room? She couldn’t remember what it had been exactly, but it had been awful: her very worst nightmare. Perhaps her regular critters (bugs, bats or snakes) would show up again. Nothing was solid or tangible in her twilight world, except her husband’s efforts to break down the door.
Stirring more animatedly as a slug across the floor, she felt the urgency as the lock gave way on the door. But this time Cora had taken something stronger than rum or gin, and it clung to her thickly as she tried to respond.
A great shaft of light broke the darkness now as he emerged inside the room.
“Cora,” he breathed heavily “… I’m up here in the light. Look at me bitch! Open your bloodshot eyes!”
What is it this time? She wondered, raising her face off the floor. As a voice cut icily through the dark, she recalled Satan’s presence in this room. It was like a muddled nightmare, however, its identity mixing in with a thousand other dreams.
After rolling onto her back, she stared at the shadow, wondering where she was, then, seeing the base of the commode directly ahead, wondering if she was still awake. Something must have gone terribly wrong. After recognizing where she was, she came to the dull realization, as she had before, that she was high on something but was not asleep. Once again, she had collapsed on the bathroom floor and awakened in a stupefied state. She didn’t remember her original goal of taking just one pill and going back to bed or, for that matter, that she had, in her haste, ingested several of the tiny pills. Except for her method of intoxication, in fact, it was a replay of her recent binge. Fortunately for her there would be no bats, snakes, or devil this time. The critter entering her den was only her husband: the Reverend Adam Leeds. Cora was still fully clothed, though her blouse was pulled up over her bra. There were tiny white pills strewn over the floor, indicating how quickly the drug had taken effect.
“Wha-a-a you-u-u wannnt?” She tried to form her words, but this time it was even more difficult than before.
Reaching down and picking up one of the pills, he studied it in the bathroom light, then lightly kicked her head with his shoe. “What is this, Cora, an upper or downer? Is this the prescription the doctor gave you last year? Those pills would knock out a horse!”
“You dumb bitch,” he sighed, crunching as many of them as he could with his shoe. “These are worse than booze. How many of these did you take?”
“How-w-w minnneee?” Her jaw hung slackly and her head bobbed over the floor. “I doannn knowww how-w-w minnneee. Ar-r-re you-u-u ma-a-a-d ad-d-d me-e-e?”
“You worthless piece of shit,” he growled, stifling the urge to kick her to death. “Those look like dope, not sleep aids. Where did you get these?”
“I dunnn-o-o-o.” she drawled, a drool escaping her lip.
Adam gnashed his teeth in despair. As much as he was tempted to let her slip into a coma and die, he knew he had arrived in the knick of time. Weighing how this might look to his congregation against not having this millstone around his neck, he was torn momentarily by the temptation to just let her expire.
“Let her die! Let the bitch die!” Satan’s icy whisper went unheard.
Aware of the cold chill in the room, Adam shuddered inexplicably, convinced he must do the right thing. “Oh Lord,” he whispered to himself, “I thought it was you. All this time I thought it was you!”
“Cora,” he rasped, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket and dialing 911, “I gotta get you pumped out. There still might be time.”
Adam reported the emergency to a dispatcher in a calm, deadpan voice. Unable to comprehend his words, Cora managed a crooked, moronic smile. The pills had put everything into slow motion, including her voice. Although she felt the urgency in his words, it amounted to mostly racket in her head. In her present state of mind, she felt very little emotion, herself. Reminiscent of that time, in which her clothes were strewn all over the floor, had been her husband’s cold, angry voice and the dimly felt fear of what he might do. A new and more terrifying specter had briefly surfaced, one that had first seemed like a delirium tremens but, unlike her ordinary DT’s, maintained a constant and unwavering form. Even now, with her husband standing overhead, it dwarfed all other specters she had encountered, whether drug-induced or real.
“I just talked to the emergency operator,” he explained in a tranquil voice. “Until the ambulance arrives, I must keep you awake….You know what that means, Cora. This time you get in with your clothes on!”
Reaching down roughly now, Adam grabbed her armpits. Lifting her rudely to her feet, he felt her body buckle at the knees. Losing his grip entirely, he felt her slither down and grab his waist. A mocking eroticism played upon him as she hung there, staring mindlessly into space. A stirring rose inside him similar to the last time when he touched her breast. This time, however, he didn’t stop with her bosom and liberally squeezed and fondled her as far as his arms could reach. During the meantime, Cora looked blankly up at him, too far gone this time to care. As she held onto his belt for balance, she had an almost child-like expression on her baby face. Although he was momentarily enchanted with this pose, he became revolted when another drool escaped her lip.
She was too weak to fight. He was certain this time that he had the upper hand. But when she heard the shower running again, she lunged feebly toward the door. In her effort to escape, she tripped and tumbled to the floor only to be picked up again and dragged over to the tub. This time there was no argument as he dumped her in and turned on the shower. As the icy droplets fell, however, she sputtered, cursed, and staggered onto the floor. She had just enough energy to throw a punch. Fortunately her punch was weak, hitting his forehead instead of his mouth. After watching her lunge repeatedly at him and bare her teeth, he fled the scene, ducking quickly into the hall. Even though his wife could barely walk, Adam dashed into his study, giggling hysterically, and locked the door. If he would have to stand his ground, he told himself, he would have to hit her again, again, and again. Then it would be all over this time because he wouldn’t be able to stop. All the evil would be let loose. All his pent-up anger and frustration would rain on her, until he had finally committed the ultimate act of no return and no redemption: murder.
When the paramedics arrived, he would simply point down the hall. Cora was in much worse shape this time. “Maybe now, he muttered light-headedly, “I can actually have her committed!” This thought caused Adam to break into prayer.
When the fire department paramedics arrived, neighbors peaked out their windows or looked through a crack in their doors. Wallace Schoolcraft, a retired postal worker, even walked down his driveway to make a cursory inspection. But no one was surprised at this commotion. For the past several months, when the reverend was away, a constant stream of men had come in and out of the Leeds household. Wallace, for his part, wondered if maybe the reverend had killed her. She had, he was convinced, given him cause. All he needed to justify his suspicion was a police squad pulling up to their curb. Inside the Leeds household, however, Cora had, after her second shower and vomiting the contents of her stomach, actually sobered up. After yesterday’s fiasco, she wanted no part of hospitals. She did not trust her husband’s motive and simply refused to go.
“We can’t make her go,” one of the paramedics explained to Adam as he and his partner headed toward the door. “She looks okay, but she should go in for a check up. She probably didn’t take more than three or four of those pills. Some folks have a larger capacity for drugs and medicine.”
“My wife has the capacity of an elephant,” the reverend replied resignedly, following them out of the house. “I’m sorry you wasted your time. What should I do now for her? Should I call the Poison Hotline or get some kind of purgative to clean her out?”
“It’s too late for any hotline or purgative,” answered the paramedic with a shrug. Placing his gear back into the ambulance and shutting the gate, he called out in an amiable enough voice, “Your wife needs psychiatric help, sir. While you were hiding in your study, she tried to bite me and kicked my partner in the shin. You’re lucky we’re not calling the police. Take my advice; that woman hates your guts. Until she sleeps it off, stay out of her way!”
Adam wouldn’t have to worry about a hospital bill and wouldn’t be sued for the injury caused by his wife; for this he was thankful, but that was all. He had failed to commit her. Because of her behavior, he was a laughing stock to his congregation. Cora had also become an embarrassment in the neighborhood. Now, after the arrival and departure of paramedics, neighbors were left wondering about the goings-on in their house. Self-consciously, as he walked back up to his porch, he looked around furtively, noticing Wallace Schoolcraft standing in his driveway and Felicity Brown peaking over the fence next store. Unseen by him, yet felt, were those other neighbors across the street and in back of his house, who had heard, but not seen, such commotion. In the past, Adam reflected, Cora had shrieked like a maddened beast. It was a wonder, after hearing her outbursts, none of their neighbors hadn’t called the police.
When he was back in the house, he didn’t bother checking on his wife. Hopefully she would be sleeping off the effects of the drug…. Maybe this time she would stay asleep permanently.
Because of all this emotional stimuli, Adam’s dream resurfaced in his mind, causing a shudder up his spine. At the same time, however, an excited gleam appeared in his eyes as the images took form. He could not help the impulse and temptation to think of his wife: first alive on her knees, then dead on the commode: beheaded, the head below her in the bowel battered to a pulp, her breasts and stomach slashed to ribbons, and his own righteous hands covered with blood. Satan could see that look in his eyes. The draftsman of deceit and architect of evil had seen it untold millions of times—always in the eyes…. Adam wouldn’t admit it yet, but he was ready to murder his wife.
Reaching the point of emotional exhaustion, Adam settled light-headedly in his chair. The sudden shrieking of his wife outside his locked door added emphasis to his plight. It was a soundtrack for the snarling thing in his mind: the evil personified by his wife.
“You-u-u ash-hole! You-u-u bash-tard! You-u-u filthy shun-of-bitch!”
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, . . .” Adam called out light-headedly, leaving the adage unfinished as he listened to her shout insults threw the door.
Cora attacked every fabric of his being, from his graying hair to his imagined impotency in bed. The truth was, of course, before Cora’s personality change, they shared a good sex life. Even now, in spite of his revulsion toward her, he was tempted to fondle his wife. Eventually, she would give up her tirade and probably fall asleep somewhere in the house. He simply didn’t care. Shutting his eyes tightly now, he tried sweeping his mind clean. The past several days had been awful, but the ordeal at the hospital had been his worst period of hell. Weighed against this episode, his experience today seemed insignificant. Praying long and hard, he asked God to cleanse his mind and heal his soul. He also asked God to exorcise his home of its evil spirit as well. After a few moments of half-hearted praying, though, Adam remembered giving credit to the Holy Ghost, Himself, for this invasion and was bemused after adding this addendum to his prayer. Switching to his old standby, the Twenty-third Psalm, he mumbled his favorite psalm over and over again until it became a mantra in his head.
When it appeared as if the evil spirit had vanished from his portion of the house and God had the upper hand, Adam concentrated on other matters. He had that meeting tomorrow with Dwight Higgins, Philip Lindley, Tim Billingsley, and Ian MacCallum—all that was left of the elders of Our Savior’s Independent Christian Church. A lump rose in his throat when he considered how they had stuck up for him. For a few hours tomorrow he would attempt to restore the elders’ confidence in him and hope, while he was gone, Cora would behave. In spite of his hopes and prayers, however, Adam felt tainted. In his heart he had murdered Cora. How could he serve God if he really wanted to murder his wife? This question now festered like spiritual cancer in his mind.