We held hands during the final half-mile stretch of mountain road. We passed the cottage that Anne shared with the crippled Jewish woman and then the two-story white house where a thirteen-year-old was pregnant with my child.
The Volkswagen engine whined loudly, in first gear, as we pulled into the gravel driveway. Jeannette said, “You got me into this mess, Brad. I hope you can get me out of it.”
“Albert Camus said, ‘There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.’ ”
“Your memory frightens me.”
“It frightens me too, sometimes.”
They weren’t in the house. We
called out into the dry,
We went out to the barn but the only sound was the rush of air from the horses’ nostrils. We couldn’t bear to look at each other, afraid that one of us might acknowledge the fear in the other’s eyes.
I heard it first, the distant, crunching sound of feet on gravel. Then the faint call. Jeannette’s head turned and her face was suffused with life again. She ran from the barn to meet them. I watched them hug in an awkward triangle.
When I reached them, Candy was silent, and I knew that Marlo had told her. She looked like a Norse goddess, calm, full of the sadness of new wisdom, and transcendent.
Marlo was slightly flushed and slightly crumpled. Standing next to her sister, she looked like a wilted flower, and I wanted badly to take her into my arms and comfort her. Suddenly, Candy walked towards me and grabbed me into her arms and drew me to her body. Marlo looked at the ground, steadily, and Jeannette’s eyes were the eyes of an anxious mother.
I said, “Happy birthday.”
Candy circled to my side, with her arms still around my waist, until she was partially hidden behind me, and stared at her mother and sister. She said, “It’s not every day that a girl turns 18 and finds a mother and a sister too, on the same day.”
Jeannette said, “We have a lot to talk about.”
Candy said, “I need to be alone with Brad for awhile,” and pulled me closer to her.
Jeannette and Marlo both smiled, shyly, self-consciously, and looked at each other.
Candy slipped her arms from around my waist and moved towards them, “You can start dinner if you want. I’ll show you where everything is.”
She didn’t look back and they disappeared into the house. I waited on the gravel road, for almost twenty minutes. When she emerged from the kitchen, through the backdoor, she looked happy. It was very hot and she had changed into the beige cotton blouse and maroon shorts, and was wearing her new hiking boots. She took my hand and we walked towards the trail that snaked around the highest hill to Lookout Point.
When we reached the barn, she opened the barn door and led the horses into the pasture.
We walked the trail in silence. It seemed as if we were thinking the same thoughts and didn't need to talk.
After a long silence, she said, “I don’t have a mother, Brad.”
I looked at her, uneasily. The path was steep and we paused under the shade of a Maple tree to catch our breath.
“She left when I was a baby. My father was my mother too. I’ve...” Her tone of voice turned maudlin and she laughed, mocking herself. “Well, it’s true. I’ve never known a mother’s love.”
I said, “She’s the strongest, most subtle woman I’ve ever known. I love her.”
She was puzzled for a moment and then sad. “She’ll never be a mother to me Brad.”
“Give her a chance. She’s suffered a lot. She was orphaned at 13.”
“And she was a prostitute for a time.”
“My father prayed for her.”
We moved into the generous shade of an old oak tree and sat down.
She said, “Marlo is angry with Jeannette. I hope they’re going to be all right back there. I’m worried about them.”
“What made you come to
She dug at a clump of yellow grass with the end of a stick that she had picked up along the trail. “I don’t know. I suppose it was the rumors.”
“There were rumors that she was in
She was silent for awhile and then the words began to pour out. “I was allowed to play with the other kids, just like we were a big family. But I was told by my father, from the time I was a very little girl, that I would go to UCLA and become a doctor or lawyer and they would be lucky to get jobs as truck drivers and waitresses. If they could learn not to lie, cheat and steal.”
“What made you run?”
“I don’t know, really. Maybe I started thinking I was no good, like her. Maybe I wanted to find her, to find out what she was like. I suppose the biggest reason was George. He was 25 and I was 16. My father got angry when he saw us together so we had to meet in secret. He was in and out of the orphanage as a kid and my father said he was no good. My father turned out to be right but I guess I loved him.” She looked away wistfully and gave an apologetic laugh.
I said, “And you ended up in
She picked some dry grass and began weaving something with it.
I asked, “Did you know already that she was your mother? Before today?”
She was surprised. “No. Of course not.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I guess I didn’t try very hard. To find her, that is. I guess I didn’t try at all. I was so tangled up with George. Every night was like a year.” She gave a little laugh and returned to her weaving.
We sat in silence as she wove the framework for what looked like a golden tube about a half inch in diameter and four or five inches long. She rested it on the ground, leaned back and picked several strands of sturdy, yellow grass from a small mound near where we sat.
“I’ve been thinking that I’m living off you Brad.” She guided a long piece of grass skillfully through the golden frame. “I can make two or three hundred dollars a night on my back but I can’t do anything else.”
“Would you consider marrying me?”
She looked up and smiled. “I thought you said marriage was an institution for the enslavement of women?”
“I’ll be your slave.”
She wove silently. Suddenly her face brightened and a malicious smile cavorted across her lips. “Can you imagine us getting married at my father’s Tabernacle of the Savior, or at your mother’s Pavilion for Lost Souls?” She put her finger in one end of the grass tube and pointed the other end at me. “Put your finger in the hole.”
I put my finger in and she pulled on it and our fingers locked together. I asked, “Where did you learn to do that?”
“From a book of knots I found in the Church library when I was a little kid.”
I looked down at the intricately knotted strands of grass.
She said, “I don’t want to go back to the party.”
Our faces were only a few inches apart.
She said, “I don’t have
any sisters or brothers Brad. And I
don’t have a mother. It’s just me and
my father and I’ve got to go back to
“You’ve been in touch with him.”
“He knows I’m alive. I...” She started to cry. I put my hand on her shoulder, helplessly. “He’s not a bad man. He’s just ... he can’t....”
“He can’t love anyone except in Christ. And he can’t keep his hands off teenage girls.”
Her retort was sharp and accusing, “Most men are like that, aren’t they?”
“I’m not.” After a pause I said, in a small, almost inaudible voice, “I don’t know. Maybe you’re right.”
“Brad. I’m afraid to face them. I just can’t be what they want me to be. Do you understand?”
“I think so.”
“My father is all I had when I was a kid. I woke up one morning and realized that the only difference between me and the kids in the orphanage was my father. But...” Her voice wavered. “…Like you say, he only loved me in Christ.”
I stroked her hair. “After we beat up George that night my life had a purpose again, for the first time since my Grandfather died. But now I’ve created an absurd mess.”
“Brad. You’ve got everything. You’re rich, intelligent, good looking...”
She stroked my cheek with the back of her hand. “You’re beautiful.”
I lowered my head. “My mother’s rich but she isn’t going to give me any of her millions. Believe me.”
She was silent.
I said, “They want me to sacrifice my life for mathematics. And do you want to hear something really funny?”
“I could do with a laugh right about now.”
“I’m not ambitious at all. And this is the funny part. I was the best athlete in my high school. I was famous. I couldn’t walk down the hall without saying hello to almost every kid because they all wanted to be my friends. When I broke my leg, they all felt sorry for me, lying in that hospital bed with my leg suspended from a wire and my white cast covered with so many signatures and messages that it wasn’t white anymore. But when I didn’t play sports in my senior year, and they all “drifted” away, I was glad to be rid of the hypocritical, self-serving fawning they called friendship.”
“That’s not very funny.”
“I guess what I’m trying to say is, they can take their prizes and stuff them up their asses for all I care.”
“Didn’t you tell me you started work on the theorem after you broke your leg? Even when you were still in the hospital?”
“Yes. And you know the truth about that is that I did discover the goddamned theorem, not my grandfather. But I don’t care. I’m not going to sacrifice myself anyway, for a gaggle of egocentric mathematicians who want me to discover new theorems for them. Like I said, I’ve been there before and done that already.”
“But you can’t just throw away talent like that.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t shoot myself. I’ll stay alive, out of curiosity, just to see what’s going to happen.”
“This isn’t like you Brad.” She tugged against the little band of grass that held our fingers together, and her eyes encouraged me to smile.
“I’m sorry. I guess I’m tired of carrying such a heavy burden around by myself.” I looked into her troubled and absurdly symmetrical eighteen-year-old face. I waited for a long time for the lump to clear from my throat. “My life is an improbable story and....”
She looked at me with an expression I had never seen before.
I said, “I suppose the reason I have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders is because, at bottom, in some ineradicable way, I still believe in God.”
She took a deep breath. “And you have to be Christ-like.”
“Marlo and Jeannette are free of all that crap. They’re pagans “
“And you sit by the corpse of God every night before you go to sleep and ask forgiveness for your sins, even though you don’t believe in God or sin.”
We were sitting, facing each other with our two fingers locked together in the golden wreath. I said, “You’re like that too, aren’t you?”
She looked down at the wreath and after a pause, she said, in a soft, sad voice, “Yes.”
We sat there in silence, looking at the braided grass holding our fingers together. She twisted her wrist quickly and at the same time pushed gently against my finger, and the ring of grass slipped off her finger.
Looking at the intricate pattern of woven grass, I said, “Knot theory is a branch of topology that I don’t know much about but I know enough to know that's a very complex weave.”
“One day a professor came to the
“You play one hell of a chess game.”
“A few weeks later I ran away with George.” She looked over my shoulder into the distance.
I asked, “When do you plan on going back to LA?”
She fell into my arms. “Brad.” We hugged, awkwardly for a few seconds and then I stood up. I took her hand and she sprang to her feet, noiselessly, and we started down the path towards the house.
I stopped suddenly and turned to face her, “Candy!” It was a kind of animal cry. I couldn’t find any words. I turned and pulled her by the hand toward the house below. My mind was nothing but a wordless torrent of images.
At a place where the path got too steep to walk down safely, I slid down first, to where the path was flat again and stood there with outstretched hands waiting for her. On the way down, she slipped and I caught her in my arms and we fell into a soft clump of yellow grass. The grass tube came off my finger. I retrieved it and we lay there for a few moments, breathing hard and looking into each other’s eyes.
“I’m scared Brad. They make me feel funny about being close to you. They get tense. I feel it.”
“Let them get tense. We need to be close, tonight too. No one’s going to get between us.”
“They give me the creeps.”
“You can’t take them seriously. No matter what they say, life is just a game for them. They’re pagans and they’re just trying to scare you with their goddammed witchcraft.”
“You make it all seem so simple but Marlo is jealous and Jeannette still doesn’t like me. She wasn’t different tonight either, and I was watching for a difference.”
The black shingled roof of the farmhouse came into view and then the dark brown, plank walls of the barn. The horses stood at the far corner of the pasture, watching us as we walked along the whitewashed fence. I squeezed her hand, afraid that our words had been like the breeze blowing against her long, silken hair and would disappear, forever into the sky.
We stopped at the white-plank fence. Chief Josef caught sight of us and galloped toward us. Little Hawk followed and caught up with him, banging against him with her dappled belly. He surged forward and they ran past us, one after the other, cantering playfully in a long circle, as if they were performing for us. They stopped abruptly and then walked towards us from a distance of about fifty feet. Chief Josef led and Little Hawk followed at a respectable distance.
I said, “Just remember one thing. Jeannette and Marlo are extra ordinary.”
Chief Josef reached the fence first and Candy put her hand out. He snuffled loudly and persistently into the emptiness of it. She patted his cheek affectionately and he reared his head. Little Hawk edged him aside and stretched her neck towards the empty hand.
I said, “Dr. Orenstein says Jeannette’s mother was the product of 20 generations of Norman Nobility.”
“Brad. Do you know that you are getting completely carried away?” She wrinkled her brow in mock disapproval and gave a little stifled laugh. I laughed too and I was glad that her high spirits were returning, in spite of everything. “Even with all that talk, I still don’t know what I’m going to say to them.”
“You’re going to have faith. Maybe we don’t have a right to have faith, but we’re going to have it anyway. And we’re going to let them play their parts.”
We walked towards the back door. I whispered loudly into her ear. “Just don’t take them too seriously. Nothing they do or say is really serious. And, they don’t believe in hell, so we can't tell them to go there.”
I took her into my arms again, “And as far as I’m concerned, there’s no reason for us to go there either. At least not tonight.”
“Brad.” She nuzzled up to me, smiling happily, and kissed my cheek. “Sometimes I think your theories come right off the top of your head, like your jokes. Sometimes they’re funny and sometimes they aren’t.” She tousled my hair playfully.
Jeannette opened the back door and peered out.
Her face was knowing and wise and sad, and yet full of that remarkable
happiness that seemed to come from nowhere and rest on nothing. “There you are,” she said. “We thought you ran off to
“He’s too old for me,” Candy said and wrinkled her nose.
Jeannette said, “Brad is a hundred years old. His only option is to get younger.”
We walked past her into the kitchen and she closed the door behind us.