Two days into our reunion, I began to wonder if Derek had done or said anything to Ambr’ or if he delegated. He would do one or the other, eventually. I knew that. Derek, whether living lawyer or undead leader, did not forget. And he did not forgive. I did not like Ambr’, but I did not envy her if Derek deemed her campaign dangerous. I also hoped he would keep me out of whatever he did.
I wanted to meet up with Derek one night to find out, but Charlie would ask, and I would have to answer. I could imagine his response to what he’d see as my “meddling” with the undead, and it was not a comfortable picture. I had to settle for nagging curiosity in the status quo.
However, it is the way of life at the CPF to stroll along without a care and then spontaneously combust. A person could, I suppose, anticipate the danger and be in a constant state of readiness. Otherwise known as sleeplessness, ulcers and high blood pressure. And still something would be missed. After all, who among us sees all the signs before a disaster? Later, once the debris has settled into piles of life, yes. But beforehand?
Now, in this status quo, the living are almost predictable. Plot shoppers, yes. Barely sensible mourners, always. Tightwad survivors looking for bargain, from time to time (I had one man, whose voice over the phone seemed to emanate from his nose, ask me why we never ran a sale). Deliveries, mowing and digging schedules, very status quo and predictable.
Likewise, as July boiled on, the undead certainly gave no indication of the impending explosion. Old Sharpe may well have passed on in those humid last days. Neither I nor Missy nor Mischa heard or spoke of him again. We didn’t miss him. Plus the new Potter’s Field kept the remaining spirits in the old field content or at least underground. I saw and heard nothing to disrupt the quiet. In fact, as July came to an end, I felt a little bored.
Charlie fell into my routines, helping with whatever he could. He mowed and dug and cooked with a sort of contentment. But he insisted that, once business hours had ended and the dinner dishes were washed, the television went on for the news and whatever else took his attention until bedtime. So we became yet another household with the blue-white glow of a television on into the shortening evenings.
And so it went right up to the night I cooked a stir-fry and said I would wash up the dishes. I heard the TV power beep itself on and sighed. Thank God for water running to drown out the constant chatter from the front room.
Then Charlie yelled. “You’d better get in here, Grace!”
I left the suds streaks on my hands to make my point. “What now? Have Spaccone and Kluzky kissed and made up?”
He shook his head and pointed at the screen. I sank down next down him.
The red and white crawling banner that seemed to be uniform across all news stations for what they termed breaking news snaked across the bottom of the screen. I closed my eyes, steeling myself for one of the following: a news conference that would be analyzed in anticipation until the viewers slept through the actual event; another mass shooting at a school; one more foreign war or some celebrity’s latest snarky Tweet that had ruffled the PC polices feathers one more time.
The crawl read: “Mothers in Pearls to Speak Out. Recorded Statement Imminent.”
The evening news buddies, who were far less hopped up on caffeine than their morning counterparts, made complete sentences of the crawl and repeated its content in four or five different ways while sharing the screen with video of Naomi at the town hall meeting and the parade at Kluzky’s Fourth of July rally. The lady presenter, a low-voiced redhead with wide, heavily made-up eyes and rose-red lipstick to match her deep V-neck red blouse seemed particularly excited. “You know, Dave,” she said to the white-haired but youthful-faced man in a blue suit next to her, “we haven’t heard much from this political group since the Fourth of July, but now everyone’s talking about them!”
”That’s right, Malorie. And the big question is: who are they? What do they want? What’re their political ambitions? Do they have any money behind them and what exactly is their platform?”
“From all we’ve been able to find out, our analysts say that they want to bring back a simpler, more family-values time in our nation’s history,” Malorie said with a straight face. “Like the 1950s.”
“They seem to want to go further than that, Malorie, since their petition wants to revoke a woman’s right to vote.” Dave’s lips were straight, not even a twitch of amusement. “Still, you have to admit, Malorie, they’re not being very realistic. It all sounds good, a return to family values and better, more moral ways of living. But, as we all know, everything looks better and cleaner and happier when you’re looking backwards at it. What the Mothers apparently don’t realize is, you can’t turn back Time.”
“Except every November!” she giggled. Charlie and I groaned.
“Yes, but then you turn it forward the following March,” Dave said. He indulged her with a little laugh, then resumed his lecture. “What I meant to say is, once you open Pandora’s Box of Freedoms and Knowledge, you can’t go home again.”
“Oh God!” Charlie groaned. “What rip-off newscaster online course has he graduated from?” I settled back into his side, forcing his arm over my shoulders, then poked him with my wet fingers. “I’m not your towel, Grace.”
Charlie grabbed my arms, forcing me to fold them across my middle, where the water soaked into my shirt, and he held me against him. A sitting variation of our sleeping positions. He leaned into the back of my head and breathed warm and soft into my hair. The man was killing me with desire.
Dave touched his ear. “Malorie, I’ve now been told that the Mothers In Pearls are about to broadcast from a remote location. We’ve been asked to turn our feed over to them.”
The screen flickered, went black and then came on again to an out-of-focus picture of someone in front of brown and blue blobs. A voice hissed, “Turn the lens thingy, Marcia!” Something moved and the picture took on focus.
I swallowed a pitying moan. Beth sat on a four-legged stool. She wore the usual string of pearls around her neck and graduated pastel colors. Pink, this time, from barely baby pink at her shoulders to cotton candy at mid-skirt and the minute ribbing of her sweater as it fell over her bony wrists. Her narrow hands lay as if glued in place on her lap with her left hand on top, wedding and engagement ring all too visible. Her hair and face showed recent attention from a stylist and she could have been anybody’s sweet grandmother, but for the puffy bags under her slightly glazed eyes. And she slouched a little, as if bearing a heavy burden.
“It’s coming from their church basement,” I said before I thought.
Charlie squeezed a bit tighter. “How do you know?”
OK, full disclosure had its drawbacks. “Look at the paneling! Look that that banner hanging behind her with the Psalms citation. Where else could it be?” He grunted, but was unconvinced.
Beth began with a benign smile. Then she started to speak in a flat, almost mechanical tone.
“My name is Elizabeth Scadfly,” she said. “I am the Chair of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Faithful Servants congregation on Genesee Road in Sayresville, New York.
“But I do not come to speak to you as a leader of women tonight. I come as a wife, a mother and a grandmother. Just like you. Like you, I have loved, honored and obeyed my husband for over forty years. Like you, I have raised my children with solid family values which they are now passing onto their children. And like you, I fear for my children and their children and their children’s children in the world today.
A mutter from off camera made her sit up a little straighter, to focus her eyes in something meant to be a steely gaze. “I do not speak of attacks and threats of attacks from other countries, from other foreign ways of thinking. We have seen enough of them and our men have taken steps to prevent their coming again.” Beth squinted hard. A tear escaped the corner of her right eye.
“I speak to you tonight of the threat and danger from within our country. From what the news outlets and magazines and the Internet are calling our 21st century American Way of Life. It is a way of sin.” The voice muttered again. “It is a way of sin!” Beth repeated louder and with as much of a frown as she could manage. “I come to you tonight to say that it is our own fault and that we women are to blame.
“We know from Holy Scripture that sin came into the world at the hands of a woman. In Genesis chapter four, Eve thumbed her nose at God’s Holy Law and sinned. She took that sin into her body with the apple and she fed that sin to her husband and that is how sin came into our world. She infected her children and every child after that with her Original Sin.
“God gave us remedy for that, in Genesis three, after casting out the sinners from the Garden of Eden. He placed the man above the woman to rule and protect her. Proverbs chapter 31, verses ten through thirty-one, even Paul’s letters to the Romans, the Colossians, the Ephesians, all lay it all out for us: the duties we owe our families, our husbands, our Father in Heaven. The man is the ruler of the woman; he should, of course, be a benevolent ruler, but a just one. The Apostles Peter and James in their epistles agree. Women are not meant to rule.
“But we all know because Scripture tells us and we see it in our lives today, that we women are a stiff-necked gender. We are ungrateful for our God-given role in life. We seek equality in civil rights, in marital rights, and in pay. And we cause destruction and decay. In first and second Kings, Jezebel nearly destroyed the Kingdom of Israel and ordered the death of God’s prophet Elijah,” Beth continued. She began to speak a little faster, a little louder. “Mark in chapter six records how Herodias danced naked to force her husband to murder John the Baptist. And on and on, we see one clear fact: if a woman is given power over a man, she will destroy not only him, but an entire society!
Beth was visibly trembling, but she continued. “Go to any bookstore or newsstand or even online. You will see the depravity. Clothing so immodest as to boil the most saintly man’s natural instincts! Faces painted so lewdly in striking, sexual colors that the intention is clear – she awaits you in some bed with her legs wide open. This is a woman who will ruin man through sexual enslavement! And the articles! ‘How to make a man beg!’ ‘The best positions in bed to make him yours!’ ‘This season’s hottest looks!’ And that is only the magazines! I cannot even tell you how much filth lies on shelves for the taking under the lie of ‘modern literature’! And the writing and the pictures accessible to all, the young and the old, the innocent and the depraved, on the computer Internet!” She sobbed. “The devils who perpetuate this degradation of God’s gift of procreation cover themselves in lies such as freedom of speech and freedom of information.” Beth started to cough and took half a minute to regain her voice and her composure.
“Our society is dying a slow and ugly death of godlessness and depravity, perpetuated by the lazy and the feminists. It must stop. We Mothers in Pearls propose to stop it. We have approached legislators with our suggestions for a simple, logical first step: remove women’s suffrage from the Constitution. Women need to be brought back to the home, to their children, to what truly matters in a godly home.
“The response we have received, however, has been disappointing. We are told that we are naïve. That we will never get such a drastic amendment to the Constitution passed. That it is laughably impossible to stop this march into what we Mothers In Pearls know is the Pit.
“This is laziness on the part of our legislators, a good number of whom are women who wish to perpetuate their diabolical power over men. The ones who claim the right to make laws and policies to govern all mankind. We know their reward surely is eternal hellfire.
“I therefore announce, on behalf of the Mothers in Pearls, that we will continue our crusade with demonstrations, with appeals to the godly folk who watch television, and to the legislations at the local, state and, God willing, the federal level to see our work done. If we are not heard, we will take action. Like Judith of the Old Testament, we know our duty and we will act!”
Beth shuddered at her own vehemence. She tried to resume the grandmotherly smile she had at the beginning. “Do not think me crazy or that our cause is a violent one. We intend no bodily harm. But we will be heard.
“Thank you and God bless you.”
Her drawn, barely smiling face faded into a black screen.