For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
A Siren Song
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The tires hummed with the salted and pitted concrete belt beneath them, leading the Jeep away from the Tunnel. It felt good just to be back on the road. Never mind the winter conditions - the spin-out notwithstanding - Scott could handle it. He drove with a new confidence and surety, tempered as it was with wisdom of how close he’d come to the edge and a new threat of heavy snow out there in the obsidian night, thankful he was headed downhill now.
Still, Scott was tired. It was quite a few miles before he’d find rest and warmth and his mind wanted to take a back seat to the physical strain of driving in weather. His own psychological engine felt like it had been run up to about five thousand rpm’s, dumped back down into a low gear too soon and was in danger of throwing a rod.
What, exactly, had truck driver Alvin Bordois done to him?
Despite a general acceptance of his decision, Scott couldn’t shake the up-side-the-head irritation that he might have been too easily manipulated. He didn’t like the feeling that it wasn’t solely his idea. At all. How many times in his little life had he given in to what seemed like more solid arguments against his own and ended up abandoning his own chosen course of action. And here he was, driving through a cold, slippery night because of someone else’s story of sacrifice and integrity. Of course, Scott knew all too well that second thoughts often vie for first place after crowding out initial intuition or presentiment.
Alvin did not insist on his implied advice, Scott well knew. But blame and placement of responsibility often go together so well in defensively structured emotions that it was almost inevitable that Scott would choose to use reproachful language to set a buffer against the chance that his reversal turned out badly.
To put it simply, Mr. Bordois had told Scott an incredible true story that, in the end, was powerful enough to crush Scott’s selfishness about his journey. His sense of self-preservation had capitulated, crumpling the deed of entitlement to his own creature comfort.
It turned out that Alvin had indeed gone against conventional wisdom, his closest friends and family, and more importantly, the preciousness of his own self interests to instead steer into the hard curve of a future fate that obliterated any prior rational justifications and rendered them pitifully insignificant. In response, all Scott could do was choose to honor his commitment, damn the torpedoes, and drive full speed ahead to his originally intended destination.
And so here he was, spiked by Alvin’s delicious java and headed downhill toward Denver and south toward Rocky Butte. Not back to his Californian comfort zone. That was all out the window. Now just past seven, the cloudy winter darkness had come upon them two hours earlier when Alvin had backed down the highway. If Scott kept moving, missing the Denver rush hour traffic and stopping only for gas on Interstate twenty-five south, he only had another two hours before arriving at Betti’s place.
Before arriving at Betti’s place. Wow, that was a sobering thought. He had been pretty well set to go back home to the sun and warmth and beach and ocean and girls and his life. But along with that preceding thought came the remembrance of what an incredible human being Betti Bee was. No matter whatever he might think about this trip, he could not escape that undeniable fact.
“You don’t really have to use your middle name to run from your past, Scott.”
That she could know everything about him within moments of meeting was just too weird to explain. What Scott felt in her presence was unique. He at once felt at home and known and eventually was willing to spill his guts to her as the safest person he’d ever met. This intrusion into his space didn’t threaten him in the least, which was so unusual in itself.
Alan. That was Scott’s middle name. He started using it as his first name as soon as he had dropped out of high school. When his parents and remaining younger brother and sister left for a family vacation that Scott had begged out of, citing his projectionist job at the local movie theater, he got a friend to help him move all of his belongings to the college town sixty miles away and into a tiny trailer in a small trailer park on the outskirts of town. He left no note.
Still only seventeen and a lean, medium height teenager, he found an ad for a three day temp job moving out salvage documents from a national testing company within his first week there. When presented with the request for his name and particulars on the job application, the form asked for his address, and since he was writing in his new, independent address in the new town, he thought, What the heck?, and crossed out Scott, scribing Alan next to it. The feeling of this act brought him to face his new reality and it excited him. He was breaking with what he felt had broken him and was determined to go all the way with it. His father’s middle name was Scott, which made him almost a Junior and was a source of ridicule from friends and a required responsibility not to embarrass his father’s name with his screwups and the way he wore his hair, his clothes, and the way he wore his attitude. Well, he wasn’t going to live under that mantle any longer. And hell, it was just a middle name.
He had plenty of money saved up from the many nights spent tucked away up in the projection booth of the small town’s only movie theater on the town square. He was the only one who could service the complex and finicky carbon-arc projectors and so got all the hours he wanted. He didn’t have much to spend the money on after purchasing his motorcycle and the bit he spent on drugs he used to escape his father and the small town life, so he’d been stashing it away for this.
When he went in for the temp job interview, introducing himself as Alan was exhilarating. He was a new person. He didn’t have a history with anyone in this town and he could rewrite his life anyway he pleased. Alan was independent and couldn’t be constrained and restricted by anyone. He had no family to be embarrassed by.
But Betti knew about his history and family. Scott had not experienced being in awe of another person before.
By the time she was thirty nine, Betti Bee had gained an unwanted following of sorts in that small, Indiana college town. She was a tall and rounded woman and she seemed substantial without being too overweight. She looked physically strong. A typically bland midwestern face was centered within medium brown hair that fell to her shoulders. You couldn’t pick her out of her high school yearbook from most of the other girls with her smile as though life had been and would further be full of personal victories she was even then privy to. They all smiled that way. Betti appeared as though disappointment and assault had never knocked on her emotional door - that, like the other optimistic girl smiles she strived to copy, she could only know hopeful and exciting futures. The truth, though, was that she was not to graduate to that prospective future. Nor had she escaped her formative years without deep, terrible scars. But her future had held the gift of three beautiful daughters whom she loved more than her own life, however traumatic the union that produced them had been.
Scott would learn only a whisper of Betti’s past, though, as she refused to be defined by it, prescribing to it the present of hope, salvation, and the future of a promised life ever after.
In person, by the time Scott had met her, the bright-smiling year-book girl had disappeared. The smile was still there, but it was muted, its volume turned down and smoothed like a rutted road that had been scraped and filled by a road grader. The peaks and valleys were gone from her horizon but what had been left in its place was a smile of rolling hills of verdant crops in full leaf, green and tender and abundant.
Four years in a Carmelite convent from the age of seventeen had been a bastion of security and grace and healing after a young lifetime of mistreatment in the extreme. When Scott met Betti for the first appointment, she explained that her work and ministry of healing was presided over and authored by the Holy Spirit. Scott knew that was all a crock of shit, but he could not deny what he saw in the electric blue of her eyes and the soft, warm blanket of her voice. And if she was all she was cracked up to be, Scott could put up with a little ooga-booga for an hour or so in the hopes of... what? What was he hoping to get out of this “session”? The best he could come up with for what he was feeling was that he needed to let out his breath, emotionally, after holding it in for so long. Had he become emotionally constipated? Scott knew that he was angry and hurt somewhere down in there. As if there was some place in him, like at the the center of the earth, where gravity was amplified and the molten core belched acrid feelings unable to escape to the surface. Essentially, he felt arrested in his development toward the successful life he believed he should be living by then. His heart had become permanently lodged in his throat and felt like a ten pound lead Weight there.
He knew the genesis of his stuck-ness. Of course, Betti Bee knew. She didn’t even have to intuit it - it had been known all over town. It was the disaster movie that had been his mercifully short marriage. Living a life of quiet desperation can be hidden from others, but when your wife bashes out all the windows of your car at three o’clock in the morning, it tends to wake some people up.
Run, they had told him.
In fact, one of the guys he worked for said this to him straight out. It was after Scott had related a recent incident that was really bugging him and causing him to be a bit distracted at work.
“Just one?”, Willem asked.
“No, all of them,” Scott replied.
“All of ... how many?”
“I don’t know... a couple thousand dollar’s worth.”
Willem Harper was an IT superstar that had escaped the cloistered elite of Silicon Valley to settle “somewhere that had a bit more reality to it”. He found it in the same small college town as Scott. They had found each other through a men’s accountability group and had developed a working relationship with Scott providing ad copy services to Willem’s small consulting company. Scott’s turn in the men’s group was short-lived, though. He had written himself out of its story line.
“What’s that, about ten of them? More?”, Willem asked?
Scott squirmed in his seat on the other side of Willem’s desk. He looked to the Indiana pastoral on the wall behind his friend, longing for the serenity and solitude of the scene it portrayed.
“I think it was about ten or twelve. The ones I just bought for her when we went to Indianapolis.”
The story he had told Willem was of the prior day when he came home from lunch after having gone grocery shopping.
Scott turned the corner onto B Street, just off of the town square, and into the alley next to their rented house. As he pulled the red Camero into the drive on the way into the garage, he looked over through the passenger window to get a glimpse of his wife, sitting in a lotus position on the walkway, eyes closed and palms up as if in meditation.
Inside the dark, cluttered garage, Scott pulled the car to where the tennis ball hanging on a string just tapped the windshield and he braked, put the car in Park, turned the ignition off, pulled the keys, and sat still a moment, taking in a deep breath. He knew something was up. As they said in the men’s group, “Shit’s Up!”.
There were two bags of groceries on the passenger seat next to him and he grabbed them with one hand and slid them onto the console. He yanked the door latch with his other hand and shouldered open the long, heavy door; stretched one leg out, then the other, then his ass was out and he could bend back over, reach in, and drag the bags across his seat and up into his arms. He swung the door shut with a knee, grunting, and murmured to himself that he needed to get a truck.
As Scott came out of the garage with the grocery bags in his arms, he had to walk around his wife to get up onto the porch and into the house. He offered a Hello to her but got no response as he noticed a pile of what looked like smoldering ashes on the ground in front of her. Once in the house, Scott put the refrigerated items away and left the rest on the counter. There was a high window over the kitchen sink that looked out toward the back and Scott went up on tip toes to look out. He wasn’t tall enough to see down out of it so he lifted his right knee up onto the counter and then hoisted himself up enough to grab the window sill and peer out. She was still sitting there, but was fanning the pile of ash so that the smoke blew sideways instead of into her face.
Scott climbed down from the sink and leaned against the counter. He didn’t know what to make of what he saw. He wondered if he should go find out or if it was something that he would be better off not knowing.
He tried his best to be casual when he walked up to her, not succeeding in the least.
She looked up at him with a kind of crazed look, like she had just come out of a trance where she was told that she needed a human sacrifice.
She looked back at the miniature pyre. “I burned them.”
Scott looked to the pile that had cooled enough to stop smoking. “Yeah, I can see that. What did you burn?”
“Those new ones.”
“The dresses we just bought for you in Indianapolis?”, Scott asked, his Emotional Quotient needle beginning to fluctuate rapidly.
“I cut them up. Into little pieces first. Before I did the ceremony” she replied, deadpan, still gazing at the gray pile in front of her.
“You cut all those dresses up into little pieces and burned them?!”
“That was thousands of dollars worth of dresses!” Scott began to pace behind her. “What ceremony?!”
“It was a combination of a form of Sati and a Tchoiyish.”
“A what?!” Scott stopped pacing and came around on the other side of the pile and knelt down so she at least was looking in his direction. “Why? Why did you cut those cute dresses up and burn them? These are them? Here?” He pointed at the pile. “You looked fantastic in them! We picked them out - you chose them.”
She looked up into his eyes and said, “I didn’t like what they represented.”
“I mean, what am I supposed to think about that? What am I even supposed to feel about something like that?” Scott looked despondently to Willem, who stared back in disbelief and concern. “I... I... can’t wrap my head around something like that. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
After Scott finished his sentence, he sat still. They both looked at each other for what seemed like a long time. Then Willem began slowly shaking his head from side to side, eventually leaning forward over his desk toward Scott for emphasis.
“Run. Run as fast as you can.”
Too bad Scott didn’t heed that sage advice. Well, it really didn’t take a psychiatrist to figure that one out.
Scott and his wife’s marital carnage unfolded just one block from the tree-shaded town square where summer gazebo concerts of John Williams music and firemen’s pancake breakfasts attracted the good people of Fairview and communities surrounding. Scott had come to experience episodes of parts of the house being destroyed over some rather spirited one-sided arguments. Hornswoggled by the feminist movement in thinking that being a good listener meant to Scott that he should stand there while she harangued him for an hour and a half. On one particular occasion, frustrated by Scott’s bewildered silence, she finally escalated into sweeping the counters and tables clean of their lunch - food, plates, glasses, everything - onto the floor. Scott had to call her name loudly, take her by the arms and, risking threats to call the police for spousal abuse, walked her into the living room, forcing her to sit, blood already soaking his white socks from walking across broken glass to get to her where she stood, swaying in kinetic overload in a Linda Blair moment.
“Stay here!”, he said forcefully. Her eyes bulged, the tempest still raging in her. But she stayed, rigid, a maelstrom of one hundred and fifty mile an hour thoughts, houses, baby grand pianos, cows, and crying babies cycloning through the gray matter of her brain. What was in that pretty head was utterly unfathomable to him. So much for Scott marrying what he thought of as a trophy wife. That’ll teach him. Right.
During these times, Scott was able to keep it together only because he took his troubles to his erstwhile men’s accountability group. Having left the group earlier because it got just too close to him and too hard-assed for his comfort zone when it came to making and keeping certain commitments, he still reached out to them. Why he thought he could cut it in a group like that, he had no idea. But he was drifting in space with this woman, drowning, way, way out of his depth. He was only twenty-three years old, for Jesus’ sake!
These were good men, though, for all their clichéd manliness and individual shortcomings. As a tight team of seven men, they were able to help Scott navigate the minefield of his marriage. They had yet to be really tested, though, and that test had come soon enough in a hastily convened meeting out at the team captain’s farm.
On this occasion, sitting amongst the men, farm sounds of flies and chickens and the faint, earthy smell of manure, he could only describe his experience as swimming, or more accurately, as trying not to drown. As Scott knew what that was like, literally, he spoke with what he hoped was gravitas with the result of the guys taking him seriously. As he told the men about earlier that morning, they listened with the intensity of twelve year old boys crowded around a worn and ripped copy of Playboy, embellished with disbelief, and lurid, vicarious curiosity.
As always, it began with Scott unknowingly walking into an inquiry that became an argument that roiled into a full-blown polemic. He was on his way out the door to go across the street and down the alley to the upstairs office where he worked for Willem.
His wife stiff-armed the door as he opened it.
“We need to talk,” she commanded.
“Can’t it wait until I’m off work? I need to get over there.”
As he told the story to the men, he couldn’t even remember what she wanted to talk about. He only knew that it spiraled out of control pretty fast with her raising her voice and no way, no how could it wait. He reluctantly admitted he probably had been dumb enough to engage with her. The men agreed.
When the Angry Woman Face appeared, he knew all hope of getting to an end to the diatribe was lost. By this time, she was alternately screaming and then using a soft, sweet voice. She often used this technique so that later, when describing to her cadre of empowered women friends how impossible it was to communicate with Scott, she could honestly say that she had used as sweet a voice as she could.
After what seemed like an eternity but was about forty-five minutes, Scott glancing at his watch throughout, he finally proclaimed that he must to go to work. He opened the door, his wife having to scootch out of the way in little steps to keep her bare feet from going under the door as it opened against her and as she quite vocally protested. Scott couldn’t close the door because she got herself on the other side of it, following him out onto the porch, still going on about... something.
Despite his legs carrying him down the porch steps, across the sidewalk, across the empty street, Scott was not aware of having legs. In fact, he felt as though he were only a thirty-foot head and he had taken an express elevator to the very top floor of it. He could hear her behind him, but it was like listening to cats scream. He couldn’t make sense of it any longer. The worst part, as he described it to his guys, was that she was still following him.
“What time was this?”, one of them asked.
“About... by that time it was almost ten.”
“So this happened in the middle of the morning, before noon.”
“Yeah,” Scott said.
“And you’re on B Street, so highway Thirty-Five is, what, twenty-five steps from the Main Street of Fairview?”
“And she’s like that? Almost all out there and everything?”
They all looked at each other, incredulous looks in their eyes. Because not only was Scott’s wife raging, but she hadn’t bothered to get dressed when she decided to accompany Scott to work. All she had on was her bra and panties. While Scott’s wife had decided to identify her own personal social justice through her outer clothes, she hadn’t yet found it necessary to attach a victimhood mentality to her fondness for fine lingerie. To be sure, they were a really great-looking bra and panties and each one of the guys could easily imagine how fantastic she must have looked in them.
“Woulda liked to be there for that!”, someone said. Scott’s forehead furrowed in indignation. The others went quiet and eyed the guy.
“Yeah,” the same guy started, trying too hard to cover for his insensitivity, “was probably pretty traumatic for you.” The others murmured a mock agreement.
Scott continued where he left off, oblivious to the sarcasm, telling them of how she followed him all the way up the outside stairs and even into the office, continually braying at him. The thankful thing, Scott said, was that for some reason, no one else was in the office. He went and sat behind his desk as his wife came to stand before it, still going on and on about... that thing, whatever it was. He pleaded with her to leave so he could get some work done.
“Not until you admit...” whatever it was. He couldn’t understand anything about the situation so of course, he didn’t know what to admit to.
After placing his hands on either side of his face and squeezing, he suddenly stood, came around his desk and as she turned to face him, wound up and her rage revving, Scott grabbed her arms, turned her around and began to walk her backwards toward the still-open door. As he got her as far as the doorway, she managed to grasp the door jamb with her hands and leaned into him, yelling at him to take his hands off of her.
Then she slipped, her bare feet sliding on the carpet, and went down hard on her lacy ass. That pretty much woke Scott up from his state of emotional autopilot and he immediately realized that things had gotten a little out of hand. He tried to help her up, but she pushed him away and began berating him anew.
Scott was desperate to stop the madness. It was then that his panic-stricken brain sent him an urgent message from Command Central. He picked up the phone on his desk and began dialing a number from memory.
“Who are you calling?!”, his wife shrieked.
“The police. You have gone too far,” his trembling voice replied.
She stepped toward him and hissed, “Alan! If you call them, I’m going to tell them you knocked me down!”
Scott froze. Then he hung up the phone, “Fairview Police. Is this an emergency?” could be heard before the phone hit the cradle. He knew he was sunk. Out of options. Dead and blown out of the water. Her eyes were bugged out almost out of her head, waiting to see what he would do or say to her last words.
He walked around her without a word, out the door and back down the stairs, no idea what he was going to do. She followed him, of course, walking down the rough gravel alley in her bare feet, heedless of the sharp stones as if she were a fire walker in a fugue state. As Scott got back to the street pavement in front of their house, his eyes latched upon his car that he had parked on the street the night before. He sped up, quickly fishing his keys out of his pocket, crossing to the Camero and unlocking the door so he could jump into the drivers seat and get the door closed before she could get to him.
As the door slammed shut and he punched down the door lock, he looked out to the street to his left. There she was, the woman of his dreams and the one he thought he would grow old with, standing in the middle of the street in nothing but her pink under things, still railing at him. Scott started the car.
His wife’s exhibition was not complete, though. First, the bra came off. Then, to Scott’s disassociated mind as he put the Camero in gear and eased off the brake, she dispensed with her little pink panties, wriggling out of them and throwing them at the car, finally buck naked, not as the day she was born, but rather as the twenty-two-year-old physically-blessed golden haired goddess that she was.
Scott looked expectantly at the group of men gathered around him, nonplused, every one of them. He continued.
After he slowly drove away, looking back to see his naked wife in the middle of the street gesturing wildly, he drove six or seven blocks away and pulled over, positively stunned. When he managed to put the car into park and turn the ignition off, he sat still, trembling. Then the tears came, and this made him angry. That he was reduced to this by the waking nightmare that his marriage had become made him feel stupid. Scott sat in his bright red muscle car and cried. And railed against a God he didn’t believe in, railed against his wife, and then got to piling on himself for allowing this to happen. Finally, he calmed down a bit enough to pull his phone out and call his former men’s group team leader to briefly tell what happened. The team leader didn’t want to hear any involved story, but just instructed Scott to come to his house and that he’d see who else could get away to join them.
Finished with the story and sitting there, folded into an old overstuffed couch in the back room of the leader’s farmhouse, Scott was almost to tears again. Audible sighs were heard, murmurs rose.
“She actually fucking took off her bra and panties?”, someone asked, incredulous.
“Yeah, it blew my mind. It hurt so bad,” Scott said, devastated.
“This is your wife we’re talking about, yes?”
Scott nodded, a deeply forlorn look creased into his face.
First in thought, the team captain tilted his head up, glanced at the others, took in a deep breath, and turned to Scott to let out his caring and serious thought on this.
“Wow. You definitely shoulda called us right there and then, before you left.”
The others leaked chuckles, then they all broke out into loud laughter. All except for Scott, who again took umbrage with their unbridled callousness.
“This was a terrible thing!”, Scott exclaimed.
“The only terrible thing here is that you didn’t call us in time to get a good look at that fine body.’
This brought a new outbreak of laughter. “You know how long I’ve wondered what she looked like naked? Man!”, someone said.
“That would’ve been an Instagram moment, for sure!”, another chimed in.
“Hey Scott, you gotta remember what you did to make her take her clothes off.”
“Can we go back and run through that again? We’ll hide in your car.”, someone asked. Everyone agreed, laughing hysterically. Finally, Scott wiped away his tears and let go of his tight hold on himself. Gradually, he began to laugh with them. This was worth another ten minutes of jokes and in the end, Scott came away with his head in a better place, although he still absolutely dreaded going back home.
God - and Scott’s therapist, really, since Scott barely had a concept of God he ascribed to Creation and Scott's being there on earth - only knew how he had contributed to the situation, because Scott still felt clueless about what brought it on, how he had attracted someone like her, and what it was in him that he couldn’t see.
In the end, Scott’s marriage was summed up simply by stating the fact that one day near the end his wife admitted herself into the psych ward of the small local hospital. That she came home the next day and went on as though nothing had been out of the ordinary scared Scott more than anything. The psych ward incident was probably the catalyst for Scott’s escape from Indiana and his wife. Probably, but not actually.