Hide the liquor.
All I have to do is fit the bottles and the ammunition into the walls of the house, wherever I’ve added the insulation. For the rest of the day, fitting bottles into the walls, boxes of ammunition here and there, screwing the Sheetrock back on with my handy electric drill, I keep thinking about Blessed Mary. I think about her while I tape the seams. Later, I’ll skim-coat the seams. Then repaint. I enjoy doing monotonous home repairs. It’s satisfying. While I seal off the booze I can meditate. I put the cigarettes in plastic tubbies and ease the tubbies into the crawl space behind the boiler. Once I’ve got walls on, I break down the liquor boxes and put them out in the garage, into the recycling, which may never be picked up.
After all of this is done I drive to my usual grocery and am surprised to find it well stocked. I load up on salt, rice, beans, whole wheat flour, pancake mix, lots of canned vegetables, and peanut butter. I also buy luxuries. A tall glass of juice, a bottle of water, a crisp New Zealand apple, a stack of stoned-wheat crackers, and a ball of mild white mozzarella. At home, I set my treats out on my desk. How long, I wonder, will there be a snack like this to eat—cheese from a cow milked in Italy, crackers packaged in New Jersey, fruit squeezed in Florida, an apple from the other side of the world?
Today’s job is editing the church newsletter. I take a deep breath, and turn on my computer, just for word processing. I feel it is my duty to write for the parish. As I’ve said, I joined the church to make friends, and to bug my parents. But I love my church. It is a humble place—no limestone cathedral, no basilica. It doesn’t even have the name of a saint. It has the name of my present obsession. Holy Incarnation was founded to care for the most destitute people in the city, the cast-asides, the no-goods, the impossible, the toxic and contaminated. It is a small glass and brick and cinder-block place with no convenient parking. It is very different from the exurb Protestant churches that I have also attended, with their vast asphalted lots, their vaults of stone and cement, their jumbotrons up front to show close-ups of the minister. Mine is not a church of the saved, but a church of the lost.
As I am putting together the Thoughts page, my screen goes dark and swirly. This time she floats slowly into focus from the depths.
“Hello, dear. How are you?”
Her full cheeks are cement gray this time, set hard around her smile.
“Mother is thinking all about you. Would you like to tell me about your day?”
I shut down my computer.
My hands are trembling. I push myself away from the dark screen. But I can’t get up. Can’t move. The phone starts ringing, and it won’t quit. It rings continually for ten minutes, then falls silent for a moment, starts again. Twenty-five minutes after the last ring, there is a knock at the door. That is the length of time it takes for your father to get from his apartment to my house, so I know he’s standing on the front steps right now. It is too late to douse the lights. He knows that I am home, and still I sit paralyzed before the dead computer. The door begins to shake. He is rattling the curved metal handle and pounding on the wood. Soon he begins shouting my name. My street is quiet and ends at an old railroad embankment. As I said, it is a forgotten cul-de-sac, a street untouched either by gentrification or destitution. It is not a through street. I am sure my neighbors are peeping from between their blinds or glancing around the sides of their curtains, curious. I leave my office and walk down my dark hall to the door. I stand behind the shaking frame and take about six deep breaths before I can trust myself to talk without my voice shaking or my throat shutting.
He hears me, and quits. We are standing silent on either side of the shut door. I put the palm of my hand against the doorknob and then lower my forehead to the wood. I can hear him breathing on the other side and I am sure he can hear me as well. The door is constructed of three panels, the top a large rectangle and the other two below, neatly margined. The wood is stained a dark reddish brown and the grain underneath the varnish is umber, streaked and tangled.
“Open up, Cedar, I have to tell you something.”
I cannot let him in, but I can’t leave the door, either. “I’ll call the police,” I say at last.
“I’m here because of the police,” he says. “Have you heard? Have you seen the news?”
“Please, let me in right now so I don’t attract more attention. I don’t want anyone to see me out here and get suspicious. Please, it’s true, I swear.”
“They’re coming for you.”
They are rounding us up. Here is what your father told me, once I’d let him into the house and doused the lights. By a narrow majority the House and Senate have voted to strengthen and give new powers to what began so long ago as the Patriot Act. There were articles I, II, III, IV, and now we are up to V, section 215 of which still allows our government to seize entire library and medical databases in order to protect national security. This newly expanded decision, now only hours old, empowers the government to determine who is pregnant throughout the country. Your father says that the surgeon general they had was fired and the new one has announced that pregnant women will be sequestered in hospitals in order to give birth under controlled circumstances. It is for our own safety and we are required to go voluntarily. Those who do go in right now will receive the best rooms. The best rooms! Heart in my throat, I think of the doctor who probably put himself at risk. He gave me the ultrasound picture. He knew. Best rooms. Hysterical. Will women turn themselves in thinking that a bit more privacy, a better view, an extra chair, is worth it? We’re not going. And I am lucky, we are lucky. Because I used that old insurance card from the job I had working on the alumni magazine at the University of Minnesota, we will be hard to find. The card has an old box number, no street address. But in the middle of the night, I sit up, eyes wide. I used my credit card to buy baby clothes at Target. I paid my credit card bill online. I slip back down into the tangle of blankets. I am being pregnancy-purchase-tracked by Mother. Your father sleeps beside our bed on a pile of couch pillows. He has folded his wings. We are all three together for the first time. But we are already halfway found.
Now it is done. Days pass. We cannot leave each other. Ever.
I keep sending the same telepathic messages: Call me, Mom, call me, Dad, call me, call me. I touch in their number, but they are not home. Then one day someone picks up the telephone on the first ring and a woman says, “Songmaker residence, can I help you?”
The overly pleasant voice is not my mom’s, but it is familiar. Fulsome, full of inquiry, too avid. I put down the telephone. It is an old-fashioned black touch-tone with translucent buttons and black numbers. I don’t know what sort of information it holds or whether my messages on my parents’ voice mail can be accessed and traced back to me, here. Although my telephone bills come to my box number, my street address must be in the company’s records.
All day, I keep hearing that voice, the lilt increasingly sinister,
Can I help you? A parodic melody. Can I help you?
From FUTURE HOME OF THE LIVING GOD. Used with permission of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers Copyright © 2017 by Louise Erdrich.