Chapter 44: Denial
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
Penelope arrived in the early afternoon. She was so worried as to be almost unintelligible. All I could gather from her was that Hannah needed to see me, immediately. So we set off to North Village together.
I walked into Hannah’s cottage, and the first thing she did was kneel down to me. She wouldn’t look me in the face. And she was in an emotional uproar.
I had no idea what was going on. So I started with something inoffensive. “There’s no need for that, Hannah. We’re sisters.”
Hannah tried to say something, but she couldn’t get it out. She just grabbed my legs and began crying. Penelope shook her head and retreated in the direction of Hannah’s bedroom.
There wasn’t much I could do, except worry. So I stood there, waiting for Hannah to finish and tell me what was wrong. She was still sobbing and holding my legs when she asked me, “How have I offended you, Prophesied One?”
Groan. I was tempted to tell Hannah to get over this and get up. But my attempt to reason with Tanya had taught me I didn’t understand the Children’s religion, and this was almost certainly some kind of religious issue. So I took it carefully. “Since you’re not treating me as a sister anymore, Hannah, I suspect it is I who has offended you. Can we sit down together and you can tell me why you think I’m offended? Because I’m not.”
That was enough for the moment. Hannah stood up, gave me an uncertain look, and walked into her living room, wiping her nose with a handkerchief. She waited until I sat down before sitting down herself. That bothered me.
It took Hannah a bit longer to collect herself and address me. “You’ve taken away my Inspiration. I can’t imagine why you’d do that unless I had offended you grievously.”
“Whoa! Wait a second, here, Hannah. I don’t have the power to take away your Inspiration. What makes you think I did?”
Hannah replied, “Stacia said you approved of my losing my Inspiration permanently. I thought that meant that you had done it. Who else could have?”
Oh, I don’t know: probably Sarah Priest, if what Stacia had told me was right. But Hannah didn’t know Sarah from a hole in the wall, so that wouldn’t help. And I recalled what Sarah Priest had warned me about Instruments of the Divine. “Hannah, I want you to know I have your best interests at heart. You are my sister, after all. But we may disagree on what was in your best interests. I want to see you finish growing up to be a wonderful woman, a sister I can be proud of.” Hannah smiled uncertainly at that. I could tell she liked the image, but couldn’t figure out where I was going with this. “And I know you wanted to continue to be an Instrument of the Divine. The problem is that Alex Bancroft did some research, and it turns out Instruments of the Divine don’t live long once they manifest the Divine. No more than five years. So when I was told you’d be losing your Inspiration permanently, I was sorry about that, but happy you’d live to grow up. Do you understand?”
Hannah considered the matter for quite a bit of time before replying, “But, but you’re the Prophesied One. How can you not want me to be an Instrument of the Divine? That is what I am. How can you take that away from me?”
But I hadn’t taken it away from her! Didn’t she understand I’d just said so? And yet I couldn’t help but wonder if this wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t told Sarah Priest I didn’t want Hannah to die young. So I felt frustrated and backed into a corner that wasn’t even my own fault, unless maybe it was. I just blew up and lectured Hannah. “If all you are is an Instrument, Hannah, then maybe you didn’t deserve to be one.”
Hannah turned pale. She almost immediately retorted, barely caught herself in time, and then just stood up and ran into her bedroom. In a few seconds I could hear her bawling her heart out in there.
Slick move, Emily. I thought about going in to try to console Hannah. But I wasn’t sure I could do a good job of it, and I wasn’t exactly feeling well-disposed to Hannah at the moment. So I left.
I was feeling sorry for Hannah and angry at Hannah at the same time. And I couldn’t shake myself of the feeling that I was getting blamed for things that were not my fault. I’d lost Bonnie’s friendship, seen my sister Elsie collapse into tears over Alex’s departure, had to deal with who-knows-what about Jezebel, and now Hannah. And let’s not forget all those other problems I’d been putting off. I began to feel well and truly sorry for myself.
Yeah, no one’s attractive wallowing in self-pity. I gave Tanya the silent treatment all through dinner, then suggested she might find some way of staying out of my hair. I sat down in the study and contemplated what to do next.
My first thought was to bore myself on the Internet. But I couldn’t concentrate.
And then I got to thinking about where I was. I was among the Children, who are quite open to sexual experiences. And I hadn’t been laid since months before I came here. There was the bathhouse at Lakeside. I could go down there and find someone to hook up with for an evening. I wouldn’t even have to feel guilty. Heck, I could tell him he was having sex with the Prophesied One, make it an honor.
That didn’t last long, either. It might work for the Children, but not for me. Casual sex doesn’t help me out of depression; my bitter experience has been that it made me even more depressed afterwards. So that was out.
Well, there was always that old standby: get drunk. Not something I would normally do, but under the circumstances . . . Only problem was that getting drunk on the Children’s cider or root beer takes far too long. That left the bottle of festival spirits. Considering what I’d heard and experienced, it was a stupid thing for me to drink, but I was all “fuck that.” I got the bottle out of the kitchen, didn’t bother with a glass, and just retired to the study to get drunk and feel sorry for myself.
Two hours later I was drunk. Also hot. Also naked. Also horny. Tanya had invited her boyfriend up, which I guess constituted getting out of my hair, and they were going at it in her bedroom. I could hear them, easily. Thanks to my empathy, I could feel them, too. I wanted to go join them and I wanted to get away from them. Getting away won, probably my last clear-headed thought for the night. I didn’t even bother to put on any clothes as I headed out the door. At least it was warm outside.
Getting out of the house didn’t completely disconnect me from Tanya and her boyfriend. Instead, more or less like what happened in the bathhouse, I began picking up everyone else in Milltown who was having sex. It wasn’t the overpowering experience it had been in the bathhouse with Stacia. I still was able to hold onto my identity. But I was getting very horny. I began trying to think of people here among the Children I might want to have sex with. I finally came up with a name and a face, a guy I’d had a crush on back when I was eight. He was up in North Village. I decided to head up there. I didn’t think quite how stupid an idea that was.
I woke up the next morning in Abraham Hunter’s arms. I hadn’t known Abe until last night. Now I probably knew everything important about him.
Normally, I’d have felt exceptionally awkward in a situation such as this one. But not this time. First of all, Abe was asleep, and probably would be for a while yet. I’d tuckered him out good. Second, thanks to my empathy and what we’d done, I actually did know just about everything about him. It was as if we’d been friends for a long time. Third, I felt really, really good, which surprised me. I’d gotten everything good out of sex this time, and nothing bad. And I wasn’t going to worry about why.
Without even opening my eyes, I could tell where I was. I was on the plaza atop Sacred Mountain, right smack in the middle, in fact. And there was one other person on the plaza beside Abe and myself, someone sitting at the edge just beyond the North Village point.
I opened up my eyes, stood up, walked over to where the other person was sitting, and sat down beside her. She was naked, too. It was Sarah Priest.
She turned to look at me, a happy smile on her face. “I had spelled this place so I could monitor whether anyone was trying to use it. You set off my alarm, and I came running.”
“In the nude, I see.” I was laughing inside.
She glanced over to where Abe lay. “To the Children, it wouldn’t matter if I were clothed or not. But for you, you live in a society where people with clothes have power over those who don’t. I didn’t want to do that to you. So I came naked.”
That brought me down. I didn’t like being singled out for adhering to a social norm that others didn’t accept. “What about you?”
That caused Sarah to laugh a little. “When I was fresh out of college, I spent time in a commune in which we practiced group sex, orgies, if you will. After that, clothes didn’t matter so much.”
I’d seen my parents having sex, so I could imagine older people having sex. But it was hard to envision Sarah Priest as a girl in an orgy. I decided to change the subject. “What brings you here, apart from my setting off alarms?”
Sarah became serious. She gazed at me thoughtfully. “I may have made a mistake. I thought you’d be better off leaving this place. Now I’m not so sure.”
No. “What, because I had sex here last night? I was drunk.”
“And high as a kite as well. What drugs were you on?”
I thought about it. “Just festival spirits.” At least that’s all I remembered.
“Hmph, I’d heard something of that from Alex.” Sarah paused, thinking how to proceed. “We have some things in common, Emily Fisher. I mentioned orgies? Well, when I was in them, I’d lose all control over myself. Have people engaging in sex around me, and I want to have sex, too. Sound familiar?”
Yeah, twice now. And thinking over exactly what I’d done last night was beginning to depress me. “Though I doubt you seduced some guy by pretending to be a figure in his religion.”
“Closer than you might think, but not exactly, no.” Sarah was both amused and a bit sorry for me. “Yet you underestimate yourself, Emily. Just what did you do for this fine fellow, this Abraham Hunter?”
I shrugged. “Pretended I was the Prophesied One, entranced him with visions, and used them to seduce him. Nothing to be proud of.”
“That’s not what I see. Why did you tell him you were the Prophesied One?”
I went looking back at what I’d thought. “I was walking through North Village, looking for a guy I’d once had a crush on. And somehow I picked up that Abe was lonely and that he was very troubled about his faith because of all the turmoil among the Children. So,” and I let cynicism creep into my voice, “I took advantage of him.”
“By taking on the role of the Prophesied One and giving him a profound religious experience. Emily, you showed him a vision of the Children’s Divine! After that, he didn’t need to be seduced. He wanted to celebrate with you.” Sarah paused and then added, “You have altered Abe’s life and made a devoted convert by being the Prophesied One.”
I raised my voice to make the point. “I don’t want to be the Prophesied One!”
Sarah scoffed. “Really? Because your actions last night say otherwise, Emily.”
I was tempted to retort back that I was drunk at the time, and almost did. But that wasn’t the whole answer. I really had enjoyed helping Abe by being the Prophesied One, else I’d never have done it, and it wouldn’t have felt so good. So, after a while, I sullenly admitted, “Well, maybe.”
Sarah nodded. “Maybe. Maybe it’s not all you want to do, but it is something you can do, and at least now and again you’d even enjoy it. Look, Emily, I don’t believe in prophecy. I don’t think you are the Prophesied One, because Lavinia could not have foreseen you. She just expected someone like you to turn up. But people here will read Lavinia’s prophecy and think you are this Prophesied One. And you just demonstrated last night, and not for the first time, that you can do the job. So stop fighting it, and decide how you’re going to fit it into your life, or what it will honestly cost you to suppress it altogether.”
“Including suppressing your empathy?”
I thought about that. “Damn. If I use it in the outside world, people will think I’m crazy or I’ll end up as part of some government research project.”
“And then there’s this other problem,” Sarah added. “I didn’t think you could do it, but you’ve bound yourself to the plaza all by yourself.”
I panicked. “What? How? When? How?”
Sarah gave me a pitying look. “Last night, probably by forcing open the secret paths to get here. You couldn’t have used them in the state they were in without taking on the regulation of them. Which you clearly did.”
I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. “So it’s over. I’m stuck here.”
Sarah shook her head and smiled. “Not quite. The way you did it, it’s reversible, at least for a while. You bound yourself, you can unbind yourself. Though it will get tougher to do either over time. Remember that Halloween deadline? Judging from the state of things here, that still holds good. I think up until that time you should be able to bind or unbind yourself at will, now that you’ve done it once.”
“But I don’t know how I did it!” I exclaimed.
Sarah wasn’t buying it. “You can feel the plaza. Don’t tell me you can’t.”
I stopped and tried to feel it. And I could. Not just the plaza. The longer I concentrated, I could feel the whole network of paths, too.
Sarah apparently could tell what I was doing, because she spoke to me in a low voice. “And if you can feel the paths, you can figure out how to unbind yourself from them. Binding yourself is a bit tougher, but if you could do it when you were drunk and high, it should be easy while you’re sober.” She ended with a chuckle.
I turned on her. “That’s easy for you to say. It’s not your life that’s at stake here. You’re just a bystander.”
Sarah just quietly replied, “If I were just a bystander, I wouldn’t be here right now, Emily.”
True. And I owe you for what you’ve done, Sarah Priest, and haven’t thanked you, have I?. But it somehow irks me. And speaking of what you’ve done . . . I asked her, “What actually happened with Stacia? She doesn’t remember much about it. In fact, she doesn’t remember a lot about her life.”
Sarah was perplexed by my change of topic. But she decided to go with it. “The key to understanding what happened to Stacia is her relationship with what the Children call the Divine. The Divine finds Stacia very . . . well, very amusing is probably the closest way to put it in human terms. Stacia is just so . . . unusual. She’s really more than one person, as you know. And she’s . . . well, I guess you could call her an obligatory bisexual, which is why she lives in . . . what do you call them? Quads. The Divine is fascinated with her. It would do just about anything for Stacia. If Stacia wanted to rule the Children, the Divine would make it possible. But she doesn’t want to rule.
“And that’s something else that endears her to the Divine: she has no desire for power for herself. Why did Hannah manifest as a Divinely-possessed Instrument when she did? Not because the Divine was interested in Hannah Wyatt. No, it was because Stacia wanted to help you at your trial, but didn’t want to wield that much power herself. It was Stacia’s desire that caused the Divine to take possession of Hannah. And in a sort of justice, when I asked the Divine to remove Hannah’s Inspiration, the Divine made Stacia the agent who removed it.”
Well, that explains what Stacia did with spiritual energy when she woke up Hannah, but it doesn’t match up with the rest of Stacia’s account. “Stacia doesn’t think she did those things.”
Sarah replied, “Stacia denies her power. Just as you do.”
I lashed out again. “And what do you deny, Sarah Priest?”
I could tell I’d scored a hit, though not the one I’d wanted. Instead of feeling abashed, Sarah was feeling sad. She stood up and stretched, then looked down to me. “Come take a walk with me.”
So I got up, and we started walking clockwise around the plaza, at first in silence. I couldn’t help but reflect that walking around in the buff on top of Sacred Mountain at dawn was not an experience I had ever conceived of having. And yet here I was.
Sarah was looking down at the edge of the plaza as she walked, and didn’t look up when she started speaking. “You ask what I have to deny, Emily. Well, forty years ago or so, I made a terrible mistake. Four of my friends died of that mistake, or so I thought. I went into hiding. I denied who I was and what I could do, for almost thirty years. And then one night one of my supposedly dead friends appeared before me and demanded I account for what I had done.” She stopped and turned to look at me. “That night I gave up denial forever. Whether I have done right or wrong, I have owned up to my actions and lived with their consequences ever since.” She turned away and started walking again, and I followed.
Sarah didn’t say anything more, and we had completed a circuit of the plaza when I felt it was my turn. “You must think pretty poorly of me, then.”
She shook her head. “I’ve had more years to cope with these things than you’ve had days. And I sought them out; you had your roles here thrust upon you.”
That made me feel a bit better. So I went the next step. “Got any more advice to offer?”
“You asked me if there were things I could do that would make things better, remember?”
I did. “Yeah, and I’ve not thanked you, either, have I?”
Sarah stopped again and turned to me. “Well, save your breath. It’s your turn. Your half-sister, Hannah, the Instrument? Losing her Inspiration is driving her to suicide.”
Shit. “And I asked for that to happen. And I told her off yesterday. You’re telling me I’m responsible.”
“No, that’s your call, Emily,” replied Sarah. “What I’m telling you is that you should take on the responsibility of saving her.”
End of chapter forty-four
“…no need for that Hannah.” — needs comma.
“No more than five yearS.”
“In a few secondS I could hear her…”
Sarah’s long explanation of Stacia and Hannah could be broken up into 2-4 paragraphs. It’s one speech, but its cadences could be better absorbed that way.
The Divine likes Stacia because she has no desire for power for herself. I can’t help but think that Emily, too, has no such desire. Does the Divine like Emily, too?
I thought Hannah manifested as an Instrument of the Divine because Susan Knowles had been prodding her to think of herself that way, for Susan’s own ends, and Hannah got out of her control.
Powerful stuff, about denial and responsibility.
1. Thank you; the three typos you’ve identified have been corrected.
2. I was having difficulties deciding how to treat Sarah’s long speech. After reading your suggestion and looking it over again, I have split it into two paragraphs.
3. An interesting question that, the Divine’s feelings about Emily, because, you’re right, she doesn’t really want power, at least not among the Children. And yet it would seem to us that the Divine must have liked Lavinia, too, and she was not shy around power.
4. Everybody’s giving their own take on how Hannah became an Instrument. Which one should we believe? Best guess is that Susan egged Hannah into trying to become one, Hannah started to take on the attributes, and Stacia persuaded the Divine to finish the job by taking possession of her the evening of Emily’s trial.
5. Sarah has always felt the pull of responsibility; Emily has been trying to cope with the responsibilities people have thrust upon her since her boss ordered her out on this assignment for which she was inadequately prepared. But here’s a question: how responsible is Stacia?
I am pondering the nature of the Divine, as used here, in P&P. I find it difficult to conceive of this ‘Divine’ as Universal; it seems specific to the Children. Then I answer myself, that the Divine is as we perceive (or conceive) it. So what we have in P&P is the Children’s perception (or conception) of the Divine, which does not preclude the universality of the Divine. Would you agree with that conception? Or do you conceive of it being a discrete and specific component of an otherwise Universal Divine, much as the Catholic saints, and the gods of this-this-&-this e.g Olympian?
What we’re getting in the story is Emily’s perception of how the Children, including Hannah and Stacia, regard the Divine, along with Emily’s memories of her poorly-learned lessons in theology. Though there’s one exception to that I’ll get to in a moment.
In the “reality” of this story, the Children’s Divine was originally a universal concept. However, when they arrived at Quasopon and encountered the forces on Sacred Mountain, they identified those forces as being the presence and work of the Divine, and that most definitely includes the creation of Instruments. So in their eyes, Sacred Mountain is a special place for the Divine, sort of like a shrine or the Ark of the Covenant. Mind you, very few of the Children ever talk to the Divine directly: a handful of Instruments of the Divine, and the occasional oddity such as Stacia.
(And let’s face it, even if Stacia won’t: by the Children’s metaphysics, Stacia is an Instrument of the Divine, no matter what she says to the contrary. And she knows it at some level, which is why she keeps her abilities a secret. Sure, she told Emily, but Emily’s her sister and an outsider. Not much danger of exposure there.)
Now, remember I said there was one exception? Well, here she is: Sarah Priest, who is very careful to refer to “what the Children call the Divine.” It’s her way of trying to explain what she encountered in terms that would be familiar to Emily, without saying she buys into those terms herself.
So we might conclude that the Divine IS the universal, but with a more particular emanation at the Sacred Mountain. Okay, I get it. And, as with the vast majority of Westerners, no one is really getting deep into the theology on an everyday basis even though, as you’ve said, it is learned/taught (presumably at school)
My reading on actual religious communes in this country reinforces that last point: the religious content tends to decline, becoming traditional instead of vital, as the founding generation dies off.
No doubt that’s why Lavinia’s struggle with conservatives among the Children was especially bitter: she was trying to inject ideas she felt passionately about into a community which had been getting by on tradition.
Perhaps the falling away that follows establishment os due to the subsequent lack of opposition to their beliefs, at least not on a daily basis. Perhaps that’s also the force behind Judaism, particularly in it’s BCE-days.
That does seem to be a common problem with faiths, one that’s often forgotten. LIke I just did until you mentioned it.
The other obvious part is that while it’s easy to pass along religious customs, it’s hard to pass along religious enthusiasm, particularly when the problems the religion was supposed to originally address seem no longer so important. Quite a few communes adopted celibacy, supposedly because the End Times were coming. When the End Times proved to be further off than imagined, support for celibacy waned.
Knowing human nature, that seems understandable. And look at the perversions that happen when it;s imposed.
Haven’t had much time to delve into all the responses. or even write one, truly… but I must tell you how beautifully written are the last chapters! This third act so to speak of P&P, brings a sense of real sisterhood to your novel. It’s complicated, it’s not necessarily sweet, but reading it one can feel how all the sisters here, including non-bio ones like Sarah Priest (I love the Sillyverse universe. She’s so perfect for this job…). In many ways, your writing is feminist. Coming from me, you know it’s a big compliment! But then, there’s something else which is common to you and to many writers, male and female alike who write about women. Something you and them omit. But I gotta run. So, later, maybe in an email…
Thank you for all the compliments.
I have to admit initially I had figured on the story ending shortly after Susan’s death, with all threads quickly resolved. Only I hadn’t realized just how many threads there would be! And that’s greatly due to Stacia, whose role expanded as I wrote to provide more connections to Sonia and Hannah. And by the way, my big problem with Sarah was how much of her own back story to bring up here. In the end, I kept it to just what would support her role in the story.
And I’ll look forward to that e-mail. If there’s something about women I’m missing, then I do need to know!
Hey Brian, you’re most welcome! I’ll write it here, publicly,because it needs to be public. Here’s the thing: 99% or so of biological women (some of them are trans men actually) in fertility age, roughly 12-50, menstruate. In other words, we fuckin’ bleed every month, regularly. It’s the mother of regular. In prehistoric times it started the first calendars. In fact, during fertility age, when it’s not regular it’s a problem. Unless it’s a pregnancy, which has been written many times.
However, most authors, male and female alike who write women characters, tend to ignore this fact entirely. There are a few reasons for this omission: It is a sort of taboo, something to hide and be ashamed of, even disgusting. As a friend who sells and uses menstrual clothes pads once told me: “It’s not the thing my husband is supposed to see.” And men don’t even experience it, so why bother?
Here’s why: Because it’s a major thing in the lives of women. Because it affects our bodies and psyches in so many ways. Not only our sex lives, or sexuality. I’m not even talking hormonal. Sometimes it’s the simplest things. The inconvenience or embarrassment it may create. Emily, for example, may wake up one morning with a huge stain on her underwear and sheet. She packed so hastily, and didn’t pack tampons. She needs to ask for Tanya’s help, but she’d always hated all the clothes pads and cotton wool the Children’s women use. She must go to town and get herself the tampons she’s used to. But then she wouldn’t like to offend the other women. And she needs something right now, because it’s heavy. What to do? Or in a more conscious version, she knows that if she’s horny, she must be around her ovulation. Looks like it according to her calendar, Therefore, if she goes out to tempt this guy, she must use a contraception. Or maybe she’ll take the risk?
Like I said, writing the menstruation experience is the exception, so you’re in a very good company. The story is coming to an end, and I’m not sure it’s the right time or story for it. But since I love your writing and the way you write women so beautifully and soulfully, I had to say it.
No, I have to admit I’ve given more consideration to the weather than to menstruation in this story. Considering that the story takes about a month, and I doubt all the women among the Children have synch’ed up, they should all have been going through this at various times. Though (in my defense, yeah, it’s a weak defense, but I’ll use it!) Emily would likely minimize the experience in her account.
And that’s a matter worth considering: we live in a society which minimizes that experience. Not just that it’s embarrassing at times, but we pretend it doesn’t take place, for the most part. As you say, it’s taboo and women, however much they may talk about it among themselves, rarely mention it to men unless they have to. Hmmm, how much does that contribute to the problems men have understanding women?
So, my thanks for the observation. Now I have to figure out how to handle it!
You’re right, of course. I don’t blame you, nor the other female or male writers who ignore it. I’m well aware of the problem myself. This is why I decided to write about it in the responses, and not as a private email. And I appreciate your consideration of the issue!
It’s worth considering, so my thanks in turn. And it prompted a discussion with my in-house expert on being female. 😉
I’d love to know what she thinks…