Wrestling With Demons

by Sue Pace

Appears in Other Voices #41

July 30
My Father (the Mayor) is furious because the outside of the house looks like shit. His words, not mine. He put a half-inch ad in the college paper (wanted: house painters) because of the cheaper rate and also because he thinks that will show any voting age students he didn’t really mean it when he called them a bunch of raving communists. Father wants white with green shutters but his trophy wife (Teresa, the Bitch Queen of Darkness) wants Summer Sunshine with Autumn Goldenrod. She’s a thirty-five-year-old real estate agent who understands the value of color in the housing market and Viagra in a bedroom. It doesn’t really matter what they want. Painting will have to wait until the trial is over because of the evidence factor.

I’ve started this journal against my will but Dr. Jung (my court appointed psychologist) said it would show I was invested in my rehabilitation. Addie says it might relieve stress—she walks three miles a day and lifts weights at the downtown YMCA. Since I’m not allowed to leave the house I suppose writing is worth a try.

Note: Addie was our family chef de cuisine for twenty-nine years but the Bitch Queen of Darkness (who cooks with boxes and cans) fired her to save money. My Father, being a thorough politician, settled Addie into the lap of luxury at a high priced retirement home. I’m sure you can see underlying formula of need-more-money-must-spend-more-money. It’s the American way.

August 1
Dr. Jung’s secretary is in love with him. I, who have given up on love, can notice the cow eyes she makes whenever he passes her desk on the way to the men’s room.

Dr. Jung’s real name is Wiczencinski which begs to be mispronounced so I’m sticking with Jung. At the end of our first meeting he spilled coffee on my file. I helped blot the mess in order to get a quick peek. There wasn’t much in there except scribbled notes about fingernails bitten to the quick and the sour smell of my unwashed hair. As if his breath didn’t stink like cigars. Plus his cardigan was covered with dandruff.

Note: court psychologists tend to be a scruffy lot. My court appointed attorney is brand new and hasn’t, thus, achieved scruffiness.

August 8
Addie believes if you build it they will come. Today she was going to begin another wedding cake—seven tiers with a faux basket weave design, chocolate cream cheese rosebuds, and yards and yards of trailing mint ivy—but decided instead to get a rinse and set. (The beauty school beautician claims fluorescent pink hair will make her look younger and more vibrant.)

Addie dropped off a magazine in apology. Guns & Ammo. There was a handwritten note inside that looked like blackberry brambles in winter—thick curlicues and jagged lines. “I’d suggest a shotgun, up close and personal, but if you don’t want to see blood, get something with a night scope.”

I left the magazine out, note and all. It was an act of defiance. Let Father read it when he climbed the stairs to my garret to pick at my resolve. Probably Addie-of-the-night-scope wasn’t thinking about my father. She was remembering Geoff, the fiancé who forgot to show up at our wedding. (Then again, she might have been thinking about Jillian who, if she really were my best friend, would have made it over to see me at least once during this house arrest, wouldn’t she?)

August 15
Today Dr. Jung had to be in court so our appointment was rescheduled. He left an email message of two words: “Write more.”

“Why?” I emailed back.

“Because it looks like you give a shit.” That was in my cell phone voice mail. I could hear “all rise” in the background and someone else muttering, “put that goddamn thing away or Judge Curtis will (static, static) hates those fucking (static, static) in court.”

I don’t see the point of all this journaling. Emotions are emotions and words are words and seldom do they truly match up. I have taken to copying sections of Webster’s Dictionary so when my time in court comes I can lift the journal and flip through the pages. “See all the words,” I will say, “lots and lots of words.”

August 30
My court date is marked on the calendar in red. Father did that. He figures I’ll crack under the pressure and confess. He’s desperate to get the trial over and the house painted.

Addie came over to raise my spirits. She beat me out of three dollars at gin rummy and also brought some gossip. She said my mother is on the Oregon coast at a combination artist’s retreat and psychiatric sanitarium getting in touch with her personal demons. I’m not making this up. That’s the name of the sanitarium—GETTING IN TOUCH WITH YOUR PERSONAL DEMONS.

She also said that after the trial Judge Curtis was having his wattle lifted. Dr. Jung’s secretary quit. And Geoff, my ex-fiancé, eloped with Jillian, my ex-maid of honor. Where is Guns & Ammo now that I need it?

September 2
Today is my mother’s fiftieth birthday.

Note: According to my lawyer I am not supposed to write anything prejudicial against my mother but as a subject, she can’t be avoided entirely. After all, she was born on this day fifty years ago. It’s a matter of public record. Just like it’s a matter of public record that the love of my life married my once-upon-a-time best friend last week. Or that I’m on house arrest for refusing to testify against my mother and for calling the judge a blithering asshole in front of five lawyers and twenty or so criminals. It’s all a matter of public record, dammit.

My lawyer feels there is a case to be made for diminished capacity dating from my first (and only) semi-suicide attempt with a bottle of Tums. I was fourteen and knew enough, even at that tender age, to not grab my mother’s Lithium or my father’s migraine medication. My non-prescriptive choice did have advantages—it was palatable and I suffered no serious side effects except for a brief bout of constipation. Plus I received a whole bunch of much-needed parental attention, which was sadly lacking in my life. This is not to diminish real suicidal gestures, which my older sister Kate almost died of her first year in college.

As for my lawyer’s hopeful case-making, my twenty-four-year-old mind actually does feel diminished but not because of behavior a decade ago. It’s because I’m stuck in my room. I’m masturbating twice a night and getting nowhere. With each failed orgasm I can feel my brain settling into a soupy kind of gray aspic. This is what happens when you resign your job as kindergarten teacher in order to put together the wedding of the year but your fiancé dumps you at the altar and a judge thinks putting you on house arrest will make you lie about your own mother.

Try living in your own bedroom (no matter how opulent) for seventy-five days in a row with the only distractions being random visits from an eighty-four-year-old pre-Alzheimer cook and nightly thumps and moans from your father’s bedroom. Of course capacities become diminished.

September 5
Dr. Jung had to be at court. I tried to use the time constructively by doing a web search (www.restraints.com) hoping I could connect with others who are living with electronic gizmos on their ankles. I found, instead, a home page for girdles as a fetish—the kind with hanging metal fasteners. There were also a number of S & M sites filled with more dog collars, leather chastity belts, chains, whips and, yes, restraints, than the human mind could imagine. Well, obviously not more than the human mind, etc., but certainly more than my mind wanted to. I do not have the gift of sexual exuberance.

Addie says it’s because I’m depressed. I hope so. I would hate to think my days of passion were finished at the age of twenty-four. She said passion can be regained and used her marriage as an example of the ability of persistence to overcome cold hands.

Note: Lack of passion is one of the main reasons why Geoff and I are not married. Second on the list is he was overly concerned with appearances and I wasn’t.

September 10
My sister left a two sentence message on the voice mail. “Jail will kill Mother. Do you want her death on your conscience?” Kate is in the Peace Corps and I assume she walked a day and a half over dusty roads to reach a pay phone but West Africa has made a leap into the modern world. Perhaps there is one in the heart of her village.

Note: Sisterly love is only as thick as one-upmanship will allow.

Dr. Jung said my court date is very soon and we’d better get down to business. I said I’d showed up more than he had. He said that hostility was healthy up to a point but that my future was in his hands and unless I wanted to spend the rest of my life contemplating my bedroom curtains or the cold bars of a cell, I’d better shape up. I said he was as big a bully as my father. He smiled and wrote that part down in his little notebook.

This is, by the way, the longest conversation I’ve had with Dr. Jung.

September 15
The Powers That Be decided a color digital video and professional slides would be sufficient evidence for the trial. The house painter came—a grad student with a wolfish grin. He started at the top of the fireplace chimney. It is a matter of public record that our fireplace is painted to look exactly like a man’s genitals.

I estimate it will be days before he reaches the testicles—which are nestled and splayed among ornamental shrubs and include not only the base of the chimney but the wood box and patio grill. The penis is pink and the testicles are blue with maroon veins and black snarls of hair. Did I mention that my mother is a well-known artist? She specializes in watercolor landscapes. The chimney was done in enamels—which is the main reason it will take the house painter so long to complete the job. All that chipping and scraping.

I do not see, at all, how there is a connection between my mother’s art and the chimney’s metamorphosis. I absolutely deny any aiding and abetting.

Note: It was a colder than usual spring and while my father was on his extended honeymoon, the fireplace sent forth smoke almost daily. That billowing whitish emission from the tip of the two story circumcised penis brought traffic to a complete stop along our street and, I’ve been told, also on the main arterial leading to the heart of the city.

I was not aware of changes to the once red brick chimney. They apparently happened while I was busy planning my wedding. I could only see Geoff (with me on his arm) walking down the aisle into a rosy-hued future.

Judge Curtis does not care that the chimney is at the far end of the house—away from the front door, the garage, and driveway. He refuses to understand the single-focused nearsightedness of a young woman planning a wedding all by herself because her mother had moved to an artistic retreat for a quiet nervous breakdown after being dumped by her husband of almost thirty years.

September 19
In ten days Dr. Jung’s report has to be in the hands of my lawyer and my mother’s lawyer, not to mention the hands of the Prosecuting Attorney. Dr. Jung fires questions at me right and left.

“Do you hate your father?”

“Of course.”

“Did you ever want to have sex with him?”

“I can hardly stand to have dinner with him. Why would I want to experience anything more intimate than microwaved spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread?”

“Did you help with the chimney’s paint job?”

“I didn’t know about it! If the neighbors hated it so much why didn’t they ring the doorbell and say something?”

Dr. Jung scribbles furiously in my file. As for me, I’m working on growing my nails and clearing my complexion.

I’ve tried a new shampoo which has lent highlights and fullness to my hair.

When the house painter shows up again I will offer him a cold beer or an iced tea. He is my age and speaks three languages: Japanese, English and German. Unlike my ex- fiancé, he is not interested in making a million dollars before the age of thirty or becoming the youngest senator in the state. He plans to become a social worker and help the downtrodden. I believe I fall into that category.

September 29 (morning)
Addie came by to cook my favorite comfort food (bread pudding with whip cream swirls) but the Bitch Queen of Darkness had Father escort her out of the kitchen. Again. No matter what he does I’m not going to turn state’s evidence against my mother. Not because I am a good daughter but because I can’t. I don’t know anything, dammit.

Addie said my father was a two-timing shit, his new wife was the devil incarnate, and the judge was, indeed, a blithering asshole. Also my ex-fiancé was a jerk and my best friend was a bitch. She handed me a tissue. “Plus your mother hasn’t been a very good parent to you. Think about it, Clarice.”

As if I’d been doing anything but think about that single fact for the past twenty-four years.

September 29 (afternoon)
The house painter’s name is Joseph Takemura. He was engaged, married and divorced in the space of five months. If he had it to do over again he would. “I learned a lot,” he said.

“Like what?”

“Like doing things in a hurry isn’t always a good idea no matter how horny you are.”

“A cheap lesson at any price,” I said.

Joseph Takemura is compactly muscular and was covered entirely with chips of penis-pink and ball-blue paint.

Even his straight black hair was highlighted with Technicolor dust.

“My sister thinks I should plead guilty because jail would kill my mother.”

“Your lawyer should be making a deal,” he said. “That’s his fucking job.”

“Will you come visit me in prison?”

“Not so fast,” he said. “What’s in it for me?”

“Extra credit,” I said. “Sociology profs love jail visits.”

“Not any more. Now they’re interested in pedophiles and the culture of terrorism.” I started to cry but he took me in his arms and kissed me, slowly and thoroughly, then put his painter’s mask back over his face and climbed out my bedroom window.

“It’s a morals charge,” I called after him. “My mother and I are charged with willfully exposing the neighborhood children to pornography in the form of a two story high penis.”

His voice came through air that smelled like fresh rain and cut grass and all things clean and wonderful. “If it was in a fucking museum, they’d call it Art.”

September 29 (late)
The Bitch Queen of Darkness tapped at my bedroom door. She was wearing a filmy negligee and a slime green cucumber-avocado complexion mask. She smelled like salad.

“Your sister quit the Peace Corps.”

Her lips were moving but I couldn’t make sense of the words so she repeated it. Only this time she added the word “idiot.” As in: “Your idiot sister quit the Peace Corps.”

“Kate quit? Why?”

“I think she preferred that to being thrown out.”

“Thrown out?” I squeaked. “Why?”

“She didn’t do her job. Surprise, surprise.”

My father’s trophy wife wore a hairnet and chin strap. She had wrist length moisturizing gloves with pink hands silk-screened on the top. I’d never seen her without styling gel and nylons; now she was a caricature. “She quit when your father and I were on our honeymoon.”

I did the day-to-week-to-month math. “Where has Kate been staying?”

“Not here.”

“Yes, but where?”

“Your father has been a train wreck, an absolute train wreck, since the penis thing and you are an ostrich. This family is nuts.”

That part I agreed with.

“Take your head out of the sand.” Her voice was really quite lovely; contralto with a delicious warmth that belied the frosty eyes.

“You feel sorry for me.”

“You wish. Your father has gotten enough negative publicity for one election year, don’t you think? If this charade keeps up much longer he won’t have a campaign, he’ll have a joke book.”

“I don’t know who painted the chimney.”

“You’re supposed to be the smartest one in the whole family,” she said. “Well, Miss Smarty-pants, who gains the most from ruining your father’s life?” Then she melted into the shadows of the hallway and I heard the door to the master bedroom snick shut, muffling my father’s snores.

“Everything isn’t about my father,” I said.

September 30
I waited until dawn then hoofed it to the Retirement Home. Addie was having breakfast. French toast and sausage patties. Fresh squeezed orange juice. Her pink hair was vibrant among all the nodding blues, whites, and grays.

“I’m running from the law,” I said. “I need the keys to your car.”

Addie set her tea cup back in the delicate saucer, sloshing some of the golden liquid onto the pure white tablecloth, and smiled.

Five hours later we stopped at a gas station to pee while Addie shoplifted Twix, Almond Joys and a disposable camera. “The old lady gets a real kick out of the old sleight-of-hand,” the cashier said. “That’ll be $57.49 for gas plus extras.”

That afternoon we pulled into the parking lot of a sprawling resort surrounded by a stucco and brick fence. My mother was in the art room, dipping a brush into paint the color of unripe apples.

Kate stood at her own easel. The paper in front of her was blank.

“You’re supposed to be in Africa,” I said.

“I came home.”


“It was hot.”

“You could have gone to Nepal,” I said. “It isn’t hot in Nepal.”

Kate picked up a charcoal pencil and began drawing stick figures. “I hate you. You ate in air-conditioned restaurants and sat in air-conditioned theaters while I was stuck in a place that didn’t have ice cubes.”

“My fiancé married my best friend. Just how much fun was that?”

“Move away from the window, girls,” Mother said. “You’re blocking the light.”

Note: Our mother raised us to not linger at windows. No wonder I didn’t see the chimney’s transformation.

A silver Lexus turned into the parking lot. I didn’t expect to see it so soon but Father probably hadn’t stopped for gas (once) and to pee (twice) and still another time so Addie could pick some wonderful bluebells growing beside the road. Father parked next to the Pontiac where she dozed in the front seat, snoring softly, bluebells wilting in her lap.

He did not look happy to see any of us, the women of his first family.

“I didn’t do it,” I said. “Maybe it was Kate.”

Kate threw an eraser at me. “I’ve been here for weeks. Ask anyone.”

Mother laid a dripping brush against hungry paper. “Kate can’t draw and she certainly can’t paint.”

“And your Mother hates enamel plus she’s been here for months, doing the Demons thing.” Father smoothed his hair and then his tie. “It had to have been you, Clarice.”


“Then who ruined my house? Who’s ruining my campaign? Who, for Chrissake, is ruining my brand-new marriage?”

“Everything isn’t about you,” I said. “Try to remember that.”

I drove Addie’s Pontiac back to my ruffled prison. My father called Dr. Jung to talk about any demons I might have and the possibility of involuntary psychiatric admission. I could join my nutty sister and fragile mother. This is what happens when your life falls apart.

Three days later Joseph Takemura scraped all the way to terra firma and found the section under the testicular brambles that said, in very small pink and blue script,

“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”

I knew, then, that I’d been wrong. Everything was about my father and I also knew which spry ex-cook hated him enough to want to ruin the rest of his life.

The Bitch Queen of Darkness left my father right after he lost the election. Mother and Kate continue to wrestle with demons. No one has the heart to prosecute an eighty-four-year-old resident of the Happy Trails Retirement Home no matter how outrageous her behavior. The house remains unpainted (chimney draped in condom style tarps) while neighborhood children follow me making rude noises. After Christmas I’m leaving for Alaska to teach in a progressive private school. Joseph Takemura has promised to bring Addie up for a supervised field trip. I told him to not stop for gas and to bring lots of sleight-of-hand money.

In the meantime, I’m working (with real success) on regaining lost orgasms.