Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
Against all expectation, my harsh opinion of Doris Orme softens over breakfast the next morning. No longer needing to scare the bejesus out of us, she seems almost, well, normal. Even her makeup is toned down. Over corned beef and poached eggs she regales us with funny stories, like the time she was forced to go fishing with Father out in the English Channel.
“We don’t like the ocean, no not one bit, but how can one say no to the messiah, eh? So out we go and the weather is dreadful as always and the boat, this leaking old wooden thing we rented, is going up and down, up and down, up and down on the waves. And Father loves it. He’s right at home on the ocean. But we’re beginning to feel a bit woozy, you know, and before you know it we’re holding onto the railing for dear life, throwing up all over the deck. And Father and everyone else on the boat think this is very funny and are laughing, and Father says, ‘Puke over the side, Doris! Chum the waters! Puke over the side!’ So we made it our heavenly duty to vomit a blue streak into the English Channel, and Father catches a huge fish, don’t you know. And Father said, ‘Doris, this fish thought your puke was manna from heaven.’”
I'm laughing so hard I'm crying, thinking of the matronly, aristocratic Doris Orme in her Sunday best tossing her cookies in the middle of the English Channel, chumming the waters so the messiah can catch a fish.
Dennis, who has heard the story a million times, each time a bit more embellished than the last, gazes at his wife like a lapdog. In return, she dotes on him like a mother. Which is sort of true. She explains how Dennis was a low-level State Department employee at the U.S. Embassy in London. She says the moment she met him she made it her mission to bring him into the church so he could be her husband.
“Of course, I had to raise him up in the ways of our church first, which took a good number of years,” she says, “but I never wavered from the goal. Just like Eve should have done for Adam. Isn’t that right, dear?”
“Right as rain, pet,” he says. “You did a first-class job, if I do say so myself.”
Her story makes me think of Leslie, whom I still daydream about frequently. I’ve often wondered if I could do the same thing with her, bring her to the church so later we could be married. But I haven’t heard from her in more than a year. I toy with the idea of writing to her, inviting her to Indianapolis, but I don’t. I know in my heart she would never come. There’s no point in tormenting myself about it.
A couple days later, Doris takes me aside. I’m half expecting she's suddenly going to start screaming at me about something, but she is very sweet and motherly. “Let’s go someplace to talk, just the two of us.”
I take her to one of my favorite neighborhood restaurants, the Illinois Street Emporium. She has tea, I have coffee. We share a piece of cherry pie, the house specialty. I love their pie.
In a very matter-of-fact way she says, “You know, we” -- meaning her -- “can see into the spirit world and know many things ordinary people don’t.”
“So I’ve gathered. Are you psychic?”
“We’re clairvoyant.” I suddenly realize why she speaks in the plural. She believes she is surrounded at all times by legions of angels and high spirits and that she speaks on behalf of all of them. It's a revelation to me that she’s not being conceited. She’s trying to be honest, to acknowledge the presence of these spiritual beings in everything she says and does. “We don’t listen to the low spirits," she says. "Just the angels. Jesus. Spirits from the higher realms.” She says this in such a matter-of-fact way that I almost believe her.
“I wish I could.”
“It’s a burden, child, not a pleasure. Be grateful you don’t. These beings are tormented because all of them failed somehow in their earthly lives, even Jesus. Only Father totally succeeded at defeating Satan. But much remains to be done. Father is counting on all of us. You don’t need to see or hear the spirit world. You just need to accomplish your mission.”
“And what exactly is my mission?”
“To unite with Carl as your Abel.”
“But I hate him. He’s a terrible leader. He’s such an idiot sometimes. Just look at that hideous bedroom suite he picked out for Father. You saw it. It’s satanic.”
“That’s true, but that’s not the point. The point is Cain hated Abel and murdered his brother. You’re indemnifying Cain’s failure to overcome his hurt feelings and sense of injustice when God rejected his offering but accepted Abel’s. He was supposed to love his brother anyway. Up until now you’ve only had Abel figures who were easy to unite with. There’s not much indemnity or growth in that.”
“I try. Everyday I try to love Carl. I pray about it, and still he just” -- I stop myself before saying “pisses me off” -- “makes it so difficult.”
“The same way Cain must have felt toward Abel. But think what would have happened if Cain had overcome his jealousy of Abel -- had not murdered his brother -- and instead humbled himself and accepted his younger brother as his elder. Christ could have been born almost immediately, and Adam’s family could have been restored.”
“You’re right, of course. But…”
“Sitting here with you in this place, it seems so clear cut. But every day is a huge battle. I’m unhappy almost all of the time. I’m depressed. I miss my family. I want to go home. A few years ago I was gung-ho -- excited and committed. Nothing could stop me. Then something happened and it’s as though a wonderful spell was broken and everything became difficult and dull and boring. All I feel is tired and lonely, and nothing I do seems to change that. I feel I’ve failed already.”
“Father was extremely unhappy throughout much of his life, yet he never gave up. He found joy in comforting God’s broken heart. Our path is one of tears and sorrow. There is no other way. But Father has already accomplished everything. What remains for us to do is very small by comparison. Our path is much easier. And soon you will receive his blessing, a wife, and together you will have children born free of the Original Sin. That is Father’s gift to mankind, but only a chosen few will receive it, those who successfully walk his course.”
“Listen to us carefully. Carl needs you as much as you need him. He doesn’t have your charm or good looks. He needs your support. And you need his, because without it you are in great danger of falling. Your unity with him is your only possible shield from the trials that lay ahead before you. You are a handsome and righteous young man and many women, both sisters in the church and women in the fallen world, will try to seduce you, just as Eve seduced Adam. You must not let that happen. You must be on guard at all times. Once you start down the path of sexual temptation, you can almost never turn back. If you fall, Father will have no choice but to turn away from you.”
It’s not her words but her demeanor that terrify me. I feel her looking into my heart and seeing all the lust and selfish desire I keep there. I have a strange feeling she could know all about Texas if she wanted, but chooses not to, perhaps out of respect for my privacy, I don’t know.
I have a profound sense my spiritual life hangs in the balance. I can go either way. The choice is mine. I can fight on and remain celibate until I’m blessed, or I can give in to sex. There is no middle ground.
As if reading my mind, she says: “To be offered this fabulous blessing from Father and then throw it away on cheap sex -- for that there is no forgiveness.”
“What about our sex lives before the church?”
“Father forgives those transgressions conditionally. That’s why if you were married before, you must leave your family. Or better yet, bring them along. But still husband and wife must separate and remain pure until the blessing. And then by fundraising and raising up spiritual children, you indemnify the past. When you are finally blessed in holy marriage, then all is forgiven and the stain of Original Sin is removed. The first generation of sinless children. That is your ultimate mission and legacy.”
“But what if the temptation -- or impetus -- to fall comes from a church leader?”
“The coldest, blackest part of hell is reserved for them,” she says darkly. “The space occupied by Satan, where Father has him bound in a giant lake of ice. Anyone who turns another away from the truth ends up there.” Her eyes are shiny and distant, as though she can actually see it.
“It’s funny how the Bible depicts hell as fire and brimstone, like a volcano,” I say.
Doris snorts. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Hell is like the remotest part of Antarctica in the dead of winter at midnight, absolutely dark and frozen. Only much, much worse. You’re totally naked, and can only curl up in a fetal position. You can’t imagine such burning cold slicing through you for eternity. Not a single solitary soul around to even comfort you. Nothing. Just cold, black, painful nothing. That’s hell.”
“How do you know this?”
“We have journeyed to the heights and depths of the spirit world.”
She makes it sound so real. I almost believe her. But I know in a few days she’ll be gone and the sexual thoughts will start up again.
“Will Father forgive me if I made a mistake but it wasn’t my fault?”
“Only you and God know what you did and what was in your heart. All of us feel Satan’s accusations about many things. The question you really should ask yourself is this: Even if you are turned away from the Kingdom of Heaven, will you still follow Father?”
I never thought of it that way. I had always considered my life in the church as an either / or proposition. I was either on the bus or off the bus. Maybe she’s right. Maybe I should just accept that I’m doomed and quit worrying about it. Maybe I’ll end up in hell. So what? I’m getting to the point I don’t care anymore. Maybe that’s just where I need to be if I’m going to stay in this crazy church.
In a very weird way, Doris Orme has turned my hopelessness into a source of comfort.