Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery

Doris Orme

February 1980

“Father would never sleep in that…that…monstrosity!”

Doris Orme howls from the prayer room. “Only Satan himself would sleep in that!”

She viciously stabs a trembling scarlet fingernail in the direction of the black-lacquered headboard with gold-trim that Carl picked out just two weeks ago when we thought Father was coming to visit.

Mrs. Orme, a legend in the church I had only heard about up until this moment, has come crashing into our tranquil lives like a Technicolor cyclone. She’s been in the center but a few minutes and already the heavens are raining fire and brimstone all around us. I’ve never seen anything like her. She’s 200 pounds of orange hair, thick makeup and heavy perfume -- a stinking, whirling, screaming banshee. I don’t mind saying I’m scared out of my wits.

“Carl!” she bellows. I’m certain everyone on the block can hear her. “What’s the meaning of this? All of you! This is outrageous. Un-ac-cep-ta-ble.” She draws out each syllable to dramatically magnify her already overflowing indignation. Her face is flush with rage, as though an entire container of rouge weren’t enough. I expect her to scream “Off with their heads!” at any moment.

She slams the door to the offending room and stomps down the hall toward the sisters’ bathroom, where she launches into another tirade. Louise squeaks like a mouse and dashes into the sisters’ bedroom to hide. Mrs. Orme’s expansive vocal judgment continues from room to room until she’s toured the entire house. Carl is as white as a sheet. I’ve never seen him cower like this. The rest of us are motionless with mute terror.

As we are learning in a very vivid way, Doris Orme loves to make a dramatic entrance. It must be her theatrical background. She’s a mythical figure in the church, one of the first Westerners to follow Father. That was some 30 years ago, and time has not mellowed her at all. Rumor has it she was once an up-and-coming opera star in her native England but gave it up for the higher calling of disciple. Judging by the full-throttle squall emanating from her throat, I’d say she never really left it behind.

Mrs. Orme, and her lamb-like husband, Dennis, blew into town a short time ago. Supposedly it’s some sort of consolation prize for Father canceling his tour of the state centers. She has been the national leader of Britain for many years, and Father recently ordered her to travel around the United States and kick up some dust. So far as I’m concerned, she’s doing a bang up job here in Indianapolis.

In a patriarchal society like ours, Doris Orme is an anomaly. She’s a big-boned woman, in her late fifties, with brass balls and iron tits, one of the few women in the church, besides Onni, who can rightfully claim to be part of Father’s inner circle. She speaks and acts with absolute authority, subservient only to Father himself.

For reasons I cannot fathom, Mrs. Orme paints herself up like a cheap, aging hooker. Perhaps it’s her stage persona. In any event, she’s the only woman I’ve met in the church who wears makeup, and she wears enough to make up for all the rest of them. Thick mascara, fleshy jowls glowing red with rouge, and hair dyed bright carrot orange piled atop her head in a beehive. She is a fright to behold.

Dennis, on the other hand, is about as bland and meek a fellow as I’ve ever met. He barely utters a peep, totally content to live beneath the spiked heels of his overbearing wife. Every time I glance at him, he has the same moronic expression. He looks like the happiest imbecile on the face of the planet.

Doris Orme has an annoying habit of referring to herself in the third person -- the imperial “we.” I suppose, combined with her heavy British accent, this is intended to effect an air of aristocracy. Her freakish appearance I can suffer, but the exaggerated pomposity makes me want to puke. I dislike her immediately and intensely. I imagine Father must find her amusing, like a court jester.

Her tantrum gradually subsides and a weird, surreal calm settles over the center. It’s like the quiet stillness following a killer tornado when all you’re left with is splinters and rubble and bloody corpses. Her face registers supreme satisfaction. She has accomplished what she came to do.

My beloved Sumiko left several days ago for St. Louis, and Suzy, now recovered from her fast, is back in form. She serves Mrs. Orme tea and cookies like a doting daughter. She seems to be the only one among us who enjoys this bizarre visitation.

“Mother Suzy,” Mrs. Orme says. “Your spirit is aglow with the Holy Spirit. We can see you have suffered much for heaven. Just finished a seven-day fast, did we? My, my. You are blessed. A true daughter of God! We’ll make sure Father picks you a strong, handsome husband at the matching, you can be sure of that! Someone who will be a real man in the boudoir and not disappoint, eh?” The sisters all blanch at the blunt reference to ramrod sex. Suzy, however, is beaming like a lighthouse. If I didn’t know better, I’d think she just had an orgasm.

It’s a nauseating display, and just when I think it can’t get any worse, it does. For the first time all afternoon, Dennis Orme suddenly pops his head out of his shell and pipes up: “Dear, I bet these brothers and sisters would love to hear you sing. Your voice is like a choir of angels. Grace us with a hymn or two, won’t you please?”

Oh God, please no. I can see what’s about to happen. I’d rather drag a rake slowly across a blackboard.

“Now pet,” she demurs with much-practiced reluctance. “These young people don’t want to hear an old lady sing.”

“Sure they do!” Dennis cries. It’s clear to me now why she drags this nitwit around with her. “Wouldn’t you love to hear Doris sing? Her voice is a heavenly treasure. It really is. Come on, love!”

Carl and the sisters all begin pleading with her until she finally relents, but there’s no doubt in my mind she was going to sing anyway, even if we had begged her not to.

Her voice is worse than I feared. It’s not just bad. It’s shockingly bad. Loud and off-key and florid. Hideous comes to mind. I’m embarrassed for her, because she has no idea what she really sounds like. I try hard to keep from laughing. Everyone else is lapping it up, Suzy most of all. And at the end of each mutilated hymn, they all implore “One more!” with Dennis leading the charge.

The impromptu concert ends mercifully an hour later, but not before I have a splitting headache. I long to listen to Pink Floyd, but that’s impossible so I settle for a couple aspirins.

“Come dear darling daughters of God,” Mrs. Orme warbles to the sisters. She leads them into their bedroom and shuts the door, no doubt to gird their tender loins with yet another verbal chastity belt -- just in case any of them are nursing impure thoughts. Which I seriously doubt. In my heightened awareness of the female vibe, I’m pretty sure I’d have picked up on that right away.

Frankly, I wish I were in there with them rather than be stuck out in the living room with Carl and Dennis. Dennis is too simple-minded to have any great pearls of wisdom for us. So he entertains us with tales about the church’s epic legal battles with the British government.

“Jolly good persecution,” he calls it. I’m at a loss to see how the full weight of the crown aimed at legislating the Unification Church out of existence in Britain is “jolly good persecution.” I conclude Dennis is every bit the village idiot he appears to be.

Meanwhile, from beyond the forbidden bedroom door I can hear the missus making her points with passionate intensity, her voice rising and falling with the cadence of an evangelical preacher on a roll. I would love to know what she is saying about us brothers. No doubt she’s explaining in graphic detail how to neuter a male when the messy business of procreation is finished.

I look at Dennis. He’s wearing the same blank smile he has had all day. Clearly Doris knows what she’s talking about. 

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