I spent two years as a short-term evangelist in West Berlin from 1972-1974. These were momentous years internationally: the Vietnam War, the 1972 Munich Olympics slaughter (about which Steven Spielberg is currently doing a movie), the Canadians beat the Russians in hockey... to name but a few. (And they're all in my story!) For me, they were watershed years in prodding me toward conversion, particularly on two fronts:
1. That Christianity had *everything* to do with socio-political life - i.e. how one treated neighbour and enemy. (The litmus test for love of God biblically is love of neighbour. The litmus test for love of neighbour is love of enemy. To the extent one fails in embracing neighbour and enemy, to that extent, one fails in embracing God.)
The author had been raised Plymouth Brethren, "quintessential fundamentalism" according to historian Ernest Sandeen, and had no sense that Christianity was other than a personal, private relationship to God. He was challenged that there was *no* relationship to God if there was no relationship to neighbour and enemy.
2. The way to live out one's politics was the nonviolent way of the cross. Fail to discover God in the enemy, fail to discover God.
This novel, provisionally titled "Chrysalis Crucible," reflects the coming-of-age experiences of a young evangelist in Europe who has life figured out at the start of the novel until, for the first time perhaps, he really encounters life...
Andy thankfully had, the week before Christmas, completed the finishing touches on a hand-written version of a major essay due the first week in January.
The assignment was to research and generate an essay related to the target city or country. Since Germany was known as a hotbed of various forms of Liberal heresies, Andy had decided to undertake an ambitious project of summarizing some of the main Liberal thinkers, and suggesting how a Christian apologetic along historical and philosophical lines might appear.
During his last two years of university, Andy had devoured many of the popular works published by Inter-Varsity Press, Tyndale, Bethany, and the like. These included books by Francis Schaeffer; John Warwick Montgomery; J. N. D. Anderson; Michael Green; Clark Pinnock and others. He had indeed written a lively essay in university refuting some of
G. E. Lessing’s fundamental doubts about Christian faith. Andy drew on similar resources to produce the essay, which, handwritten, ran almost 50 pages.
He thought that such an essay would be greatly helpful in West Berlin, imagining the average Berliner mouthing a Lessingesque challenge, or pulling a Schleiermacher-type manoeuvre that turned theology into anthropology, or an outright Nietzschean onslaught of rank inverted belief. One by one, each straw-man objection to the faith tumbled before the deft advances of Norton’s fearless forays. The finished product was replete with footnotes, suggestive of a subconscious insecurity about the authority of his own thinking over against that of others who had written in defence of the ‘faith once delivered’.
Though he never quite acceded to fantasizing about this, he at least furtively imagined
G. E., himself, enthusiastically asking permission to photocopy the essay for the other trainees. Thirty-nine typewritten pages may have proven too much. Neither G. E. nor Mr. Myers ever suggested it in any event, source ultimately of some chagrin for Andy.
Andy’s mother had agreed to type the essay for him, a familiar enough experience from his university and high school years. She this time would not balk at French and German words, but new terms such as epistemology; presupposition; personal-infinite God; and the like, foreign enough to her straightforward faith, and far beyond any desire to inquire further into. Andy for his part had at best only a pseudo-awareness of this kind of thinking, having frantically cast about for a lifeline and found one over against the intimidating unbelief – or just plain lack of interest – of many about him at university.
As he awoke quite early that morning to get the VW going, he found anticipation of this essay’s final transformation as much keenly on his mind as seeing family or Lorraine. He spent no time wondering about that.
He walked over to the mish houses to get his and Janys’ bags.
“Good morning, Andy? Ready for a long day of driving?,” Janys asked cheerily. Jack had already flown home, and Dan had moved home for the holidays. No one saw them off.
They set out at about 4:00 a.m. December 23, praising the Lord for such excellent weather and road conditions. But not far into Canada, it began to snow. Andy chuckled at that, mentioning to Janys how most Americans in the southern states believe that snow actually is piled up in huge drifts along the border, acting summer and winter as natural demarcation of the 49th parallel. He included the story he had heard several times from his mom about Americans arriving in a July heat-wave in Kitchener, skis a-top their car, and obviously packed for winter weather. He surmised that if Southam News always discovered in their surveys an abysmal ignorance by even educated Americans of the Canadian social-political scene, then it was not surprising they would know as little about Canadian weather.
“Voltaire wrote, I think in Candide, of Canada as quelques arpents de neige - a few acres of snow. Though I doubt many Americans have ever read Voltaire, I reckon they have about the same notion.”, Andy chortled.
Janys chided Andy for having translated quelques arpents de neige
Conditions worsened rapidly, however, the thermometer obviously was plummeting, and it soon became apparent that a Great Lakes blizzard was brewing. The radio tuned into storm warnings, and notices of extreme caution to motorists.
It became increasingly treacherous. Traffic in the late afternoon had slowed considerably; they had passed several stalls. The front windshield even with the additional defroster at full blast was scarcely allowing a view through it; and suddenly a fierce gust of wind whipped snow directly under the rear. The motor sputtered and died, enabling Andy only barely to coast to the side of the highway.
Andy had on occasion looked at a car’s engine, just recently at this one, about long enough to verify his suspected intense disinterest in – even passionate dislike for – the intimidating pile of metal and hose. He in fact felt awe about the ineffable mysteries of the internal combustion engine. It had actually not been until first beginning to date at the age of 20 that he finally had obtained his driver’s license, when his erstwhile girlfriend had suggested it might be a nice thing to have. It was she also who eventually had suggested it might be nice for Andy to have feelings, he remembered with a pang. So it was purely male ego show that induced him to get out and look this time. He’d have really looked the fool had he opened up the wrong end. “Thank the good Lord for the crash course on VW mechanics!,” he said to anyone listening as he stepped into the howling wind. The wind vehemently hurled the words right back.
Andy actually breathed a sigh of relief upon discovering that the motor was sufficiently whitewashed with snow, such that little could be seen of anything. It looked far better that way, he thought.
He tapped on the passenger window, and over the raging told Janys to climb into the driver’s side to get ready to try starting the car. “Perhaps,” Andy ventured, mustering up all the authority his voice could pretend, “if I clear some of this snow away we’ll make her turn over.” That sounded fairly authentic, he thought. Snow had packed in amazingly solidly under that small lid. He cursed Hitler, who had originated the idea of a little “People’s Car” in the first place, for ever putting a motor in the rear. “Probably the snow would never have blown in had the motor been in the front.,” he muttered to no one in particular, not a little irrationally.
As it turned out, in Andy’s vigorous snow-removal activity, he had inadvertently pulled a spark plug wire. Had he noticed it, he would have wondered where it had come from, and what to do with it. Within minutes of that mishap, a clear diagnosis of the problem emerged: a dead battery. Janys actually volunteered that information just ahead of Andy’s observation, which left him a little nonplussed.
It was late afternoon. The wind was wild, the snow horizontal, and the thermometer hovering at about 0 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Daylight was fast retreating. They couldn’t even get the news on the radio, as they huddled inside under blankets mercifully kept in the front with just such emergencies in mind. Andy had tried for a few minutes earlier to flag down passing motorists. But they either did not see him, or perhaps feared risking stopping themselves. He hoped that someone would at least stop ahead to report them. He soon retreated inside and beneath the blankets. Now why could this not be with Fiona?, the thought released before he could catch it and stuff it away. Why couldn’t his mind give it a break, or at least acknowledge the serious predicament they were in?
“Why don’t you pray, Andy?”, Janys suggested, deferring naturally to his male presence.
Pray? Something flashed inwardly, and Andy momentarily imagined himself Sarah – or dumb-struck Zechariah. How incongruous, even absurd, it suddenly seemed, to pray! As if his prayer would somehow instantly stop the storm, like Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. Impossible. Then what use prayer, Andy’s mind was panting furiously? Even, what is prayer? Had he ever uttered an authentic prayer? One that could move mountains – or even a few drifts of snow, or make a car motor come back to life? Had prayer for him ever been more than a rote exercise (as a kid), like rhyming off poetry, or reciting a creed, more pious exercise than any true beseeching a God who, he felt, somehow should be answering? Had he ever known any answers to prayer beyond the endless rationalizations of ostensibly unanswered petitions?
All this processed through his consciousness in seconds. Evoking a cough as a kind of prelude, Andy proceeded to pray. His reputation was at stake, he knew, even more so than when he had looked at the dead motor. But he was no thaumaturge – nor wired to one. Did he really know anything more about God experientially than he did about reviving a car motor? Or was he content to be a mere passenger in the Christian enterprise, without really looking in to the motor itself – the reality, or otherwise, of a God who somehow acted into history – or did not?
In the extended silence after his rather perfunctory prayer, these questions flooded his mind, until Janys broke the brooding with a spontaneous, passionate plea to God to watch over them, and remove them safely from danger. Thank God women are allowed to pray at GO with men around (brethren assemblies forbade it), Andy couldn’t help inwardly laughing. Her prayer at least had a chance of getting above the wild blizzard out there. He’d heard his bounce off the car roof.
Andy’s mood darkened with the sky, leaving an uneasy aftertaste of uncertainty, like the acrid smell of burnt hair. It was tinged with an undefined sense of fear: not so much about the real predicament they were in, as that this little experiment might elicit an unwelcome hypothesis, namely that God was just a product of one’s religious upbringing cum wish-fulfillment. Could he honestly face that possibility? And why could he not have prayed like Janys? Was this his “ugly broad ditch”?
The snow, caught very intermittently in the headlights of passing cars, continued to blow mercilessly.
After some discussion of various courses of action, they again fell silent, nursing their own fears, having decided that it was best for the time to do nothing except wait.... Waiting for Godot was culled up from Andy’s memory. He recollected the hopeless absurdity of the Samuel Beckett play by that title. It was, after all, in the genre of Theatre of the Absurd. The dialogue near the end went:
“Vladimir. - On se pendra demain. (Un temps.) A moins que Godot ne vienne.
Estragon. - Et s’il vient.
Vladimir. - Nous serons sauvés.”
Godot was obviously playwright Beckett’s variation of god - perhaps meaning a little, ineffectual, ultimately unreal, god. The play had been as bleak as Sartre’s La Nausée. Andy remembered that Beckett reportedly often would not get out of bed ‘til well into the morning, or even into the afternoon, so fatigued he seemed with life. None of the brave staring down of evil urged by Sartre and other popularizing existentialists, just the absurd routine of day-to-day living, relieved perhaps only by his creative instinct, like a full bladder is relieved by a satisfying urination, with perhaps no more appreciation of the act or the outcome than that. It suddenly occurred to Andy that Beckett’s life motto might have been a Robbie Burnsesque: “Whene’er my Muse does at me glance/I piss on her.” with the attendant stench such writing evoked.
“Et s’il vient./ Nous serons sauvés.” And if he comes, this little, useless god, asks Estragon stupidly, why we’ll be saved, Vladimir assures him as blankly. Otherwise we’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. Why not? After all, what is the difference, if only in the state of consciousness, unless Godot comes? Unless Godot comes.....
There was suddenly a loud banging on the roof, followed by faint yells over the wind. “Yes, yes!”, they screamed in reply.
With great difficulty, Andy pushed open the driver’s side door. A large drift made the action hard. He was amazed at how high the snow had piled in such a relatively short space of time.
A large Bombardier snowmobile had come back of them, and they had not even heard the motor, nor noticed its light.
“There’s simply no way, lady!” the driver tersely responded to Janys’ question about loading their luggage. “Don’t even bother locking the doors! Might be wiser not to. That wind’ll freeze everything tonight. No fool thief will venture out in this weather, and you can come back in the morning when this blows itself out.”
The motel was about one and a half miles further down the road. The snowmobile driver together with his brother had been delivering people from other stalled vehicles for the last hour or so. There were several people crowded into the foyer, waiting to hear about a room, or trying to phone, or simply warming themselves in front of a huge fireplace.
They first phoned Janys’ aunt, when they finally got to the pay phone, asking them to contact Susan, who would then let Andy’s parents know. Andy wondered if Lorraine was already at Susan’s, but could not ask. Besides, there was a line-up behind them. The journey should be able to be completed the next day, Janys’ aunt had said, given the weather forecast of a clear and cold Christmas Eve. Provided they could get their car started, Andy worried.
“One party to a room”, the lady explained to everyone. “Don’t matter how many, or who. Just be thankful you’ve got a warm place at all! Hell, before the night’s over, we might be sleeping six deep!”
Thankfully, it didn’t turn out quite that crowded, but there was indeed some doubling up of strangers. For their part, the two would-be-missionaries were assigned a small one-bed room. “Mr. and Mrs…?,” she had asked, and Andy had deadpanned “Norton.,” before Janys could say anything. Why even bother explaining? They scanned it briefly, and then returned to the fireplace, waiting to be called for supper.
Food was in good supply, though there was a hint of rationing certain items such as bread and butter. “Has to last past breakfast”, the proprietor explained, “and God only knows how many more will be arriving.”
A spontaneous sing-song erupted after supper even, and thanks to Eaton’s carol sheets, almost all the verses of all the carols were sung, together with a good many of the more secularized kind, not on the sheets. People had stopped arriving by the time supper was over. Janys had heard one of their rescuers report that they had checked every car on both sides of the highway in both directions until the next county, and that all traffic had ceased.
Supper was sumptuous in fact. Someone there knew how to cook! Amazingly too, everyone was fitted in to the dining room, with extra chairs scrounged from everywhere; all tables crowded, and no one minded – on the contrary! The sense of warm spontaneous community by this group of strangers was palpable. There was excited chatter and loud laughter throughout the supper hour. When had Andy last felt that at church?
Everyone at Andy’s and Janys’ table had harrowing tales to tell, and expressed immense gratitude. Turns out a minister or someone was even asked by the owner to say a prayer for the food. It was heartfelt, accompanied by several equally animated “Amen’s”. “No atheists in fox holes I guess.,” he could just hear Dan say cynically.
“I just hope the car isn’t buried under a mountain of snow”, Andy asided to Janys during a rare lull in the conversation. “Or maybe the plow’ll just run right over the little bug! I remember seeing a picture in the Record once of just that: a parked car had been squashed, I think in London, by an army vehicle doing emergency snow removal. Apparently the driver didn’t even know until he’d rolled over it what had happened!”
Janys was not amused. “Just remember it’s your stuff in there too!”, she said. “Then what would you say to Thomas? And how would we get home?” Thomas was the guy from Colorado who had loaned them the car.
The sing-song happened right after supper, and was exuberantly participated in by all until they were suddenly plunged into darkness.
A voice rang out that there were lots of candles! Just be patient. And sure enough, candles soon were being lit and distributed with holders even for each table.
The proprietor said, “My insurance is paid up. But please! Be extra cautious. No one wants to stand around a bonfire tonight!” There was loud laughter. She had a spirited sense of humour just right for the occasion.
“And can I ask just one thing? PLEASE DON’T FLUSH THE TOILETS UNTIL THE LIGHTS COME ON AGAIN!” And she added, “And we’ll hope everything doesn’t freeze solid in the meantime!
“Now, let’s have some more singing!”
The singing went on for about a candle’s burn. People towards the end had slowly been drifting off to their rooms. A final carol was suggested. Someone had to call out the all-time favourite, “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas!” The room exploded in guffaws, and then erupted into a glorious rendition of same.
At the end, the landlady’s words were, “You’d all make a fine church choir! First rehearsal at 7:00 p.m. sharp in the lobby January, 2, 1972!
“Otherwise, good-night to all, and don’t hesitate to ask for anything. It’s going to be a long night. More candles on the table up here. Just remember to blow them out and don’t play with matches! Extra blankets as we said are piled high in the lobby. Please take just one per room. And cuddle up with your honey tonight.”
So there was really nothing left to do except go to bed. They picked up their duly assigned blanket.
Awkwardness. It was unthinkable for Andy to sleep in the same bed with Janys. But where else? The floor was hard linoleum. There was no extra mattress. The rooms weren’t the cleanest; who knows what might be crawling around? And they’d need all the covers on the bed, blanket, and possibly still then some. It could be mighty cold by morning…
Janys was reading Andy’s mind. “Andy, when we were kids, we’d sleep three and four to a bed sometimes, boys and girls. I think we have no choice tonight. Do you snore?
“We are after all, didn’t I hear you say it?, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Norton’,” she added flatly, her smile, was it red-tinged?, expansive. Then impishly, “But we’ll keep our clothes on. It’s gonna be cold tonight!”
Andy laughed. That smile.
The Morrison’s were former church family friends that used to visit the Norton’s years previously for a few summers after they’d moved to Michigan. The whole family would move in for a week or so, three sisters, all around the same age as Susan and Andy. They always pitched their tent in the backyard. One night, a huge thunderstorm streamed water through the floor, and everything was a soggy mess that took two days to dry out, since the sun didn’t shine much the next day, and the tent and sleeping bags did not fit in the dryer.
The night after the storm the parents all went off to a church meeting or something, leaving the kids with a babysitter. Two sisters were to sleep with Susan in her bed, but there was not enough room for the third, so she was to be settled with Andy. They were all of seven or eight years old.
Not long after the sitter had told them good-night, Andy distinctly remembers going to his dresser in the dark, after some discussion with Carolyn, pulling out a pen flashlight he’d won for reciting verses at Sunday School, and telling her she could go first. Under the covers that night, abetted by a tiny flashlight, they both had repeated hands-on lessons in the human anatomy.
That memory flashed now. But Andy knew candles caught fire under bed covers. Besides, he knew even better, though it did occur to him, how could it not?, he had no interest in exploring Janys sexually that night. He was a committed Christian. Janys had not attracted him particularly, except her smile. He’d really come to like her smile. What was it he saw? He pushed all further thinking below his consciousness.
Already the room, wind-battered as the entire motel, was feeling chilled. Who knew when the power would come back on?
“Well, okay, no tooth brush, Janys. I guess I’m about ready to crawl under.,” Andy said, after they’d tucked the extra blanket tightly in at the end of the bed. “Do you want to use the bathroom first? Remember, there’s no flushing…”
“No,” she said calmly, you go first. He did, and was soon enough done.
“Coast is clear,” he chimed. “Though a warning, the lock on the door is broken…” It somehow felt better to climb into bed before her. This was feeling a little more sexually charged than he’d thought.
“Good thing you have a sister!, ” Janys said as she stepped to the washroom.
“And you a brother,” he fired back.
They laughed, was it nervously?
Andy lay wide awake. He was feeling… aroused. Yes. That was le mot juste, remembering the quip in My Fair Lady, “The French don’t care what they do actually, as long as they pronounce it correctly.” – or have “the right word”. But he did. Have the right word, but also cared what he did.
It had been a long day. He’d done all the driving, the last two hours or so with taut nerves still not relaxed. The room, in candlelight glow, was simply appointed: a washroom with sink and shower; a bed; a desk and mirror; a single stuffed chair he could have otherwise somewhat slept on. He thought of Lorraine. And Fiona. And his mom and dad. Susan! He could just imagine her mocking! Dan. G.E…. Groan, this last was the corker.
Janys came at last. Andy was surprised at hair that cascaded almost to her waist. When she took off her glasses he thought, wow, she should wear contacts. Then he thought he’d best stop using that word, “wow”. Then he thought he’d best stop thinking. But could not. She blew out the candle, and climbed in . He thought, two bodies in a single bed. Good thing she was petite and he slim. He thought, this is really weird.
The room was totally black. The storm raged furiously. Andy was already feeling cozy warm, almost euphoric.
“Janys,” Andy began, “have you already thought of this?: what will people say if they know we, literally, ‘slept together?’...”
Janys giggled. “There was some Christian sect, maybe the Cathars in medieval France, that used to believe sleeping together without ‘doing it’ was a powerful spiritual exercise.
“I think we see how much more spiritual we are in the morning, Andy, then maybe suggest this as a way to jack up the flagging spirituality of some at the Centre that G.E. is so exercised about..” She perfectly mimicked G.E.’s slight Scottish brogue on the “r”.
She was having fun! Andy felt a tad mortified.
“Seriously,” Andy pursued, tinge of recrimination, “can we agree we just don’t talk about… this part… you know, ‘sleeping together’?” Every time he said it, in spite of himself, he felt a tingle.
“Okay, my dear,” she said playfully, “if you insist. There won’t be too many asking the details anyway, and mum’s the word!
“Now, are you going to say a night-night prayer, or shall I?”
This was really no big deal to her at all. Had she been through this before? Andy couldn’t imagine. He knew she had been comfortable with him almost from the outset – something she easily was with everyone but those on doors, he’d observed. And she could put people so at ease too.
He replied, “You can do the honours, Janys.
“Before you do, can I ask one thing? Why don’t you ever wear your hair long?” Where had that come from? His boldness tingled, again.
Janys was quiet for a time. Maybe he’d gone too far.
“Maybe I will sometime, Andy.
“Okay, I’ll gladly pray.” And she did, thanking God above all for shelter and warmth.
“Good night, Andy.,” she said at the end.
“Sleep tight, Janys.,” he said back. And they each turned sideways, backs to the other.
Not long afterwards, Andy heard a patterned breathing beside him. It sounded a minor key to the furious lament outside. And she can fall asleep just like that, he thought. For his part, he was reviewing every discussion he’d ever had with Jack, with G.E., then Lorraine, his sister, and much much more… Janys slept peacefully on. She, at least, didn’t snore….
He awoke from a dream, had it been the magic carpet ride? He reached for it, but missed it beyond recall. He noticed instantly, the wind had stopped. It was so still. Light from an engorged moon was streaming in the window. He had to go to the bathroom. What time was it? He very quietly slipped out of bed. The heat must be back on, he thought uncomprehending. He tiptoed to the washroom door, and unthinking, flicked a switch just inside. Light blazed. His eyes blinked, dazzled.
That shock paled before what his blinking eyes suddenly took in. Janys at the sink, had turned towards him, in bra and panties only, blouse held in her hands, utterly startled look emblazoned across her face.
He gaped. She gasped.
“Andy, the light! Turn off the light!,” and she thrust her arms upwards to spread the blouse across her bosom.
Andy floundered a minute, found the switch finally. Glorious moonlight alone bathed the scene. A shaft fully spotlighted Janys. She stepped instinctively sideways, banged into the sink, and cried, “Ouch!”.
“I’m so sorry, Janys! Whatever are you doing?!,” exclamation marks, eyes averted, hasty retreat.
The door shut tightly behind him. Silence. Wow!, he said to himself, and again, wow! He didn’t care. Those loose clothes... Why did his mind first go there?... Why did his mind start instant replays? Why was there a close-up of her bra, the bare skin, the…
“Andy,” from inside the bathroom, “do you need to use the toilet? I’m done now.”
She stepped out. He stepped in.
He had to sit down to go pee. He realized only then he’d wet his pants. This was embarrassing! She’d walked out a bath towel draped over her.
He saw her blouse and sweater hanging over the towel rack, directly above an electric heater belting out hot air. The bathroom felt invitingly cozy. Whatever had happened?, Andy was still uncomprehending. He took off his pants and wet underpants, quickly ran some water in the sink, and soaked and squeezed them several times. He pulled on his pants, very careful of the zipper. The briefs were hung on the same rack. Hopefully they’d be dry by morning. He looked at his watch in the moonlight. It was 3:00 a.m.
Andy crawled back into bed very quietly. He desperately was trying to take measured breaths. His heart took even longer to slow down.
Janys shifted her weight towards him. “Andy, sorry.”
He said right back, “Janys, I’m so sorry!”
She continued. “This is now embarrassing, Andy, I admit.” Pause. Deep breath.
“In case you haven’t figured it out, it’s my period. I had no, no tampons. They’re frozen solid back in the car. I should have at least tried to get those out, but that skidoo driver was not waiting for anything. Besides, I thought I could get some at the motel. I did ask discreetly. Wrong. They were out of them. So she gave me… Andy, is this grossing you out?”
“I do have a sister, Janys, remember?”, Andy said evenly. This was beginning to make sense.
“So,” she went on, “the lady obligingly gave me a wad of paper towels. Now this gets even more embarrassing. Do you really want to hear? But I’ve gone this far…”
Andy said nothing. The moonlight outlined everything in the room, including, he looked over, Janys’ face. It gave it a pleasant, appealing, soft glow.
“I woke up to go pee, and discovered… nature had taken its course a bit more than I’d expected. Thankfully, she’d given me lots of those towels. But my panties, and the bottom of my blouse and sweater were… you do have a sister, Andy… quite red. So I quietly, I thought, poured water into the sink to rinse everything out… I’ll spare you further details, but just as you stumbled in, I was almost finished everything. Just had my blouse to scrub out a bit more…
“And the rest you know… I’ll admit, only my brother’s seen me in my undies before… So forgive me for being not a little shocked when you turned on the lights.”
Then: “Andy, didn’t you know I was in there?... No, you didn’t. The look of complete consternation on your face was worth a million bucks…”
Andy said nothing. Outside was utterly, eerily still. The moonscape must be glorious, he could only imagine. There was faint snoring through the walls. Andy said, “Hope I didn’t sound like that guy!” That got him over the hump. “Then, so, I’ve never asked anyone this question before, then do you have enough… “
“Paper towels until we wake up?”, Janys completed the query. “I hope so. And yes, before you ask, I had to put those well squeezed wet underwear back on, to.. You know. They’re feeling a little uncomfortable right now. But they’ll dry out by morning I’m sure. Pretty light material, and nice and warm under the covers.”
“And for the day?,” he couldn’t help asking. She should likely have slapped him.
“Let me worry about that. I hope we’ll get to our car soon enough…,” she said.
“But they’re frozen.,” he couldn’t resist. What had come over him? As if he was going over a grocery list or something.
“Andy…,” she said menacingly, then laughed. “I think you’re right though. I’ll be talking to no one about this. ‘Mr. and Mrs. Norton’ indeed. I guess I got over my embarrassment when we ended up in the same bed. This is beyond self-consciousness now to the point of ridiculous! And these are only bodies, you know. How about you?”
Andy treated her question as rhetorical. There was total quiet a few minutes.
She chuckled at last: “If some of my girlfriends could see me now… Good-night again, Andy.”
He debated about offering to climb out and onto the stuffed chair for the rest of the night. He was very conscious she was only wearing a bra on top, saw it again in mind’s eye full light blazing, and fleetingly in the moonlight. The room was warming up after all. But they had come this far without mishap. He knew he’d do quite fine until morning. She certainly would. Probably’ll be asleep in just a few minutes.
He thought about those Cathars, or whomever, and drifted back to sleep.
Morning sunlight blazed through the frosted window. Andy rubbed his eyes, and took in the framed snowbound vista. Janys stepped out of the bathroom, hairbrush in hand, fully clothed.
“Good morning, sleepy head. Found this under the bed. After I’d cleaned out the hair, the brush works fine.” She stepped back into the washroom. “Oh, and I guess you’ll be wanting these.,” as she threw Andy his underpants. “They’re dry. So were my clothes.” She laughed at his look of embarrassment. “Thought we got over that last night… I can guess what happened… No need to explain.”
He didn’t. “Look out the window, Andy.”
As fearsome had been the storm of the day previous, as dazzling was its morning afterglow. If the scene was a painted landscape, the sun was the virtuoso artist, enlivening every view with a textured grace irresistibly exquisite. Each point of sight was multi-dimensionally a-shimmer
“Wow,” Andy said simply, after all finding the word still usable. He noted her long hair, almost indeed to her waist, glistened in the dancing sunshine as she looked out the window beside him. Moments later, they headed down the hall towards the dining area, her hair swooshing seductively behind her.
Eventually after breakfast they connected to the tow truck driver. Surely this kind of scene must be back of stories of resplendently dancing fairies, Andy mused. I’d take these arpents de neige any day, he thought, as he accompanied the driver to their abandoned car.
The after-glory of a Great Lakes winter storm is almost ineffable. It evoked associations of a desert traveller’s first happening upon an oasis, or the sudden turn in the fairly-tale (Tolkien’s eucatastrophe) with the sure knowledge that good would ultimately triumph. It was the apotheosis of Bing Crosby’s I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas so lustily sung the night before. If only the world could stay this white, he thought. A sense of deep tranquility settled over him, as he inwardly praised God for this glorious Christmas eve. Surely this must be a taste of heaven, even if there would be no snow up there.
“A mother and her two children are dead, after failing to be rescued last night from their stalled car”, the newscaster officiously announced over the tow-truck radio, “and President Nixon vows more troops for South Vietnam. But first, these messages from our sponsors.” Andy’s reverie was abruptly ended, as his mind instantly turned over the awful tragedy of the night before. How could such radiant whiteness have occasioned such stark misfortune? On Christmas Eve no less? How could anyone near that family sing Joy To the World! ever again at any Christmas? Why? Andy’s mind spun at the sheer gratuitousness of such evil.
And it’s not even man-made. Not like Vietnam, he further thought. He remembered Voltaire’s savaging any Leibnitzian notion of living in the best of all possible worlds, given the earthquake in Voltaire’s lifetime which had killed thousands. How to explain a good God in the face of such a happening? And if there is an omniscient God, mustn’t his switchboard be besieged daily by similar events? Yet he fails to lift a finger to prevent at least the natural disasters – quite apart from man’s inhumanity to man?
An acquaintance had loaned him Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian, while he was in university, which Andy had dutifully read. He remembered then how airily he had dismissed Russell’s entire thesis since he only treated of philosophical objections.
“The Christian faith is not primarily a philosophy but a fact of human history – rooted in the space-time continuum we daily encounter”, he had urged upon his friend. No “accidental truths of history” either, he’d forcefully urged. There had ensued a hot debate, which abruptly was halted by his opponent’s searing words: “Then, if God is so good, damn it, why is my sister, who believes in God, dying of leukemia right now?!”
Andy had been taken aback and shaken by the outburst. In the face of such raw emotion, he had fallen silent. He had never discussed the faith with that person again; and once more tasted the guilt of his failure.
He had had no answer then, and felt still at a loss as he absently watched the tow-truck operator hitch up the VW, which, thankfully, had neither been buried, nor run over by a snowplow.
The overworked mechanic laughed at the pulled spark plug wire. “If only all car problems today would be this simple!”, he exclaimed. With the plug in place, and the battery recharged, Andy and Janys finally completed their journey. Hasty phone calls arranged that her brother and dad were to pick up Janys at the Norton’s. And Susan would after all drive to Kitchener, hoping for the best from her Mustang.
Before twilight eased into clear stellar night, they arrived safely in Kitchener. As they neared his home, Andy noticed Janys putting her hair up again, but said nothing. He really liked it down, would have to tell her that sometime again.
“So good to have met you.,” Janys said to Andy’s parents upon departing. Then: “And Andy yesterday and last night will remain unforgettable!” Right in front of everyone. Andy felt a red rush. But nothing was said, perhaps Janys’ very intention. Though Susan did look at him strangely.
Andy finally entered into the warmth and joy of Christmas Eve celebrations at home, feeling suddenly exhausted...
At the first opportunity, they slipped into Susan’s bedroom and Andy asked Susan about Lorraine. “Sounds more like I ought to be quizzing you about Janys, Andy.,” she looked at him sharply. Susan’s bedroom was still like she’d left it, including some of the posters of the Beatles on the wall her mother had always wished to take down, with not a few arguments over “such godless” music. Susan liked soft colours with two-toned upbeat flair. She’d painted the room herself: well, picked out the colours and had done it with her mom. The room really was compact but “Susan” all over. Andy liked her room as he really liked his sister.
Susan asked, “What happened last night with you guys?” There was no red warmth, not a tingle in Andy. He maintained a poker face that amazed him. How could last night seem “normal”, but such it simply did. Objectively, to sleep in the same bed with a half-naked woman (well half the night anyway) and nothing have happened, including no shame, well… His head cross-examined the heart, and the testimony held with not even an “Objection, your Honour.”
“Susan, I really do like Janys. But what happened ‘happened’ by serendipitous… happenstance. Pure and simple. Nothing else. Nothing new. Nothing to tell. No regrets but the obvious: I missed Lorraine!
“Now what to do?”
“I told her,” Susan accepted the finality of Andy’s tone, dropping her own temptation to cross-examine, “that you’d call as soon as you could. But she knew this would show on the phone bill. Instead, she’s agreed to call at 11:00 tonight, sharp! You or I will grab the phone first, wherever we’re at in celebrations. Hopefully we’re done, and mom and dad are already safely tucked into bed. Best case scenario. In that case, you take the kitchen phone into your bedroom, I discreetly close the hallway door, and you keep your conversation short. The only possibility for a rendez-vous is late Boxing Day evening.
“I ended up taking the bus to Kitchener today. My car was so jittery, dad suggested it… I can now say I have to get back to Toronto a day earlier, and you could drive me tomorrow evening to Toronto; stay the night; and pick up Janys at her relatives’ really early; drive here, exchange cars and be on your way.
“But this all seems so ridiculously tight. Though I don’t mind cutting out early after you’ve left. It’ll be a bit rough around here with mom anyway… Can’t you delay by one day returning? It’d be so much better, Andy.”
“Can’t,” Andy said resolutely. He thought that’s all G.E. would have to catch wind of: Congress ’71 in part exchanged for Lorraine… “I have to be back. There’s no give.”
“Okay kiddo! What a sister won’t do for her kid-brother…,” she sounded very magnanimous.
“Oh, give me a break.,” Andy came back, catching the mirth at the corners of her eyes. She’d proven it more than once: she’d do lots for her kid-brother, Andy felt so lucky and proud.
The phone rang sharp on the hour. Parents had gone to bed, Christmas tree enveloped by presents. Andy eagerly caught it, and thrilled at her voice. It would work! The secret could be kept.
Andy already knew this was going to be his best gift.
The concluding words in his diary that night were:
Silent Night, Holy Night,
All is calm, all is bright.
Praise God for answered prayer!
It is 11:45 p.m.
He wrote nothing about sleeping with Janys. He only said he’d have more to share the next time he wrote the Professor.