Midwife in the Tire Swing

Chapter 42—The New Ashmoleans

“There is no higher calling than that one shall say unto another ‘use me’ and have no thought of gaining by it.”

—New Ashmoleans 6, vii

With a burst of pre-menstrual energy, Heidi Nichols was rearranging potted plants that lined the windowsills of the Extension. The phone rang and she leaned over to put it on speakerphone. “University of Maine Department of Agriculture Extension. This is Heidi, how may I help you?”

“You can help me by getting a quiet divorce. I have a career to consider.” It was her husband. “How long has this... thing with Ed Hobart been going on?”

“Thank you for your interest. Word gets around, doesn’t it? Mmm, I’d say about three days now. And I haven’t called a lawyer yet, if that’s what’s worrying you.” Heidi snuffled and heard her sinuses click; they did that when she was about to get a cold.

“You have malformed sinuses. You should see a doctor,” her husband would say. They would then have a fight—a shouting match that ended only when one or the other left the house. After eight years Heidi rented a small apartment and moved out.

“You are a doctor; I’ve seen you every day for most of ten years. Bother you?” She clicked her sinuses again. “Doesn’t bother me one little bit.” Click. Click. Click.

“You are making your sub-vocal expressions of hostility. You always do that. Christ, you’re annoying. So it is just about the sex. Our marriage was nothing to you.”

“Nothing much. At first it was too much. I thought I repulsed you. I loved you, Andy. But you never leveled with me. Got all passive aggressive whenever I brought the subject up—tried to get you up. We would fight and forget what the fight was all about. If you’d just said something... anything. Things might be different. No. Wait—I don’t think so.”

“Ed is that good... He always looked like a nebbish to me.”

“I am one well-fucked lady, let’s leave it there.”

*  *  *

Heidi slid into the University pickup Ed left parked behind the laundromat. As the starter growled, the windshield wipers slammed from side to side. The radio came on full blast, caterwauling about a woman that been done wrong—a country station. She quieted the accessories and, easing the truck from its berth, headed to her place. A personal call. Let Ed simmer for a day or two. She sniffed for any scent of their recent sex. There was none. Shit, she thought, I’m scheming just like with Andy.

At her one-room efficiency apartment she poked around in the depths of her carryall for the keys and found none. She must have left them at Ed’s. She prized the snap lock with a credit card, shouldered the door open, then lunked it shut with her hip. There was a pervading odor of mustiness. “Huh, three days away and the mold moves in.” She dropped her bag in the center of the bed and flopped next to it and waited for the phone to ring. Would it? She had said it would.

Ring.

Fright, terror, racing pulses from the bleary half-sleep of an afternoon nap, she crashed into the Walmart cardboard bureau. Elder Jesse. He had only called her at work. How would he know to find her here?

“Hello. Mister Youngblood?”

“The same.” The voice was calm, preoccupied.

“Are you alright? And how did you know I was here? I mean... you called me at work, used redial to call me back, a number you called at random.”

“You have said that I would call; you were testing your faith, not mine. Here I am. I looked you up in the phone book.”

“Oh.”

“New Ashmoleans,” said Elder Jesse. His voice was faint and indistinct. He was having a stroke. Was he drunk or drugged?

“What?” Heidi bellowed into the phone. New Ashmoleans, that must be one of the Forbidden Books of the Bible the Rosicrucians had in their ads.

New Ashmolean Marching Society and Students’ Conservatory Band. It’s a song from a show, Where’s Charley. And you don’t have to shout.”

Heidi rose to close the venetian blinds.

“A snappy halftime tune the high school band plays at football games. Nobody has ever heard of it—it’s old, that’s why. You want to grow old and alone with no one knowing your name? You don’t have to answer. The answer is a given. Say no.”

“Well, no.”

“Just what I expected you’d say, foreseen and foreordained. ‘Be fruitful and multiply,’ Genesis 1:28. That’s your Bible text for today. And tomorrow, into an undefined future. Multiply, no long division, no logarithms. Prosper... well, that’s something else. Not my department. I am in outreach. You hear voices?”

“Now you are sounding like my soon-to-be ex-husband. No, I don’t hear voices.”

“Think again, be sure. Voices—sounds, that seem to come from nowhere, the wrong places.”

“You mean you are a ventriloquist.”

“Ventriloquism don’t work on the phone.” The rustling recommenced. He was doing something. He had mentioned binoculars—no, it was Ed who spied on her and she had forgiven Ed; he might be watching her now from, from... Heidi opened the blinds and looked out. Nothing. Nothing but... “Are you recording this?”

“As your telephone pastor, I have to remind you that our talks are sacrosanct.” Elder Jesse’s inner city accent had disappeared. “Please, Heidi, you can speak freely; we are alone. Was that venetian blinds I heard?”

“Uh, your voice... It’s slipping? Now don’t take this wrong but your, your... rhythm has changed; you are going back and forth.”

“You mean sometimes I talks like a ghetto nappy-top and sometimes I talks regular.”

“Well, yes.”

“I am a person, Heidi Nichols. And a person, particularly a man of the cloth should be allowed some latitude in matters of style.” Heidi heard pages flipping, then what could only have been a zipper. “Isn’t they the noisiest, venetian blinds?—a dead giveaway you’re ill at ease. Myself, I got draperies. Draperies calms the spirit. You are doubting me and my, our mission together. Fulfillment, remember? You did as I said and have been rewarded by Providence. You got your hit at the lickin’-stick, heh heh. Full circle: a prophesy fulfilled. And you too, if I don’t miss my guess. You got some proper stuffed; I can hear it in your voice. Hold on. Ohh, ohh, that good.” There was a prolonged silence.

“You shit,” said Heidi. “You are jerking off.”

“Couldn’t help it.” He dropped the phone.

The man was depraved. Not the masturbation... everybody did that from time to time. Shit, all the time. But he needed an audience. Her. And he knew all about her and Ed and the blowjob in the truck. Jesus Christ, he had set it up. I should be grateful, Heidi thought. “Hello, hello...” The rustling started in again, stopped, and Elder Jesse picked up the phone.

“I won’t be calling again, Heidi.” He was quiet, waiting for her reply.

“Wait. You know who I am. How the hell do I know you are who you say you are? Faith? Bullshit. Do you think you’re God that you can set things up like that and just walk away? That’s it?’ You do think you’re God. Is there anyone there locked up with you who thinks he’s John the Baptist?”

“You have entered upon the slippery slopes of doubt, Heidi Nichols. Believe me; all of this has been foreordained.”

“You know where I live, you have my number. Numbers... you looked me up in the phone book. You probably know what I look like.” I have picked up my very own stalker, Heidi thought. “Have we ever met?”

“Not that I know. So you mos’ likely wouldn’t recognize me if we met face to face. Nor me you, on the street, say. I like things that way. Like the Catholics in their confessional. They have a screen between the priest and the sinner in the hot seat.”

“No. Not for me. I like distance. And anonymity. No screen, no holes, just miles of wire.”

“Most folks would be calling me their benefactor. I saw you in your need and brought you heart-ease. You are at ease...”

Heidi felt shamed at being tagged as ungrateful. Had not her innermost secret wishes been granted? Was she not happy with her outcome?

“Yes I am—at ease. I have never been happier in my life. I’m sorry, Elder Jesse, it’s just that...”

“My self-manipulation. It brings you discomfort.”

“Yes, frankly, it does. It’s like I’m being used.”

“You are. ‘There is no higher calling than that one shall say unto another ‘use me’ and have no thought of gaining by it.’”

“A Bible verse...”

“New Ashmoleans 6, vii. You are getting it regular-like now. A long dry road between pussy-poundings if you ask me. You gettin’ it—I’se gettin’ it. Now what’s wrong with that? Are we two not but using a God-given gift? Not selfishly, as the Good Book says, but for the pleasure of others.”

“You are jerking off in my ear. I am not comfortable with that.”

“This is my vocation. I am a sacred man, little lady. You think I jes’ calls people up to mess with their heads. My precise title in the Church of the Divine Satisfaction is sexton.”

“That’s a janitor.”

“Ah, but so much more, little lady. Sexton... think about it. One little word, a name with much hidden meaning. Ton o’ sex, for instance.”

“But you’re jerking off in front of me... of my voice.”

On the other end, Elder Jesse zipped his fly. “I goin’ take a rest now, Willie,” he said. “But don’ go way. I be’s back.”

“Who are you talking to?” asked Heidi.

“Wet Willie, my mighty engine,” replied Elder Jesse.

“You have a pet name for it.”

“Don’ everyone? What about you?—married all those years to an anesthesiologist who puts his own jones to sleep. When the sleeper wakes—it is written—there goin’ be a Great Fornication.”

“Revelation.”

“Nope.” Elder Jesse did not elaborate on just what, if any, scripture he had quoted. Maybe he just made it up. He made things up, yes. That was it.

“You are a lair,” Heidi said.

“Heidi, Heidi. Ten years, no poontang, and you never touch yourself just once? Tell me, girl... and I’m the liar. You have a vibrator.”

“That’s a very personal question.” After all she had been through with Elder Jesse Youngblood, she realized that was a foolish thing to say.

“Ain’t no question, jes’ a simple statement of fact. Of course you do—have a vibrator. Every fine, upstanding woman does. You use it every day, I’d bet. And you gotta name for it, too. Here, hold on for a while, I got another magazine here with a gal getting’ it on with a vibrator. Mm-mm.”

Pervert or not, Elder Jesse was right on the money there. “Lady Luck,” said Heidi.

“Mind if I smoke? I got a cubeb.”

“Mister Youngblood, we are on the phone in case you haven’t noticed.”

“Some women is particular wary when a man lights up a cubeb.”

“Not me.”

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