From the beginning, her father insisted that their parish priest
come to their home where Marianne now lay, but each visit was
catastrophic. It was as if she knew in advance the priest was
coming. She had terrifying fits of rage and violence. She would
awaken, endeavor to attack the priest, pour out a stream of
obscenity, tear her own skin, try to jump out their fifteenth-story
window, or start battering her head against the wall.
There were constant disturbances. The door of her room would never
stay either open or shut; it was continually banging to and fro.
Pictures, statues, tables, windowpanes, crockery were regularly
fragmented and crushed. It was, finally, all this, plus the
unbearable and constant stench, that sent her mother and brother to
Church authorities. No matter how she was washed and deodorized, and
the room scoured and cleaned, it always smelled of sodden filth and
a putrefaction unknown to them. All this, together with Marianne’s
extreme violence when a rosary or a crucifix was put to her lips,
convinced her family finally that her illness was more than physical
When Peter arrived in New York in mid-August, he was given a short
briefing. He insisted on two preliminary visits and examinations;
during these, there was surprisingly no violence. First, he
accompanied two doctors, chosen by him, on a visit to Marianne. She
cooperated fully with them. On the second visit, he had an
experienced psychiatrist with him. This expert prolonged his
examinations for two or three weeks, taking copious notes,
tape-recording conversations, discussing the case with colleagues,
questioning her parents and friends. His conclusion was that he
could not help her. He recommended another colleague of his. After a
hypnosis session, more lengthy conversations with Marianne, and
relying as well on the results of drug therapy, his colleague
pronounced Marianne normal within the definition of any
psychological test or understanding.
It was the beginning of October before Peter felt he could be
morally sure he had a genuine case of possession in Marianne, and
that he could safely proceed with the exorcism. He planned to start
it early on a Monday morning. Beforehand, he chose his assistants
and then spent many hours schooling them as to how they should act,
what to do, and what not to do during the ritual of Exorcism. Their
chief function was to restrain Marianne physically. Peter had a
younger priest as his chief assistant; he had to monitor Peter’s
actions, warn him if mastery of the situation were slipping from
him, correct any mistakes he might make, and-in Peter’s words-“poleaxe
me and carry on in my place if I make the ultimate mistake.” All the
assistants were given one absolute rule: never say anything in
direct response to what Marianne might say.
Late on the Sunday evening preceding his Monday morning appointment
at Marianne’s home, as Peter sat chatting after dinner with some
friends, he received a frantic call for help from George. Marianne’s
condition was worse than ever before.
She raged around the apartment, screaming Peter’s name. There had
been a series of
disturbances in the house that still continued unabated. And they
were beginning to
spread beyond the family’s apartment. Not only were the neighbors
parents had already been the victims of some freak accidents. The
situation was getting out of hand.
Peter left immediately, and arrived at the apartment some time past
midnight. He set about preparing for immediate start of the
exorcism. His assistants had already arrived. He did not approach
Marianne’s room. Under his directions, they entered, stripped the
bedclothes from the bed, placed Marianne on a blanket thrown on the
mattress. She made no resistance, but lay on her back, her eyes
closed, moaning and growling from time to time. They stripped the
carpet from the floor, and removed all but two pieces of furniture.
Peter needed a small night table for the candlesticks, the crucifix,
and his prayer book. The tape recorder was placed in a chest of
drawers. The windows were closed securely and the blinds drawn. It
was after 3:30 A.M. before all was ready for the exorcism.
The four assistants gathered around Marianne’s bed in the little
room. The only light came from the candles on the night table.
Around them wafted the stale stench that marked Marianne’s presence;
even the little balls of cottonwool dipped in an ammonia solution
which they had placed in their nostrils did not kill that smell.
Occasionally, the honking of a car or the scream of a police siren
sounded in their ears from the streets below. None of them felt at
ease. The centerpiece of this scene, Marianne, lay motionless on the
When Peter entered wearing black cassock, white surplice, and purple
stole, Marianne tried to turn away from where he stood at the foot
of the bed, but two of his assistants held her down flat. There was
no violence until he held up the crucifix, sprinkled her with holy
water, and said in a quiet voice: “Marianne, creature of God, in the
name of God who created you and of Jesus who saved you, I command
you to hear my voice as the voice of Jesus’ Church and to obey my
commands.” Not even he and certainly not his assistants were
prepared for the explosion that followed.
Catching them all unawares, Marianne jerked free, and sat bolt
upright on the bed. Opening her mouth in a narrow slit, she emitted
a long, wailing howl which seemed to go on without pause for breath
and in full blast for almost a minute. Everyone was thrown back
physically by the force of that cry. It was not piteous, nor was it
of hurt or appeal. It was much more like what they imagined a wolf
or a tiger would sound like “when caught and disemboweled slowly,”
as the ex-policeman described it. It was an embodiment in sound of
defiance and infinite pain. It confused and distressed them.
Marianne’s father burst into tears, biting his lip to stifle his own
voice; he wanted to answer her. “One moment it made you afraid,”
said Peter’s young colleague in recalling the moment. “Another
moment it made you cry. Then you were shocked. So it went. It
By the time she was silent, they had recovered and had her pinned
down again. She
did not resist. The smile was back on her mouth, twisting her lips
into a corkscrew
shape. She was very cold to the touch. Her body was still, relaxed.
The first words that came from her were calm:
“Who are you? Do you come to disturb me? You do not belong to the
Kingdom. Yet, you are protected. Who are you?” Father Peter looked
up from the exorcism text. “Funny,” he thought, “I should be
sweating.” His palms were dry, and his mouth. He glanced at the
girl. Her eyes were closed, but her eyeballs were obviously moving
beneath her lids as if she were caught in animated conversation.
That smile still lay across her lips like a curled whip. Her head
was now turned slightly to one side as if listening.
“Marianne!” He said it in a half-whisper, not finding his voice
easily. No answer.
Silence for about ten seconds. Then, this time commandingly:
“Why curse your gentle heart”-Marianne’s words were spoken softly-“I
am now of the Kingdom. Didn’t you know?” A pause. “So, please hump
off,” Another pause. “With little Zio.” A little laugh. Then:
“Betcha he doesn’t know how to hump, fella!” The edge of her teeth
appeared like a white curve behind the lips. The crow’s-feet melted
away from around her eyes. The whole expression hardened. “Unless .
. . unless . . . unless you want to play socket to my hammerrrrrrr .
. .” Her words had come out all slurred and on one breath but with
no noticeable lip movement. Peter could hear the end of that lungful
of air as the prolonged “r” died away like an echo into nothingness.
The four assistants stirred and looked at each other. The bank
manager, now perspiring freely, felt for the waxen pads in his ears
to reassure himself they were still there. James, the younger
priest, caught his breath and was about to speak when Marianne spoke
again, this time in a husky voice.
“Sorry, Peter.” She sounded just like a lover who had kissed a
little too violently, was sorry, but might bite again if
“Marianne!” This time insistingly. The name acted like the pull of
invisible wires. Her body became rigid. Her head was flat on the
bed, face to the ceiling; the eyeballs turned up behind the eyelids
were still; the skin, marbleized and utterly smooth, looked ten
years younger. For all the world, this was a teenage student
listening intently to her professor. Except for the smile.
“Lechah venichretha verith.” * The Hebrew words came off her lips
quite intelligibly to Peter. “A deal,” she continued, “just you,
Peter, and me. Peter the Eater.”
A window opened in Peter’s memory releasing a small sharp panic in
him. It was like a bat zigzagging at him out of the night of memory.
And like a grain of grit thrown in his eye and stinging him to
tears. “Don’t worry. No one will know it. Only me.” Mae’s face and
voice were back with him for an instant from that distant summer
evening. They were so dear in his memory. But Marianne’s voice
seaped the memory to ashes.
“A deal, Peter! Let’s talk of the Un in the All-Holy. Aleph. Beth.
Gimel. Daleth. Shin.
Forget your Hebrew in all that hair and skin?”
The tone was level,
male nor female, grittily mocking. The grain of panic in Peter now
became a boulder
pushing him against the bars of his mind, as he sought refuge. He
neat trap, and the words of old Conor: “Nivir discuss, me bhoy.
“Comet Let’s make a deal.” pahst mahsther at it. He’ll have yeh bet
in wan tick uv a lamb’s tail.”
Peter made a new effort at mental control. His panic receded.
But the Pretense continued. “Tschah! Peter! What’s a little Hebrew
between you and me?” The voice was less throaty now, appealing,
“In the name of Jesus, I command you, Marianne, to answer.”
“Why can’t we forget the past? You forget it. I forget it. So
everybody’s happy, Peter.”
“Marianne, you belong to the Most High . . .”
“Forget it, Peter!” The hard note again. “Don’t be a bore. This is,
is, is Marianne. The real Marianne . . .”
“Marianne, we love you, and we know you. Jesus knows you. God knows
Answer me in the name of Jesus who saved you.”
“If you’re thinking of that little pimply girl with no breasts and
heavy glasses and her silver cross and her calloused knees . . .”
“Only love can save and heal, Marianne.” Peter knew that
confrontation was being avoided, and the voice of Pretense went on.
“. . . and her
Forget it, Peter.” The throaty tone had returned; but there was a
silky snarl laced with contempt and, Peter felt, some tiny threat.
A sound caught Peter’s ear. Marianne’s father was shaking and
looking at the chest of drawers. For the last 17 hours, that chest
of drawers had never stayed in exactly the same place. This had not
been too disturbing. But now it rocked back and forth at irregular
intervals; the brass handles rattled.
“Throw some holy water on that thing,” Peter whispered to his
colleague. He heard some short hissing sounds like drops of water
falling on a red-hot stove.
But-even as quickly as that-the initiative had been taken out of
Peter’s hands. He had been distracted by her father’s reactions and
his own whispered order.
“Peter? You okay?” She had a mocking solicitude in her tones. The
rattling had ceased. “About that Un. What’s the difference?”
Peter clenched his teeth and decided to be assertive. “The
All-Holy,” he said flatly, “is one.”
“Ah! But to be complete, the All-Unholy goes with it.” “Dirt does
not go with cleanliness.” “Without darkness, no light, Peter. No
“The All-Holy cannot go with the All-Unholy.”
“Wrong, Peter pet, pet Peter.”
Peter’s mental grip weakened for an instant, as he felt the claws of
around his mind. Fatally his logic rose. Conor’s warning faded in a
kind of cry to
intellectual battle, and he blurted out: “Impossible“
“Now, we’re on the ball.” Her voice rose, cut in triumphantly. “I
know your fuddy-duddy medieval Principle of Contradiction. Esse et
non-esse non possunt identificari.” Even know the Latin! But that’s
for now, Peter. See? Only for now. It can be different.”
Peter forced himself away from argument.
“No, Peter . . .”
“In the name . . .”
“Of the All-Unholy and, if you wish, the All-Holy. No objection.”
Then that terrible little laugh. “Some day soon, your esse and your
non-esse will go together like . . .”
“. . . of Jesus, Marianne ...”
“. . . a cock in a cunt, like a hand in a glove. Mine do . . . did .
. . will ...”
Suddenly she vibrated in a high-pitched scream, shoulders, hips,
thighs, feet, hands, all beating against the hands that held her
down, like a woman driven to insanity with caresses but cut short of
orgasm: “Will somebody fuck me, fuck the esse out of my ass, Peter.
Put your esse in me and fuck me, fuck me.” She ended in a forlorn
Marianne’s uncle gasped for air, as if throttled by a blow across
the throat. Peter’s eardrums ached from that scream. He almost felt
the hot tears of her father, who was now crying quietly, biting his
lips as he held his daughter down.
Peter knew: the Pretense was wearing thin; something had to give.
But they were not yet in sight of the Breakpoint.
Suddenly Marianne went limp. The men relaxed their grip on her and
stood back. A high color crept into her cheeks. The voice that came
from her throat now was youngish, full of interest, calm, as though
reciting a lesson, cascading with soft syllables. As she spoke, her
head moved from side to side, eyes closed. The whip-smile was now a
coy kitten playing around the corners of her mouth.
“I have been on a simple quest. You see. No harm to anybody. Not
“Being and nonbeing cannot be one and the same.”
Even to myself. Only, I wanted to end all the painful choosing.
Mummy and Daddy
could not help me. Nor my teachers. Nor boyfriends. All of them were
decisions. All of them tortured by their choices. Afraid. Yes. You
see? They were
afraid. Had fears. Like dogs yapping at their heels. Is this right?
Is this happy? Is this possible? Is this impossible? Miles and miles
of yapping mongrel questions. I knew if I found my real self, there
would be no more need to respond to choices and therefore no more
fear of error. No more guilt.”
Peter understood there was no hope of arresting this flow of her
speech. She was eluding him now by a stratagem of logical talk into
which he could not enter without closing steel jaws around his mind.
It would be all over. Fatally. The only way of “teasing” her out of
this tricky stage of the Pretense was by an equally sustained flow
of talk in direct contradiction to the sense of what she was saying.
For long minutes and at various stages, Peter and Marianne responded
as if chanting antiphonal psalms, one taking up where the other left
off. But there was no sequence or logical connection between what
each was saying. The only point on which he endeavored to match her
was the manner of speaking. When she whispered, he whispered. When
she shouted, he shouted. When she murmured, he murmured. When she
interrupted, he interrupted her. When she was silent, he fell
silent. If one could have visualized their struggle at this phase,
it would have been like a surrealistic slow-motion Olympic wrestling
match in which the contestants strove with each other’s shadow,
while all colors and actions faded into blurry grayness, and scores
were kept by a referee never seen or heard but felt as a sure and
“Possible and impossible,” Marianne cooed, “make all human
happenings impossible, posing suppurating distinctions and pat
partisanships and perfunctory periods . . .”
“If a man has any love for me,” Peter read, “he will be true to my
word.” He was battering against the confusion, the numbing use of
words that lulled the mind toward nothingness. “And then he shall
love my Father; and we will both come to him and make our abode with
him . . .”
“. . . in between us and our other halves,” Marianne interrupted.
“Saying to the Yin in me: Thou shalt not have thine Yang. Saying to
the Yang in you: Thou shalt not have a Yin ...”
Peter cut Marianne off again. “The branch that does not live on in
the vine can yield no fruit of itself.” The very simplicity of the
words gave Peter new blood. His voice was calm. “No more than you .
“. . . making a male the creature of his dangling ganglions,”
screamed Marianne violently, “and a female the bed of her clit and
her clots and her ...”
“. . . if you do not live on in me,” Peter said at the top of his
voice. “I am the vine; you, its branches; if a man lives on in me,
and I, in him, then he . . .”
“. . . tomby womb.” Marianne was now snarling the words in a hoarse
yell. “He out. She in. And never the twain shall meet except in
sweat and groans. Ugh! For out’s out . . .” Now Marianne blew out a
great gust of air at the candles on the night table at the foot of
the bed. The young priest shielded them with the cupped palms of his
Peter would not disengage. He went on, still knifing at the
confusion, the verbal expression of the stink in the room, using the
words that kept him free. “. . . will yield abundant fruit;
separated from me, you have no power to . . .”
“. . . and in’s in,” she broke across him. “This cut-and-dried
business started long ago with all that crap of master and slave,
creature and creator, god and man. The whole cotton-pickin’, mother-fuckin’
. . .”
“. . . anything,” Peter continued imperturbably with his text. “If a
man does not live on in me, he can only . . .”
“. . . winners-and-losers game.” She paused slightly for a moment,
as if listening. “The fella in that white robe with that
camp-following whore and her vaseline. And then for us . . .”
She broke off. Her eyes opened and she sat up in bed. The
ex-policeman and the bank manager, fearing violence, reached for her
arms. But there was none. Father James thought of the old lithograph
of Jesus and Mary Magdalen that hung in the rectory.
“Yeah, my young eunuch. That’s him and her,” said Marianne, laughing
and looking at James crookedly and conspiratorially.
But Peter’s voice recalled the stunned James to reality.
“. . . be like the branch that is cast off and withers away. Such a
branch is ...”
“Mother Mary Maidenhead Virgilius announced that the impossible
can’t be possible.” Marianne was lying back once more on the bed.
“You’re telling us, we all chorused at her . . .”
Peter caught the sardonic tone. His voice went hard as he cut her
“. . . useless and cast into the fire, to burn there. I pray for
those who are to find faith in me through their word; that they may
be all one; that they too may be one in us, as thou, Father, art in
me, and I ...”
“. . . withered boobs and remembering her fallen womb and her pasty
complexion at curse time every month.” Marianne’s voice was once
again rising to a falsetto. “If only you had known, Mother dear! The
impossible isn’t . . .”
Marianne was chuckling. Peter kept the hard note in his tone, as he
took up where she had cut him off: “. . . in thee; so that the world
may believe that it is thou who has sent me.”
Still talking, Marianne now turned over on her side, relaxed. While
she spoke, the doctor took her pulse as he was supposed to do every
quarter of an hour, when her movements didn’t make this too
difficult. “. . . possible unless the impossible is actual.
Otherwise the impossible would be impossible. Must be really
impossible, though. Really.” Her tone was confidential. “For the
possible to be possible, I mean. Must have both. Must have ...”
Peter’s voice sank low and vibrant: “This is my commandment that you
should love one another, as I have loved you. This is the greatest
They all jerked to attention: Marianne’s body had become rigid as a
plank of wood. She was still talking: “. . . both.” Now her words
ran ahead of him. He looked up, listening and watching for any
telltale sign that the Breakpoint was upon them. She continued
“The real is real because of the unreal. The clean, clean because of
the unclean. The full, full because of the empty. The perfume,
perfume because of the smelly. The holy, holy because of the
unholy.” Then in an intense rush of words interspersed with grunts
intent on hammering home contradictions, in an unholy pursuit of all
that could confuse and confound human thought and open blankness in
the mind: “Sweet sweet huh bitter. What is is huh what isn’t. Life
life huh death.” Each grunt preceded an opposite and sounded as
though Marianne were being punched in the stomach each time.
“Pleasure pleasure huh pain. Hot hot huh cold.” Then in a chain of
words pasted together in a scream:
. . .” The piping voice died away on that long, coagulated mishmash
as if choking on its breath. The effort had been so violent that
Marianne seemed to be almost plucked off the bed, every part of her
prone body straining upward.
Peter resumed his reading evenly. “I have no longer much time for
conversation with you. One is coming, who has power over the world,
but no hold over me. Now is the time when the Prince of this world
is to be cast out . . .” He paused in the middle of the sentence and
looked at Marianne.
She was still lying rigid, her legs apart, hands on her crotch. A
low whispered growl started in her throat and parted her lips.
Peter started to whisper: “Yes, if only I am lifted up from the
earth, I will attract all
men to myself.” He stopped, no longer hearing that
Marianne’s body relaxed. She rolled over jerkily on her other side.
In a girlish voice, a seemingly instantaneous departure in a new
direction: “Binaries, we need them, y’know? Yessir. Cybernetics has
‘em. Before and after. Plus and minus. Odd and even. Negative and
positive. Always to be with us. But just as far as that: with us.
Not splitting us.”
Peter would not be pulled aside or try to follow any sense of
Marianne’s words. That
same trap, that constant, easy invitation to defeat. He took up
again: “He who rules
this world has had sentence passed on him already. The spirit will
bring honor to me
because it is
from me . . .”
“He who is not with me,” she took up, interrupting in a dreadfully
mocking falsetto, “is against me, sez the Lord. No man can serve two
masters, sez the Lord.” Lowering her tone: “Ever see two pricks in
the ass and cunt of one broad and she pumping back and forth
servicing two masters?” Her father turned his face away and leaned
on the policeman’s shoulder.
Again the falsetto: “Whom do men say I am? sez he. Black and white,
sez he.” Now the falsetto rose to a howl that pierced the ears of
Peter and the others, making them wince and grimace: “You’re in, sez
he. You’re out, sez he. The Lord God of Ghosts. Sheep ‘n’ goats, sez
he. Doves and devils, sez he. Golden clouds and bloody brimstone.
Driving a nail in the heart. Opening up a gaping wound in my
oneness.” Then, raising her pelvis up and down rhythmically and
shouting at the top of her voice: “Jeebum! Jeebum! Jeebum! Jeebum!”
“. . . the Father belongs to me,” said Peter calmly, finishing his
Marianne stopped as Peter said those words. Now he was standing by
the window but facing into the room and watching Marianne on the
bed. She whimpered piteously:
“All I want is no more questions. No more challenges. No more
choices. No more yesses and noes. Not even maybes. No thou-shalt-nots.
In the Kingdom . . .” Then in a suddenly deep gurgle like a man who
needs no air but speaks through gallons of water “. . . in the
Kingdom in the Kingdom in the Kingdom . . .”
Every instinct in Peter drummed at him to put pressure on her. He
felt that the Pretense was almost over, that Marianne’s revolt
against possession would break out now, and that the evil occupying
her would be forced to fight openly to retain its hold.
Peter moved quietly to Marianne’s side, still looking for the
telltale signs on her face. If the Breakpoint were near, then all
expression should be absent; and there should be queer and
unnaturally crooked lines. Sure enough, the face was a frozen mask
grained with stark lines. Silence.
“Father, is she going to come out of it?” It was Marianne’s father.
Peter ignored the question. Put the pressure on, his instinct told
him. Now! Fast!
“Jesus, Marianne. The name is . . .”
“Jeebum! Jesusass! Jeebum! Jesusass! Jeebum!” She was howling again.
Peter wanted desperately to cover his ears against the slivers of
pain that pierced his brain.
“Watch it!” he shouted to his assistants as he saw her two
forefingers shoot into her nostrils and begin tearing at them. He
jumped to her side again. “Pin her down!”
Every pair of hands clamped down on her. They held on. Each one had
memory of some wild animal: a tiger in a zoo cage, a hyena lowering
hyena, a sow fighting the hands at a slaughterhouse. The sides of
Marianne’s mouth were pulled back-it seemed the grimace stretched to
her ears-baring teeth, gums, tongue. A grayish foam bubbled and
seeped over her lower lip and down her chin. Her eyes were open but
rolled up so far that they saw only white, red-streaked patches
glistening wet. Two men pinned her arms to the bed; one leaned on
her belly; another held her legs still.
It seemed no human being could survive what Marianne was going
through. The doctor closed his eyes as his own perspiration stung
“Hold on, for the love of God,” Peter said.
The muffled “zheeeeeeeeeee” buzzing between her teeth died away to
nothing. Her eyelids closed. “Stay put,” muttered the ex-policeman,
“she’s still all tight.” The doctor lifted one of Marianne’s
eyelids, then let it fall shut again.
Peter had won. The Pretense had failed. But it was many hours after
the start, and only the end of round one. He recited the second part
of the Exorcism ritual, while his assistants stood back watching.
As always before, the Breakpoint came at the precise moment Peter
least expected it. It started with a sound difficult to describe. A
horse whimpering. A dog whinnying. A man meowing. It was the very
sound of pain. Of nature violated by unnature. Of deep agony. Of
protest. Of helplessness. “Supposing a cadaver, after the death
rattle and after the grimacing of the last breath was over, started
to cry for help, what do you imagine it would sound like?” Peter
asked later in an effort to describe this indescribable sound. “Or
supposing when you were closing his dead eyelids with your thumb and
forefinger” (he made the motion with spatular fingers) “and
supposing you missed one eye, and it looked up at you still glassy
and dead-you know how they look-and it filled with genuine tears.
That’s the feeling. Something reaching out from the middle of all
the worms and putrid flesh and stink and body water and silent
immobility of death, saying: ‘I’m alive! Pull me out! For the love
of Jesus, save me!’ That was Marianne when the Breakpoint began. The
tug of war for her soul that nearly broke me in two.”
Now, Peter felt, he could appeal directly to Marianne and aid her.
He started to read the first part of another “teaser text” slowly.
“Marianne. You were baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Spirit. You belong to Jesus. It was the sacrifice of his
life that made it possible for you to belong to God. Whatever of
beauty, of love, of kindness, of gentleness there was in you-all
came from Jesus. He knows you, knows every fiber of your being, is
more than a friend, nearer than your mother, more loving than any
lover, more faithful to you than you yourself can be. Speak! Speak!
Speak out! And tell me you are listening. Speak and tell me you want
to be saved in the name of Jesus who saved you and in the name of
God who created you. Speak!”
Looking over the top of the book, he could see her hands relaxing
and being placed at her sides by his assistants. The ear-to-ear
grimace faded. Her eyes were open but still turned up so far that
you felt she was looking into her own eye sockets. The whites of her
eyes glistened. There was complete silence. The doctor took her
pulse. “She’s as cold as ice.” “Okay, okay,” Peter answered the
doctor, with a motion of his head, never taking his gaze off
Marianne’s whole body was limp now. It looked heavy, sodden with
fatigue, A faint bluish coloration gave an eerie appearance to her
hands, arms, feet, neck, and face. All was still. He heard
breathing: his own, his assistants’. Marianne’s he could not hear.
The doctor reported a faint pulse. “She’s very low, Peter,” he said.
Peter held up his hand restraining further comment. The moments
ticked by. Her father cleared his throat and brushed his eyes: “It’s
over, Father?” Peter silenced him with a quick, almost rude shake of
his head. He watched, waiting for the slightest change. “If it’s
going to happen, it’s now,” he said half to himself, half-aloud;
But with the intolerable strain of silence, he felt the muscles in
his calves, back, and arms relaxing. His grip loosened on his book.
His head began to straighten up. The younger priest unfolded his
arms. A radio blared in a downstairs apartment. Gradually the
silence took over as a welcome blanket wrapping itself around their
ears and swaddling the entire room. It gave an uneasy feeling to
find oneself getting lost in that silence after the shouting, the discordancy, and the lethal sound of the gurgling voice Marianne had
The pain began to ease in Peter’s mind. Still gazing at Marianne’s
face, he thought of Conor in Rome, of Zio-now Paul VI-in New York.
And he thought of sleep. He glanced at his watch. It was 9:25 P.M.
Mass at Yankee Stadium should almost be finished. This ordeal in the
room should also be finished soon. Soon, hopefully, they could all
go home and sleep . . . sleep . . . sleep.
Sleep? Through the settling haze of his fatigue, the thought
triggered Peter’s memory. Hadn’t Conor warned him that sleep,
sleepiness, the desire to rest, sometimes came as a last trap,
usually preceding a last onslaught of the Presence?
But he was a few moments too late. As Conor’s phrase lit up like a
red signal in his memory: “Moind the sleeperrr, lad. Moind the
sleeperrr! Tis all up wid yah, if yeh fergit the sleeperrr!”, it was
already upon him.
It was sudden. And yet the Presence seemed as if it had been
clutching at him for ages beforehand, already had a hold on the
vitals of his being. His body shuddered as he whispered, “Jesus!
The others heard only a groan from him and thought that he had tried
to say something without having cleared his throat.
“Okay, Father?” asked the doctor.
Peter gestured wearily with his hand. This fight was all his. The
others would be unknowing witnesses.
The Presence was everywhere and nowhere. Peter fought off the
instinct to step back or to look around or, most of all, to run far
and fast. “Freeze yer moind,” had been Conor’s advice. “Freeze it in
luv. Shtick there, lad.” But, Holy Jesus! how? The Presence was all
over him, inside him, outside him. A total trap of cloying ropes he
couldn’t see. He heard no word, saw no vision, smelled no odor. But
his skin was no longer the protective shell of his mortality. His
skin didn’t work! It was now a porous interface that let the
invisible filth of the Presence ooze in. Worst of all was the
silence of it. It was soundless. Suddenly he had been attacked and
caught; and he knew his adversary was superior and ruthless, that it
had invaded deep into the self he always hid from others and hoped
only God did know and would never show him until he was strong
enough to bear the sight.
He could not discern where the struggle lay. His confusion of mind
was like molasses oozing over spiders, paralyzing every effort at
control and every natural movement. Sometimes it seemed his will was
made of rubber twisted this way and that and cruelly snapping back
at his mind like a wet towel smacking the face. Sometimes his mind
was a sieve through which stinging particles tumbled, each one
tabbed with a jeering name: Despair! Dirt! Smell! Puny! Mush!
Misery! Mockery! Hate! Beast!
Shame! . . . There was no end to them. At other times, he realized,
his mind and will
were only exits, sewage pipes; and his imagination was the recipient
of what they
vomited. Out through them were pouring the shapes of the real
struggle that lay in another dimension of himself. Deep down? High
up? Conscious? Unconscious? Subconscious? He did not know. But
certainly somewhere in the depths of the self he was. All the hidden
valleys of that self were red with his agony. Every high peak was a
sharp slope of tumbling confusion. Each plain and corner was crammed
with pressure and weight and sorrow. His imagination was now a
cesspool swelling with gobs of repulsive images and twisted fears.
“I’m alone,” he thought, covering his face with his hands for an
“Yes! Alone! Alone! Alone! Alone!” came the answer in silent
It seemed to be himself answering himself with a blasphemy as primal
as the scream of the first man who murdered another man, and as
actual as the grunt of the latest mugger on that same October night
driving his knife deep into the back of his victim on Lenox Avenue.
“Oh, God! Oh, Jesus!” Peter exclaimed within himself. “Oh, God! Oh,
Jesus! I’m finished . . .”
Then, as suddenly as it had come, and for no reason he could
discern, the Presence receded from him; but it did not leave
altogether. Peter felt as if extended claws pricked themselves loose
out of his flesh and mind and folded back unwillingly.
Without Peter’s knowing, a small gale of consternation-a pale copy
of his own agony-buffeted his assistants all this time as they kept
troubled watch over Marianne.
Little patches of relief spotted Peter’s consciousness. His eyes
focused again. Over rims of tears, he could now see her. She was a
body of trembling. It seemed that everything beneath her skin and
hair and clothes was moving in unnatural agitation, arhythmically,
but that her exterior remained somehow still. Her mouth opened a
fraction. The lips moved wordlessly.
And then, for the third time in his life, Peter heard the Voice.
It came from nowhere. It merely sounded; it was audible to Peter and
all present, but it did not come from any discernible direction. It
was everywhere in the room, but nowhere in particular. It was level
in tone, slow in speed, without any trace of breathing or any pause.
Not high-pitched. Not deep. Not throaty. Not tinny or nasal. Not
male. Not female. Accentless. Controlled. Peter had once seen a film
about a talking robot; when the robot uttered a word, each syllable,
as it was pronounced, was followed by eddies of gurgling echoes of
itself. The echoes muddied the next syllable; and so it went on for
the syllables of each word in a sentence.
The Voice was something like that, but in reverse: the eddying
echoes of each syllable preceded the syllable itself. To the
listener, it was excruciating to understand but impossible to blot
out. It was distracting and dizzying. The effect was like a million
voices stabbing the eardrum with nonsensical confusion and clamor,
preechoing each syllable. You tried to pick out one voice, almost
succeeded, then another piled on top of that; you tried to pick out
another, but the first one came back at you. And so on, seeming
scores of persistent voices exasperating you, confusing you,
defeating you. Then the Voice pronounced the syllable; and your
confusion was complete with frustration, for the syllable and the
word were drowned in the general babel.
Like most people, Peter had acquired the knack of “reading” voices.
We all develop such an instinct and have our own classification of
voices as pleasant or unpleasant, strained or peaceful, male or
female, young or old, strong or weak, and so on. The Voice fitted
into no category Peter could think of. “Unhuman I suppose you’d call
it,” he said later. “But it was the same as in Hoboken and Jersey
City. With the added touch, of course.”
The “added touch” was his way of indicating the peculiar timbre of
the Voice at each exorcism. In Hoboken as in Jersey City the timbre
conveyed some violent and shocking emotion that aroused fear. But
the timbre in the Voice that October night was different. “For all
the world,” said Peter, “as if the Great Panjandrum himself was
speaking, and all the little panjandrums pronounced each syllable
before he did. His precursors, if you wish.”
The timbre, the “added touch,” conveyed a single message: utter and
undiluted superiority. It didn’t hit the emotions, but the mind,
freezing it with a realization that there was no possibility and
could never be any possibility of besting it; that its owner knew
this, and that he knew you also knew; and that this superiority was
neither sweetened by compassion nor softened by an ounce of love nor
eased by a grain of condescension nor restrained by one whit of
benignity toward one of lesser stature. “If sound can be evil, with
no human good in it all,” said Peter, “that was it.” It brought him
up to the thin edge of nothingness and face to face with the anus
mundi, the ultimate in excretion of self-aggrandizing sin.
Then the bedlam and confusion of the Voice died away as if into some
The four assistants lifted their heads, as Marianne’s own voice was
heard speaking with heavy deliberateness, almost quietly, in
comparison with the preceding uproar.
“Nobody mortal has power in the Kingdom. Anybody can belong to it.”
A short pause. “Many do.” Each word had come out polished, precise,
weighty, and clear as a newly minted gold dollar tossed onto a bar
Time for the final assertion, thought Peter. His final shot. The
trump card of every exorcism: the power of Jesus and his authority.
“By the authority of the Church and in the name of Jesus, I command
you to tell me what I shall call you.”
Peter kept his voice level as he issued the challenge. All his hopes
rested on the acceptance of that challenge. Rejected, the challenge
could only result in further distortions of Marianne. At this stage,
Peter knew she could not take much more. But there could be no
turning back now. And to break off was total defeat. He could feel
the nervousness in his assistants: all and everything in the room
reflected the tension of the moment. Peter knew, and each one
present knew, he had issued a final challenge.
“You command!” Now Marianne sounded amused, as though Peter had told
He kept reminding himself that this was not Marianne, but the spirit
using her voice. Still his heart sank a little. “I am us,” he heard
her say. “We are me. Isn’t is? Aren’t are? What we are called is
beyond human mind.”
We! Peter was riveted by that key word. Only those of the Kingdom
used it. Peter knew instantly that he was almost there and he had no
intention of allowing the Presence to identify again with Marianne,
so he broke in brusquely.
“There is no immunity for you and your kind in the universe of
The calculated and cold ruthlessness, a new note in Peter’s
interruption, brought the ex-policeman up sharp. Years of experience
had given him a sixth sense for lethal threat and attack, for hatred
and open disgust. He had heard many a cop speaking to arrested
murderers in that tone, and many a killer behind bars telling of his
hatred in as controlled a way as Peter was using now. He looked at
Peter’s face. It had changed. Something subtly merciless had lodged
Peter continued: “You, all of you, are . . .”
‘Tow, you, you have no particular immunity, my friend.” Marianne’s
emphasis was exact as she broke in. Nicely calculated. Just heavy
enough to make one uneasy. Too light to betray any ripple of
annoyance or fear.
A vague uneasiness ran through Peter’s assistants; they moved
spontaneously nearer him. The Presence was getting to them. For all
his instructions to them before the exorcism began, he knew there
was no way to prepare them for the shock, the fear, the onslaught.
Marianne’s body was utterly still, her face pasty white, her lips
barely open. After a pause, her voice continued with the merest edge
of sharpness: “You may have polished your knee balls in a Confession
Box”-this with a sneering inflection-“but you were not sorry,
friend. Not always, anyway. So where is your repentance? And need I
tell you, priest, without repentance, you have sins still? And you!
You command the Kingdom?”
In his memory Peter heard Conor’s caution: “What happened in pahst
histhoree, happened. The recorrd shtands. Ferivir. Loike a shtone ‘n
a feeld, opin ‘n’ maneefist. Fer awl teh see, me bhoy. Incloodin’
the Grate Panjandhr’m hissilf. No, don’t deny it.
Wallow in humilitee.”
“How shall we call you?” Peter persisted.
“We?” Sarcastically, but calmly. x
“In the name of ...” l
“Shut your miserable mouth . . .”-it was suddenly an animal growling
“Close it! Shut it! Lock it! Fuck it!”
“. . . Jesus. Tell us: how shall we call you?”
Then a low, long cry came from Marianne’s lips. All in the room held
their breath as the Voice gurgled and they made out the words with
difficulty: “I will take my toll. I will take our pound of flesh.
All 142 pounds of him! I will take him with me, with us, with me!”
Complete silence. Then Marianne’s voice: “Smiler. I just smile.”
Peter glanced at her face. The name was obvious, now he knew it. The
twisted smile was back on her mouth. Now, he realized, he had to
deal with the most ancient of man’s tempters and enemies: the hater
who deceived you with a smile and a joke and a promise.
The cleverness of it. How could you suspect or attack someone called
Smiler? And if they just smile at anything you do, what can you do?
The whole thing-God, heaven, earth, Jesus, holiness, good,
evil-becomes a mere farce. And by the evil alchemy of that farce,
everything becomes an ugly joke, a cosmic joke on little men who in
their turns are only puny little jokes. And, and, and . . . the
utter banality of all existence, the wish for nothing.
He wrenched his mind away from this dead blanket of depression and
concentrated again. This was the meeting point with Marianne.
“You, Smiler, you will leave, you shall leave this creature of God
“This annoying affair has gone on long enough.” The words had a
smirking quality overlaid with pomposity. “Marianne has made her
choice.” Peter’s inner reaction was:
We are almost there. Marianne’s voice continued: “You understand
better than these oafs do. After all . . .”
“. . . because love is all there is needed . . .” Peter continued.
“. . . her life is short, as is yours. She takes what she can, as
you . . .”
“Because love is all there is needed.” Peter repeated himself. But
the monologue by Smiler went on uninterruptedly.
“. . . take it with your arrogance.”
“And you, Smiler, you rejected love.” There was a sudden break in
the exchange. For a split second Peter waited. “We came from love,”
he started again. But that was as far as he got.
“LOVE!!!” The word was fired out at him like a pistol shot. The
assistants bent toward Marianne, expecting violence in the wake of
that shriek. Peter straightened up, not in suspense, not as though
expecting more. Conor had said never trade shouts but let outbursts
run their course.
But there was no more shouting. It was the violence of the loathing
in Marianne’s voice that was physically painful to Peter, as it
continued on studiously and quietly:
“Yes ...” A trailing pause, as if ruminating. Then: “Ah! Sixty-nine.
Right? A handy image!”
Peter winced at the tone and the mental picture. His memory was
wilting his effort, and he prayed.
But Marianne went on with unruffled mercilessness as if reciting
from a technical report. “And first the tongue, its apex like a
single wet pink eye with a white iris, goes exploring: sliding its
dorsum over each groin, every epithelial cell registering the
ripples of the museums gracilis, following the tautened adductor
longus, summoning saliva to glisten its course toward the darkling
mountain, the mons veneris. Her saphena majora rustles and tickles
with rushing blood.”
A retort rushed to Peter’s mouth. He held it back.
Marianne continued. “Then, at the os pubis it lingers, all its
papillae hungry, tensile, wet. Filiform cries to fungiform,
fungiform to circumvallatae, circumvallatae to foliatae; ‘On!
The doctor whistled through his teeth and glanced at Peter. But
Peter was dangerously abstracted from the scene. He could hear Mac’s
sigh, that long-distant day in the sunshine, miles and decades apart
from this evil encounter; he could see her lying on the slope of the
sand dunes, felt one hand lying lightly on his belly. And then he
had the wisping image of her lying in her coffin just before it was
Inexorably the recital went on. “Amid his moans and her heaving, the
tickling in his sacrum (ah! Resurrection Bone! Those rabbis had a
word for it!), through his thighs; the corpus cavernosum fills up
with thick red-black blood. The tongue stabbing within, and she
closing around it, holding it.
Smiler was now using Marianne’s voice in a soft, matter-of-fact
tone. There was a short pause of seconds. Then, with a burst of
“He is fucking her. And like the hyena with a dead deer”-the voice
rose to a scream-“he starts with her anus, and she like a mother
snake is swallowing her son. LOVE?????” A piercing, shattering
scream. The voice fell to a sneer: “Cunni-cunni-cunni-cunni-cunni!
Peter the Eater.” Then casually, as one asks the time of day: “Tell
us, Peter. Are you sorry? Do you miss it?”
Marianne’s father had his face buried in his hands; his shoulders
heaved with sobbing. The ex-policeman and the banker stared
red-faced at Peter. His young colleague leaned on the night table,
his face ashen. The tirade, like a great, sprawling canvas, had
thrown a mass of screaming colors and nonsensical patterns of
thought and feelings over them all.
The doctor reacted more quickly than the others: “Peter, can we
pause?” He was apprehensive, seeing the bloodless color of Peter’s
face and a distracted look in his eyes. Peter gave no answer.
Smiler, the cosmic joker, smears and tears at everything, Peter was
himself, as he ruminated and groped toward his next step. Smiler,
memories to dirt and chokes you with them. But then he’s not subtle.
And he’s not clever. Peter thought: This is either a trap for us, or
we have Smiler trapped. Which?
He found himself reacting by instinct: “Silence! Smiler! Silence in
the name of Jesus! I command you to desist, to leave her. Tell me
that you will obey, that you will leave her. Speak!”
The other men in the room glanced at Peter, surprised at the force
in his voice. The verbal assault had left them raw, ashamed of
something vague, with a feeling that they had been filthied. They
had expected Peter to wilt, to have been crushed. They had been
willing to lose hope.
But now they took something from him. They sensed what he knew, saw
it on his face, and almost heard him telling them: “I may be engaged
in this to my own humiliation. But Smiler is equally engaged in it
and there is no escape for him. Just hold on.”
Smiler spoke, but as if Peter had never spoken. “Well! Here we have
a thing never seen in the Kingdom”-the voice calm again-“a little
drop of sea water pulls a little membrane around it and rots for a
million years on an ancient, forgotten shore, and sprouts little
hair-trigger nerves and puny little earthen mechanisms, and stands
up on two spindly limbs one day, and says, ‘I am a man,’ and lifts
its snout to skies above and says again, ‘I am so beautiful’ . . .”
“You ugly sod! You smelly little animal . . .”
“And let the soul of Marianne be beautiful once more with the grace
of . . .”
“Beautiful?” For the first time, the voice was raised almost an
octave higher. “Beautiful?” Now it was a shrill, high-pitched, and
painful scream of questioning scorn. “You helpless, yelping, puking,
licking, slavering, sweating, excreting little cur. You whipped
mongrel. You constipated shit canister. You excuse for a being. You
lump of urine and excrement and snot and mud born in a bed on bloody
sheets, sticking your head out between a woman’s smelly legs and
bawling when they slapped your arse and laughed at your little red
balls”-the scream of high-decibel invective ceased suddenly,
followed by three syllables pronounced calmly and with loathing
“And so are you, too. You creature.” Peter surprised himself at his
own self-possession: his adversary had made a mistake, and Peter
knew it. Peter also surprised himself with the contempt he found
himself putting in to his riposte.
He continued: “Once nothing. Then beautiful. The most beautiful of
all God made.” The bitter taunt in Peter’s voice turned every head
but Marianne’s in his direction. He went on lashing and provoking.
“Then ugly with pride. Then conquered. Then thrown from the heights
like a dying torch.”
A low roar issued from Marianne’s mouth.
Peter went on unabashed; he had his adversary exactly where he
wanted him: “And expelled, and disgraced, and condemned, and
deprived forever, and defeated forever.”
Marianne’s body quivered.
“Hold her down!” he muttered to his assistants. Just in time. She
was shaking violently. The roar was now the bellow of a pig with a
knife gouging out its jugular in gobs of blood.
Peter piled it on: “You, too, creature of God, but not saved by
Again the long, howling wail.
As its sound died away, Peter’s whole body was electrified with
At that instant the Presence launched its hate again. Like a
physical thing, it attacked
him. It sent stinging talons into his mind and will, stabbing deep
at the root of his
determination, at some inner sensitive, delicate part of him where
all his pain and all his pleasure lived.
This was the Clash that Conor had analyzed so well for Peter. This
was the climax of his one-to-one struggle. Peter made the sign of
the cross. He knew: now one of them had to yield; one would be
victor. He had to hold. He had to refuse to despair. Refuse
disbelief. Refuse damnation. Refuse fear. Refuse. Refuse. Refuse.
Hold on. These came like automatic commands to him from his inmost
His first desperate thrust was to switch his mind toward any
lifeline-any beauty or truth he had known and experienced: the cry
of seagulls off Dooahcarrig in Kerry; the rhythmic pattern of nimble
feet at winter dances; Mae’s smile; the security of his father’s
house; the calm summer evenings he had spent off the coast of Aran
Island looking at the Connemara mountains behind Galway City, purple
masses welling up in a shining gold vault of sky in haze.
But as quick as any image arose, it dried like a drop of water in a
flame. All his internal images of loyalty, authority, hope,
legitimacy, concern, gentleness shriveled and faded. His imagination
was burning with an overheated despair and his mind could not help
him. Only his will locked both mind and imagination into an
immobility that pained and agonized him.
But then the Presence turned silently on his will in a slash of
naked adversity. For the others present, there was little to go on:
no sound except Peter’s heavy breathing and the shuffling of their
legs as they endeavored to keep their balance and hold Marianne
down; no sensation beyond the straining of Marianne’s body against
their hands. The attack on Peter was a fury beating like sharp
hailstones on a tin roof, filling all his awareness with a ceaseless
din of fears that paralyzed his will and mind. If only he could
breathe more easily, he thought. Or if only he could pierce that
Dimly he saw the candles sputtering on the night table and glinting
on the crucified figure on the cross.
“Rimimb’r, lad, his proide. That’s his weak heel. His proide! Git
him on his proide!”
With Conor’s voice in his memory, Peter blurted: “You have been
vanquished, vanquished, Smiler, by one who did not fear to be lowly,
to be killed. Depart! Smiler! Depart! You have been vanquished by a
bloodied will. You cheat. Jesus is your master ...”
The others present heard him croaking the words as they held
Marianne down on the bed. A babel set in: everyone was affected. The
chest of drawers rocked noisily back and forth, its handles clanked
discordantly. The door to the room swung and banged, swung and
banged, swung and banged. Marianne’s body shirt split down the
middle, exposing her breasts and middle. Her jeans tore at the
seams. Her voice rose louder and louder in a series of slow,
staccato screams. Great welts appeared across her torso, groin,
legs, and face, as if an invisible horsewhip was thrashing her
unmercifully. She struggled and kicked and heaved and spat. Now she
was incontinent, urinating and excreting all over the bed, filling
their nostrils with acrid odor.
Peter kept murmuring: “He vanquished you. He vanquished you. He
vanquished you ...” But the pain in his will struggling against that
will began to numb him; and his throat was dry. His eyes blurred
over. His eardrums were splitting. He felt dirty beyond any human
cleansing. He was slipping, slipping, slipping.
“Jesus! Mary! . . . Conor,” he whispered as his knees buckled, “it’s
all lost. I can’t hold. Jesus! . . .”
Seven thousand miles away across ocean and continent, in Rome, the
to the nurse as he stepped out of Father Conor’s room. He told the
there was no point in calling the ambulance. The damage was too
massive this time. It would be a matter of mere hours.
It was Conor’s third stroke. He had been fine all that evening. Then
in the small hours of the morning, he had called his superior on the
house phone from his room:
“Fatherr, I’m goin’ teh cause yeh throubel agin.” When they reached
Conor, they found him slumped over his desk, his right hand
clutching a crucifix.
“Father, it’s all right. It’s me. It’s all over.”
Peter’s younger colleague helped Peter to his feet. Peter had fallen
on his knees and bent over until his forehead touched the floor. By
the bed, Peter saw the doctor was listening to Marianne’s heartbeat
with a stethoscope. Her father was stroking her hand and talking to
her through his tears: “It’s all right, my baby. It’s all right.
You’re through. You’re safe, baby. It’s all right.”
The bank manager had gone outside to talk with Marianne’s mother and
brother. Marianne was quiet now, breathing regularly. The bed was a
shambles. The ex-policeman opened the window, and the sounds of
traffic entered the room. It was around 10:15 P.M.
“I must phone Conor early,” Peter said to his colleague. Then, “I
wonder what else happened today?” He looked over at Marianne again.
“Zio’s visit can’t be all.”
Father James looked at him dumbly, not catching the train of his
thought. He would never understand exorcists, he felt.
Then Peter continued: “Is it because love is one throughout the
world, and hate is one throughout the world?” Peter addressed the
seeming vague question to no one in particular.
The younger priest turned away from the pain he saw on Peter’s face;
it was more than he could take just now. “I will get you some
coffee,” he said brusquely, feeling the hot tears at the back of his
But Peter was looking out the window at the night sky. His mind was
far away, his senses almost asleep with fatigue.
Down below Marianne’s window, the crowds were returning from Yankee
Stadium. Zio at that moment was standing in a darkened gallery of
the Vatican Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair, gazing at
Michelangelo’s Pietd: the dead Jesus in the arms of his mother.
Television cameras carried his voice to millions that night: “We
bless all of you, invoking upon you an abundance of heavenly
blessings and graces.”
Father Bones and Mister Natch
The marriage was to take place at 8:00 A.M. on the Massepiq
seashore, just around Dutchman’s Point, New England. It was already
a bright and sunny March day at 7:30 A.M. as the first guests
arrived. A landward breeze, like the breath of the sun from the
East, blew clusters of white clouds across the blue morning sky and
juggled the sea with ripples. The tide, almost fully in and about to
ebb, was like a formless giant exhaling and inhaling. It sent wave
after wave in an unbroken flow to the long shoreline. Each one broke
there with a sharp tap on the sand, spread out a running tapestry of
whitened water with a rustling whisper, and then was sucked rasping
back over sand and pebbles.
This music of the waters and the thin piping of the wind was a quiet
but powerful rhythm that ebbed and flowed, uninterrupted by any
other sound. As the guests came, they fell under its spell. It was
the voice of a very ancient world that had always existed, always
moved, and now seemed to be putting them, the intruders, on notice:
“This is my world you have entered. But since this is the morning of
man and woman, my children, I will pause a while. This is a new
It was, in fact, exactly the sort of morning that Father Jonathan
had hoped for. Everything was natural. The only perfume was the air,
crisp with a little chill, fresh with salt, exhilarating with light.
The only sanctuary was the sharply shelving beach, with the sand
dunes behind it, the sea in front of it, its roof the wide dome of
the sky. The only altar was formed by the barefoot bride and
bridegroom standing where the waters spread a constantly renewed
carpet of foam and spindrift around their feet. The only music was
the sounding sea and breeze. The only mystery was this beginning
undertaken by two human beings in view of an unseen future.
Father Jonathan arrived last. Punctually at eight he began the
ceremony. Barefoot like the bride and the bridegroom, wearing a
white sleeveless shirt over his denims and a gold-colored stole
around his neck, he stood at the edge of the tide, the sea to his
right and the land to his left. In front of him stood Hilda and
Jerome, the boy and the girl to be married, both in their early
twenties. She, in a white ankle-length dress gathered at her waist
by a belt woven of long grasses, her hair parted in the middle,
falling down on her shoulders. He, wearing a white shirt over blue
shorts. Their faces were quiet and calm, swept clean of any trouble.
Hilda and Jerome had their eyes fixed on Jonathan’s as he began to
speak in a loud and exulting voice which, bell-like, carried to the
ears of the 40 or so people standing some yards away at the edge of
the sand dunes. “Here on the sand by the sea, here where all great
human things have always begun, we stand to witness another great
beginning. Hilda and Jerome are about to promise each other to each
other in the greatest of all human beginnings.”
A pleasant sense of anticipation ran through the listeners.
Athletic, bronzed, graceful, deliberate in his movements, taller
than either the boy or the girl in front of him, golden hair
touching his shoulders, Jonathan was in complete, even dramatic
command of the situation. His eyes had the peculiar blue sheen you
cannot believe to be natural until you see it. A fire of blue seemed
to burn in them, giving off a hypnotic brilliance. They lacked the
warm sentiment of brown eyes; but a burnished patina prevented you
from reading them, and this created their mystery.
Only one thing marred Jonathan’s appearance. As he gestured grandly
and raised his hand in an initial blessing, some of the guests
noticed it: his right index finger was crooked. He could not
straighten it. But it was a little thing swallowed up in the
golden-blue morning, in the blaze of Jonathan’s eyes, in the lilt of
the moving sea.
As Jonathan’s voice rang out, and nature kept up its endless rhythm
in apparent unison, only one person seemed incongruous. He stood at
the back and to one side of the guests, staring intently through
Polaroid glasses at the boy and girl. Lanky, clad in sweater and
slacks, with both hands thrust in his trousers pockets, he was the
only one wearing a hat, a black hat.
“Funny character. Wonder who he is?” Jerome’s father whispered to
his wife. But the parents forgot about him momentarily, and no one
else particularly noticed him as Father Jonathan’s sermon reached
its climax before the actual vows.
“. . . both are entering this mystery. And both are mirrors of
nature’s fullness-its womb, its fertility, its nurturing milk, its
powerful seed, its supreme ecstasy, its nestling sleep, its mystery
of oneness, and the long mysteries of the immortality it alone
confers-if we are one with nature and participants in its sacrament
of life and of death. As the perfect man, Jesus, our model, was.”
The man in the black hat stirred uneasily, leaning forward to catch
every detail, all the while his eyes on the boy and the girl.
Father Jonathan flung a smoldering gaze over the guests to his left.
sought to rob him, our supreme example, of his human value for us.”
throbbed with deep emotion. “To cap his glorious life with a weak,
What is all this dreadful chicanery of his
supposed resurrection but a cheat? If he died, he died. Completely.
Really. What sort of sacrifice and therefore what sort of love for
us was there if he died to live again? Thus to rob the sacrifice of
its very sting and its true glory and to rob him and us of all true
human nobility-is not this the cruel joke of the happy ending they
have attached to his heroic death? He, the supreme hero? Making a
Grimm’s fairy tale out of the greatest story ever told.
“You, Jerome and Hilda,” again looking at them with pride, “you will
love his mystery of human unity; and, in time, like him, you will
face death as he did, human, noble, and go back to nature, to be
cemented into its eternal oneness where Jesus went with bowed head
By now the man in the black hat had moved in front of the little
crowd of guests.
Jonathan launched into the marriage ceremony proper. “Look now,
Hilda and Jerome, all nature is going to pause for one brief instant
to witness your vows.” A sweeping gesture took in all the scene, the
crooked index finger jabbing oddly askew. “All things, the wind, the
sun, the sea, the earth, all will stop in their ways . . .”
Jonathan broke off. He seemed to be having difficulty in drawing his
breath. He gulped. His face flushed with the effort to continue.
Then he managed to take up again, dictating word for word to Hilda.
“With all my heart, I do take you . . .”
“With all my heart, I do take you,” Hilda echoed in clear, confident
“As my honored husband . . .”
“As my honored husband ...”
“Within the mystery of nature . . .”
“Within the mystery of nature . . .”
“To have and to hold . . .”
“To have and to hold . . .”
“In life and in death . . .”
“In life and in death ...”
“As God’s womb and pleasure . . .”
“As God’s womb and pleasure . . .”
“For the glory of our humanness ...”
“For the glory of our humanness . . .”
“As Jesus before us . . .”
“As Jesus before us . . .”
“World of living and dead . . .”
“World of living and dead . . .”
Hilda slipped the ring onto Jerome’s finger. The guests stirred.
Some had become unaccountably tense and could not take their eyes
off Jonathan. Afterward, some remarked that it was as if a
disfigurement had begun to show through in him.
The man in the black hat, now in front of the dunes and apart from
the crowd, still watched intently.
Jerome looked at Jonathan and waited for the words of his vow to
Hilda. Hilda’s eyes were on Jerome. All nature, indeed, had
seemingly stopped for her. For the first time she felt at one with
life, with the world, with her own body.
Jonathan was again struggling with some impediment. His body was
stiff. His chest swelled. At last he was able to fill his lungs, and
he started to dictate Jerome’s words.
“With this ring . . .”
“With this ring . . .” Jerome took up the words.
“I do take you ...”
“I do take you . . .”
“As my dearly beloved wife . . .”
“As my dearly beloved wife . . .”
“As you have given me . . .”
“As you have given me . . .”
“The wonder and the mystery . . .”
“The wonder and the mystery . . .”
Jerome waited for the next line. But Jonathan was suddenly again
almost purple with effort. His blue eyes were bulging now, showing
large, terror-ridden whites. His hands, which had been folded across
his chest solemnly, now were tensed by his sides, opening and
shutting convulsively. He opened his mouth and rasped: “Of being one
with nature . . .”
“Of being one with nature . . .” Jerome repeated.
“And-and-and . . .” Jonathan stammered.
Hilda’s head turned in alarm. Jonathan’s
voice was climbing on each syllable toward hysteria. It seemed that
every other sound had died out, as everyone hung on Jonathan’s
“And-of be-being one with Je-Jes-Jeeeesus”-Jonathan’s voice broke
into a screeching crescendo that split the air. “JESUS!” The name
was a curse cracking on every ear. His face twisted into an ugliness
that froze Hilda with horror.
In a flash Jonathan was on top of Hilda, his outstretched arms
catching her under the arms. Now, in his onrush, he was carrying her
out bodily into the water, groaning and muttering wildly to himself.
He pushed her head down, keeping her face beneath the surface and
straddling her body as she kicked and struggled.
The lightning speed of Jonathan’s actions and their crazy
incongruity had frozen everybody. For a split second they did not
grasp what was happening. Then a woman screamed with the
unmistakable, high-pitched warning of mortal danger.
Within seconds half a dozen men ran and tore Jonathan’s hands away
from Hilda, struck him across the neck, lifted him off her, and
threw him full length on the beach. He lay there thrashing and
kicking for a moment, then went still.
Jerome and Hilda’s father lifted Hilda clear of the water; she was
gasping for air and sobbing, her long dress trailing rivulets of
sand and water. They laid her down on the high ground among the sand
dunes, her head pillowed on her mother’s lap. Gradually she
recovered her breath, crying uncontrollably. Jerome knelt by her,
dazed, his mouth open, his face utterly white, incapable of any
Down on the beach, Jonathan lay flat on the sand. He stirred and
groaned, turning over on his side. Then, lifting himself up on one
elbow, he clambered slowly and fitfully to his feet and swayed
unsteadily. His back and side were caked with sand. The water still
dripped from his long hair and his clothes. His eyes were bloodshot.
His head was lowered. He blinked in the sunlight at the hard stares
of the guests ranged around him. He was at bay.
Nobody said anything at first. Then a sharp, metallic voice broke
in. “If you will
allow me, sir,” addressing Hilda’s father, “I am in charge here now,
sir.” The authority
and confidence in that voice attracted all eyes to the speaker. It
was the strange man,
his black hat off now, revealing a lean, not quite youthful face
full of lines, beneath a
full head of gray hair tousled by the wind. He removed his
sunglasses and with a limp
came closer to Jonathan, looking steadily at him. Then he said
quietly: “You and I
have an important appointment now, Father Jonathan.” He paused;
then, with a fresh
edge to his voice, “The sooner the better.” The black hat was on his
head again. He stretched out his hand to Jonathan.
No one spoke. No one objected. Perhaps all were relieved that
someone was taking over.
The man spoke again. “The sun will be high in a couple of hours. We
have work to do that will not wait. Come!”
Jonathan blinked for a moment. Then shakily he put the hand with the
crooked finger into the other man’s open palm. They turned their
backs on the sea. Hand in hand, Jonathan stumbling and swaying, the
other man limping, they walked up over the dunes and across to the
dirt road where the cars were parked, and stopped by a station
wagon. They stood there for a moment. The guests could see the man
talking to Jonathan. Jonathan, half-bent and leaning on the door
handle of the station wagon, was listening, his head bowed. He
nodded violently. Then they both got in.
As the car moved off and the sound died away, someone spoke for the
“Who was that?”
Hilda’s father, his eyes filled with tears, watched the station
wagon as it disappeared down the road. “Father David,” he muttered.
“Father David M. Everything is going to be all right now.” He shook
his head, as if freeing his mind from an uncomfortable thought. “He
was right all along.”
At the time he led Jonathan stumbling away from the aborted seashore
marriage in 1970, Father David M. (“Bones,” as his students liked to
call him) was a forty-eight-year-old priest, member of an East Coast
diocese, professor of anthropology at a major seminary, and official
exorcist for his diocese. He had already conducted four exorcisms
himself and he had been assistant at five others. The first had been
in Paris, where he had been assistant to an older priest; the others
had been in his home diocese.
When David M. started his professional life as an anthropologist in
1956, he could not have dreamed that within ten years his knowledge
of anthropology and his enthusiasm for prehistory would be the major
reasons for his role as exorcist and later for his involvement in
the bizarre case of Father Jonathan. Nor could he have dreamed even
in that March of 1970, as the exorcism began, that it would lead
him, first, to the most harrowing personal crisis of his life, and
then to abandon anthropology as a study and a profession.
When David was born in Coos, New Hampshire’s northernmost county, in
1922, the state, with a population of nearly half a million, was
still a rustic farming community, very far removed from the
sophisticated centers south in Boston and New York. Coos County in
particular was still permeated with the Yankee traditions of hard
work, thrift, sobriety; and it hearkened to the preaching of the
evils of alcohol, the wisdom of paying cash for what you bought, of
self-reliance, individual responsibility, and-as rock-bottom
foundation of right living-the infallible, all-sufficient guidance
and enlightenment of the Bible. Even today, when the central and
southern tiers of the state have suffered from the malice of change,
the land itself still carries for the mind the atmosphere of an
ancient and undisturbed kingdom. In mountain, lake, cliff, and
forest there is a repose as awesome as the naked weight of the
Himalayas and the volcanic face of the Sinai Mountains.
David M. was the only child born of affluent Yankee Roman Catholic
parents on both sides. He spent his early years on his father’s
farm, occasionally visiting the nearby town and, once in a while,
traveling down to Portsmouth with his parents for a brief vacation.
The most abiding images David has of the world in his youth are of
lakes, mountains, forests, cliffs, rock formations, valleys shaded
by trees and crags, and the great, still stretches of land that
surrounded his home. His ears still retain the harmonies riding in
the place names of his home ground-Ammonoosuc River, Saco River,
Franconia range, Merrimack Valley, and the lingering magic of Lake
Winni-pesaukee, whose 20 miles of length were clad in foliage, and
the names of whose 274 islands he once learned to repeat by heart.
The Roman Catholicism of his parents was of a conservative kind and
an intimate part of daily life. Both parents had been to college;
his father had studied in Cambridge, England. Both had traveled in
Europe. And their home was centered around the library and its large
open fireplace, where they gathered after meals and where David
spent long hours browsing through his parents’ books.
Many of David’s relatives lived in the surrounding countryside. His
playmates were normally his cousins. His earliest memories of any
intellectual awakening he traces to the influence of an uncle who,
having taught history in Boston for 37 years, finally retired to
live on the farm with his brother and sister-in-law, David’s
Old Edward, as they called him, personified for David the stability
and permanence of his home; and he deeply influenced David’s mental
development. Edward spent most of his days reading. He stirred out
of the house ritually twice a day; once, in the morning, to walk
around the farm-rain, hail, or snow; a second time, after dinner,
when he walked up and down in the shade of a little copse at the
west end of the house, smoking his pipe and talking to himself.
David remembers going with Old Edward again and again to view the
Great Stone Face, “The Old Man of the Mountain,” high up on its
perch above Franconia Notch. “No one knows how it came there, son,”
Edward used to remark. “It just happened. Man emerging from raw
nature.” It became a symbol in David’s mind, and a preview of how he
later came to think of man’s origin.
Whenever David and his Uncle Edward visited the Great Stone Face,
the ritual was always the same. Once in view of the “Old Man,” they
would sit down and eat lunch over a fire. Afterward, Edward would
light his pipe and, staring at the pockmarked profile, start
dawdling through the same conversational piece.
“Now, lad! Who do you think made it?”
“It just seems to come out of the earth and rock, sir,” would be
Sometimes Edward would bring a work of his favorite author,
Nathaniel Hawthorne. Having read an episode to David, he would
discuss it with his nephew. The Scarlet Letter was his most frequent
“Why did Arthur die on the scaffold, lad, and with a smile on his
lips?” he would ask.
After a while, David knew the expected answer: “Because, sir, he
knew he had to pay for his sins.”
And then: “Why did he sin, lad?”
“Because of Adam’s Original Sin, sir,” would be David’s answer.
Once David ventured a question himself. “Why did Hester put the
scarlet letter back again in her dress pocket, if it was a bad
letter, sir?” The answer came with unerring relish: “She wanted to
be romantic, lad. Romantic. That’s what they called it.” It was
David’s first introduction to romanticism, an issue that took very
tangible and painful form for him later on. The evil spirit he
exorcised in Jonathan had possessed Jonathan under the guise of pure
When David was fourteen, he was sent to a prep school in New England
vacations were all spent on the family farm in Coos County. His
uncle still lived
there; and together they went on several trips to New York,
It was, however, a trip to Salem, Massachusetts-made at his own
request-that became of prime importance in David’s mind. He was
sixteen then. His uncle wanted to see the John Turner house, which
had been immortalized by Hawthorne in The House of the Seven Gables.
But David had been delving into a copy of Cotton Mather’s
Ecclesiastical History of New England that he had found in his
father’s library; and he was more interested in people such as
Elizabeth Knapp, Anne Hibbins, Ann Cole, and other “witches” and
“warlocks” of seventeenth-century Salem. So when they had visited
the Peabody Museum and the Turner house, they spent an hour and a
half in the “witch house” where Judge Corwin had examined the 19 men
and women condemned and executed for witchcraft in 1692.
David realized later that his stay in and around the “witch house”
had a special significance. As they moved around inside and outside
the house, his uncle provided him with a running commentary on the
All the while, David had a striking but not uncomfortable sensation
or instinct that “invisible eyes,” as he put it then to his uncle,
or “spirits,” as he puts it now, were present to him and
communicating in an odd way. They seemed to be asking something. It
was as if one part of his mind listened and recorded his uncle’s
commentary and the sights around him, while another part was
preoccupied with other, intangible “words” and “sights.”
Striking as the experience was at the time, it did not in any way
obsess his thoughts in ensuing years. In fact, he never vividly
recalled this Salem experience until 32 years later at Old Edward’s
death and again during the exorcism of Father Jonathan.
No one in David’s circle of family and friends was surprised when he
decided to enter the seminary in 1940. His father would have
preferred an Army career for him; his mother had nourished a secret
hope of grandchildren. But David had made up his mind.
After seven years, when he was ordained in 1947 at the age of
twenty-five, the bishop asked whether he would be willing to go
through some extra years of study. The diocese needed a professor of
anthropology and ancient history. If he agreed, he would first earn
a doctorate in theology: Roman authorities were chary of letting any
young cleric loose in scientific fields without a special grounding
in doctrine. It might not be easy or pleasant, because Rome did not
think highly of American theologates. The whole program would take
about seven more years of David’s life.
In spite of the possible difficulties, David consented. The
following autumn he started to follow theological courses in Rome;
and then, in the autumn of 1950, he proceeded to the Sorbonne in
Like many others of that time, he had heard much about a French
Jesuit named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but he had never been
exposed to his thought. In Paris he fell under the direct influence
of the ideas which Teilhard had generated. For postwar Catholic,
intellectuals, Teilhard was something of a phenomenon; and from the
mid-igsos and on he enjoyed the reputation of a twentieth-century
Aquinas, and evoked the type of personal devotion that only a
Bonaventure and a Ramon Llul had attracted in earlier centuries.
French of the French, intellectual, ascetic, World War I hero,
brilliant student, innovative teacher, mystic, discoverer of Pekin
Man (Sinanthropos), pioneer excavator in Sinkiang, the Gobi Desert,
Burma, Java, Kashmir, South Africa, Teilhard set out to make it
intellectually possible for a Christian to accept the theories of
Darwinian evolution and still retain his religious faith.
All matter, said Teilhard, is and always has been transfused with
“consciousness,” however primitive. Through billions of years and
through all the forms of chemical substance, plant, animal, and
finally human life, this “consciousness” had blossomed. It is still
blossoming; and now, in this final stage of its development, it is
about to burst forth in a final culmination: the Omega Point, when
all humans and all matter will be elevated to a unity only dreamed
by the visionaries and saints of the past. The key character of the
Omega Point will be Jesus, asserted Teilhard. And so all will be
gathered into all, and all will be one in the love and permanent
being of achieved salvation.
By 195°. when David arrived in Paris, Teilhard and his doctrines had
become too much for the Roman authorities with their long memories.
Teilhard’s critical eyes, his ready flow of language, his Gallic
logic, his constant ability to answer inquisitorial questions with a
flood of professional and technical details, his refusal to kowtow
intellectually, and his very daring attempt to synthesize modern
science with the ancient faith-all this frightened ecclesiastical
minds. It was not only Teilhard’s aquiline nose that reminded the
authorities of his eighteenth-century ancestor, Descartes, whose
ideas they still considered anathema. It was as well, and chiefly,
Teilhard’s attempt to rationalize the mysteries of Catholic belief,
to “scientize” the Divine and make the truths of revelation totally
explicable in terms of test tubes and fossil remains.
Teilhard: dedicated to the “clear and distinct ideas” of Descartes,
the father of all modern scientific reasoning; fired inwardly by the
personal ideals of Ignatius, father not only of all Jesuits but of
all the lone and the brave; lured onward by the mystical darkness of
wisdom celebrated by his favorite author, John of the Cross, whose
pains he shared but whose ecstasy ever escaped him; honed and
refined in intellect by the best scientific training of his day;
Teilhard was the custom-built answer, the ready-made darling for the
bankrupt Catholic intellectuals of his century and for thousands of
Protestants caught in the heel of the hunt by the vicious clamps of
that merciless reason they had championed as man’s glory some four
centuries previously. Teilhard was, at one and the same time, their
trailblazer and their martyred hero. For the tired and besieged
French and Belgians he produced shining shibboleths to cry and a new
pride to wear. He fanned into a blaze the cold fire that slowly
burned in the brains of innovation-hungry Dutch and Germans. He
nourished the ever-latent emotionalism of Anglican divines, who by
then were floating free of traditional shackles.
His new terminology (he was the author of many current neologisms),
his daring thought, his scientific panoply, his international
reputation, his refusal to revolt when silenced by chicanery, his
long vigil, his obscure death, and finally the flashing wonder of
his posthumous fame and publication, all this conferred on him, on
his name, and on his ideas the efficacy once enjoyed by a Joan of
Arc, a Francis Xavier, and a Simone Weil. When Rome would never
canonize him, he was canonized by a new “voice of the people.” He
was a marvelous source of esoteric words and intricate thoughts for
American pop theologians.
Very few realized that Teilhard’s vision had ceased long before his
death. He had provided Christians with only a respite between the
long autumn of the nineteenth century and the winter that enshrouded
everything in the late twentieth century. Teilhard was neither
strong food to satisfy real hunger nor heavenly manna for a new
Pentecost. He was merely a stirrup cup of heady wine.
Under Pius XII, the Roman Catholic Church of the post-World War II
period was being constantly purged of “dangerous ideas.” And
Teilhard fell foul of the censors.
He was silenced and exiled, forbidden to publish or lecture.
Nevertheless, his ideas
ran through the intellectual milieu of Europe and America like
mercury. David with many others drank deeply of this wine of ideas
and believed that they were on their way to a new dawn.
Of course, David knew from the start that he was destined for
anthropology later on. Therefore, in Rome he concentrated on those
theological questions which had a direct bearing on anthropology. He
studied, in particular, the divine creation of the material world
and of man, the Adam and Eve doctrine and that of Original Sin. He
found that Church teaching was explicit: God had created the world,
if not exactly in seven days, at least directly and out of nothing.
There had been a first man, Adam, and a first woman, Eve. Both had
sinned. Because of their sin, all other men and women-for all men
and women who ever existed were descended from Adam and Eve-were
deprived of a divine quality called grace. They were born with
Original Sin. And this condition was only changed by the sacrament
David was troubled that doctrines stated in this way, even including
all the refinements and modifications allowed, were extremely
difficult to explain in the light of the theories of paleontology
current in his time. And the greater the impact of science on the
mind, the more dramatic the difficulty.
When the full weight of anthropological and cross-cultural studies
was brought to bear on the question of human origins, a human being
seemed to have a long and remote ancestry during which not merely
his body was formed but what was called his mind and higher
instincts were fashioned. And, of course, if you once admitted these
beliefs and assumptions of “scientific” theory to be “facts,” or
even highly probable, the idea of God creating the human condition
and sending his son, Jesus, to save it from its dire predicament,
this central theme of all Christianity was up for auction to the
The genius of Teilhard was that his bid was as high as that of any
non-Catholic or non-Christian in the field, to construct a bridge
across such an impassable and impossible gap. And it was in view of
this promise that David, along with a whole generation of men and
women, adopted Teilhard’s formulation.
But the fatal flaw was quick and sure. The creating god of
Christians was no longer taken as divine. He became internal to the
world in a mysterious and essential way. Jesus, as savior, was no
longer the conquering hero irrupting into the human universe and
standing history on its head. He was reduced to the peak of that
universe’s evolution, as natural an element in the universe as amino
acids. The thrust that would finally bring forth Jesus in the sight
of all men was an evolutionary accident-a kind of cosmic joke-that
started over five billion years ago in helium, hydrogen gases, and
amino acids of protean space. That thrust had no choice but to keep
on thrusting until it gave birth to the refined and culminating
flower of “full human consciousness” in the “latter days.”
Like the Great Stone Face on Franconia Notch that David remembered
so vividly from his visits with his uncle, Jesus now simply emerged
from nature. The Omega Point. Only this would be the final hour of
glory, the Last Day.
Neither David nor many others who spoke of the “greatest biological
adventure of all time”-meaning human history-were alerted to the
fact that, once the ancient beliefs of Christianity were interpreted
in this fashion, it was a matter of time before other fundamental
issues were affected, and very hard-nosed conclusion* would have to
be drawn. But present euphoria often beclouds later issues.
Intellectual freedom has its own chains, its own brand of myopia.
And a triumph of mere logic seems always to carry with it a neglect
both of the human and of the essence of spirit.
In this ferment, David’s mentality matured.
From those years spent in doctoral studies, David has two deeply
personal memories. Both took place on the occasion of his Uncle
Edward’s death. It was during David’s second last year at the
Sorbonne that the old man, in his eighties by then, started to die.
David had just arrived back in Paris from a field trip in southern
France when he received a telegram from his father: Old Edward had
not much time; he had asked for David repeatedly.
David caught a flight that evening. By the following evening he was
back in Coos County on the family farm. Edward was sinking
gradually, coming out of semicomatose states and lapsing back again.
Toward midnight of David’s second day at home, he was sitting in
Edward’s room reading. His family had retired for the night. The
room’s only light came from the reading lamp on the desk where David
sat. Outside all was quiet. A late wind sighed softly in the trees.
Occasionally a very distant cry would echo from the surrounding
At a certain moment David raised his head and looked at Edward. He
thought he had heard the sound of a voice. But the old man was lying
still, breathing with difficulty. David went over, dipped a hand
towel in a bowl of water, and mopped the perspiration from Edward’s
forehead. He was about to return to his chair when he again heard,
or thought he heard, a voice-or voices-he was not sure. He looked at
Edward: he was unchanged. Then he lifted his head and listened.
If he had not known better, he would have sworn that about half a
dozen people were talking with low voices in the next room. But he
knew that, except for his parents and one house woman, he was alone
with Edward in the house.
Edward stirred uneasily and drew in a few quick breaths. His eyelids
fluttered for a moment. He opened them slowly. His gaze traveled
across the ceiling to the far corner of the room, then back again to
David. “Can I help you, sir?” David asked. He had never addressed
Edward in any other way. Edward gave a characteristic shake of his
head which David knew so well from the past.
Almost immediately Edward went into a short death agony, inhaling
long, deep breaths, exhaling laboriously, heaving his chest, and
groaning. David pressed the bell to call his parents, knelt down by
the head of the bed, and started to pray in a whisper.
But a motion of the old man’s finger stopped him. Edward was trying
to say something. David bent his ear down close to the dying man’s
mouth. He could barely hear the breathed syllables: “. . . prayed
for them ... I prayed for them . . . coming to take me home . . .
you did not . . . lad . . ., home . . . you did not . . . home . .
Those voices, David thought. Those voices. Men and women. When had
he been with Edward and others when Edward had prayed for those
others and he had not? Why would they need prayers? He could not get
it out of his head that Edward had been talking about their visit to
Salem. He did not see any connection. But he could not rid himself
of the idea.
Edward expelled one long breath. His lips moved and twisted
slightly. David heard a faint rattle in his throat. Then he found
himself alone in that long, deadening, unbroken quiet when the dying
is done. Edward’s eyes opened to the glassy sightlessness of a dead
After they buried Old Edward, David stayed for a couple of days;
then he went down to New York. He had one or two errands to do in
the city, and he had a chance to meet Teilhard de Chardin. He
brought with him a copy of Teilhard’s Le Milieu Divin in the hope of
The meeting with the French Jesuit was brief and poignant for David.
The mutual friend who arranged the meeting warned David as they
drove to meet Teilhard that the old man had not been well lately.
“Let’s make the visit brief. Okay?”
Teilhard was much thinner than David had expected. He greeted David
affably but crisply in French, chatted for a few minutes about
David’s career as an anthropologist, then took the copy of his book
from David’s hands and looked at it pensively. As if making up his
mind on the spur of the moment, he took a pen from his pocket and
wrote some words on the flyleaf, closed the book, handed it back,
and glanced at David. Teilhard’s lips were pursed
characteristically, his head slightly bent to one side and forward.
David noticed the strength of Teilhard’s chin. But, much more, it
was the expression in Teilhard’s eyes that imprinted itself on
David’s memory. David had expected to see the long, deep look of a
man who had traveled very far and thought very steeply of the
deepest issues in life. Instead, looking at him across the humped
curve of that aquiline nose, Teilhard’s eyes were very wide open.
They had no hint in them of memories or reflections, no remnants of
Teilhard’s own storms. There were no traces of any glinting
intelligence. The old paleontologist was completely with David,
totally present to him, taking in David’s own glance with a
personable expression and a direct j simplicity that almost
embarrassed the younger man.
After a few seconds, the older man said: “You will be true. You will
be true, Father.
Search for the spirit. But, even if all else goes, give hope. Hope.”
Their looks held together for a moment more. Then they parted.
Returning to the center of the city, David remarked to the friend
who was driving: “Why in the end, or how in the end, did it become
so simple for him?” His friend had no answer for him.
Suddenly, David remembered: what had Teilhard written on the flyleaf
of his book? He opened it. Teilhard’s dedication ran: “They said I
opened Pandora’s Box with this book. But, they did not notice, Hope
was still hiding in one of its corners.”
David was bothered for weeks after that meeting by a nagging idea
that hope had become difficult for the seventy-three-year-old
Jesuit. But after his return to Paris for the remainder of his
courses at the Sorbonne, the sharpness of the incident faded
temporarily to the back of his memory.
By the time David returned to the United States in June 1955,
Teilhard had been dead for over two months.
When he did return to the United States, few of David’s former
associates and acquaintances could recognize the new intellectual
man he had become. He was thirty-four by then, in robust physical
condition. His six-foot frame was lean and well muscled. His friends
did notice the premature grayness, the faint but definite lines of
maturity around his mouth, the disappearance from his face of that
youthful ebullience with which he had been clothed five years before
when he set out for Europe.
Another look had replaced the ebullience: it was a certain
“definitiveness,” as one friend described it. David’s eyes were
fuller in meaning. He spoke just as pleasantly as before, but less
casually and with an emphasis that conveyed more meaning than ever
before. When he talked of deep matters, those around him felt that
what he thought and said came from an inner wealth of experience and
resources gathered carefully, marshaled in harmony, and kept bright
and burnished for use. He had the “finished” look. And more than one
elder colleague remarked, “One day, he’ll be the bishop.”
Before starting his lectures at the seminary, David spent one extra
year in private
study, visiting museums, and traveling to various parts of the world
paleontologists were working in the field. This extra year was
invaluable to him; he
had time to reflect on the condition of research, to catch up on his
reading, to acquaint himself with professional colleagues in the
field, and to examine the various diggings firsthand. Then, in
mid-September 1956, he arrived home to Coos County for two weeks’
vacation on the farm with his parents. The following October he
started giving his first courses at the seminary.
The next nine years of his life passed uneventfully. From the
beginning he was popular and highly thought of. The students
conferred on him the nickname of “Bones” because of the fossils he
kept in glass cases in his study.
In May 1965, he was again staying in Paris, attending an
international convention. During the three weeks he was there, he
was asked one evening by an old friend, a parish priest from a
northern French diocese, to help out as a substitute assistant at
the exorcism of a fifty-year-old man.
David had very little knowledge of Exorcism. Indeed, from his
anthropological studies he was inclined to regard Exorcism as a
remnant of past superstition and ignorance. Like any
well-indoctrinated anthropologist, he could parallel the Roman
Catholic Exorcism rite with scores of similar rites from Africa to
Oceania and throughout Asia.
“No, Father David,” the parish priest had answered him amicably when
David had let the old man know that in his opinion Exorcism and
satanic possession belonged to the world of invented myth and fable.
“No, Father. This is not the way it is. Myths are never made. They
are born out of countless generations. They embody an instinct, a
deep community feeling. Fables are made as containers, fashioned by
men deliberately to preserve the lessons they have learned. But
this-satanic possession, Exorcism-well! come and see for yourself.
At any rate, help me out.”
In this exorcism David was substituting for a young priest who had
fallen ill in the course of the rite. The exorcism had already
lasted about 30 hours. “Just another couple of hours, and it is the
end,” the old parish priest had told him before beginning.
In fact, by the time David entered the case, the worst was over.
After only two and a half hours more, the parish priest was about to
complete the exorcism and expel the evil spirit. He asked David to
hand him the holy-water flask and the crucifix.