Gerald entered the bedroom with Father John. Both wore their ceremonial robes. All, including Richard/Rita, knelt down as they recited a prayer to the Holy Spirit. Then, with Richard/Rita still kneeling, the assistants arranged themselves around Gerald. He opened the exorcism with a prayer from the official ritual.

Richard/Rita interrupted gently and boyishly. “Father Gerald, don’t you think we could hurry all this up? What I really need now is a blessing and everybody’s prayers and good-will wishes.”

He stood up and shot a radiant, embarrassed smile of charm and gratitude at each one present. Bert’s heart was torn at the sight of his baby brother. Most of them felt embarrassed, much as if-it was Jasper, Richard/Rita’s older brother, who made the remark later-as if they had come to arrest someone for murder and found the supposed murderer and his victim making love instead. Richard/Rita looked very feminine that morning.

Gerald too was taken aback. His mind raced. Had he made a mistake? Either they had made fools of themselves and of Richard/ Rita, or they were victims of a deeper deceit than he had anticipated. But there was no time for reflection or pause. He had to make a decision. The police captain and the teacher were looking at him as if to say: “Let’s get out of here, Father. Let’s leave well enough alone.” But Gerald knew he had to make certain.

“Fine, Rita,” he said, surprised at his own acting, but smiling nonchalantly. “Let’s do just that. Here, John, give me the holy-water flask. Jasper! Take my prayer book and put it in my briefcase. Bert, please make more coffee. Someone go and telephone the rectory and tell them I shall be back for lunch. Rita, hand me the crucifix from the table beside you, and let’s get on with the blessing.”

Afterward, when discussing the events of that morning, all agreed that the moment Gerald finished his request to Richard/Rita some sharp change took place in the room. It was a qualitative change, as effective and as abrupt as a complete, instantaneous change in the perfume of the air or in the room temperature. Some of them, not guessing Gerald’s ulterior motive, had started automatically to do what he had asked them before he made his request to Richard/Rita. But the mysterious change in the room as Gerald spoke to Richard/Rita brought them all up sharply. “Like red lights all around me,” said one. “Like a warning bell,” commented another. “An eerie feeling in the nape of my neck,” was the teacher’s description.
“We knew that suddenly another presence had become palpable to us. We knew it was bad, bad, bad,” declared Bert afterwards.

They all turned around and looked at Gerald and Richard/Rita. Gerald was standing almost on tiptoe, his request had been so barbed with intent and its impact on Richard/Rita so tangible for him. Richard/Rita had sat down on the couch, a picture of puzzlement. His forehead was a field of furrows. His eyebrows were almost touching in quizzical expression. His mouth was tightly closed, the lower lip clamped over the upper one. All color had drained from his cheeks. They couldn’t see his eyes. He was looking at his lap, where both his hands closed and opened, from fist to open palm, then from open palm to fist, continually, jerkingly, and slowly. Gerald held his own hand up for silence and attention.

“Rita,” he said softly, “hand me the crucifix.” Tears started to glitter on Richard/Rita’s eyelashes and then ran silently down his face.

“I want to be left alone. Please”-the voice was feminine and husky and agonizing. Another burst of tears. He sobbed. “It’s all too much-I know none of you understand what has happened to me. Moira does-ask her. But this is all a charade-I need only to be left alone.” More sobbing.

Gerald looked at Bert. Bert shrugged as if to say: Your decision! Gerald opened his ritual: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we are here today to pray and ask that in the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of Heaven and Earth, whatever evil spirit may have entered and possessed this creature of Almighty God’s, Rita O., will obey . . .”

The rest was drowned in Richard/Rita’s sobbing. He had turned gently as if wounded or struck, and lay down on the couch, his back to Gerald. They all listened to Richard/Rita, not hearing any more the words Gerald was reading. They could only hear that sobbing, crying voice, wailing and groaning with uncontrollable sorrow, his whole body shaking with each sob, every sound of his voice filtering through his throat and mouth as a terrible reproach to all present.

“. . . and that whatever ill-effects the evil spirit has caused in Rita,” Gerald wound up, “may be cleansed and purified by the Grace of the Lord, Jesus.” Gerald concluded the first prayer.

At this mention of the name of Jesus, Richard/Rita stiffened and turned flat on his back. His face was not a picture of tears and sorrow as they all had expected, but a writhing mass of hate, fear, and disgust.

“Take your Jesus and his filthy crucifix and his stinking holy water and his withered priest and get out of my house.” Both his arms were stretched out at this point, the palms toward Gerald, warding off his stare. “Take ‘em out of here. I want to be alone.”

Gerald saw Bert starting to go forward. “Bert!” he said sharply, “stay where you are-just one moment.” Bert stopped.
“Bert, save me from this lousy Catholic priest and his hocus-pocus. Bert! Bert! Help me!” Bert started forward again. This time, John, the younger priest, touched Bert on the arm: “Give Gerald one more moment, Bert,” he whispered, “just one more moment. We’ve got to be sure.”

“Bert!” continued Richard/Rita sobbingly, “I was supremely happy until he started at me. It’s all a mistake. I’m a woman, Bert. I’m a woman. Like your Marcia [Bert’s wife]. Like Moira. Like Mummy. Like Julie [Bert’s secretary]. See!”-and Richard/Rita tore down the zipper of his slacks and opened the top button: “See! I’ve got pubic hair and a cunt just like Marcia. Look, Bert! Come and feel it! It’s hot and wet. I can hold you, Bert, I can hold you now better than Julie. Remember we used to masturbate together in bed as kids? Now you can enter me. Help me, Bert. I’ll be yours if you do!”

Bert fell back ashen-faced. Gerald reached forward, took the crucifix, held it up in front of Richard/Rita.

“Rita, all will be well. We will leave you alone. Only now you have to do what you did a few days ago in the rectory.” When Richard/Rita had come with Bert and Jasper to see him, he had laid his right hand on a crucifix Gerald always kept on his desk and said: “By this, I swear, Father Gerald: I want to be whole and entire and right with God.” All the time this ability of Richard/Rita to touch the crucifix had given great encouragement to Gerald. It meant that the possession of Richard/Rita was an incomplete process as yet. Except in its advanced stages, possession varies in its effects and characteristics.

But now Richard/Rita lay down on the couch, legs spread, hands resting on his groin. They waited. His chest rose and fell as if he were sleeping. Outside, the weather had turned dark. The wind was rising, shaking the trees around the house with an irregular whining sound.

Then Richard/Rita’s mouth opened and after what seemed minutes they heard him speak, but with another voice. It was throaty, rasping, slow, indistinguishable as to sex-it could have been female or male. It was like the voice of some very elderly people-a hint of falsetto, a trace of bass, but weary and ponderous, requiring effort.

“I know you’re supposed to be a virgin, Father Gerald. What would you know of woman-or of man, for that matter?”
Gerald decided to break in. “Tell us who you are.”

Richard/Rita was silent a moment; then he spoke as if in a joke. “Who I am? Why, Rita, of course. Who else? Stupid!”

“If you are Rita whom we know, sit up, and take this crucifix.”

“Rita doesn’t want to. Nah!”

“Why then, are you sulking, Rita? Why not sit up and talk like an ordinary human being with us?”

“Because . . . because . . . because I am not ordinary. Listen!” Richard/Rita’s head turned toward the shuttered windows. His eyes fluttered as if looking at a passing scene. His head turned back. “I am not ordinary.”

Gerald had his ritual book opened again and was about to start the next part of the exorcism when a new thought suddenly occurred to him: if he was merely speaking to Richard/Rita, wouldn’t he be missing the point of the exorcism? And couldn’t Richard/Rita, or whatever evil spirit possessed him at that moment, carry off a magnificent deception-pretend, in fact, to cooperate? No! He had to break down the facade, if facade there was. Gerald was groping blindly to the truth of Father Conor’s analysis without having had the benefit of Conor’s instruction. Cold experience was his hard teacher that day.

He closed the book slowly, grasped the crucifix between his palms, and started to question Richard/Rita. Now the exchange between them settled down to a rather calm question-and-answer exchange. And it lasted that whole day. At one stage Rita fell silent. After fruitless attempts to get answers from him, Gerald went outside, washed, took some food, and returned. The day was already advanced. The doctor had monitored Richard/Rita’s breathing and pulse. All was normal. As Gerald returned, they all began to feel the biting cold in the room. James attended to the radiator, even went down to the boiler in the cellar. The cold still persisted.

Gerald started again to question Richard/Rita. This time Richard/ Rita started to answer. Gerald probed, provoked, queried, objected, interrupted, set traps, and tried in every way to break down the resistance he felt in Richard/Rita. But whatever he did, Richard/ Rita turned it aside with long, rambling answers, descriptions of sexual acts, analysis of the male and female, small insults and jeers, an occasional snide remark. So it went through the night and the small hours of the morning.

We will never know now, but that procedure might have lasted indefinitely until common sense and the limits of endurance indicated to all that the exorcism was a failure-or, alternatively, that Richard/ Rita had never been possessed, but was just very abnormal in quite an ordinary sense of the word. After many hours, however, Gerald began to sense that at times he almost touched something, then it would escape his grasp. At times, also, the others in the room would have a strong sense of something alien, pressing on them. Then it would lighten and disappear. All were becoming fidgety. All were tired.

The end of their waiting came unexpectedly with one blanket statement of Gerald’s in answer to a protest of Richard/Rita.
“But any ordinary woman wants to be held and cherished by her man,” Gerald was saying, “and, after that, to lead him where he could not otherwise go. Hand in hand. And in truth. And in love. Not in power or in superiority. They walk in God’s smile.

They reproduce his beauty.” Gerald was touching the very chord that had obsessed Richard/Rita since his operation.

Richard/Rita stiffened. “Why the hell don’t you leave me alone? You and your God!

Who needs his smile or his beauty?”

Gerald was alerted by a new note in Richard/Rita’s voice. He could not recognize it, but he knew it as a new note. And he had an idea.

“Why? Because I know you are not Rita. I know you are not Richard. I know that Rita-Richard-loves God, his smile and his beauty. But you-whatever or whoever you are-why don’t you come out from your lies and your deceptions and face us?”

AH hell-as the police captain said later-broke loose. Richard/Rita doubled up, his head resting on his feet, his body pumping spasmodically. The assistants held him and tried to straighten him out. They could not move him; he was as heavy as pig iron. The couch shook and trembled. The wallpaper above the bed peeled off, starting in one corner, as if invisible fingers had yanked it violently. The shutters shook and rattled. Richard/Rita started to break wind and scream at the same time.


Everybody there began to feel a peculiar pressure of threat and fear. They started to perspire. Nothing had prepared them for this feeling of incalculable danger.

“Let everybody hold! Stay calm!” It was Gerald warning them. He was now aware that he had touched the essential core of their problem. But he was still in the dark. He drew near the couch and bent over Richard/Rita, who was quite still; but his body was doubled up as before, his head resting on his feet.

“Rita,” he said in a clear, loud voice. “I tell you: we will keep on struggling for you.

So, you, you keep on fighting and resisting.”

Richard/Rita jerked and shook for a few seconds, then his teeth sank into the instep of one foot.

Gerald straightened up. He changed his tone to a sharp, inquisitorial, and imperious note: “You, Evil Spirit, you will obey our commands.”

Again, the rasping voice: “You do not know what you’re getting into, priest. You cannot pay the price. It’s not your virginity merely that you’ll lose. And not merely your life. You’ll lose it all-“ “As Jesus, Our Lord, bore sufferings, so I am willing to bear what it costs to expel you and send you back to where you came from.”

This was Gerald’s first error. Without realizing it, and in what looked like heroism, he had fallen into an old trap. They were now on a personal plane: he versus the evil spirit. No exorcist can function in a personal way, in his own right, offering his strength or his will alone to counter and challenge the possessing spirit. He never should try to function in place of Jesus, but merely speak and act in concert with him as his representative.

For Gerald the cost of that mistake was high. He had never dreamed that physical punishment could be so intense. It was a full three weeks before he could get up and hobble around his room in great pain; that violent attack on him would eventually prove lethal for Gerald. But these were not his deepest sufferings. In those few seconds of storm when he was hurled across the room and slammed against the wall, it was a sense of violation that shook and tore him.

Only then did he realize that, up to that moment, indeed all his life, he had enjoyed an immunity. An inner bastion of his very self, the core of his person, had never been touched. Sorrow had never reached it. Regret had never pained it. Nor had any twinge of weakness or guilt ever ached there.

The strength of that private self had been its immunity. His professional celibacy and physical virginity had been merely outward expressions of the ultimately carefree condition of spirit in which he had always existed. In a sense, sin or wrongdoing had never touched him there, not because he had so decided, but because the choice had never presented itself.

But, in a twist of egotism, that immune part of him had been the source of his pride as it was of his independence. And friends who marveled at his constancy as a priest and ascribed it to a genuine sort of holiness could never have known-no more than Gerald himself- that Gerald’s ultimate strength was tainted with a great weakness: the self-reliance of pride. The physical pain and injury that afflicted his body during and after the attack was as much a symbol as it was tangible expression of an inescapable weakness and fragility to which he was heir merely by being human.

He recovered sufficiently from the attack, but he never again had that old sense of immunity. Instead, there was born in him a heightened feeling of helplessness. And, for the first time in his life, he acknowledged his total dependence on God. And his outlook was now permeated with that poignant sense which Christians traditionally had described by a much misunderstood word: humility. It was a grateful realization that love, not simply a great love, but love itself, had chosen him and loved him for no other reason but love. “Only love could love me” had been a saying of an ancient English saint, Juliana of Norwich.

In the meanwhile, Gerald had to make a decision: to proceed with the exorcism or declare it officially over. Richard/Rita was now in an abnormal stage even for him. He needed round-the-clock surveillance. Usually he lay on the couch awake or asleep, or he stood by the window apparently looking and listening. He was docile to any suggestions of his brothers, but no one else could influence him. He ate sparingly, had to be washed like a baby, lapsed periodically into a strange, babbling incoherence, and could not bear any mention of Gerald, of religion, or of Exorcism. Nor would he allow any religious object near him or in his house. He always seemed to know when any such object was brought in. His cleaning woman, for instance, used to wear a medal around her neck; she had to leave it at home. If his brothers had spoken to Gerald, Richard/Rita would know it when they entered his presence. A scene would ensue, never violent, always heart-rending and full of pleas to them that they save him from further bother.

Gerald’s health, meanwhile, was precarious and his friends became worried. The doctor told him that he had developed a damaged heart, and his physical lacerations had been very severe. The doctors had patched him up to the best of their ability.

Besides his physical sufferings, Gerald was the subject of an odd change in his sensations. He could not, for very long, see or touch any material object without this change taking place. As he told me later: “I seemed to be looking through it and around it-not beyond it. For in some peculiar sense it was no longer there. Instead, with some sight other than that of my eyes, I was held by the perception of a condition or dimension or state for which I have no words. It-that condition- seemed to be the real world. The material object-table, chair, wall, food, whatever it was-seemed utterly unreal, to be nothing in fact. And even my own body was for me an imagined shell permeated with and held up by that other condition.”

The effect of all this was very disturbing, especially when he met others. What they saw was a thin, pale-faced man crooked in his stance, leaning on a cane, who seemed to be looking at them with the impersonal scrutiny of a stargazer or a map reader. He was still kind, affable, even jocular, and always good-humored. In conversation, he seemed to be very interested in people, not so much in themselves, as in what they signified or where they stood spiritually. This was a novel attitude for Gerald. What Gerald himself now found was that every man and woman he met underwent the same “conditioning” in his eyes as material objects. But, differently from objects, once the underlying and invisible condition of a person became clear to him, he sensed a new element.

He found it hard to express in one word or one phrase this new element. When he went to great lengths to describe it, he ended up-with constant assertions that he was only using images and metaphors-talking about “light,” “blackness,” “presence,” “absence,” “a web of yesses.” His description of someone might be: “He’s been saying, ‘No, no,’ all his life.” Or: “She has never really said, ‘Yes,’ to the ‘presence.’ “ Or: “They’re in a very black context.” Practically speaking, he found, this new way of looking at people placed him at a distance from everyone, no matter how well he knew them or liked them. Any knowledge of them through his mind and any attachment to them by his will was only possible in this new dimension.

The pastor of his rectory went so far as to consult one of the psychiatrists whom Gerald had originally consulted about Richard/ Rita. When Gerald left the hospital and was convalescing at the rectory, Dr. Hammond together with a colleague turned up at the rectory to see him one afternoon. He had run a complete check on Gerald’s background, he told Gerald, from his childhood to that moment in time. He and his colleagues were convinced that Gerald himself had been severely traumatized, and-more seriously-that, because Gerald could not really understand sexuality and its complexities, he had unwittingly evoked an alienated condition in Richard/ Rita. In their opinion, and for the sake of their professional integrity as well as Gerald’s own sake, they would ask Gerald to place himself voluntarily under their controlled observation at the clinic. Richard/ Rita, they thought, would respond to normal therapy.

For different reasons, the pastor was equally adamant in this point of view. Rumors of the exorcism’s strange result had filtered to the bishop of the diocese. And he sent word to the pastor that he expected him to arrange everything so that there would be no more trouble and no fresh rash of rumors and scandal. One report had it that Richard/Rita had raped Gerald. And this was not the ugliest of the rumors floating around the parish.

Gerald, at first very angry with the psychiatrists, finally began to see it their way. Or at least that was what he said. He added, however, that they should not oppose his finishing the exorcism. If he could only do this, he assured them, then he would be satisfied.

The final decision, of course, rested with Richard/Rita’s family and with Bert in particular. Bert was convinced that Richard/Rita’s condition was the work of the devil, and that Gerald or another Catholic priest should be allowed to complete the exorcism.

It was all very trying for Gerald. He felt “like a museum specimen or a medical case,” as he remarked to the pastor. Besides, something in him told him that Richard/Rita could not go on and survive as he was, nor could he himself leave the exorcism unfinished as it was.

“I have no death wish, Doctor,” he said to the senior psychiatrist. “But neither have I any illusions about myself or about you. I cannot have long to live-even my own doctors agree on that. You have no religious beliefs whatsoever, on your own admission. Unless we strike a compromise, we will go on talking while Richard/Rita vegetates and I die. So let’s make a deal.”

The deal was made. With conditions. Dr. Hammond was to be present at the exorcism. If he and the doctor, independently of Gerald, decided the resumed Exorcism ritual should be aborted at any particular point, Gerald would abort it. The exorcism would not be allowed to go beyond two days at maximum. On the other hand, Gerald would be in complete control as the exorcism proceeded. Dr. Hammond would behave exactly as one of Gerald’s assistants. There were one or two other conditions, mainly to help the professional assessment and examination by the psychiatrist. But Gerald was satisfied. He had gained an opportunity to finish the exorcism.

It was clear to Gerald now that only when he had attempted to uncover and separate the evil spirit’s identity from Richard/Rita’s, only then had he been attacked. He would take up at that very point where the process had left off and proceed with great caution, not drawing attention to himself in any way and endeavoring to rely on the power of the official ritual and the symbolism of his function.

Early one morning, then, four and a half weeks after the violent interruption of the exorcism, Dr. Hammond drove Gerald down to Lake House to resume the exorcism of Richard/Rita. The assistants were there already, together with Father John. It was a somber day. A strong wind again bent the trees around the house. It started raining shortly after they arrived and continued all day and into the evening.

Lake House itself was still and quiet. Richard/Rita was lying on the couch quietly dozing when Gerald arrived. Then, as if on signal, he doubled up and sank his teeth into his instep, opened his eyes and fixed them silently on the door through which Gerald and John would enter. Bert and Jasper, both carrying signs of the last few weeks in drawn looks and low voices, stood with the police captain and the teacher. Nobody spoke very much. As Gerald entered, Richard/Rita’s eyes blazed with a fresh light. He moaned hungrily as a dog would for more food. His hands were opening and closing. Gerald gathered up his strength as he took his place beside the couch. He had carefully prepared his opening statement. But before he could speak, Richard/ Rita beat him to it. Loosening the teeth hold on his instep, and still glaring at Gerald, he said: “Gerald, darling, why all the trouble? Look what you have brought on yourself. You needn’t bear all this pain. You have no need to pay such a price.” It was the same trap. This time Gerald was ready.

“The price-whatever price is necessary-has already been paid. You will obey the authority of Jesus and of his Church. Announce your name.”

Even as Gerald spoke, the pain ran quickly through new lanes in his flesh and bones. The lower part of his body, from his navel to his toes, grew rigid. The assistants saw the veins bulging on his forehead. He was fighting for control, struggling not to lose consciousness, straining to hear. Waiting and straining. Richard/Rita sank back flat on the couch in a deflated fashion, eyes closed, arms and hands thrown across his chest.

After a dull pause, when he had almost given up hope of evoking obedience from the spirit, Gerald began to hear something that resembled a voice but that was totally unintelligible to him. At first, he thought that a group of people had arrived unannounced on the front lawn of Lake House and were congregating close to the front windows. But when he concentrated on that direction, the sound seemed to be coming from Richard/Rita, then again from the back of the house. He distinctly heard several voices talking at the same time, breaking off, starting, laughing, occasionally grunting, even yelling in a mock fashion. They seemed to be both male and female, but the female voices seemed to dominate. Then the chatter died away as if they had all moved away from the house.

Gerald stared at Richard/Rita: he was silent and motionless. Gerald was about to speak when the voices started again. This time they were in the room, but tantalizing him: when he concentrated on Richard/ Rita, they seemed to come from behind him; when he turned around, they seemed to come from Richard/Rita. He began to feel as if fragments of voices were free-floating and moving around the room. The assistants had not been prepared for eerie happenings such as this because Gerald did not have enough experience or knowledge of Exorcism to give them very detailed warnings. The strain they were undergoing showed in their constant perspiration and trembling.

Dr. Hammond’s reaction would have been comical under any other circumstances but these. As Father John told it afterwards, the psychiatrist started off with a professional expression of “business as usual”-grave, expressionless, watchful eyes, steadily taking notes. After a few minutes, his note-taking stopped, the expression on his face changed from the bland professional to incredulity, then a touch of impatience (as if he were being subjected to a practical joke), and finally the slightly ashen look of a man catching up for the first time with something unintelligible and alien to his opinion, threatening to his sanity and self-control.

Gerald’s puzzlement and dismay increased, because now he thought he could distinguish single words and phrases of one voice in particular; but every time, other words and phrases broke in and cluttered his hearing. It all ended up as abstract gibberish.

Then the various strands of female voices seemed to quicken in pace and to start blending into one pitch and timbre, as if, syllable by syllable, all were catching up on a lead voice. And the male voices began to slow down in attack and amplitude, until they became a series of squeaks and sonorities more or less parallel but never coinciding. The two levels, male and female, began to mingle and sound as one in various syllables, but there were always overtones and annoying echoes muddying his efforts to understand. Gerald decided to intervene.

“Whatever or whoever you are, you are commanded in the name of Jesus to state your name, to answer our questions.”
With that, the volume of noise started to increase and with it an uncontrollable dismay and fear in Gerald. He felt himself the target of some leviathan voice croaking from bloated lungs, cavernous throat and mouth, a voice of curses, abuse, blasphemy, in which his secret sins, ill will, obscenities all echoed and rolled and issued as a malignant challenge.

Young Father John found the sounds in the room almost unbearably disturbing. He sprinkled holy water around Gerald and then around the couch. The noise rose to a fresh crescendo, then started to fall away. Richard/Rita, all this while, remained stretched out flat on his back.

As the babel died away in a mumbling and choking sound, Gerald received the first onslaught of the Clash. Nobody had prepared him for it, and nobody had told him what to do. The old Dominican friar in Chicago had merely said that at some point “the old fella” would have to come out as himself. He warned Gerald to take care at that point-“It’s worse than I can ever hope to tell you.” It was.

Gerald’s greatest quality-stubbornness-now became the source of his torture. For he could not, would not let go. He had locked his will into that of the evil spirit. Even if in some exorcists the Clash starts in the mind, the imagination, or in a powerful intuitive sense of theirs, it finally comes home in full force to the will. From the start it was in Gerald’s will that the struggle took place.

Up to that moment he had felt his will pushing against a steel wall of resistance and attack. Now the wall seemed to melt and flow all around, while his will plunged into the molten heart of liquid heat that scorched and sizzled and frittered away every thew and sinew of his will, searing through every trace of padding and protection a human will employs-hopefulness, anticipation, remembrance of pleasure, satisfaction in fidelity, conscious ability to change or not to change, surety, persuasion that one is doing the right thing.


It was not a darkness of mind, but a nudity of will. It was the place of deepest poignancy and sharpest sorrowing that any human being can reach while in a mortal condition. Dante had described it as the pathos of the soul which is not condemned to Hell (and knows that), but has no means of knowing if Heaven exists and yet must persevere in hope that apparent hopelessness is a prelude to happiness and reward.

Then the Clash materialized in his physical self. One by one, his hearing, his sight, his senses of touch, smell, and taste were affected. His vision became blurred-almost the same as when one videotape is played over another; both are clear enough to be seen, neither is clear enough to eliminate doubt. In his eardrums there began the sort of ache produced by a sudden burst of a jackhammer; and the ache continued. Whatever he touched gave him the funny shiver through the small of his back and spine he used to get when somebody rubbed a pane of glass with a dry thumb. His mouth tasted as if he had been chewing sour milk and flour. And a wild odor he could not define lodged in his nostrils. Not of rottenness or putrefaction or sewage, but a sharp odor that his sense of smell could not take without a stinging recoil seizing his sinuses and the back of his mouth and throat in revulsion.

His assistants saw Gerald as he began to jackknife over. Two held him, one on either side; but, faithful to his instructions, they did not attempt to lead him out of the room. “Can you make it, Father?” asked Dr. Hammond. Gerald’s only answer was to jerk his head in a quick gesture.

The uncanny pressure was climaxing inside in his will and outside in his body. He felt the recently healed wounds in his back and belly loosening and flowing, the scabs giving way, and a salty sting in the opening flesh. He felt the wetness of his own blood and sweat. And Gerald knew he now had to make a supreme effort.

“Your name! You who torment this creature of God. In the name of Jesus, and because of his power, your name! Now! Your name!”

He heard the last rumbling traces of that attacking voice fading away. Richard/Rita stirred as if prodded with a sharp knife, writhing his head, neck, and back. He groaned. Then all in the room heard a little gravelly whisper, not faltering, just deliberate and slow.

“Girl-Fixer. The Girl-Fixer. Girl-Fixer. We fix ‘em. All sorts of girls. Young, old, married, unmarried, lesbians, neuters, girls who want to be fixed. Those who want to be fixed like girls. Anyone. We fix ‘em. Oeeeeeeeeeeeh!” It was a larynx-shaking yelp. “We fix ‘em right!”

Gerald’s weight on the arm of his assistants grew heavy. The pressure on him was increasing again. But he knew the name now. Girl-Fixer. He had broken through the deadly charade and he knew with every instinct that he must pursue hard before his advantage could slip away.

“You will tell us: how many of you are there? Who are you? What do you do? Why do you hold this creature of God in slavery? You will tell us. Speak!”

Gerald would have gone on repeating the same commands, but the younger priest made a small gesture reminding him he was falling into a repetitive pattern. They both waited. Gerald was still fighting the poison inside him. All his pain was with him.

“Take you, for example, Priest!” The contempt and hate in the tone was chilling. “We fixed you, didn’t we? Just feel, kiddo. Or just try to do something with your end, fore or aft. Oh, yes! We fixed you. Oeeeeeeeeeeeh!”

Gerald steadied himself and tried to wet his lips; his mouth was dry and furry. His sight was getting blurred again. He had to keep at it. The teacher lifted a cup of water to his lips. He had to keep at it. He moistened his tongue and started again.
“Tell us, in the name of Jesus ...”

He was interrupted by a low groan from Richard/Rita. Its agony paralyzed everyone; joined to the volume of pain and suffering in his own body, it struck Gerald dumb. Each of the others was affected by that groan: each one’s imagination and memory went out of control. The police captain was back in the Korean prison camp where he had languished for two years; his buddy was groaning his life away in pain, as a grinning interrogator scraped the flesh off his ribs. The teacher was back in Surrey, England, in 1941, beside a German plane that had crashlanded, bursting into flames; the trapped German pilot was screaming, “Mutti! Mutti!” as he burned inside the plane. Richard’s brothers were standing beside a shuddering, dying wolf they had shot over ten years ago during a hunting trip in Canada with their father; the wolf was groaning defiance and coughing up blood and staring at them. The doctor was back on a house call of the previous winter when he had watched a father, bending over the still-warm body of his dead three-month-old baby son, choke in hoarse, dry sobs. Everyone felt guilty, as of murder or willful torture. Someone or something was suffering untold pain and blaming them all.

Only John, the younger priest, had no horror image or dreadful memory. He tried to finish Gerald’s command. And it was a painful mistake.

“Answer,” he said loudly, his voice cracking with nervousness. “In the name of Jesus, answer our questions . . .”

“Don’t, John,” Gerald interrupted thickly. But it was too late. The damage was done. The groaning stopped. Richard/Rita rolled over on his back, then sat up. There was a sudden, dreadful lull. The others were jerked back to the present. They tensed, ready to jump and hold Richard/Rita down. But all Richard/Rita did was to open one eye. It appeared luminous, slitted, evilly joyous, focusing on John.

“Ah! The lily-white cur!” Each word came out like paste squeezed slowly from a tube. Everyone present and listening waited on every syllable. “We’ll fix you. In time.” Gerald was filled with pity for John: now he was in for it.

“You’ll lose some of your hair. And you’ll sit in a confessional and secretly wonder why they do the things they confess to you. And the wonder will change to curiosity. And the curiosity to desire. You won’t admit it, but you will end with desire. To murder. To steal. To fuck. Whatever they tell you. And you’ll feel the prick in you and you’ll fudge on the monies. And you’ll tilt the bottle. Then you’ll let her hot hands soothe your fever”-the sarcasm was biting-“and when you get up, she’ll drive you to the sea for your health and you’ll have a quickie in the back of the car-all for the love of your sugar-coated Jesus. And she’ll need more and more of your love of God. And more. And more. And more.


And”-the voice was now at a screaming crescendo-“you’ll take several wives of several men, just to console them. You’ll be a whoremaster on the altar, you lily-white cur. And you’ll be afraid to confess it.” Richard/Rita started to screech and howl with laughter, rolling around the couch. “Maybe”-he stopped laughing and fixed John again with the one eye speculatively- “maybe, you’ll come even into my box.”

The captain laid two strong hands on Richard/Rita’s shoulders, restraining him firmly but gently. He was suddenly quiet. Then he turned the one eye on the captain and wrinkled his nose in mock disgust: “He’ll screw your wife. Yours! She wants him already. A nice clean young man no woman ever had.”

“Frank, hold it,” Gerald said hurriedly to the captain. He squeezed John’s hand to reassure the young priest. He was now standing erect by himself. He reassured them all with a glance. Then slowly and in a solemn tone of voice to Richard/Rita: “Your name is Girl-Fixer. You will answer our questions.” Painstakingly he listed them:

“How many of you are there? Who are you? What do you do? Why do you hold this person whom Jesus saved?”

Each question acted like a hammer blow on Richard/Rita. With each one Richard/Rita sank back further on the couch. He seemed to shrink and diminish as if being flattened. A look of trapped horror spread over his face like a film.

Gerald continued: “I ask these questions in the name of Jesus. You will answer.”

Richard/Rita’s body relaxed and went limp; he lay on his back, eyes closed. The captain loosened his hold finally and stood back. Gerald motioned to the assistants; they moved away from the bed. Richard/ Rita’s two brothers looked at each other for a brief instant. They recollected later: their horror was almost equaled by their curiosity. What malign and dark forces had seized their brother? Why? Could he be freed of them? Would they give up?

The pressure on Gerald was lightening inch by inch, he felt. He could feel little pockets of relief throughout his body. His vision started to clear up again. His ears stopped aching. He was no longer bleeding. He still had the inexorable gnawing around his middle, but now it was a dully insistent pain, steady, unwavering, predictable.

For a few minutes Richard/Rita’s mouth opened and shut alternately. They could see his tongue moving inside, his cheeks tautening and loosening, his Adam’s apple jerking up and down. He seemed to be forming words soundlessly.

Then they began to hear him, at first faintly as a distant whisper, then in half words, then broken phrases, finally in whole sentences punctuated by trailing pauses and delivered in that gravelly tone which not even his brothers recognized as that of the Richard they had known all their lives. Dr. Hammond, too, had recovered his composure, and was once more engaged in clinical observation of what was happening.

“How many of you are there?” Gerald repeated. Then he leaned forward listening intently. Bit by bit, he began to pick up the middle of words, the beginnings of phrases.

“. . . numbers ... no bodies, fool . . . can you can’t . . . numerality . . . spr-- . . . negative math . . . count only in power . . . unbroken will each and eve-- . . . stick together . . . gargantuan push on little pygmies ... no one solitary . . . off on their . nothing . . . any one of us alone is nothing, has nothing . own among us, a single spirit is merely a few fibers-will, mind-strung out on a measly being forever headed to an eternal absence, an endless vacuum ... a belly on two legs stumbling aimlessly across the dry bed of confirmed hopelessness . . . that’s each one alone . . . impossible . . . nothing, a real nothing . . . hating, loathing, loving unlove and unloving . . . together around a human or hating the High Enemy . . . oaaaaaaaaaah . . . the push and shove and dent we make, the Kingdom, the Kingdom, there High Enemy never rules, dense, indistinguishable, one mass, one will, one complete beast, one brilliance pouring from the Daring One to all the others. So that humans back into the corner . . . take darkness as their lot, disease and pain and death and darkness ... on all sides scratched, bitter, stung, deadened, maddened by the crawling members of the Kingdom, the Kingdom ...”

“Have you all various names?” Gerald interjected. “Are you all equal? What are your identities?”

The voice coming from Richard/Rita had sunk to a stage whisper.

“Brilliant! Brilliant!” the psychologist breathed wonderingly to Gerald. “Just the question to be asked!”

“Must you go further on this line, Father?” Bert asked Gerald, watching his brother in dismay.

“Kindly wait, my dear man.” Dr. Hammond’s eyes were bulging with interest, his face flushed with anger at the interruption. “This may be a landmark case of multiple personality.”

Gerald looked sideways at the psychiatrist. It was a look more of pity than surprise.

But there was no time for more.

“. . . round and fat and red and black and male and female and what they do or smell like or walk like or do like, pygmy humans. . . names, what names? ... a breath of little lungs. . . it’s what we do, we are ... millions if you count the wills, the minds, infinite if you weigh the hatings, the living hatings . . . one above the other, no one is all, all are under one, some so near the Daring One they have intelligence only the High Enemy can match, some so low they are turds, the shards, the lumps beneath his heel, the dust between his toes . . . and loving it all, all the degradation . . . anything to disfigure beauty.”

A fit of crackling, cackling laughter seemed to grip Richard/Rita. Whatever or whoever was amused, it was a frightening look Richard/ Rita now wore: his mouth drawn back, all his teeth bared, his cheeks lined from the stretching of the lips, chin bobbing up and down, nostrils flaring and distended-and the ugly horror of that amusement. This was no belly laugh or dry, subtle joke, no reaction to fine wit or deep humor. Just a triumphal screeching sound undulating out on felt waves of satisfaction for hate, of acquiescence in unhappiness, of refusal to envisage any existence but that of living in death, of mercilessness, of perpetual banality exalted into a way of existence.

Gerald spoke again. “What do you do, you of the Kingdom? Girl-Fixer? All of you?

What do you do?”

Richard/Rita was now covered with perspiration. His clothes and the top of the couch were sodden. The temperature of the room had become stifling in the last hour. A stale odor hung in the air. Each one present had a throbbing headache. Bert and Jasper had begun again to support Gerald on either side. Both the brothers looked like men wounded and bled dry of any feeling. They had been numbed by compassion for their brother and by fear for his well-being. Father John was saying his rosary beads. The teacher and the police captain stood on either side of the couch. Listening to Richard/Rita’s rambling talk, they seemed to have shrunk to shadows of their former selves, their burly forms drooping and listless.

The only one still spry, coldly thoughtful, active, still moving around and in apparent control of himself, was the psychiatrist. In spite of his apparent stress, there was a gleam in his eyes, picked up by his steel-rimmed spectacles, that bespoke the professional behaving predictably in the teeth of invaluable experience. Dear God, Gerald prayed silently, let him be spared the price of any further stupidity he may yet commit.

Dr. Hammond, however, concentrated on Richard/Rita’s reply as his body stiffened on the couch. The police captain and the teacher held Richard/Rita down. Jasper left Gerald’s side and placed his hands on Richard/Rita’s ankles. They could all “feel” the resistance coming.

“Why should we reply? The High . . .”

“Because Jesus commands you. And his cross protects us. And you were defeated by his sacrifice. And you will obey. Answer.”

Again Richard/Rita went limp. The groaning started and lasted a minute or two. James could feel his brother’s whole body vibrating as if electric waves were being shot through it in quick, successive spurts.

“We ... we ... leave us to the Kingdom. You hear! Rita is one of us now. Forever. You cannot have Rita.”

“Rita is baptized. And saved. And forgiven. You do not anymore have the freedom of Rita’s body and Rita’s soul,” Gerald shot with a savagery he never had felt before. “You will tell us what you do, how you fix. Answer. In the name of Jesus.”

For a few minutes, Gerald had the impression that the confused babel of voices was starting again, but it came to nothing. In that tiny, limping, unknown voice, Richard/Rita spoke again. It was the weird and unaccustomed voice that made him a stranger to his brothers.

“Oh, it starts with the box and ends with the box. So long as we make them think the box is all, we fix them. We can make a whore of the grandest-all legal, all secure, if once ... if once they think the box is woman, woman a box ... the greatest insult to the High Enemy, because woman is likest to the High Enemy. A man is a thing. A woman is being. We fix them so they think . . . it’s nothing but a big, fat dick in a sea of hormones, and smellings and screams, and all the shouting and jabbing and pulling and jerking. Tie them to the dickybird tight in his cage. Tie them to that. Don’t let them see beyond. And she will make the man in her image. Tie him too . . .” Richard/Rita broke off, turning on the couch and gasping as if for air.


“You! Priest! We’ve fixed you for . . .”

“No, Girl-Fixer. Jesus has defeated you. In his name you will answer: why do you hold this creature, Rita, in slavery? Why?”
Gerald in his inexperience was following a dangerous yet apparently elementary line of reasoning. It seemed logical to him to insist on finding out why or how Richard/Rita had come to be possessed. But there was always the danger that his own mental curiosity would conquer his better judgment. He might, in that case, advance so far as to tamper with the innards of evil and get injured beyond repair.

As it turned out before the end of the exorcism, it was not Gerald who suffered the consequences of such tampering.

“We do as we are bidden by the Daring One. Rita was our prey, our soul. Rita chose to be a box, to be a box, to be a box, to be a box. Even when the High One spoke, he chose to be a box, to be a box, to be a box.”

Gerald, by some inner sense, felt that one single, personal strand of evil and resistance had faded or was fading from the scene; it felt as if a lesser intelligence was now coping with his questions.

Richard/Rita began to struggle and gasp again. Gerald reflected for a moment. What next? Should he keep silent and let all things quiet down? Should he press forward and extract more information? He remembered the old Dominican saying with a shake of the head: “If you get a chance to squeeze them dry of words, do so. If you can, press them to tell what exactly happened. But don’t get into a give-and-take of a normal argument. They will always beat you. And a beating can be more than you can take.”

Gerald looked again at Richard/Rita; his body was thrashing back and forth jerkily; the assistants were looking at Gerald for some direction. He decided to ask one more question.

“Evil Spirit, in the name of Jesus, announce the trap in which you caught Richard/Rita. I ask this by the authority of the Church and in the name of Jesus.”

Richard/Rita’s horrible voice answered: “We start with self-growth, self-discovery. We tell ‘em, we told Rita: First, you must be yourself, find yourself, know who you are. They stick their noses in their own navels and say: I like my own smell! Then, that woman alone, woman alone, is the thing to be. She has it all within her, but man has it all hanging out.”

The assistants had moved away from the couch and stood in almost unbelieving fright near Gerald. Bert no longer supported Gerald, but leaned on the night table.

“To be a woman is to be completely independent, we tell them. No guilt. Not masculine. Not feminine. Complete in herself. Cunt and clit in one. Androgynous. Free of guilt feelings, of all responsibility to a man. Biologicaaaaaaaaaaal!”

Richard/Rita’s voice stretched out, caressing the last syllable. At a sign from Gerald, the assistants moved back and laid hands on Richard/Rita. A pause. Then: “To be freed from any need of other. Let them think that they are past ambition of ecstasy on a prick, but totally sensual because they can laugh at love and all its makings; that they are developing their own self-contained skills; that her own intimacy with herself is the whole world, without the intrusion of the male; that she is full of internal spaces in herself, infinite spaces, infinite enough to contain all she could ever wish to have or be; that she can be tranquil, full of personalities, many-sided, all of man, without his tomfoolery, all of woman without the alley-cat carry-on.”

Richard/Rita stopped. Only the four pairs of hands restrained him from getting up. His legs and arms wrestled for a few moments, then ceased. He groaned again and began to mutter inaudibly.

“Speak, Girl-Fixer! Speak! Let us hear your voice clearly!”

“Then . . . then . . . the same old trap. The same old trap we’ve taken many in-we still catch them in. That they fuck as necessarily as birds sing, as water flows, as the fire burns. Merely to show how independent they are. How superior they are. That if they don’t breathe for fucking, live for fucking, sing in fucking, they can’t breathe, cry, sing, love, or do anything. Be liberated. That’s what they begin to say. Man, woman, or goat, little boy, or if it comes to that, little girl. And then, when Rita got there-Oeeeeeeeeeeeh!” It was a yelp of triumph as before.

Gerald was in command. There was not even a vestige of the Pretense now. But Richard/Rita was still caught in the teeth of this wild, evil thing and was virtually flung about on the couch as the Girl-Fixer cackled on.

“And, after that . . . one penis. Then another penis. Then a third. A fourth. A fifty-fourth. A forest of ‘em. Sharp stakes. All the same. Oeeeee! And then the hate at being loved so. And the disgust at hating. And the hating of so loving. And the loving of
hate. And the lying in wait for the penis. And the laughter at its nonsense. And the slavery. Many of us are the rump of the Daring One. Every Rita is a piece of his shit ...”

It was enough. Gerald broke in brusquely. There was only one question more. “At what point in time did Rita give over possession to you? When was it consummated?”

“In the snow. In the wind. We knew then we could find a place in him. Bend him to our will. But he had invited years before . . .”

Gerald decided that all he wanted to know had been told. The evil spirit had been sufficiently subdued and humiliated, Now it could be expelled.

“”Lord God of Heaven, in the name of Jesus Christ, your only begotten son, and in the name of your Holy Spirit, we pray that you will grant us our prayer and free this your servant, Richard, from the toils of slavery and the foul possession of this evil spirit.”

Gerald had been looking up at the ceiling during this prayer. Now he looked down at Richard/Rita, held up the crucifix, and prepared to begin the final exorcising prayer.

Dr. Hammond broke in, whispering urgently in his ear: “Father, don’t let it stop here.

Let me put a few professionally oriented questions.”

In spite of his dislike of psychiatrists and his general annoyance with this one, Gerald remained afraid for him. He whirled around painfully, urgently pleading in a cracked voice: “For the love of Jesus, Dr. Hammond, for your own sake, keep your mouth shut. Stay out of this. You don’t know what you . . .”

But it was too late. Dr. Hammond had gone over beside Richard/ Rita. He sat down on the edge of the couch and began to speak calmly, persuasively.

“Now, Rita, we have nearly finished. This is almost at its close. You will be calm. There’s nothing to be fearful of. Answer my questions. And after that, you will wake up.”

Richard/Rita stopped turning and twisting. He lay utterly still. His face relaxed. The expression around his lips softened. Dr. Hammond, rather tense in the beginning, now began to relax. It was a mistake on Gerald’s part to allow the psychiatrist to do this. No experienced exorcist would have permitted such blatant and dangerous interference. It was dangerous not only because the whole exorcism might break down and be completely lost, but it could be possibly fatal for the person so unwary as to reach out in ignorance and touch summary evil. So it proved in one sense for Dr. Hammond.

A sudden, dull silence fell in the wake of his opening words to Richard/Rita. After all the pain and noise and groaning and strain, that silence was surprisingly alien to them all. One by one, each head lifted. Hammond’s professional air-his blue business suit, his spectacles, his knowing tone, his very confidence in moving to Richard/Rita’s couch and sitting down to speak, overruling Gerald’s warnings by his behavior-all this made them think, as the policeman recalled, “After all, this may be more normal than I thought.”

But what Gerald sensed was not the lifting of an evil presence, but a shift. Dr. Hammond had fallen into the same trap as Gerald had done four and a half weeks before, and with infinitely poorer defenses than even Gerald had had. Only Gerald and the teacher grew tense with the fear of understanding.

But suddenly, almost in unison and as if their unwinding had been something you could see and hear, they all stopped unwinding. You could almost see and hear the sudden cessation of flooding relief. In that silence they were listening. A change was taking place. They all sensed now what Gerald and the teacher had sensed. A change in something or somewhere near them or connected with them, with that room, with Gerald, and with Richard/Rita.

Finally even the psychiatrist stopped, his professional calm ruptured. He had the half-annoyed, half-hurt look of someone interrupted in the middle of a sentence. He looked quickly at Gerald and the others, alarm spreading across his features. For the first time in his professional life, Dr. Hammond was face to face with something he knew was far beyond his reach to categorize as a verifiable known or unknown. What he was then beginning to perceive, he felt, he had always known but never acknowledged, even in the deepest moments of the eight years of analysis through which he had successfully passed.

But his scientific mind was his only ready defense, and he kept up the protest in his mind: Verify! Get the facts! Test them!

But he knew. There was no verifiable fact.

There was a reality made transparent to him. Before this moment, he would have labeled this a product of the irrational. But it now appeared to be real beyond all reason. And he had always known it.

Slowly they all began to hear sound. It was, at the beginning, like the sound of a crowd or mob-feet pounding faintly, voices shouting, screaming, yelling, jeering, talking, distant whistling and grunting. They could not fix from what direction it came.


The teacher glanced out the windows at the pond. The trees were moving gently in the wind; a few ducks paddled around in the water; the evening was still bright. Then the noise sounded nearer, just as confused as ever, but now with one overall mood or note: mourning for an ineluctable sorrow. Listening to that sound on the tape recording of the exorcism, and as it grows louder and louder, one begins to get the conviction of listening to the tortured murmurs and helpless protests of a mob in agony, keening and wailing for deeps of regret, screaming and groaning for the ache of punishment and unremitting penalty, yelling impotently in condemnation, vibrating as a whole beast of suffering, as some protean heart thumping in the mud and squalor that history never recorded and human mercy had never penetrated.

Over and above all the voices but constantly weaving in and out among them, there was the full scream of a woman orchestrating all the other noises and voices around itself as their theme. It came in great rising and falling curves, louder and fainter, still louder and then fainter, regular, upbeat, jarring, resounding with a passion of pain and lost hope.

Gerald noticed that everyone in the room seemed to be bending, lowering his height as if afraid of something moving in the upper part of the room. Nothing was visible up there.

Dr. Hammond sat as if unable to move from the edge of the couch. Richard/Rita’s lips turned blue, his eyes open and staring vacantly. The attending doctor moved to his side to take his pulse and found his body very cold, the pulse steady but weak.
“Father, this cannot go on much longer,” Father John managed to shout to Gerald.

“He’s taken enough already.”

“Not very much more! Not very long, now!” Gerald shouted back. But the remainder of what he wanted to say went unsaid. It was the psychiatrist who now claimed his attention. Dr. Hammond had slipped off the couch and stood in an askew way looking halfway around over his shoulder at Richard/Rita, his eyes narrowed with apprehension, his notebook fallen and forgotten. No one, the psychiatrist included, could shake his mind loose from the web of pain and regret pervading the atmosphere.

The noise and the din of sobbing and mourning rose finally to an undulating pitch. Richard/Rita’s face suffused with color; red patches and streaks discolored his arms and neck. Even his eyes deepened in color. He was trying to speak.

Gerald was alerted: something was coming, and he felt he must make his final challenge very fast.

“In the name of Jesus, you are commanded to leave this creature of God. You will go out of Rita and leave him whole and entire . . .”

Richard/Rita’s sudden scream split their eardrums. “We go, Priest. We go.” It was a million turbulent voices as one, full of eternal ache and pain. “We go in hate. And no one will change our hate. And we will wait for you. When you come to die, we’ll be there. We go. But”-Gerald heard the sharp injection of hate hissing through the sorrow-“we take him.” Richard/Rita’s hands suddenly swept up in a wide arc toward Dr. Hammond. It was a quick but clumsy movement.

Hammond jumped backward. And Richard/Rita fell off the couch to the floor as the assistants jumped forward and held him down.

“We already have his soul. We claim him. He is ours. And you cannot do anything about that. We already have him. He is ours. We needn’t fight for him.”

Richard/Rita was wheezing like someone being asphyxiated, eyes bulging, neck muscles standing out, his long hair falling back, his chest heaving, as he half-rose in his effort. “You can’t get him back. He is ours. He does our work. He doesn’t need a box. He puts everybody else into it.”

All calm was gone from Dr. Hammond; his face was a picture of black fear.

“Here . . . we can’t stay here any longer.” It was still the voice from Richard/Rita, and it was full of inflexible pain and bitterness. “There is too much to suffer here. Where will we . . .” The voice trailed off.

Richard/Rita kicked and scratched at the straining assistants. Then he started to scream until at last he fainted, and above and around them the last syllables of his words trailed off into the din of voices. They spiraled up to a thin, high note, then sank to a thumping resonance like the bellowing of a gored bull. Slowly they faded into the distance. Those many tortuous voices, those myriad footfalls with decreasing rhythm and ever fainter sound all began to withdraw farther and farther from their presence, like a funeral procession plodding its way inch by inch, swaying and twisting, out of the city of man, swallowed by the great, unknown wilderness of the surrounding night. That single beating scream of the woman still rang dolefully but more and more faintly above the dying echoes of the withdrawing multitude, until finally there was only a little swatch of sound rising and sinking, rising and sinking, and in the end never rising again out of the silence.

As the sound had receded, Richard/Rita’s struggling had progressively ceased. The tension holding everyone had lessened and lessened until they realized one by one, as they lifted their heads, moved uneasily, then looked at each other’s faces, that they were standing alone with each other in a small bedroom, that there was a curious silence, and that their world was still right-side up. It was over. All was well.

Gerald glanced at the psychiatrist. He was leaning back against the wall, spectacles in one hand, while he cried unreservedly into his other hand. “Bert, see to him, will you?” Gerald said gently.

“Leave me. Leave me be,” muttered Dr. Hammond, in between his tears. Then he drew a deep breath: “I’m all right. Leave me be.” He walked slowly to the door, pulled it open, then half-turned and looked back at Richard/Rita and at Gerald. He had the look of someone unjustly hurt; and his eyes held a puzzlement and appeal. Then, without a word, he turned and went out. He would have conversations with Gerald later. But now he had no words. And he was tired beyond belief.

After about 20 minutes, they lifted Richard/Rita on to the couch. He was coming to. He motioned with his hand to Gerald. He was obviously very weak but quite self-possessed and aware. Gerald saw the smile in his eyes and faintly at the corners of his mouth.

“Father, I have not felt so restful and so light in ten years. I ...”

“No need to say much now, Rita,” said Gerald.

“But, Father Gerald, I ... I am happy for the first time for a long time.”

“We’ll talk about it later,” Gerald said, smiling through his pain; he was bleeding again and his pelvis was riven with an aching soreness. He straightened up as much as he could, and turned to go.

“Father Gerald!” Richard/Rita struggled up and leaned on one elbow. He was looking out the window. “I am ... I ... please . . . call me Richard. Richard I was born. Richard I will die.” He glanced up at Gerald. “The rest of it”-his gaze traveled down over his body-“for the rest of it, let’s rely on God and-and Jesus.” He paused and looked away as if remembering or trying to remember something. Then, looking again at Gerald, “Father, they told me ... or I heard them say-I don’t know which-there isn’t much time . . . you know . . .” He broke off lamely.

“I know, Richard,” Gerald said trying to smile, but feeling the lead weight inside him. Somewhere deep in his belly a gray slug was eating his vitals. And somewhere in his heart, a lump of coldness had taken up residence. “I know. I have known for quite a while. I know. It’s all right. It was my own choice.”

Outside on the driveway, Dr. Hammond was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car waiting. The engine was already started.
“Going to be a very wet night, Father Gerald,” he said. Despite the strain, there was a note of cordiality and respect Gerald had not noticed before. “Let me drop you on my way to the office. I must get my report on tape tonight before I forget anything. They can type it up tomorrow.”

Gerald slid in painfully beside him and waved goodbye to Jasper, who had been helping him.

“Tell me, Dr. Hammond,” he said chattily as they swung out on to the main road, “do you believe in the Devil?”


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