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The 24th of July A Novel-In-Progress by Kimberley A. Hanna A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of English College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Dr. John Fleming, Ph.D. Committee Member: Dr. Rita Ciresi, Ph.D. Committee Member: Dr. Anthony Kubiak, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 6, 2004 Keywords: polygamy, mormon, lesbian relati onships, latter-day saints, lesbian Copyright 2004 Kimberley A. Hanna
i TABLE OF CONTENTS Abstract The 24th of July: A Novel-In-Progress ii Introduction Introduction Statement 1 Works Cited 20 Manuscript The 24th of July: A Novel-In-Progress Chapter One 21 Chapter Two 40 Chapter Three 68 Chapter Four 106 Chapter Five 124 Chapter Six 143 Chapter Seven 162 Chapter Eight 170
ii The 24th of July A Novel-In-Progress Kimberley A. Hanna ABSTRACT The 24th of July is a fictional novel set in the present day. The story centers around Michelle, an eighteen year old girl from Warm Springs, Idaho who fears the sexual games she has played with her cousin Edna have tainted her for a Temple marriage. She meets Duke, a charismatic fundamentalist polygamist, who believes polygamy is part of the plan for eternal salv ation as set down by the original doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Sa ints and the prophet Joseph Smith. Michelle sees Duke as her chance to put her relati onship with Edna in the past and obtain the rewards waiting for her in the celestial h eaven by marrying him and having babies. But life as a polygamist wife is more diffi cult than she anticipated and it is further complicated by the fact that she and Cheron, Dukes second wife, fall in love. When Duke discovers the nature of their relationshi p, both are forced into making choices that will change their entire way of life.
1 INTRODUCTION STATEMENT I began writing when working on my undergraduate degree at Eckerd College, where I graduated with honors in 2001 with a bachelors in Creative Writing. I was happy to be accepted into USFs Masters pr ogram in creative writing in 2002 as I wanted to improve my writing and saw being a part of a masters program as the best way for me to do so. At Eckerd, my first introduction to wr iting class was a formative experience. It was taught by Mark Leib, who is also a prof essor at USF and the theater critic for The Weekly Planet This class introduced me to fiction, playwriting, and poetry. While it was not comprehensive enough to do more than present the basic concepts of each genre, I was thrilled to discover, as I have in each subsequent wri ting class I have taken, that writing is a craft that can be learned and honed and is not entirely dependent upon innate talent, but just as much upon hard work, ten acity, and ability to listen to critiques and implement suggestions in the rewriting process. After I left Eckerd and be fore beginning at USF, I t ook a graduate-level class in playwriting as a non-degree seek ing student from Professor Le ib at USF. The class was difficult and my attempts at writing the week ly required scenes did not always reach the level for which I hoped. I was trying to write about what I saw as the hollowness of an upper-class existence and it was coming off as simply stereotyped or Martha-Stewartidealistic.
2 For several weeks in a row, I would write a scene, read it the next day, toss it in the garbage, and start over. I was not ju st revising, I was starting over on a totally different topic. I would do this several tim es a week until I had a scene that conveyed what I was trying to say. One week, the assignment was to write a monologue. I wrote about illness, namely the desire for it. The piece was based on my experience with illness and how I started looking back on my own postoperativ e period with a certain fondness. My life had become out-of-control-busy with fulltime work, school, charity work, social obligations, and the demands of being a corpor ate wife, leaving no time for my child or to write. But after I was diagnosed with a bone tumor, all that ground to a halt. Soon, certain stimuli would remind me of th is peaceful time. It could be the scent of a lotion or the feel of my childhood blanket I would fall asleep with, thick with the aftereffects of anesthesia and morphine. These triggers were the impetus of my monologue, The Pleasure of Your Company I wrote about a wo man who found major surgery a better alternative to the life she led, a woman who wanted that tumor to come back, to give her a reprieve from the perf ect life she had built. I wrote about a woman who was tempted more by the seductions of Vicad in than her best friends husband. By using the theme of illness and by talking about an aspect of it that people do not always admit to, I was able to convey some of the de triments of an upper-middle class lifestyle, but without the stereotype. After that piece, I wrote Newsbreak which portrayed the different ways family members cope with a random attack on the prot agonists sister. I wanted to convey how
3 they dealt with a major tragedy and how these differences, while breaking the family apart in ways that they never reconcile, stem from the fact that each person is really exactly the same just trying to get through it whatever way they can. My next piece, A Gala Evening was about an argument between a husband and a wife in a valet line after a charity ball. Ar guments had been difficult for me and I tended to let the winner win without much of a fight from the loser. But in A Gala Evening I let the husband and wife finish their argument, all the way to th e bitter end. This short play was accepted and read at the Edward Albee Last Frontier Theater Conference in 2002. Making things difficult enough for my protagonist is still not one of my natural gifts, but I am aware of it and work at it continually. I use these early works as examples of what I was trying to work on to improve my writing. I wanted to write without judgment. I wanted to write without stereotype. I wanted to write with more conf lict. I wanted to write about issues that I am passionate about, yet do it well enough that my work b ecomes universal. These pieces were steps in this direction, but interestingly, these are all st ill issues in my writing that I remain very conscious of. I also wrote Hypoxia Zone a full-length play, as a class requirement. A dark comedy, the play centers around three troubled friends enjoying a b each weekend. Their lives appear tranquil and satisfyi ng, but, like the l iteral hypoxia zone in the water (a dead zone devoid of oxygen), harbor dark secrets. Over the course of the weekend, Leigh decides to leave her husband because her life has been reduced to providing food and sex and Eve begins to check off items on her to-d o-before-she-dies list that includes sleeping
4 with a woman. But it is Geenas life that is most vulnerable when Eve and Leigh confront her about their suspicion th at her daughter is being abused. Mark Leib described Hypoxia Zone as better than most plays he reviews and an impressive new comedy when announcing StageWork Theaters 2003-2004 season in The Weekly Planet (Leib 35). With his encouragement, I sent it out to theaters and it is currently slated for productio n July 8-28, 2004 in the Shimberg Theater at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and is under consideration for produc tion by The Theatre District at the Cast in Hollywood, CA. It has also received staged read ings by StageWorks Theater in Tampa and The Players Theater in Sarasota. When I wrote Hypoxia Zone its latent lesbian theme seemed bigger than life to me, as I was personally struggling with that ve ry issue. I felt expos ed when the play was workshopped the first time. Now that I am di vorced and ensconced in a lesbian lifestyle, the play no longer has th at effect on me. All these pieces helped develop my writing and I learned that if I were not afraid of putting a piece of me on pape r, if I just had the wear w ith all to mine my own thoughts and feelings, no matter how private, I coul d write a more universal piece, no matter where I set it in a trailer park or in the va let line. Dorothy Allison, a literary influence, states that the best fiction comes from the pl ace where the terror hides and says that if a writer does not break out in th at sweat of fear when you writ e, then you ha ve not gone far enough ( Skin 217). I want to find that fear, because I know that once I get over getting it on paper, the effect of it on me du lls over time, until it totally disappears. What was once a secret becomes a work independent of me a story or a play. It takes on a
5 life of its own and in doing so it disengages from me, mu ch like teenagers need to separate from their parent s and go out into the world. In addition to The 24th of July and Hypoxia Zone my body of work consists of three other plays. Jane Avril: La Dernire Grisette a one-act, one-woman commission depicting the lives and loves of Toulouse-Laut recs most famous model, was produced at the Tampa Museum of Art in November 2003 and at the Baltimore Museum of Art in April 2004. In it, the life of the celebrated Moulin Rouge dancer is told through the stories of those closest to he r, from her abusive mother, the demi-mondaine who exploited her; to May Milton, her closest conf idant and one of many lovers. When this play was commissioned, I chose to explore Jane Avril because of my interest in womens relationships and the fact I wanted to highli ght Avrils lesbianism (and that of her peers Yvette Guilbert, May Belfort, May Milton, and the whores). From a development standpoint, Jane Avril: La Dernire Grisette took me out of using my own experiences as writing material and forced me to use writing tools such as research, but I am amazed at how much of me is still in there. Another play, X-RAYTED an unproduced work, is set on Anne and Teds new boat. While planning the boats christening pa rty, Anne and her two friends plot to kill Ted, an abusive and arrogant radiologist. Wh en Ted turns up dead in the second act, the three women come together, apart, and together again as they attempt to determine if his death were an accident or if one (or more) of th em did indeed kill him. The title refers to Teds chauvinistic attempts to name the boat something that will convey to the world that
6 he is a player, while still bei ng able to act innocent about his intentions. He starts with T & A but Anne does not buy hi s reasoning that it is ju st their initials. When he renames it, he names it for himself: X-RAY TED But Ted does not space hi s letters well and the boat again has an x-ra ted name. Writing X-RAY TED helped me explore forces of connection and disconnection as a way to create conflict. The conflict isn't Ted getting killed or even who did it. Instead, it is the way the women unite and divide that creates the suspense. Pool Rules also unproduced, is set at a country club party on the pool patio. Five women enter. Over the course of the play, it is revealed that these five women are one woman who is struggling to keep the rigors of her life from pulling her apart. She is juggling the demands of being a corporat e wife, a formidable social schedule, motherhood, and work with questions about he r sexuality. The women come together and apart until they are forced to make a decision that will bring them back together. Pool Rules is my first piece that is not firmly grounded in realism. In addition to five actors portraying one woman, I use facele ss dummies that the actors move around to represent the other party guests. It is also more of a farce than realism, with the action become more and more confusing to the one woman who is trying desperately to hold her life together, cumulating when the others appear in a strap-on dildo (pool rule: only flexible swim aids are permitted in the pool), knock out one of the other party guests after he makes a pass (pool rule: no animals allowe d in the pool area, unless authorized by pool management), and hole the sick kids up in the locker room (pool rule: adult supervision of minor children is mandatory at all times).
7 Pool Rules has been workshopped in StageWor k Theaters playwriting group (led by the artistic director of the Asolo Theater in Sarasota). I have also submitted it to various theaters and new play competitions. I have several common themes in my wo rk. I write about wo mens relationships first and foremost, as either friends or lovers. I aim to depict the forces that connect and disconnect strong female relationships. In wri ting about lovers, I aim to bring the nature of the relationships between women to the forefront and move the sexuality to the background, making any physical relationship more the natural outcome of falling in love with a same-sex person instead of it driving th e attraction. In addition, my characters face the hollowness of what appears to be idyllic lives and grapple with their own past and present a buse, the abuse of their children and the part they play in it, addictions, and coming out as a lesbian in thei r largely heterosexual worlds. These themes, for the most part, parallel i ssues in my own life or the lives of those around me. Growing up, my family was lower mi ddle class at best, but when my second husband and I moved to Culbreath Isles, a waterfront neighborhood in South Tampa, I thought I had what I wanted. However, my marr iage became an institution at best that a beautiful home and a busy social calendar coul d not help. I also saw how the lives of my girlfriends inside the gates of Culbreath Isles we re no different from my childhood experience or the lives of the disenfranchise d I worked with at two of Tampas social service agencies (I am the former Director of Development at Alpha House of Tampa, a
8 pregnancy crisis center, and The Childrens Ho me, an orphanage for abused children). The only difference is more money and w ith more money, abus e and addiction can become invisible. It is this invisibility I wa nt to expose in my writing. I think of Sandra Cisneros, who wrote, When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. [ . ] You cant erase what you know. You can t forget who you are. [ . ] You must remember to come back. For the ones who ca nnot leave as easily as you (Cisneros 129). I left Culbreath Isles, which is, while no Ma ngo Street, just as treacherous. And I left plenty of women who cant leave, women whose children are abused, women who feel they have no options, and women who know th eir lives have become insignificant and seek refuge in drugs or alcohol. I love th em and attempt, in my writing, to come back for them, just like Sandra Cisneros. My goal as a writer is to concentrate on th e lesbian statement in my work. I think that representing this underh eard voice is important. With the current issue of gay marriage at the forefront of our nations cons ciousness, I am a proponent for the line of thinking that says all people, gay and stra ight, are the same, and that the homosexual experience should not be carved ou t and become an identity issue that keeps us separate. On the other hand, I agree with David Romn, w ho argues that it is politically useful and necessary to assert a gay identityagain and again, to contribute to the we are everywhere mantra (Hughes and Romn 4). He says that queer works help queer people create new identity formations and to inform and shape our [queer] understanding of identity and community (H ughes and Romn 5-6). To accomplish this, it is important to me for my work to be seen as lesbian-themed.
9 However, what makes a work lesbian in nature? If a lesbian writer writes without lesbian content, is that piece still considered a lesbian work? If a straight writer writes with lesbian content, is that piece a lesbian work? How much lesbian content is enough to constitute a lesbia n work? I think about these issues in my desire to be seen and identified as a lesbian writer. I have focused on lesbian issues throughout my academic career at USF, even as it relates to non-creative work. I have written papers such as The Use of (Homo)Erotic Symbolism to Construct Lesbian Desire in the Work of Holly Hughes and Antony and Cleopatra : Homoerotic Desire in Cleopatras Cour t in Performance and Text in addition to the annotated bibliography Lesbian (In )visiblity on Stage, 1890-1950. My paper Lesbian Representations in Bernard Shaws Mrs. Warrens Profession won a student prize at the International Bernard Shaw C onference hosted by USF in Sarasota, where I presented it in March 2004. I am currently revising it in the hopes of submitting it for publication. My favorite writers are Dorothy Allis on, Carol Anshaw, Bertha Harris, Eileen Myles, Leslea Newman, Sarah Waters, Jeanet te Winterson, Holly Hughes, Paula Vogel, Susan Sontag, and Radclyffe Hall. As much as I wish it would, my voice will never sound like any of my favorite wr iters. Knowing this, I am not attempting to emulate them; instead I hope to incorporate some of their essence into my work. In Allisons work, I admire the raw emotional grittiness of her characters. Her descriptive passages of damaged people are ha unting in their realism. Allison says she
10 wants hard stories and that sh e demands them from herself ( Skin 218). I want my stories to become harder and grittier, which has been a struggle for me, but something for which I continue to aim. I also like the way Allison explores the questions of family and loss and betrayal instead of focusing on the details of sexual abuse that color her stories ( Skin 54). Her novel, Bastard Out of Carolina, is a prime example of this. While this novel is replete with graphic abuse, it is fuller with the female rela tionships in young Bones life, and provides an interesting study of how st rong, tough women can be buried under by the demands of the [flawed] men in their lives. How does a child get sexually abused in a house full of family? Allison tells me how. When writing my own scenes, Allison's influence helps me to go far enough and to not stick to the surface of an issue. In addition, I use her writing as an example to explore the factors that surround abuse or other tragedies. As examples, in Newsbreak I focus on how the protagonists sisters attack ch anged the family and not on the attack itself. In Hypoxia Zone the characters walk away from th eir suspicion that ten year old Caroline is being abused. While this ending is disturbing to some, th e fact that kids get left in abusive relationships while others (i ncluding the family) know about it, is precisely my point. If Allison is emotionally raw, Eileen Myle s is physically raw. Her work is filled with the palpable descriptions of bei ng a woman, being a lesbian, and being in relationships. It reeks of pe ople: the way they smell, what they do, what they like. Consider her description of menstrual blood as having sex with oneself: examining the
11 blood, Is it red, brown; does it l ook too bright, or the descri ption of it smeared across a lovers face (Myles 89). I aspire to being able to describe physical sc enes with this same earthiness. Myles makes me ask myself what it really smells like or tastes like when writing and to try to get that description on the page. Both Allison and Myles keep their lesbianism to the forefront of their writings. But Sarah Waters, in Tipping the Velvet makes her protagonist spunky and courageous first and lesbian second. I also like her use of the first-person, wh ich draws me intimately into the story from the very beginning when she describes life as a fishmonger and seeing Kitty Butler for the first time. The first person works because she is such a complex character and I do not mind being in her head for almost five hundred pages. I too, want my characters to be who they are first and lesbians second. I do not want them to be solely defined by being a lesbian. I like Carol Anshaws use of de scription in her stories. In Seven Moves her protagonist finds photographs of her lovers lover and describes her as interestinglooking in a way thats from someplace else, full of an intensity of expression American women dont typically rise to a nd with a face carved from broad planes (Anshaw 76). I do not know whether the woman has blond hair or brune tte or is short or tall, but she is vivid in my mind. I like Ansh aws ability to approach description from the side and still convey an illustrative picture. She has influenced me to add more detail into my work and to work on finding the perfec t way to describe something with concrete detail.
12 I like this same thing in Jeanette Wi nterson. Here is how she describes a marriage: Inside her marriage there were too many clocks and not enough time. Too much furniture and too little space (Winte rson 45). I have written pages about vacant marriages that do not convey it nearly as succi nctly as those two sentences. Winterson has an ambiguity about her that strengthe ns the narrative so it ends up not feeling ambiguous at all. Winterson too has influen ced me to find a different way to present description and to not think of the obvious. In some ways, her influence is the opposite of Anshaw's and I hope to combine both their examples in my own writing. Because I chose to focus on playwriting in my early writing efforts, my development as a fiction writer has been different than if I had written more in the genre. At first, playwriting seemed like writing exercise. It was difficult for me to get characters on the page to convey an emotion or a t hought using just dialogue, especially since people never say what they are really thinking. Playwriting does not ha ve all the luxuries afforded to fiction, making it both harder a nd easier. There is no internal dialogue, narrative presence, point of view, descripti on, exposition, summary or many of the other tools available to the fiction writer. Soon though, playwriting became less an exercise in trying to find the precise dial ogue to convey what I needed and more like a crutch where I could rely on only dialogue for all my writing. Writing The 24th of July certainly changed that. Workshopping the piece has highlighted severa l areas I continue to work on in my writing. One is that I need to us e all the tools available to me as a fiction writer. I tended
13 to put very little description in my scenes, always eliciting the re sponse that the reader did not feel entirely in the scene. In addition, I did not use much in the way of thoughts or make use of the narrator to convey information that couldnt be told with dialogue, thus eliciting the response th at the reader did not really know my protagonist. I have worked at layering in descri ption and more information a bout Michelles motivations. Another problem for me was finding the em otion in my story. I realized that when writing a play, I am relying heavily on the director to find the emotion in the words. As an example, I was shocked to see Jane Avril: La Dernire Grisette in rehearsal because the director found moments of intens e emotion (especially in the scenes between Jane and her abusive mother and Jane and he r lover whom she leaves to marry). The sheer intensity of the emotion was overwhelming and I could not believe that the play I saw was the one I wrote. Luckily, because of the director, the play I saw was better than the one I wrote. She saw things in the word s I had hidden and looked over as easily as one looks over a typo in your own work. I ha ve to admit that going through the rehearsal process was painful at times, but because of the input of the director and the actor, the play was better than anythi ng I could have written. In fiction, there is no luxury of having ot her people find the emotional intensity or tell you that a line does not sound natural. Th e writer is responsible for giving the reader a full experience. The playwright leaves emo tional stage directions out of a script and I was doing the same thing with my manuscript. I wanted the reader to fill in the emotion from the words I put in the dialogue. I ha ve also worked to add more emotion to Michelle.
14 However, when writing scenes for The 24th of July I still find it easier to write the dialogue as I hear it, then go back through a nd cut out the extraneous parts of it while adding physical description, thoughts, and moveme nts, thus fleshing it out into a richer visual for the reader. For me, this is the craft part, the part I need to study, use, and hone. The dialogue comes more naturally and my fiction will probably always be dialoguedriven and dialogue-heavy. I th ink I have the ability to hear people and can get it down on the page in a natural-sounding manner. Most of my writings have concerned wo mens relationships, so it is no surprise that my thesis, The 24th of July does too. But for my thesis, I wanted a situation where women were closer than friends or even fa mily. The setting of a polygamist household was perfect. As with my other works, I drew on a certain amount of autobiographical history for my story. I grew up in Salt Lake City and at seventeen, married into a large Mormon family. One cannot grow up in Utah or marry into a Mormon family and leave without being steeped in the culture. I love Utah and I love its people, but I am also the first to brood on the difficulties of being the other: non-Mormon in a Mormon environment. Every day of my life, I was reminded of that otherness, whether at school or later at work. But it would always sneak up on me with someone I did not know until the question, Are you Mormon? was asked (and it is always asked when meeting a new person) because I look Mormon. I could easily pass for Mormon in situations where one is sized up by their physical traits alone (m uch like the way people presume I am straight
15 now in similar situations). But in Utah, I learned to embrace my otherness and did not want to pass for Mormon, just as I do not want to pass for straight now. I think that fact has significantly influenced my writing. The tenets that Duke and his family be lieve in are not so far from what the contemporary Mormon Church teaches. Of course, as Duke explains, the Church no longer sanctions plural marriage, but otherwise the doctrine in The 24th of July is the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While it may seem outlandish, peculiar, or dangerous to those of other faiths, they are the convictions that surrounded my growing up. For the majority of my life, I was viewed as outlandish, peculiar and even dangerous to acquaintances and co-workers for not believing in what the vast majority of Utahs population practices. Sandra Cisneros writes that it is not enough simply to sense it [the otherness]; it has to be named, and then written about (Cis neros xvi). I think all of my writing has been attempts to name my otherness, whether it was the otherness of not being Mormon, the otherness of living an upper-middle class lifestyle that did not quite fit, or the otherness of realizing I was gay in my [fo rmally] totally heterosexual environment. In writing The 24th of July I drew on my knowledge of two polygamous families in particular that I knew of in Utah. One family were customers of the bank I worked for and operated a business similar to Dukes. Only the husband handled banking matters, but the business employed his many wives and no outsiders. The other family lived in the last farmhouse on the edge of the bra nd-new subdivision my first husband and I bought our first house in. The yard swarmed w ith children, but it was rare to glimpse any
16 women, though I drove by their house every time I came or went. When I did catch sight of a plainly dressed wife work ing industriously in the yard garden, I would think about her life for the rest of the day. Why was sh e there? What kept her there? I was only eighteen myself, but it now seems I have been thinking about the imbalance of power in marriage for a long time. The 24th of July centers around Michelle, a youn g Mormon girl who fears the sexual games she has played with her cousin Edna have tainted her for a Temple marriage. She meets Duke, a charismatic fundamentalist Mormon polygamist, who believes polygamy is part of the plan for et ernal salvation as set down by the original doctrine of the Mormon Church. Michelle sees Duke as her chance to obtain the rewards waiting for her in the celestial heaven and marries him. But life as a polygamist wife is more difficult than she anticipated and it is further complicated by the fact that she and Cheron, Dukes second wife, fall in love a nd begin a sexual relationship. When Duke discovers the nature of their relationship, bot h are forced into making choices that will change their entire way of life. The title is currently a working title a nd refers to the Utah state holiday that commemorates the Mormons settling the Salt Lake Valley and the day Michelle and Cheron will consummate their sexual relationship. I have written a first draft (although it has undergone many revisions) of more than 150 pages and I anticipate th at to be about one-third of the novel. To date, Michelle has married Duke and is pregnant. She is al so struggling to keep her same-sex longings
17 inside and with the demands of living in a polygamous household and has started to question her decision. But a phone call home confirms that she has nowhere to go. I want to rework several aspects of th e novel before continuing forward with the story: Michelles lesbianism will be the central conflict. The flashback needs to be condensed and prioritized to reflect Michelles sexual conflict first, then her conflict with her parents, and finally her courtship with Duke (currently, the flashback is we ighted in favor of the courtship). I need to decide what to do with th e flashback. Originally, it was sprinkled throughout the first part of the stor y because I thought it important to understand early why Michelle would marry a polygamist. But it kept taking the reader out of the story. I then consolidated it into the second and third chapters, but I am not su re if this works either. I need to add more daily conflict in the household. I ha ve not made things hard enough for Michelle. I plan to use the children for some of this by introducing them into scenes more a nd using Little Duke as Dukes eyes and ears when he is gone. I want Mich elle to make more mistakes in this system by saying and doing the wrong things. I want to bond the women more and highlight Dukes tyranny by showing things such as the difference in th e household when Duke is home and when he is gone. I want Duke to be harsher, especially with the children, which will contribute to Miche lle losing her illusions of him.
18 I write from an outline, which I revise and update as I go along. Currently, my plans for the plot development include: Michelle wins Little Duke over by enlis ting him to help her get the car in the barn running. During one of Dukes many absences, the wives and kids have a picnic at the Great Salt Lake. Michelle kiss es Cheron while they are alone. Sherry visits and upsets the household because of the risk of discovery. More complications I have not plotted out yet that build Michelle and Cherons relationship and weaken Michelle and Dukes. Michelle feigns sickness at the Pioneer Day parade and Cheron takes her home. They have sex. LaRae is suspicious. LaRae tips Duke off to the nature Mich elles relationship with Cheron and he discovers them together. Duke forces them into a humiliating sexual experience with him. Michelle decides to leave, but knows Duke will not let her take her baby. The other wives have been enlisted to make sure he is watched at all times. Cheron decides to leave with Michelle but something happens (not just a change of heart) to reverse this. With the help of Sherry and one of the wives (not sure who yet), Michelle leaves. She goes to Edna. I added an epigraph to the beginning of each chapter in order to convey some of the underlying doctrine of the Chur ch that I felt was important for the reader to know, but
19 was coming off as preachy when incorporated into the text. I hope this helps to fix that problem. I think The 24th of July has a certain timeliness to it on a couple of counts, one as it relates to the topical concern of gay marri age. Some distractors of gay marriage use Bible principles to support their argument that marriage is a covenant reserved for heterosexual couples. Duke uses the Bibl e and the Book of Mormon to make his case that plural marriage is the onl y avenue to salvation. I hope The 24th of July illustrates in some way the danger of applying dogmatic tene ts to solve questions about what marriage is or is meant to be and how terrifying it is to interpret the Bible so literally to fit ones own needs. The 24th of July also fits into contemporary cultu re as society l ooks at religious zealots with a closer eye in the wake of th e highly-publicized Elizabeth Smart abduction. Elizabeth lived as the plural wife of he r ex-Mormon abductor Brian David Mitchell for none months (Smart 219). Mitchell, like Duke was directed by prophecy he imagined had been given to him by God and he preached of the blessings of polygamy (Smart 219). To me, it is intriguing that Mormons can look at Mitchell wi th abhorrence, while still believing that God blesses [certain] mort al men with prophecy and at one time, these prophecies extolled the same blessings of polygamy in which he still believes. The wives in The 24th of July are just as trapped as Elizabeth Smart was. I hope I have presented them as compassionately as one would Elizabeth Smart: as a victim of a smart, manipulative, and controlling fanatic.
20 Works Cited Allison, Dorothy. Bastard Out of Caroline New York: Plume, 1993. Skin: Talking About Sex, Class & Literature Ithaca: Firebrand Books, 1994. Anshaw, Carol. Seven Moves Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996. Cisneros, Sandra. The House on Mango Street New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. Hughes, Holly and David Romn, eds. O Solo Homo: The New Queer Performance New York: Grove Press, 1998. Leib, Mark. Pleasin Season The Weekly Planet June 4, 2003: 35. Smart, Ed and Lois Smart with Laura Mort on. Bringing Elizabeth Home: A Journey of Faith and Hope Waterville, ME: Thorndike Press, 2004. Waters, Sarah. Tipping the Velvet New York: Riverhead Books, 1998. Winterson, Jeanette. The PowerBook New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.
21 Some Latter-day Saints face the confusion and pain that result when a man or a woman engages in sexual behavior with a person of the same sex, or even when a person has erotic feelings that could lead toward such behavior. We shoul d distinguish between homosexual (or lesbian) thoughts and feel ings, which should be resisted and redirected and homosexual behavior, which is a serious sin. We need to learn how to live so that a weakness that is a mortal sin will not prevent us from achieving the goal that is eternal. from Same-Gender Attraction by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles Ensign 10/95 CHAPTER ONE Michelle woke to the crunch of thin ice breaking under the tr ucks tires as Duke pulled the truck into the driveway. She must have been asleep since Pocatello; she didnt remember crossing the border of Idaho into Utah at all. Her thick dark hair felt plastered to the side window, her cheek numb from the cold glass, spit still wet on her lip. Shed been dreaming. She was in the desert ag ain, barefoot on a wide strip of hot sand bordered with white rocks, rocks whiter than the salty sand. A smell like rotten eggs hung in the air. A rumbling made her look up and she saw a wave gathering force in the distance, growing taller as it grew closer. Water calmly washed around her ankles right
22 as the wave became a perfectly vertical wall above her, ready to pull her under as it crashed down. Were home! said her new husband, Duke Stead. He was an imposing man, large and assured, with a face tanning into calloused leather and a voice that matched. She looked out of the window at her new home. The house wasnt as large as shed imagin ed. It was red brick with two stories and an attic and a decaying wooden porch on all four sides. The sloping porch was strewn with a maze of object s: a pallet of cardboard boxes, a mini-trampoline, an old yellow Tonka dumptruck. It looked like any minute someone could burst through the back door and bring them to life. Not like back home in Idaho, where her dads wheelbarrow left out in the gard en rusted or their plaster birdbath cracked from the cold. Snow covered the yard, but Mi chelle could tell it was used as a vegetable garden. The fine powder rose and fell in short furrows in th e front and frozen stalks of brown corn and sunflowers rested agains t the porch railing. I was expecting it to be more of a farm, she said. This isnt Idaho, Duke said. The c ity keeps creeping up. He pointed through the windshield to a row of squat square houses, some tan, some white, some a drab yellow, their backyards exposed as if they were naked. Swingsets, dog runs, and the occasional storage shed punctuated the bleak line. Only a drooping barbed wire fence separated the houses from the small pastur e behind the barn. See those houses over there? That used to be Thurgood Whites farm He died, kids sold, now its Whitefarm Estates. They dont bother us though. Youll get used to it.
23 Duke opened his door and the frigid wint er air rushed into the cab. Michelle shivered and buttoned her coat. She gathered her small suitcase and her crocheted purse that contained her Book of Mormon and a st ash of Hershey bars. Michelle loved chocolate, even though as a Mormon, chocolat e and other addictive substances were prohibited by the Word of Wisdom. Shed qui ckly eaten one bar already when Duke was paying for gas outside of Twin Falls, accompanying the act with a prayer to try to save if not her soul, at least her body. Heavenly Fa ther, Im the weakest of the weak of all saints. Thank you for my mortal body and help me protect it, especially from the ravages of chocolate, and keep it the holy sacred temple it is. I hope they like me. Do you think they will? Whatd they say? she asked. She tried to find her balance in the icy gravel of th e driveway as she glanced at her hair in the rear-view mirror. Out of control as usual. Duke didnt respond and Michelle watched him as he unloaded her suitcase, his head down as if he hadnt heard her, his cheek bulging from a wad of chew. That wasnt allowed by the Word of Wisdom either, but Duke didnt seem as concerned with his mo rtal body as he was with hers. Whatd they say? she said, this time w ith a firmness that made Duke cock his eyebrow. What do ya mean, whatd they say? Th ey havent said anything. Duke started toward the porch but Michelle didnt move No one had acknowledged their wedding, the biggest event of her life? Duke paused and considered his words. They dont know we got married, he said over his shoulder.
24 Michelles eyes flashed with ho rror. You didnt tell them? When wouldve I told them? Michelle tried to remain calm. I dont know. I thought . maybe before you left . didnt they know you . Come on, lets get out of the cold. Duke led her up the rickety stairs and opened the back door into a too warm and too bright kitchen. Michelle was instantly comforted by the smell of beef st ew simmering on the stove. Four women were sitting around the larg e oak table, with brushes in hand and pots of paint, bowls of muddy water, empty 7Up cans and an open package of Doritos in the middle. They were painting ceramic obj ects with thick unfired colors. Laughing and talking at the same time, they reminded Miche lle of the lunch room back at her old high school, where all the girls would talk at once in a steadily increasing vo lume in order to be heard. The womens shrill laughter and boi sterous talk must have obscured the sound of Duke and Michelles arrival and they looked up in surprise. Duke! said a skinny blond. She was bony and had the longest hair Michelle had ever seen. Thin and the color of the sand in the egg-timer that always stood in the middle of Michelles moms stove, it cleared her wa ist in the back and stopped even with her hips, with feathered sides and short bangs in front. She jumped up, excited to see him, then stopped when she spotted Michelle and her belongings behind him. Her voice trailed with waning enthusiasm and he r thin eyebrows narrowed together. Duke embraced her before introducing Mich elle, his new bride and fifth wife, into their family.
25 The blond fell silent. She didnt move. Michelle knew she was LaRae, Dukes first wife, from the stories hed told Mich elle during thei r courtship. The other wives followed LaRaes lead and stayed quiet. Michelle forced a smile, as astonished as they were. She was unprepared for just how plain they looked, and old too, even t hough she knew none were over twenty-six. Is this how the few polygamist wives she used to occasionally see in Idaho looked? She shouldve been payi ng better attention. Michelle recognized the wife wrapped in a pink chenille housecoat, her brush poised above the bowl of water, as Rhonda from the dark circles under her eyes and disheveled hair. But she also had large, pe ndulous breasts that draped over the sides of her protruding belly. She wonde red why Duke hadnt told he r Rhonda was pregnant. It wasnt something a man who spoke so fondly of his kids would likely forget. Michelle wanted to be pregnant so badly she some times pretended she was when her period was late by only a day, even though she was a virg in, so the sight of Rhondas bulging belly sent a stab of jealousy through her center. The brush fell from Rhondas hand and landed in the bowl of water. A small wave splashed out, leaving a smear of sand dollar white along the oak, and breaking the silence. Michelle said hello. LaRae stepped forward, her nostrils flari ng as if she were attempting to breathe deeply. Michelle. She let Michelles name hang in the air for a moment, suspended as if shed set it on top of the tidal wave in Mi chelles dream. Im LaRae, Dukes first wife. Welcome to our family. Her dispirit ed voice didnt convey any real welcome in
26 the words. Duke had told Michelle that none of his wives were territorial or jealous, yet the way LaRae had already made sure Miche lle knew who she was made her uncertain about that. The other wives didnt speak, taking their cue from LaRae on how to receive this new member. Michelle bit her lip hard. She wasnt sure where to rest her eyes in the silence. On Duke, demanding that he make them like her? On LaRae, who wouldnt meet her gaze? On the other wives, who were staring at LaRae and not her? Michelle glanced at the one who was peering at her from over the top of her wire-rimmed glasses. Michelle thought it was Cheron from her fiery red hair a nd the sprinkling of freckles across her nose. Her face was bright and open and Michelle sensed she was smiling, even if her mouth wasnt. Michelle averted her gaze and looked ar ound the kitchen, taking in the stacks of dishes, rinsed but not washed, that lined the counter next to the si nk. The refrigerator was barely visible, its front covered with papers, drawings, and magnets, the top with columns of cereal boxes and loaves of br ead that stretched toward the ceiling. This is a surprise, LaRae said to Duke I thought your trip to Idaho was for business. It was, Duke said. You know weve b een talking about this. I need GayLynn to help out in the office, and youre the one who keeps saying you have too much work to do around here as it is. On the drive down, Duke had explaine d to Michelle why it was important for one of the wives to run the front office part of his food storage business. Duke wanted
27 that person to be family and he wanted it to be GayLynn. Michelle wasnt particularly interested and it worrie d her every time he looked at her instead of the road whenever he wanted to make a point. GayLynn, he now said, didnt you tell me you wanted to start helping me at work? I cant do it all, you know. GayLynn untangled her legs from the ta ble and went to LaRae. She was the largest of the wives, heavy even, with a doughy middle perched above skinny legs. Her dull brown hair was tucked into a bandana and beads of perspiration formed below it, which she wiped off with her sleeve. You know Im real good at figures, she said. My daddy always said so. Thats why I need your help, Duke said. He turned back to LaRae. Or I could hire some outsider to do it, a bookkeeper, a nd you know how much Ill have to pay them a month, and thats less for all of us. Do you want to do that to your children? What will that do to the kids, not having their mother around? LaRae said. Theres no point to a womans existence but to bring children into the world and to care for them and teach them. Not go to work everyday. Its God-ordained. Cheron can take care of them. List en to the words of Brigham Young, Duke said. Women are not only us eful to sweep houses, wash dishes, raise babies, but they should stand behind counters, become good bookkeep ers, and be able to do business in any counting house. In the following of these things, they but answer the design of their creation. He paused before continui ng. Do you want to challenge a prophet? Did he mean Brigham Young or Duke Stead, Michelle wondered.
28 The house is already bursting Michelle tried to block La Raes protestations out of her mind and make them go away, because now they didnt have anything to do with the kids and everything to do with her. LaRaes words were calm and c ontrolled, but they sounde d as loud as gunfire to Michelle. She wanted, no she needed, to be accepted into this houseful of women. Duke interrupted LaRae. Do not deny me my celestial gl ory that I can only attain with more wives. Duke continued, not waiting for an answer, quoting one of his favorite scriptures. All must obey, and if any man takes a virgin and wants to take another, and she is a virgin and vowed to no one else, that is justified. Duke really knew his Bible and his Book of Mo rmon, not like she, who often let her mind drift to other things during church. She liked it when he quoted Gospel. She vowed to read her own Book of Mormon every night. Duke opened a cupboard. Whats to eat? Im hungry. The wives looked at LaRae. She pulled her long hair across her shoulder as she stared at Michelle. The wi nd picked up outside and it swep t through the kitchen window, making the sound of the ocean like a seashell does when you put it up to your ear. It broke the standoff and LaRae looked up, her he ad making a nod so small Michelle could have imagined it. Rhonda moved into action. Sit down, bot h of you. What a drive! Who elses hungry? Anyone? Michelle felt the wives silently appr aising her, sizing her up. She was big-boned but slim, wearing her best white Sunday dre ss. Her skin was smooth and bright white,
29 the kind of skin that didnt tan in the sun, so Michelle kept perpetually covered. It wasnt all freckly like Cherons or blotchy like Rhonda s rosaceae left hers. They were staring at her dark hair, which stood out in their sea of blonds and reds. Shed tried to contain it in a ponytail, but it was like springs waiting to be unwound. Sm all ringlets traveled down her neck under the ponytail, too short to stay put. Her hand automatically went to them, trying to smooth them down. They probably thought her too old, Michelle speculated, remembering that Duke had married LaRae when she was just fourteen, and here Michelle was, already eighteen. In no time, Rhonda set two plates of beef stew on the table, followed by salt and pepper shakers in the shapes of a beehive a nd a bee. Michelles mouth watered just looking at the food she was so hungry. Kids in bed yet? Duke asked. G et them in here to say hello. Cheron, get the kids up, LaRae said and next thing Michelle knew, the door swung open with a bang and the kitchen was a live with eleven kids moving en masse, yelping and jumping and crawling all over each other like a litter of puppies. Two blond girls went straight for Michelles small squa re bag she had carried in and set by the door. Billie! Bobbie! Leave that alone, Cheron said, but they ignored her and the suitcase was soon forgotten. Meet your new aunt, D uke said above the din. The children jostled for Mi chelles attenti on, but she couldnt keep up with the names or who belonged to whom. It was hard to remember if Dee was the scrappy girl of
30 ten with the scars on her knees to prove it or if that was Lois. Was Ogden the one in thick glasses or was that Dallas? Only one child hung back and that was Li ttle Duke, who was a nything but little. At eleven, he was the first-born of the brood. With all the kids jumping around, Michelle didnt know who shed met and who she hadnt. Little Duke, Duke said and Little Duke immediately stepped out from the wall. Hi, Little Duke, she sa id. Ive heard lots about you. Your daddy says you like to play baseball. Yes maam, he said. He studied the tops of his dirty white tennis shoes. I do too, Michelle said, I can pitch pretty good. But youre a girl! Callie said with a little lisp. You cant pitch! Theyll be no time for baseball here will there sisters? LaRae said. The sisterwives laughed and agreed. Not with eleven kids, a business to run, and a house to keep. Do you have any brothers and sisters? Lois asked. I do, Michelle said and Lois demanded to see pictures of them. She looked around for the bag shed carried in and discove red its contents strewn across the kitchen floor. Billie and Bobbie sat in the middle of her belongings a pair of white slippers, worn from too many washings; a round hairbr ush; a cloth book, the kind that looks like a diary; and a small round of soap, still in its pleated paper wrapper, held together at the center with a gold sticke r with green letters on it. At least her Book of Mormon was safe
31 in her purse. The kids scattered and she gathered up her things, finding the photo album underneath where Callie had been sitting. She flipped it open for Lois and the other kids crowded around. These are my sisters and my brother. Th e photo showed Michelle and he r siblings in front of the Church meetinghouse in their new Easter clot hes sewn by her mom. Michelle wore a navy dress with a matching cape and dusty broken-down shoes. Michelle started to put the album back, but Lois reached out and turned the page. Michelle looked down and caught a glimpse of Ednas shiny face smiling up at her. She quickly turned the page before she starte d to miss her again, but Lois stopped her. Whos that? she said, tapping a chewed nail on Ednas head. Shes the reason Im sitting in your kitc hen, Michelle wanted to say, but instead she said, Thats my cousin Edna, right af ter we got baptized. The photo showed a picture of Michelle and Edna, both eight years old and dressed in white. But thats where the similarity ended. Michelles thick hair was still wet and glossy from the full-body immersion, while Ednas copper bob had dried before the picture was even taken. Michelle was already tall at eight, but Edna was taller. Michelle looked somber and she could still remember how she felt that day when she looked at the pict ure. She couldnt swim and the water scared her enough that she considered bolting when she felt the bishops hand on the small of her back. After, she knew something had changed in her. The baptism made her accountable for her actions in the eyes of the Church and the weight of that responsibility already terrified and excited her. Edna, on the other hand, sported a gap-toothed smile,
32 oblivious to the fact that sh e was now capable of real sin. Michelle had looked at this picture often, thinking about how little each of them had really changed since it had been taken. The kids wanted to look at all the photos. Michelle kept turning the pages. Here I am just last year, she said. She was pos ed on top of a pyramid of hay bales in the middle of a sea of golden grain, bor ed, with nothing but patchwork fi elds all around her. Michelle tucked her pictures safely back in her bag and leaned back, groggy from Rhondas dinner. Duke was getting her trunk from outside. LaRae gave Cheron instructions to settle Michelle in and sent them upstairs. Cheron fired questions at her before theyd even mounted the stairs. Youre from Idaho? What town? Have you been to Salt Lake before? I grew up on a hops farm in Warm Sp rings, Michelle said. Eight hundred acres. Michelle thought of the grocery st ore, drugstore, meetinghouse, and post office with a room in the back that served as the public library, with a postmistress who was also the librarian, that constituted downtown. This is my first time in any city. I grew up on a farm too, Cheron said, but with eight aunts. And thirty-eight brothers and sisters. Boy, I didnt get along all the time with four siblings, Michelle said. I cant imagine thirty-eight. She and her siblings we re the model family in public, especially at Church, where Michelle and her sisters ta ught in the Primary and her brother was a deacon, helping to pass the sacram ent at every meeting. But at home, outside of the sight
33 of their parents, they argued about everything, especially when her sisters would spy on her or her brother would cheat at ga mes and then act like he didnt. On the landing, Cheron pointed to a closed door. The older kids are in four bedrooms on the third floor, it used to be the attic. Duke fixed it up real nice. Then were all on the second floor w ith the babies. LaRae has th e only bedroom on the first floor. What about Duke? Michelle asked, almost without waiting for Cheron to quit talking. We have a schedule, Cheron said. Duke spends the night with whoevers turn it is. Youll have him for two weeks honeym oon before we get back on schedule. But GayLynns still nursing and Rhondas pregnant, so right now its just me and LaRae and now you. Just you and me and LaRae? Michelle repeated, not understanding why Duke didnt sleep with all his wives. Hadn t he said he loved them all equally? Duke doesnt have relations when were pregnant or nursing, she said, then leaned closer as if telling a secret. He doesnt have relations that time of the month either, which really makes him irritable for a while since the four of us always seem to have our monthlies together. Luckily hes away on business a lot during those times. But dont you miss him? Michelle asked. The physic al part of her marriage was one of the things she was looking forwar d to, as was being pregnant, and now to find out she couldnt have both at the same time.
34 Get used to it, Cheron said. To resi st temptation, Duke doesnt sleep in the same room with those who are off, as we call it. He says its the only way to keep the family clean and worthy and on a high plane. Oh, yes, clean, worthy, and on a high plane, Michelle repeated. Cheron opened the door to th e nursery. Here it is. Michelle stepped in and looked around. It was a long and narrow room, with one window overlooking the back yard, crowded with cribs; a small double bed with a brown metal headboard, gold leaves painted around its border; a tall chest of drawers; and a low dresser with a mirror. Ive never had my own room, she said. I love it. She went to the window to peer out. Her room was in the front of th e house and she could see what she thought was the whole Salt Lake Valley spread out in front of her. The Wasatch Mountains, blotchy with patches of white snow, green faces, and rocky bare brown plateaus, rose up from the valley floor with deeply cut canyons separating one from the other. She felt like Brigham Young, seeing the valley for the first time. This is the place, she murmured and pronounced it the promised land, just like he had when the Mormon pioneers arrived way back when. Michelle found her brush and worked on readjusting her ponytail. She was smoothing down her eyebrows at the dresser when she looked in the mirror and saw Cheron unpacking her things onto the bed. Sh e was holding the soap with the green sticker.
35 Michelle turned and reached for the fat ci rcle. Ill take that, she said, again reaching for it, but Cheron was trying to make out the label and wouldnt give it up. Gingembre et Citron de Sicile. La Rae said, studying the foreign words on the package. Whats it mean? Its the name of the scent. Plea se give it to me, Michelle said. Smells like lemonade. Real sw eet lemonade. Whered you get it? It was a present. From my cousin Edna. The one in the picture, Cheron nodde d her head toward Michelles bag. Yeah. Its just for looks. Its too g ood to use. Ive had it for three years and I dont like anyone to touch it. She didnt tell her that Edna had surprised her with it af ter she had admired it in a small store in Rexburg. They had gone on their semi-annual shopping trip with their mothers to purchase patterns and fabric for su mmer clothes. Edna a nd Michelle left their mothers in the Fabric Mart and wandered down ma in street to a small gift store. Michelle was drawn to the pretty soaps, some wra pped, some smooth, some filled with scratchy oatmeal or sweet lavender. Bu t at six dollars and fifty cents a bar, she knew her mother wouldnt buy her any and she had saved only f our dollars for the trip. On her next birthday, Edna proudly presented her with th e lemony bar, making her sure no one would ever love her as much as Edna did. Michelle snatched the soap and when sh e did her eyes met Cherons. She hadnt noticed them before behind Cherons glasses, but they were a deep amber, full of brown and yellow and black, like the tree sap that ooz ed from the maples back home and formed
36 sweet hard drops you could pick off and eat. They reminded Michelle of Ednas eyes, the way they had so many colors in them. Was Edna missing her right now? Michelle blushed and looked quickly away. Let me see it, LaRae said. Neither Michelle nor Cheron heard LaRae enter the room. Michelle didnt relinquish it to LaRae. Instead she went to the bed and produced a saucer with no cup, with a spray of purple violets on it. I always keep it on my dresser, in this dish. She placed the soap in the middle of the saucer, then placed that in the middle of the dresser. She stood back to look at it. Too good to use? LaRae said. H ere, we share and share alike. But it was a present, Michelle said. She didnt say it was the only reminder she had left of Edna. She wasn t willing to give it up. Cheron, what happened to that nice sh awl you got for your birthday last year? LaRae asked. Casting a glance at Michelle, Cheron said, I gave it to Rhonda. She spoke as if pleading with Michelle to understand. She ne eded it more than I did. Shes always cold and I had a newer jacket anyway. The sound of boots on the stairs announced Duke and the trunk. He was followed by a pack of kids. Whats going on here? he asked when he entered the room and found the three women stari ng at the dresser. LaRae spoke before Michelle could. Nothing, she said. Just admiring Michelles pretty things.
37 All right then, Duke said. He swung Michelles suitcase on the bed and left without another word, LaRae, Cheron, and the kids following close behind. Wait, Michelle wanted to say. Its not nothing. You didnt tell me I had to give them my things. I wont. She took the soap out of th e saucer and put it far to the back of the top dresser drawer. After Michelle was as se ttled as she was going to be for the night, the family gathered in the living room. The room wa s large and cluttered. An old dark green recliner monopolized one corner, its seat sa gging in the middle from wear. Michelle could tell this was Dukes spot. Duke picked up his well-worn Book of Mo rmon and selected a passage to read. He then passed the book to Little Duke w ho read the words of the prophet Mosiah, And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and love one towards another. Tonights a special night, Duke sai d. Would anyone like to offer a testimony to the trueness of the Gospel? Michelle would rather ha ve sat quietly through the ev ening prayers, but she felt Duke was speaking directly to her. She wa s, after all, the one who should be most grateful to be part of this new family and one should always offer testimony when feeling especially blessed. She stood up next to Duke. Dear Father, I am called to your service because I know that your word is true. You have blessed me today with a new earthly family that I will love and comfort and
38 take care of. I will bring more spirits into Your mortal kingdom and prepare them for life everlasting in Your Celestial Kingdom. I make this testimony in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen. Cheron leaned over and hugged Michelle and whispered in her ear, sister. Duke had a small smile on his lip s. LaRae was unmoved, her eyes studying a faded old picture on the wall of the Great Sa lt Lake rendered in ink on an olive green background. They stood in a circle, folded their arms, and bowed their heads. Duke prayed, Lord, you have chosen a small nu mber of choice spirits to come forth in these last days, to organize the Kingdom of God upon the earth and to build it up and defend it. Help us to work Your plan by making this home a part of heaven that is presided over with wisdom, where family is upheld and children are cared for. Amen. When Michelle opened her eyes, she saw th at Dukes were already open and he was staring right at her, as if his message was meant for her alone. They all said amen in unison and the moment passed. The family scattered in what seemed to Michelle like a thousand different directions. She wandered alone across the en try hall to what was probably once a dining room, but it was now set up like a schoolroom w ith small chairs in the middle and shelves of supplies lining the walls. Michelle looke d through the crayon drawings on the table. There was one of the prophet Joseph Smith kneel ing in the forest with the angel Moroni, the son of Mormon, floating above him. So meone had colored Moroni orange, giving him the appearance of being the sun. Back in the kitchen, Michelle f ound a place on the bench and watched the busyness. She wanted Duke, but he hadnt come back in from the outside chores. She
39 needed to be with him, to have him fold his body around hers and kiss her lips and eyes and face. She needed to blot out the images of Edna that kept running through her head. He was the only way to do that. She was a nxious to be with him and she would have thought he would have left the outside chores to Little Duke on a night like tonight. Unless he didnt think tonight was any different than any other night. It occurred to her that Duke hadnt kissed or touched her once since the wedding ceremony ended. She was tired, so she was relieved that nobody took her up on her offer to help. Instead, they barraged Michelle with more questions about her family, her home, and how she met Duke, anything to tell them who this new stranger was that they would spend the rest of their lives with. All but LaRae, that was, who took up a needlepoint-inprocess and sat opposite Michelle. Her eyes rested on Michelle while her blunt needle found each opening in the white canvas as if on its own, drawing a tail of black yarn across the background of a large red rose. Cheron finished scrubbing the stove and crowded onto the bench next to Michelle. Her thigh pressed up against Mich elles. Michelle looked down at Cherons leg and could see the faint line where her ga rments ended above her knee and the way the hem hugged the curve of her thigh. She wanted to reach out and trace the line with her finger, but she shook the feeling off. She wa s married now and she wanted to stay pure and worthy of Dukes love and the love of the Heavenly Fath er. Here was a chance for her to start over. She didnt want to mess it up. Michelle was overwhelmed by her ne w sister-wives curiosity about her relationship with Duke. She wished Duke ha d prepared them with the details of it
40 himself. She wondered why he had told her so much about his four wives, yet told them nothing about her. Their whirlwind romance was all still very vivid in her mind and while she could recall every moment, she censored her account to the wives as she thought back to the first time she saw Duke Stea d. They didnt need to know that she had come here to get away from the way Edna made her feel, but looking at the thin soft line stretched across Cherons thigh, she knew it wasnt going to be easy. She offered up one more silent prayer before she told them her story. Lord above, hear the psalm of Nephi: Oh, wretched am I! My heart is sorrowed because of my flesh and my soul grieves because of my ini quities. If I am to fulfill the plan as you have laid out, please stay close to me in my new life. She looked at Cheron who was smiling at her, making her feel welcome and at home, waiting to hear how she met Duke. Real close, she silently added and smiled back.
41 When Joseph Smith was 14 years old, he wanted to know which church he should join, so he asked God in sincere prayer. God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph and told him the true Church of Jesus Christ was not on the earth and they had chosen Joseph to restore it. The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Pamphlet, 1999 CHAPTER TWO He had come into the Stop-N-Go one Sa turday in early September. Michelle noticed him right when he pulled his truck ri ght up to the front door. Thats one nice looking man she thought and dashed into the ba throom to look at her hair. By the time she wrapped the elastic holding her ponytail tig hter and returned to the counter, he was standing in front of it. Tin of Copenhagen, he said. He was wearing jeans and boots, but he wasnt a farmer. His boots were too clean and so was his truck. Howre you liking Warm Springs? Miche lle had asked him as he handed her a five. He acted surprised. How do you know Im not from here? he asked. I know everyone, thats how. Its not hard when everyone in town goes to the same school. And we only have one ward here, so I see the entire population every Sunday.
42 Youre pretty smart, Duke said. Mus t be why they made you manager of this place. Now it was Michelles turn. How do you know Im the manager? she asked. He pointed to her plastic nametag with the Stop-N-Go logo. Says so right there, he said. He smiled a little half-smile that wa s more for himself than her, as if he found her amusing and it made him chuckle. Michelles hand went to her tag and she felt clammy. She fidgeted with the boxes of Juicy Fruit on the counter, consolidating th em into one pile and then separating them back again. Was this man flirting with her? He looked just a little younger than her dad, but he was handsome with his thick sandy hair and clear blue eyes. They were the color Michelle imagined the ocean to be, but she didnt know because shed never seen it. You like working at the Stop-N-Go? he asked. His hands were in his jean pockets and Michelle thought he looked like a cute little boy standing that way. It can be a bore, gets kind of lonely when were slow, you know. All your friends working at the mill? I dont have lots of friends, Miche lle said, keeping up a steady stream of chatter, too fidgety to stop. Im not one of those popular girls you know, like the blonds that always get picked to be cheerleader. I think its because of my hair. Michelles dark hair had always been a source of di scomfort for her, mostly because it was so different from everyone, even her family. Becau se of this, her brothe r had been able to convince her she was adopted, something she to ok to be the Gods honest truth until her mother found out and showed Mi chelle her birth certificate.
43 She regretted that confessi on as soon as it was out. But Duke said, Your hairs beautiful. It makes you stand out, like one of Gods favored people. Michelle liked that. Duke came back the next day, this time fo r a package of beef jerky. Michelle saw him get out of his truck, but this time she didn t have to check her hair in the bathroom. Shed already checked it three times that morning. He hopped out of his truck and Michelle saw his boot heel ca tch on the running board. It propelled him forward and he caught himself on the door. Michelle wanted to run to him and put her arms around him. Duke paid for the jerky with a twent y, but made no effort to be on his way, instead making small talk and asking about th e area. So when he said lunch? she was ready. She took off her apron and hollered to Garth to come out from the back and mind the counter; she was going to get something to eat. Duke was waiting for her in his faded red pickup. They decided on the Lunch Box, out on Route 40, across from the mill. Duke drove with his window cracked and th e brisk mountain air, occasionally perfumed with wood smoke, then stinking of the fumes from the paper mill as they got closer, ruffled his shaggy hair. Duke asked about her family and she heard herself rambling again, this time about Edna. My best friend is my cousin Edna. Sh es my age and shes very smart. Much smarter than me in fact. We both want to move from this flippin town, but you know what? I think Ednall do it. Michelle knew she was babbling but she couldnt stop herself. Duke seemed to be interested t hough, so she continued. S he wouldnt surprise
44 me if she moved to New York City. I bet shed even do it without a husband. Can you believe that? Shed just up and move to get ou t of this God-forsaken town. Duke made a sharp left and Michelle slid closer to him. She quickly ad justed herself so he wouldnt think her too forward. She sucked in air and offered up a silent prayer. Heavenly Father, thank you for bringing this very nice man in to the Stop-N-Go today. But please help me not make a fool of myself. I swear, if you give me bett er things to talk ab out and keep me from spilling anything on me or him, Ill never as k you for anything again. Today. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen. So what are you in town for? Business with the mill? she asked. You know a lot for being such a pretty little thing, Duke said. So he thought she was pretty. And here sh e was in a pair of torn jeans and a tee shirt from the wards last road show perf ormance. The Psalm of Nephi her shirt proclaimed in red and showed the two tribes from the B ook of Mormon story. The kids in the ward had been divided into the wick ed, idle followers of Laman and the happy, industrious followers of Nephi. Mi chelle had not been pleased to be cast as a Lamanite. Mill business is what most people come to Warm Springs for, she said. Not many other reasons. Duke slowed but didnt stop at the b linking red light at the intersection of Mountain Road and 1000 West. He was telli ng her about his business; a food storage company that he purchased several years ago with a loan from the bank. The previous owners had established the business, buying f ood in bulk and packaging it for the many
45 Mormons in the Salt Lake Valley who practi ced the doctrine of th eir Church: that one was to keep a one-year supply of food on ha nd for the apocalypse or any other disaster that might come their way. With his hard work and business savvy, the company had not only recovered, but had become very profitable for the family. Duke talked about why the mill was so important and why he needed the proper containers to maximize the life of the grai ns, dry milk, sugar, salt, and legumes his Mormon customers put away, but also how impor tant it was to make sure the containers were designed to take up the least amount of space. Michelle could tell he was proud of his company. She could also tell that he wanted her to know it. A handsome and successful man. Things took off when I started marketi ng food storage to newlyweds, he said. Michelle thought of newlyw eds, sitting next to each other at a kitchen table, maybe one of those cute pine ones with white painted legs. He would have a pencil and paper and a copy of the family budget, she a list of food items they hoped to put away. Maybe a baby would be on the way and they w ould have to allot more of their budget to food storage for baby food and formula. I make them think they have to have their one-year supply of food and they have to have it now, Duke said. And I provide financing so they dont have to come up with more cash than an average trip to the grocery store. Theyre good customers, they rotate their food like the Church says to, and they come back year after year. I just keep financing them.
46 As far back as middle school, shed fantasize about what kind of husband the occasional boys she would have a crush on would be like. They were always incredibly romantic, calling her all day to tell her they l oved her and bringing her flowers. As Duke talked of newlyweds, she pl anned their courtship and his proposal. Shed pictured introducing him to her parents over her moms grilled dove breasts. Shed imagined their meeting with the ward bishop to discuss a Te mple marriage but she put that out of her mind because she couldnt picture telling the bishop about Edna. And in front of Duke! All he would have to confess would be the s nuff. She colored just thinking about it. What if she wasnt worthy of a Temple marriage? She hadnt figured out how she was going to tell Edna she was getting married either That would have been be the hardest of thing of all. Duke pulled into the Lunch Box parking lot and jumped out to open Michelles door. She watched him cross in front of the truck, noting his rugged features that made his face look like it was carved from a weathered piece of hardwood, and his broad shoulders. He held the door to the diner fo r her. It was almost empty on a Saturday afternoon after the breakfast crowd. The sign sa id to seat yourself and Duke led her to a seat by the window. She slid into the booth and thats when she noticed the thin gold ring on his left hand. The waitress dropped menus and silverwa re wrapped in paper napkins with a band of white paper. Michelle started to ask about the ring, but the waitress was back again, this time to deliver two short glasses of ice water. Michelle couldnt look at the ring on his hand while they ordered. Here, fi nally, was not a boy w ho was interested in
47 her, but a man, and he was married. It wa s a breach of the most sacred of Gods covenants. She was cold, even though it was early September, and she hugged herself to keep from shivering. She worked her courage up to ask him a bout it over her grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and french fries, which Miche lle liberally dunked in the diners homemade fry sauce, a thick pink mixture of mayonnaise and ketchup. Are you married? she asked, still shivering. I am, he said simply. Everything Sister Wells had warned the young women of the Church about was sitting right here in front of her. No w onder she couldnt stop shivering. Should you be having lunch with me then? she asked, foldi ng her napkin up and laying it on the table. Why not? Duke said simply. He acted li ke it was the most natural thing in the world to have asked her to lunch. Michelle was dumbfounded. She leaned back in the booth, her jaw slack. She believed that exaltation in the celestial kingdom was only available to a man and a woman who entered into and were faithful to the covenants of an eternal marriage in the Temple. She had assumed Duke was Morm on and believed this too. Shed heard Episcopalians had affairs, but not Mormons. She tried to imagine what his wife looke d like. Would she be like her mom, small and trim, careening around in her jogging suit and mini-van, usually on Church errands? She was always off to the printers for a hundr ed copies of the Relief Society newsletter she would have been up all night typing or planning the next Enrichment Night program
48 for the ward. Her best program was her B ook of Mormon murder mystery, which, after causing the brethren of the Church some he sitation, proved to be a fun way to promote the Book of Mormon stories and catapulted he r to Society president for a year. Or maybe Dukes wife had exotic lo oks with almond eyes, cappuccino skin and hair as dark as her own. She would ne ver wear a jogging suit, no, she would lounge around the house in a pair of silky pajamas, not bothering to clean or cook, preferring instead to decorate the house through th e home shopping network and a credit card. Michelle liked that image. What would your wife say if she knew you were here with me? she asked. Duke forked a pile of corned beef hash and sopped up the yellow of his fried egg with it. Which one? Had he been divorced and re married? Michelle liked this less and less. Did his current wife, who Michelle now envisione d pregnant and home watching Lifetime-TVFor-Women, know he was out wandering th e country asking gi rls in roadside convenience stores out to lunch for his next sc ore? She felt a curious betrayal, not for the unknown wife, but for herself. How many are there? Miche lle said, trying to make li ght of her disappointment in the fact that not only wa s he currently married, it sounded like it wasnt the first time. She looked around, her pride turned to shame. Two teenagers and an old couple sat across the diner, no one she knew, thank G od. Nobody, after all, gets a divorce once, much less several times. Shed only ever ev en known one or two families whod ever
49 experienced a divorce. Everyone she knew in her ward was married if they were over eighteen and if they werent they were looking to be. I have four wives, Duke said. It took Michelle a half-second to register what Duke was saying. She leaned into the center of the table so the other diners w ouldnt hear her. A polygamist? she said. I am. Isnt that against the law? Not the law of the true Church. The waitress appeared out of nowhere and Michelle turned her head to the window and pretended to study something in the parking lot while she cleared their plates and refilled their water. The second she was out of earshot, Miche lle slid out of the booth. I think you better take me back to the Stop-N-Go, sh e said. The powers of darkness were very active today and creative too. To send such a handsome man, rugged like Michelles own daddy, into the Stop-N-Go to tempt her. A man who was filled with sin and wanted to pull her into the abyss with him. Whatever makes you happy, Duke said. Michelle waited in the truck while Duke paid the check. They drove back in silence, Duke whistli ng along to the songs on the radio. Duke dropped her off, again smiling that little half-smile lik e shed just said something fantastically witty. She pushed through the double glass doors, mad at Duke for leading her on and mad at herself for star ting to fall for him. Michelle worked the
50 counter while Garth went to lunch, but mos tly she thought about Duke. What sort of woman married a polygamist anyway? Someone who didnt care where her husband laid his head at night, thats who. She was driving home from work four da ys later when she saw Dukes truck parked in front of the feed store. She pu lled in. Her mom would be proud of her for thinking to stop and pick up a couple of fifty pound bags of Purina for the dogs. Duke spotted her immediately and approach ed her. She feigned surprise at seeing him again. Still in town? she asked. Getting ready to head back tomorrow morn ing, he said. He drug the toe of his boot through the pieces of hay that always littered the floor like a kid on the playground. Maybe we could get a bite to eat tonight before I shove o ff. Finish our conversation. A wave of goose bumps swept up Michel les back and spread out through her dark hair. She wanted to finish the conve rsation that she had b een obsessing over since she slid out of the booth and demanded that he take her back to work. Because a small part of her wondered if it were true . that maybe there was more than one way to salvation. Especially for those like her who had chosen a crooked path. She heard herself agreeing to dinner and told Duke shed meet him at the Lunch Box; which also served dinner in spite of its name. She left, forgetting the dog food. Duke was already in a booth when Miche lle arrived. She had taken longer to get ready than she anticipated, mos tly because she changed clothe s four times before settling on a pair of jeans and a white button down shirt that her mother had embroidered.
51 Two salads and two glasses of water we re already on the table. Duke stood up while she slid into the booth. They chatted about Warm Springs and Mich elles family while Michelle picked at her salad. She wasnt very hungry and wanted to save room for the restaurants famous meatloaf. She willed Duke to bring up so mething about his marriage or is that marriages? but he didnt. She fi nally couldnt stand it any longer. Tell me about your church, she said. The Reformed Church of Latter-day Sain ts, Duke said. The true Church of Joseph Smith. Thats my Church, not the Refo rmed Church, Michelle said. No, Duke said, the modern Mormon Church keeps getting farther and farther from the original gospel of Joseph Smith. Du ke put his elbows on the table and squinted at her. You do believe that Joseph Smith is the true prophet, dont you? he asked. Of course I do, Michelle said. What church would she belong to if not for the prophesy of Joseph Smith? Shed probably be Catholic and drink. Then why doesnt your Church follow that gospel? Duke asked. It does, Michelle said. The Church today is just trying to fit in, Duke said. And you know why? Michelle shook her head. Duke took his wallet out of his back pocket and tossed a pile of bills on the table. Money. Its all about money today. Michelle stared at the money. She ha d never heard her parents or anyone at Church say any of these things and they pr ayed together every ni ght, had family home
52 evening every Monday, and spent the better part of Sunday in meetings at the meetinghouse. They would know if that was true, wouldnt they? I dont know what you mean, Mich elle said after a long silence. The Church changed to conform to an immoral world, Duke said. Do you agree we are living among sin? Oh, yes, Michelle said. According to Sister Wells, who taught their Young Womens group, girls especially ha d to watch out for the temptations of the devil at every turn. She cautioned them to stay modest, in thoughts and dress. She warned them not to abuse their bodies with drugs, strong drinks or smoking. Then there was the peril of falling in love with someone of a different religion, race, or even economic background. Or worse: someone not worthy of the Temple One couldnt have anything to do with sex, especially if it was before marriage or misused in marriage. That was the word Sister Wells used to indicate kinky and a ll the girls had laughed when she wrote it on the board. The worst things of all though, were mis using oneself or being a homosexual, which Sister Wells also spelled out on the board. On that subject Sister Wells said, Sexual relations are proper only between a husband and wife within the bonds of marriage. So that meant no adultery, forni cation, or homosexual behavior. It simply couldnt be. It was the only way to stay innocent in the eyes of God. That used to make Michelle worry a bout what God thought of her. Shed had impure thoughts, mostly about Edna, but sometimes about the occasional boy at school. If she tried real hard, she could almost c onvince herself that she hadnt acted on them.
53 What she did with Edna was ju st kissing cousin stuff, right ? Certainly Sister Wells and her lecture on the inclinations of so-calle d homosexuals didnt mean her? Or Edna? Because to act on abominable sins was to en sure that one would be shut out of Gods eternal kingdom. Forever. What boy would want to marry her and even if one did, she wouldnt be able to marry in the Temple. And she wouldnt see her family in heaven even though they were all sealed for etern ity through her parents Temple marriage. Then her parents would be really mad at her. She had said a prayer to be sure. Fat her above, you give me so much that Im thankful for. But if I have a mortal weakne ss, you need to show me a way to live that wont prevent me from attaini ng Your eternal goal. Im so rry to put that all on you, but in the end, its for a good cause. In Your Sons name I pray, Amen. Sister Wells had never warned any of the girls about polygamist men telling one about the true gospel in the middle of a diner. Maybe it just seemed dangerous. Look, Duke said, the Mormon Church abandoned their doctrine, revelations from God to fit in to this world. He held up a finger. Michelle chewed on a hangnail and listened. One, the manifesto ba nning polygamy in 1890. Polygamy was a revelation from God to Joseph Smith, our prophe t, not something a proclamation can take away. A believer cant just abandon the truth. He held up another finger. Two, to allo w blacks to hold a Church position is in direct opposition to the original gospel as it wa s set forth. He held up a third finger. And its not only the prophet of the Church who can receive revelations from God, all men can. The Church just doesnt want to admit that the powe r of God may reside
54 outside the Quorum of Twelve. Duke took a big drink of water, then reached out and took her hands in his. They were cool and wet from the condensation on the glass. Michelle looked not at Dukes face, but at his hands. She studied the thin gold band on his finger. She loosened a hand a nd traced the ring with her finger. You shouldnt be holding my hands, she said. Duke gathered her hands b ack in his with a force that sent a shock wave to the bottom of her stomach. Or maybe it wasnt her stomach. Maybe it was what Sister Wells had always been talking a bout. She didnt move her hands. Why not? he said. Youre married, she said. Its the gospel of the Church. Its wrong. She didnt even know if sh e believed that but she felt like she should. Only to those ignorant to the Gospel. Theyre the ones offended based on their own incorrect beliefs. Its not wrong to t hose who know the true Word of the Lord. Duke looked patiently at her and she felt as if he were teaching a small child a lesson of some kind, like dont go in the water alone or dont run out into the stre et. It wasnt in a condescending way, but with care and love li ke when you really want the child to understand the importance of your words. Like her parents would talk to her if she told them she were seeing a polygamist. They were as mainstream Mormon as two people could get, dedicating the better part of their lives to havi ng and raising devout children. Michelle doubted that theyd ever even taken much notice of the few polygamist families
55 around Warm Springs, so single-mindedly did th ey pursue their own c hurch activities. But Duke was as single-minded when it came to his beliefs, the same beliefs as her parents, really, Michelle told herself. He pulled his wallet out from his back pocket and withdrew a small, worn piece of paper, its e dges curling inward with wear. Trust me, he said, Ill show you. He placed the paper on the table between them, but kept his hand on it. I can trace my priesthood back to John the Baptist. Look here. He pointed to the beginning of a list of mens names. Joseph Smith received the priesthood from the resurrected John the Baptis t. He conferred it on Orson Hyde, and he conferred it forward, see? he said, his finger running down the list. All the way down to my granddaddy, who conferred it on me. Do you know any other man who can trace their priesthood like I can? Michelle didnt, but she knew her daddy would be impressed. She reached for the list to study it in more detail but Duke placed it carefully back in its place of honor in his wallet. These men gave me the keys to the pr iesthood and I intend to honor it. And that includes practicing the Most High Principle of polygamy right here on earth, as it was intended to be. I think my Daddy would have a heart attack right then and there if any of us kids did that. Id like to think him a better man than one who would punish someone who sought the true grace of God. Is that what kind of man he is? No, hes just a little old-fashioned.
56 Old-fashioned? Whats more old-fashione d than a plural marriage? You said so yourself. Its Joseph Smiths original gospel and some day it will be restored to this earth. He spoke with such conviction that it s cared Michelle. But that fear was followed by a wave of excitement that had been gr owing all along. Shed thought of polygamy as something the Mormons used to do and that on ly a few large families wouldnt give it up. Shed never thought of it as original gospel that should be believed and she felt like maybe shed been deceived all these years. There just might be ot her options than the one her parents had been preaching to her fo r eighteen years, options that the Mormon Church itself couldnt dispute. Two days went by. Michelles mind was obsessed with thoughts of Duke and, for some perverse reason, with his wives. Were their lives like hers, and her moms, and her aunts? Were they right now maybe teach ing their children the same five-finger testimony song that helped Miche lle learn the Churchs tenets ? Holding up one finger at a time, just like Duke had done at the Lunc h Box, she could remember reciting that God is our Father in heaven and he loved her; that Jesus is his Son and the Savior; that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God; that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Lords Church on the earth today; and that the living prophet is the President of the Church. So even as far back as Primary class, she knew Joseph Smith was the prophet. Her confidence in her faith, in fact the faith of all Mormons, came down to one thing and
57 that was belief that Joseph Smith was a prophe t of God. So why was the Church so quick to discard the very tenets sent to him from God? The next day she was refilling the cold drink cooler at the Stop-N-Go, dropping cans of Coke and Sprite into the slots where they fell like nickels in a gum machine, and she kept thinking she saw Duke come in. Sh ed rush out from the back, but it would be Jack Gauche, who ran the feed store behind ma in street. Or it would be Smitty Horsley, who drove a cement truck. He always had ti ny blobs of dried cement all over his work shirt and jeans, giving one the impression he d been salted. She questioned how she could have ever mistaken either for Duke Stead. She had to tell someone about Duke or she was going to burst. She thought about talking to her mother, but her mom was ne ver home with Relief Society on Tuesday, visiting a new young family rumored to be in need with some food from the church storehouse on Wednesday, and a planning co mmittee meeting for the next church enrichment night on Thursday. And she couldn t talk to her dad. He wasnt home much either with his duties in the bishopric and as a visiting teacher, plus hed have her in front of the bishop for a full confession an d a good talking to in no time. She knew Edna wouldnt be happy, but she de cided to talk to her anyway. When Edna came over that night to pick her up for Young Womens group, she waited until she turned out of the long drive, then said, A man came into the Stop-N-Go the other day and I went to lunch with him. Why? Edna asked. Her voice sou nded casual, but Michelle knew her well enough to know that wasnt a good sign.
58 I liked him, Michelle said and she saw Edna wince, just like the time Michelle had spilled a bucket of cold water on her when they were kids and one of the hogs they were watering had startled. Hes smart. Good-looking too in a rugged way. He knows a lot of stuff about the Church. So? So do you. So do I. Ednas ha nds, firmly at ten and two oclock on the wheel, tightened even more. It irritated Miche lle the way Edna held the wheel like it was something that would run away from her if she loosened her grip. I mean stuff like how it used to be, Michelle said, trying to sound casual. She adjusted the heater from defrost to high. Way back when Moroni gave the Book of Mormon to Joseph Smith. Way back then. Again, so? You and everyone elseve know n that story since they were two. Edna snapped the heater o ff and the car quieted again. But he believes in the Church just lik e Joseph Smith organized it. Exactly how. Hes very religious, much more so than a nyone I know. I think he might be the first person Ive ever met whos really thought a bout what it means to be Mormon and made a decision to live the right way. Not like a ll of us. Michelle wondered if her tone conveyed the fact that she was trying to c onvince herself as much as she was trying to convince Edna. I know what it means to be Mormon, Edna said and the indignation seeped into her voice. Michelle let Edna get a couple more miles down the road. They passed the McKay farm on the right. The farmhouse sat cl ose to the road, its front door shut tight
59 and shades half drawn like they were ev ery time Michelle sped past. Hes a polygamist, she said. Edna slammed on the brake, almost runni ng the car into the d itch on the side of the road. Michelles seat belt tightened across her chest. Edna slowed the car to a stop. Are you nuts? she said. I dont know. I like him. Michelles voice tapered off like she was pleading and maybe she was. She wanted Ednas permission to see Duke. She wanted Edna to say yes, I understand why you would like a ha ndsome, smart man that happened into the Stop-N-Go and paid some attention to you. Dont do this, Michelle. You would like him. Her fist pounded the steering wheel. I wont like him. I dont want to meet him. Edna fumbled in her purse for he r sunglasses and put them on, even though the sky was gray from a low winter cloud cover, before restarting th e car without another word and continuing on. Later, during the Young Womens meeting, Edna sat away from Michelle, instead of next to her like they usually did. Edna looked deep in thought, which would please Sister Wells, who probably t hought she was considering with great contemplation her lesson about using ones free will along with the spirit of revelation to make life choices. Kind of a double-whammy for choosing the righ t. But Michelle knew what Edna was thinking. Edna wanted their relationship to stay exactly as it was, and that included their games. She didnt want Duke or, for th at matter, any man in the picture.
60 On the third day, Duke came into the Stop-N-Go. Michelle was in the mens room, mopping up the floor, whic h was always the most disgusting job of the day. As she backed out, mop in hand swabbing the floor, she ran right into him. It startled her and she jumped before realizing that Duke Stead was again standing in the Stop-N-Go. Back so soon? she asked. She wished her mother hadnt been up when she had left for work. She would have liked to have a little blush and mascara on, but her mother frowned upon make-up for her girls and that wa s a battle Michelle never seemed to win. I havent left yet. Been over in Poca tello meeting up with a farmer I buy from. Grains, seeds, stuff like that. Michelle excused herself to put the mop in the back r oom, pushing it past Duke in its dirty water on wheels. He followed her. What time you get off? he asked. Ive been here since six this mo rning, so early today. Two-thirty. Want to ride over to Rexburg with me after you get off? I have to meet with a beekeeper whos going to cut me a discount on bulk honey. Pick me up at two-forty-five, she sa id. Her stomach felt the same way it did when her dad drove over the big bump out on 300 West too fast and th e car lifted into the air for a moment. Its a deal, Duke said a nd left without saying good-bye. On the drive to Rexburg, Duke told her about his life in Salt Lake City, his four wives, all of whom grew up in polygamist families, and his eleven kids. He made her laugh with stories about the kids. There was the time Little Duke hid in the crawl space
61 of the house for hours because he put crayons in the dryer and knew he d be in trouble. And Lois would only wear a pink tutu from the time she was two until she was almost five. He made her somber when he told he r about Natalies difficult birth, which scared them all, even the midwife. They sound adorable, Michelle said. Sh e was deep in the middle of baby lust. Most of the girls from school had married wi thin a month or so of high school graduation and were now pregnant or ne w moms. Michelle couldnt pa ss a baby without stopping to admire it. Shed even taken to using baby lo tion and powder on herself, just so she could smell it every day. I love babies. I want ei ght, four boys and four girls. I already have all their names picked out. She paused, but D uke just crinkled his eyes in expectation. Baden, Ren, Eddie, and Blake for the boys, she said. And the girls? Amber, Jennifer, Terilyn, and Emma Jane. Duke covered her small hand with his large one. Michelle stared at it. I love kids like you do. Its a man s responsibility to build up the kingdom of God on earth, he said. And theyre cute! Michelle said. Duke was in town a lot after that on the pretense of buying some new container for the wheat, oats, and other foods he bought in bulk and divided up among them. It seemed like there was always a more economi cal carton shape to investigate or samples of coated or uncoated cardboard that had to be compared.
62 He took Michelle to dinner, for drives up the canyon, he even took her to the state fair. They ate Indian fry bread and corn dogs with mustard down the side and listened to Ronnie Milsap, swaying together slowly in the aisle. While Ronnie crooned, Duke put his warm m outh to her ear. I want to make you happy, he said. I am happy. Ive never been happier than right here, right now. She leaned into his warm leather jacket, drunk on the lyrics of the song and the lights of the distant midway and Duke. When he kissed her, Mich elle knew it was different than with other boys. Gone were the dry quick pecks of boys like Lanny Leatherwood, who were more interested in getting a hand around her breast than kissing her. I might be falling in love with you, he said. After she had seen Duke four or five times, Michelle knew she had to tell her parents about him. She couldn t keep saying she was over at Ednas and expect Edna to cover for her. Edna though, appeared to have made peace with the idea of Duke and didnt mind covering for her. Michelle knew sh e didnt see Duke as a serious threat to her, with him being a polygamist and all. One night she had even told her to go ahead and see him all she wanted, get it out of her sy stem, confident Michelle would tire of him, come to her senses, or get the brak es from her parents soon. Before Michelle could gath er the nerve to talk to her mom and dad, Duke brought the subject up. I think its time I got to know your parents, he said. Its not right, you and I seeing each other all this time and me not having a face to face with your dad.
63 Michelle agreed to se t up a meeting, maybe have Duke over for dinner or something. Her mom loved to cook and w ould welcome the chance to show off her culinary skills to someone new and apprecia tive. And once her parents got to know Duke, understood his conviction and his beliefs, theyd probably even like him. She could picture her dad and Duke discussing one of their mutually-favorite subjects: how the government ruined farming in America with all their programs, subsidies, and, as her dad said as if it were a dirty word, with thei r control. They were so alike, her dad and Duke. So alike and yet so different. Sh e would talk to her parents that night. She did it during dinner. She figured they couldnt get really mad at her while they were eating. Didnt they always say dinner was supposed to be civilized with no fighting or arguing? Like the Weavers did ever y night, they were going ar ound the table, taking turns telling the best thing that ha ppened that day. Michelles da d, Bud, said hed gotten the last of the fields cleared toda y. Her mom, Norma Jane, said sh e received word that Sister Christensen had recovered from her bout of pneumonia after a laying on of hands and anointment with oil from Elder R odgers. It was Michelles turn. Well . , Michelle began, unsure on how to proceed. No one noticed her hesitation, they were busy serving up big s poonfuls of hot tamale casserole and refried beans. I met someone at the store a while back. She put too much food on her plate and it sat there, a mountain of casserole a nd a mountain of beans, rising up from the plates valley floor.
64 The favorite game of telling the best part of the day was over. Her parents exchanged a brief glance. There was an enti re conversation in that glance and it went like this: What does she mean, she met someone? A boy? her dad would say. I dont know, I suppose so, her mom would say. Why dont we know about it? Thats a good question. Do you want to take this or do you want me to? I will. And that boy better be Mormon. Who is this boy, hon? Bud said, his fork posed halfway to his mouth like an acrobat interrupted. His name is Duke Stead. He came in th e store the other day. Michelle left out the part that it was last month and that hed co me in to buy snuff. She said a quick prayer of forgiveness for that. Father in Heaven, Im just trying to keep the peace and I know peace is Your will and Your way. Amen. Julie, her youngest sister, chanted unde r her breath, Michelles got a boyfriend, Michelles got a boyfriend . Michelle ki cked her under the table to make her stop. Her siblings were interested. This would be the most entertainment theyd had at dinner for a long time, and Michelle coul d tell they were relishing it. I dont believe I know any Steads, Bud said. Whos his family?
65 Hes not from around here. He lives in Salt Lake City, does business with the mill. Michelles appetite was gone, but she forced herself to keep eating anyway, the corn of the tamales dry and gritty in her mouth. Now her parents glance said this: Successful. Mormon. Salt Lake, huh? Norma Jane said. Hes Mormon then? Of course, Michelle said. Would you please pass the bread? Must be successful if he comes all th e way up here for paper, Bud said even though it was only three hundred miles from Salt Lake. Oh, he is, Michelle said. He has a food storage business. Michelle buttered her bread from the tub of margarine in front of her. Cant fault a boy who help s the saints follow the Word of the Lord, can you? Bud said and he looked quite pleased. He sw irled the cubes in his glass of water and Michelle imagined icebergs floating in the ocean. She thought of sitting on an iceberg when it cracked loose and drifted away from th e others, taking her fa rther and farther out to sea, alone. Hes not a boy exactly, Daddy. Michel le took a bite of the bread, the spongy white Wonder Bread sticking to the top of her mouth. He r dad put his glass down and waited. Hes a man, she said. A man? Meaning? Bud said. Meaning thirty-six.
66 Thirty-six!? Norma Jane said, shoc ked. This time her glance said this: God in Heaven, how did this happen? If that mans laid one finger on my daughter I swear to You Ill . . And her dads glance back said this: How could you let this happen, Norma Jane? Duke is very religious, Michelle sai d. She knew this would please her parents in its most basic sense. And it was true. Good. You know we wouldnt approve of any other who wasnt, Norma Jane said. She went into the kitchen to refill the water pitcher. Even a little extreme, Michelle said. Fundamentalist you could say. Fundamentalist? Bud said. What? Norma Jane said, returning to the dining room with the still empty pitcher in her hands. Her brother pushed his plate back and sett led in like he did when watching the Denver Broncos, his favorite football team, on TV. He believes in the original gospel of the Church, Michelle sai d. He thinks its wrong that the Church has altere d the gospel over the years. In what way? Bud said. His words ende d on a high note, as if he were an actor exaggerating his only line. Like polygamy, Michelle said. She gulped some tamale casserole and could feel the weight of it in her stomach.
67 Oh, oh, I know what polygamy is, said El oise, her oldest si ster. I saw it on TV. Shut up, Bud said to her. Eloise bow ed her head and started crying soundlessly, tears dripping onto the design of the plate, flowers strung together with a leafy vine, landing like dew drops on the blue petals. It wa s a rule in their house, enforced strictly by both parents, that no one was allowed to say shut up. They had to say be quiet instead. Her fathers shout made Michelle want to cry too, but she didnt, choosing instead to wrap a strand of the tender hair from the back of her neck around her finger and pull it until she felt a sharp pain travel down her spine. So, does this man, this Duke Stead, Bud punctuated his words by bringing his fists down on the table, making his dinner plate jump just believe in polygamy or are you telling me he practices polygamy? Michelle smashed her beans underneath th e tines of her fork. Practices, she said. What the hell? Bud sai d, rising from his chair. Eloise, Brenda, and Julie let out a coll ective gasp. Daddy swore, daddy swore, they chanted. Bud, please, dont swear in front of the children, Norma Jane said. Michelle squeezed her eyes shut. If she couldnt see her dads rage, maybe it would go away. She gathered every piece of courage she could find. She searched her soul for it, she prayed to the Holy Ghost, she conjured up Dukes image in her mind. It came to her; the knowledge that she was on the right path and she found her strength
68 there. The Heavenly Father always revealed the correct way if one just believed that he would. Hes a polygamist. He has four wives, Michelle said. Bud advanced toward her and she jumped up from her chair. He had never laid a hand on any of them, so Michelle didnt know why she had a sudden vision of Bud throwing her to the ground. She backed up. He knows the true way, Daddy. Its been revealed to him. The gospel of Joseph Smith is true, you know it is yourself, Michelle said. I forbid you to see him, Bud said. Daddy, please, Michelle said. Bud, calm down, Norma Jane said. Sh e too was on her feet and ushering the kids upstairs. They filed past Michelle, th eir usual style of picking on which ever one was in trouble abandoned. They didnt even tu rn their heads to look at her. Michelle knew her mother, who would never say a word to cross anything her father said, their respective roles were too well-defined for th at, was managing the si tuation as Michelle had seen her manage every crisis situatio n: by getting the kids out of the way and attempting to calm Bud down. In the past, Mi chelle had heard her mother say anything her father wanted to hear and for the firs t time in her life, Michelle now welcomed whatever she could come up with to appease her fathers wrath. Youre going to bust an artery or somethi ng, Norma Jane said. Lets just meet him. She laughed and it came out more like a choke. Well have him for dinner. Its not like Michelles going to marry him or a nything. She looked at Michelle. Right, honey?
69 Michelle was backed up ag ainst her mothers prized possession, the glass-shelved breakfront that matched the fake mahogany tabl e and chairs of the dining room suite. Norma Jane had filled it with both decorative and sentimental pieces. A crystal bowl that had been a wedding present from Norma Janes parents twenty years ago sat next to a miniature glass deer that Michelle had given her for Christmas last year. Right, Michelle said as she stepped away from the glass, her hip hitting the breakfront and toppling the deer. The minute the words were out of her mouth, she knew they werent true. She wanted what Duke had, the very thing her parents wanted, the thing she thought shed given up for Edna: th e key to the Celestial Kingdom. She felt they were within her reach. It was like ev erything she had been taught, everything shed ever experienced, everything shed seen, had all been to show her what to do at this very moment. The sound of the glass breaking made Bud st op in his tracks. Youre going to be sorry now, Michelle though, breaking one of Moms favorite pieces. But her mom was nonplused and her dad seemed to be considering her words. Maybe he just didnt want to get into a fight later over the broken deer, whic h they all knew Norma Jane would silently blame on him. He glanced at her and she said nothing, but refused to drop her eyes. His glance said: Yeah, why get all upset? He doesnt stand a chance with my daughter. Youre right, he said. Dinner tomorrow.
70 We understand that we are to be made kings and priests unto God, if I be made the king and lawgiver of the family, and if I have many sons, I may become the father of many fathers and the king of many kings. This will constitute every man a prince, king, or lord, whatever the Father sees fit to confer upon us. President Brigham Young Discourses of Brigham Young, 195 CHAPTER THREE It was decided that Duke should come at seven for dinner. Norma Jane made two pans of her speciality, chicke n tetrazzini, a creamy mixture of chicken, spaghetti, and Campbells cream of chicken soup. She served one early to the kids and banished them upstairs, where Michelle knew they were more than happy to remain, the image of their father pounding the table and backing her up ag ainst the breakfront st ill in their mind. She could picture them lined up by age in the hallway, their backs pressed flat against the wall, listening, for the rest of the evening. Michelle found her mother in the k itchen. Will Daddy be nice tonight? she asked just as Bud came in the back door, stom ping the dirt of the farm off onto the mat. Ask him, Norma Jane said. She sp rinkled the green onions she was chopping on top of the casserole. They made Michelles eyes water. I have a few questions I wa nt answered, Bud answered. Daddy, you cant go interrogating him like a boy you know. Hes a man .
71 I dont care how the hell ol d he is, Bud said, I ha ve a few questions. Some married man coming around. I want answers. Michelle prayed for help. Lord, let my Daddy be a good father like you are. Bestow on him a good dose of restraint. And please, please, please dont let him embarrass me. I ask this in Your name, amen. Duke arrived in freshly creased jeans a nd a striped shirt, its sleeves buttoned at the wrist instead of folded back like he usually wore them. His boots were new. Michelle wished his snuff can hadnt ma de a faded ring on his back pocket. The dinner conversation was stilted and c onsisted mostly of Duke praising her mothers cooking. He ate with enthusiasm winning her over with his zealousness. This is the best meal Ive eaten in a month of Sundays. He looked at Michelle. You cook like your mom? Norma Jane didnt let Michelle answer. Ive tried to teach her everything I know, she said. Michelle hope d she wouldnt feel compelled to go into detail of just how bad of a cook she really was. And th at was even after three years of 4H Club cooking classes. But her natural inclinati ons had never been domestic and she could usually be found outside with her dad, helping with chores. Shed feed the chickens in the morning before school and now they didn t see her without running to her, ready for a treat. She liked driving the tractor through the hops field and once her dad was confident in her ability, he let her driv e it in the spring, when the hard unplowed earth made it more dangerous. She even helped him to repa ir the tractor until he bought a new one and neither of them recognized a thing on its new-fangled engine.
72 After dinner, they moved into what Norma Jane called the formal living room. It was off-limits to the family and only used when Norma Jane had the women from church over for a meeting. Shed saved for years to purchase the blue and brown flowered sofa, blue velvet chair, and off-white plush carpet. A large framed picture of the Salt Lake Temple was above the sofa, the angel Moroni wrought in gold presiding over it. Michelle sat on the sofa and Duke sat next to her. Her father looked pained, as if someone somewhere were sticking pins into a little voodoo doll that looked like him. Norma Jane came in, her hands still visibly damp from rinsing the dishes. She was carrying a chair from the dining room. She se t it next to Bud and the room took on the appearance of a battle zone, with lines draw n, Bud and Norma Jane on one side, Michelle and Duke on the other. Michelle took it as a good sign that the Temple painting was above her Moroni was in her camp. So Duke, Michelle tells me youre a pol ygamist, Bud said. Michelle could see the blue veins in his neck bulging down both sides. That interested Norma Jane and I and we wanted to make sure youre not po lluting our daughters h ead with any strange ideas. Clear? Yes, I am, Duke said and settled back into the sofa, arranging the stiff pillows her mother kept at either e nd until he was comfortable and Michelle didnt know if Duke meant he was a polygamist or was clear on her fathers message. My parents, and their parents, and their parents t oo were polygamists. My granddaddy too far back to count settled the Salt Lake Valley. Came to Utah in 1847 when the Mormons left Nauvoo.
73 His eyes stared out over the top of Buds h ead. He never wouldve dreamed that his Latter-day Saints are the same ones th at refuse my way of life today. Theres a reason for that, you know, Bud said. Its against the law. And its morally wrong, an unholy practice. It was holy at one time, Daddy, Michel le said, paraphrasing information she had gleaned from Duke over the last coupl e of months. The only reason the Church doesnt allow polygamy anymore is because of pressure to change. Legal stuff, nothing to do with the Church. Id like to hear what Duke has to sa y about that, Bud said, dismissing Michelle as if she was still seven years old and trying to convince him that the lost city of Atlantis was real and it was in their pond and the only reason nobody had found it is because they hadnt looked there. The law of God should take precedent over the law of man, Duke said. But people are ignorant. His eyes got misty. The day after my tenth birthday, the Salt Lake County sheriff arrived with deputies from tw o surrounding counties to arrest my father. We kids huddled in the cellar, afraid of that sheriff. He was an instrument of Satan himself. Thats what the law is. Whatd you do? Norma Jane asked, adjusting her chair. I prayed, asking the Holy Ghost to s how me what was true. Why was my daddy arrested if he wasnt wrong? Whatd the law know that he didnt know? For a second, Michelle thought Duke looked lik e he was still in that cellar and ten years old. His heavy eyes told her everything she needed to know a bout that day: his str uggle to keep his fear
74 from overflowing into the cella r and drowning them all, his brave attempt to be the man of the family, and a childs desperate attempt to find an answer to what was happening that would make sense. Miche lle blinked and it was gone. And? Michelle said, sitti ng on the edge of the sofa. I received a revelation right there in that cellar, with my brothers and sisters huddled around me, crying. I heard the Holy Ghost tell me what my daddy already knew, that the only way to be accepted into the Celestial Kingdom was through polygamy. And I wanted that Celestial Kingdom. Bud looked incredulous. We all want to attain the Celestial Kingdom, he said, but that dont mean we all become polygami sts. He laughed and threw his head toward Norma Jane. I got my hands full with one wife Not sure how Id ta ke care of three or four, if you know what I mean. Daddy! Michelle felt herself color. Its the only way to create a heaven on earth, Duke said, with wives and children to love and take care of, just like Jesus took care of his followers, and with wives and children serving the husband, like thos e who loved Jesus served Him. Bud snorted. I have a wife and children and I dont feel like Jesus. Daddy, you know Jesus wants his saints perfected, Michelle said. Hes pleased when we try to become like him. Bud ignored her again and she looked to her mother for support, or agreement, or any si gn, but there was nothing. Her face was blank and her body stiff, her back straight in the chair with feet plante d flat on the ground. The battle line was once again clear.
75 Duke propelled himself forward, clutchi ng Michelles knee in the process. Bud noticed his hand and Michelle c ould see his distress. It was like his eyes were going to pop out of his head any moment. Norma Jane reached out and patted his hand. Polygamy makes me more like Jesus ri ght here on earth than youll ever be, Duke said. I have experi ence watching over my children, just like God does. When I get to the Celestial Heaven, me and my wi ves and children, for theyre coming along too, Ill be ready. He sat back and folded his arms across his chest. Will you? Im ready. Ive got my faith and Ive got the Church. Thats more than I can say for you with your half-baked ideas on salva tion, Bud said, his f ace now turning red. Michelle had seen her dad challenged about his beliefs lots of times. He routinely fielded questions from non-Mo rmons like Do you believe in Jesus? to which he would respond, It is calle d the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as if the person were lamebrained. An inquiry from the unsuspecting as to why Mormons wore funny underwear always got a long lecture on the hono r and privilege of being able to wear such sacred garments that the asker w ould inevitably start nodding their head in understanding just to get awa y. But Michelle had never se en him challenged by someone who had such command of every tenet of th e Mormon religion, espe cially someone as self-confident as Duke. It was unnerving to see her dads anger so luminous against Dukes peaceful demeanor. Faith alone wont get you into the Celestial Kingdom, thats a false teaching, Duke said.
76 Bullshit, said Bud. He gripped the arms of the chair as if to keep from falling out of it. His fingers made a pattern like swir ling clouds reflected in water in the crushed velvet. Daddy, dont swear, Michelle said. Pl ease try to understand. Duke says those most ignorant to the Gospel ar e the ones most offended by it. Bud looked right at Michelle Bullshit, he repeated. He tossed his head toward Duke. You dont know whats true or wh ats false. The Mormon Church hasnt practiced polygamy since 1890 and you think its the only way to attain glory? Tell that to the real Mormons, were the chosen ones, the true Church. With this, Bud thumped his chest with his fist. Duke looked perturbed, like he had to go ove r it all again with a forgetful child. Not everyone can be saved when Jesus return s to reign on this earth again, Duke said. In the millennium, only the ones who have prepar ed like I have will walk with him. Me and my wives and my children. He turned away from Bud for a second and looked at Michelle. She gave him a subdued smile. How do your wives feel about that? Bud asked, clearl y not as impressed with Dukes speech as Michelle was. I love my wives and respect them more than most men you know, Duke said. And I respect family. How many men can say that in 1999? Bud ignored his question. What exactly are your intentions with my daughter? he asked instead. It was the question that had been in the room all evening. It had
77 swirled around them like fog rising off the la ke, covering the floor that divided them. And now it was out. Duke took so long before he spoke that Michelle was uncertain if he knew what his intentions were . maybe he had never planned on having her for a wife . maybe he got lonely and just liked her company all th is time. She felt dizzy and had to lean her head against the back of the sofa in the silence. Whatever makes her happy, he said. When Duke said whatever makes her happy, Michelles mind drifted to a house in Salt Lake City with her in it. She sa w a house full of women and kids and salvation and a man, a man who could show her the right path, and she leaned her head back on the sofa, her eyes closed. Bud was silent when Duke said whate ver makes her happy, as if the wind was knocked out of his sails. He had been rea dy for a fight, for the real fight, not over religion, but over his daughter. But Duke hadn t claimed Michelle and it was pretty hard to argue with someone who says w hatever makes her happy. Bud stood and said, I think its time we called it a night. It amazed Michelle how he could say so much while barely moving his lips. He looked directly at her. Well talk about this later, he said and le ft the room before Duke could even get up from the sofa. Norma Jane and Michelle tried to make up for Buds abruptness, offering another piece of Norma Janes rainbow Jell-O cake a nd making small talk, but Duke begged off. Michelle walked out to the front porch with him.
78 Im sorry about my daddy. He doesnt understand, she said. Not many do, Duke said in a regretful manner. He shook his head slowly. I know persecution, like those before me. Mi chelle stood close to him, afraid to touch him on her own front porch. He smelled of hay warmed by the sun and Michelle breathed it in. Duke quickly kissed her, then leaned back and took her face in his hands. Im offering you a gift, he said. I know. You just have to be open to receiving it. He started down the stairs, then called back over his shoulder, Remember, a kingdom cant be delivered to Jesus when he comes back, unless its prepared for him now. Michelle smiled and waved. Ill help you prepare, she thought as she went back into the house, closing the scre en door noiselessly behind her. You sure could say Duke had conviction. He stood up for what he believ ed and didnt conform for the sake of the Church, or what people thought, even Michelles daddy, or even the law. There werent many men like that in Warm Springs, at least none Michelle knew. Not that shed dated that many boys to compare Duke to. She knew she wasnt considered pretty by the boys she went to hi gh school with, not with her strong jaw, full eyebrows she refused to pluck and her wild hair, dark and to her shoulder, hanging in long spiral curls, like a black persons the kids used to say. Not that they really knew, there werent any black families in Warm Springs, so the extent of their knowledge came from pictures and movies. But that didnt stop them from taunting Michelle. Hey, Blacky, whered you get that hair? stupid Rob Carter said.
79 Afroturf, Tracey Weeks whispered in he r ear as she descended the steps of the school bus. It was a rare boy who did ask her to drive to Rexburg to see a movie or who wanted to go up to Pineview Reservoir to nec k. She told herself th at she didnt need to fit in, to be popular like the bl ond girls, to have even one ot her best friend beside Edna, who didnt count since she was related, but deep down, it did matter. Now with Duke, she felt pretty and smart. He listened to he r, wanting to hear every word she told him about the things shed done and the things she wanted to do. Michelle found her mother in the kitche n. She was sitting alone at the metal table, a pile of wet kleenex in front of her. She was the peacemaker of the family, the referee, and the liaison between Bud and the kids. If Michelle could make her understand, woman-to-woman, she might be her ally with her father. Michelle sat down. Norma Jane spoke before Michelle coul d. Im just going to say one thing, and thats this: you will kill your father if you go off with that man. Before Michelle could think of how to proceed, her mother gripped her shoulders and shook her out of her silence. Do you understand? Her grip was hard and her nails dug in to Michelles shoulders. Stop, Mama, youre hurting me. Michelle wormed out of her grip. Do you understand me? Norma Jane said again. Yes. I do. But will you listen to me? Michelle said.
80 No, I wont. I cant. I had him over for dinner, I gave him due course . She stood up and attacked the counter with a dish rag. Hes a married man, she said, her back to Michelle. Hes a polygamist, for hecks sake, not an adulterer. You make it sound all dirty and its not. Michelle twirled a strand of hair around her fingers, making it curlier than it already was. Norma Jane whirled around. Her eyes had a thin rim of red around them. Do you think a woman who has to share her husband can be happy? What about the Needhams out behind the dealership? Michelle asked, referring to a polygamist family that occasionally s howed up in church. They were well-known in town, despite their attempts to remain low-key. They look happy. How do you know? They dont talk to anyone. Yeah, because they have each other. I always see them whispering and giggling. And the kids are the best beha ved in church. You know it. Michelle thought of them stretching across the last row lik e the lines on a bar graph. Fi rst a few small ones, then a group of taller ones, then some mid-sized ones, and finally, back to more small ones. Probably under threat of death. Pol ygamist dont like undue attention called to them, you know. Is that how you want to live? Michelle didnt answer. She arranged the items that were on the table into a circle: a salt and pepper shaker a pair of dice, her mothers compact mirror, and a piece of wood one of the kids must have pick ed up outside and liked the shape of. Where do you think youre going with this? Norma Jane continued.
81 Michelle closed her eyes and breathed in deep. I dont know, she said, but she did. I dont want to be stuck in a monogam ous marriage, all by myself, like you are. I want a sisters and girlfriends and a celestial marriage. Like the kind Duke can give me. Norma Jane sat up straight and wiped her ey es. She looked as if she just realized what it was she was fighting. Its not about sisters and girlfriends, Michelle. Her mother faced her squarely from across the ta ble. She reached out and took Michelles hands. You need to find a nice Mormon boy back from his mission and get married in the Temple, like your dad and me, she said. Sealed for eternity, along with you kids. You dont get that with si sters and girlfriends. Michelle knew that, that was the problem. She took her hands away. There are no nice Mormon boys for me, Mom, havent you noticed? Give it time. Im eighteen! You were married by now and pregnant with me. I hear people talk at Church and in tow n. I know what they think. Maybe if you gave the boys a chance . if you and Edna werent so tight, always together . maybe both of you could find a Michelle interrupted her. Nice Mormon boy, yeah, yeah, yeah. Id have to leave Warm Springs to do that. Then leave, go . just not with Duke Stead. And not with Edna either. Her mothers eyebrows arched and her mouth made a little o and she flapped her hands in excitement. I have an idea, she said. Why dont you go to Boise to the Community College? Youve always wanted to and I be t theres plenty of nice boys there, too.
82 We dont have the money, Michelle said. Ill talk to Daddy. Im sure we can scra pe the money together for a good cause. Norma Jane trilled like a bird, making plans, he r voice reverberating in Michelles head. Ill ask the bishop for a recommendation of a good family you can stay with. That way you wont have to live alone in Boise. I be t Boise has a singles ward too, wont that be fun? No more . Michelle quit hearing her mothers plan s even though she went on. She stared at the circle of objects shed arranged on the tabl e, the salt and pepper shakers, the dice, the mirror, and the wood, and the rest of the room darkened around them. Had there been money all along for college? Why was she only hearing about it now? Michelle stood. Im going to bed, she said. She left her mother in the kitchen, still making plans for Michelle in Boise. Michelle couldnt get to sleep. She stared up to the ceiling in the dark. When she was a kid, she had stuck glow-in-the-dark stars across the ceili ng and she now pondered the constellations she had made at eight years old. She had never seriously considered the po ssibility that her parents wouldnt be supportive of anything she chose to do, especial ly if the decision was based on religion. She never considered the possibili ty that they wouldnt be a pa rt of her life forever, they were all sealed in the Church as a family un it, after all. But she couldnt picture them visiting her under Dukes roof. Her dad woul d have a major heart attack before that happened; she didnt need him to tell her that to know it. Not after tonight. Would her mother not be there when she had her firs t baby? Would her fa ther not hold the baby
83 when he was blessed as a new born? Would he not baptize his own grandchild when the time came? Michelle didnt want to think about the answers and she buried her face in the pillows. She must have drifted off to sleep. It was fitful and she woke to a damp pillow. One-forty glowed the red digits of the clock radio. She found her childhood Hollie Hobbie blanket at the foot of the bed and pulled it around her. Its smooth fabric was always cool. She flipped the pillow over and pr ayed for sleep. She studied the stars. In the corner, shed pasted a little crescent moon. It was so bright for a minute she forgot it wasnt the real moon and was awed by its power to move oceans. Boise was sitting on her chest and maki ng it hard to breathe. She once approached the subject with her mother, who looked as if she wasnt quite sure what Michelle was asking for. College? Isnt that expe nsive? Norma Jane had said. I guess. They passed out some inform ation about it at school. Mr. Anderson said its the only way to secure your future. Well no one in this family has gone to college. Are you saying no one has a future? You want to tell that to your daddy or your grandfather? I thought Uncle Bert went to school in Boise. He didnt finish. He dropped out to s ecure his future with a good job, a job on the railroad. Those dont open up every day, you know. Im not going to get a job with the rail road, Mom. I want to go somewhere like Boise for college. Like Uncle Bert.
84 Do what you want. But dont expect your father and me to pay for it. Then wed have to do that for all four of you . Michelle had quit listening. She knew th at despite her mothers claim that the family had a future, a lifetime of farming barely pays the bills, much less lets a family put money into savings. Her dad was always sa ying his money was in the land, and that it was. Michelle just didnt know what good it did there. So her future was entirely up to her. Her grades didnt warrant a scholarship, she could be as lackadaisical as she was smar t if she wasnt interested in something, sometimes not even going to class at all in order to take on extra hours at work. Skipping school put her outside the radar of the schools guidance counselor, who also served as the assistant principal and coach. He barely had time to worry about students getting through each day, much less about the future of one farm girl who could have qualified for a scholarship if anyone at all had taken an interest or motivated her. Michelle snapped on the light and her stars disappeared. Dont expect your father and me to pay for it, her mother had said and Im sure we can scrape the money together for a good cause. They were li quid words; made up and moved around to suit their purpose, and they reverberated in Michel les head like the slow drip of water on stone. Michelle turned the light off and fell as leep. She dreamed she was at the beach. It must have been low tide because miles of ocean floor was exposed and Michelle could see out to the coral reef. Th e water lay just beyond it. Hundreds of items lay in the uncovered ocean floor; some treasure, like a gr een glass buoy encased in rope, and some
85 trash, like the tires so encrusted with barnac les they looked like sculpture. Michelle walked along, picking up shells and a marble egg and even the jump rope she used to have when she was a kid, when she real ized she was alone. Where were all the beachcombers? Who cared? She had this whol e treasure chest to herself. Duke visited Warm Springs more freque ntly over the next few months. It was difficult to see him, as Michelles parents ha d forbidden it and Edna had quit covering for her. She didnt think Michelles interest in Duke was just a passing phase any more. Michelle was forced to be cr eative in her alibis, which wa s difficult because she didnt have a lot of friends to fall back on. Shed ta ke huge risks, like saying shed be at work then go with Duke all day. On those days, sh e could barely climb the stairs of her front porch, not knowing if today would be the da y her mom or dad had stopped in the minimart, discovered she wasnt there, and we re now waiting for her inside the door. With every visit, Michelle wanted to know more and more about Dukes home life and she questioned him ince ssantly about his wives. Tell me their names again? she asked all the time, just to hear him say the names. She liked to pretend she could read his feelings for them into the way the syllables rolled from his tongue. LaRae, GayLynn, Cheron, and Rhonda, hed said. Do you love one more than the others? Michelle couldnt help but feel like he must, or that it was possible to, otherwise, w hy would he be paying all this attention to
86 her when he had four wives at home? She liked the feeling of being special that his attention gave her. But he always insisted he loved them all the same. She tried it from a different approach. Dont they get jealous of each other? she asked. Absolutely not. Every one of them is c onfident in how much I love them. I have a tremendous capacity to love, Michelle. Ev ery time I think I cant possibly love any more, I meet someone like you and I can. Michelle would turn his words over and ove r in her head at night as she tried to fall asleep. She missed having Edna to talk t o. Nor could she confide in her parents. And the lies she had to tell were eating at her very soul. She even felt isolated when at Church because she blamed the Church for her torment. She didnt feel guilty over seeing Duke, or being in love with him, and in love with him she was, but she felt guilty because her Church, the one she d had faith in her entire ei ghteen years, told her it was wrong when she knew it wasnt. Sometimes she wanted to leave it all behind. The thoughts of getting out of Warm Spri ngs and moving to a real city like Salt Lake, giving up her job at the Stop-N-Go, livi ng in a big house with lots of sisters to share the work, babies . it sounded like a welcome relief from the indecision Michelle faced over her future in Warm Springs. Despite her mothers past protestati ons about school, Michelle knew she hoped for more for Michelle than Warm Springs o ffered. Michelle was her favorite, and she knew shed be stifled if she stayed. But Norma Janes idea of success was anything off the farm and she often talked of Michelle ge tting a job at the count ry club in Rexburg,
87 shed once driven by and admired the way th e employees dressed in crisp black and white, or maybe seeing the world working on a cr uise ship. But so far, Michelled just worked at the Stop-N-Go, first as a clerk, then on the midnight shift, and finally working her way up to manager six months afte r she graduated from high school. And now here was a man, a man with talk of babies and big towns and a house full of women like sisters and fu lfillment of Gods plan, righ t here on earth! When he stopped in the mini-mart and asked to see he r tomorrow, she agreed. It was Sunday and that would take some scheming, but she came up with the perfect plan. The next day, she made herself late for Church. As everyone rushed out the door, she called down to her mom that shed take her own car. After the sacrament meeting, she feigned illness in order to drive herself home. Her mother put her hand to her forehead, smoothing her inky hair off her face. You dont feel hot, she said. But you can never be too careful. Good thing you drove. Michelle looked around for Edna but coul dnt find her. Tell Edna I went home sick, she said and ducked out the door, trying to appear leth argic and tired. When Michelle got home, Duke was right behind her. She knew they only had two hours alone before the rest of the fa mily would be home from Sunday School and meetings. She showed him in. He leaned against the counter in the k itchen and watched Michelle make lunch. She was extremely grateful that her mother ha d a pot of chili in the fridge and all she had to do was heat it up. That she could handle. When she turned to put the steaming chili
88 on the table, Duke was on one knee on the floor. She froze, a bowl in each hand. The spicy aroma of the hot peppers her mother pu t in the chili stung her nose. He reached out, took them from her and set them on the counter, and took he r now empty hands in his. Michelle thought back to all those afternoons with Edna, sitting on the path waiting for the other kids to get back from Ka ys Cross, or stretched on big towels on the swell next to her brothers base ball field, pretending they were at the beach and not half a field away from her family, or down by the creek that wound behind Michelles house. They would talk about what it would feel like when someone proposed to them and what the appropriate reaction on their parts should be. Im never going to get married, Edna said, shaking her bobbed hair. The sun glinted off it and made it look more red than brown. You have to, Michelle said. Wha t else would you do? And you want kids dont you? She was painting her bare toena ils frosted cream. Like it? she asked and lifted one foot toward Edna. Edna nodded her approval and stretched out, pretending she was at the beach in the sun, not at a ball field in Idaho. She had on her favorite outfit, wh ite capris and a red bandana print top. Michelle had on the same outfit, only her capris were denim and her top a navy bandana. Edna considered the marriage issue. Are you going to get married? she asked. I think so. Depends on who asks me and how they ask.
89 Like this, Edna said an d threw herself on her knees in front of Michelle. She looked more like she was going to pray than propose. Michelle cracked up. Ask me, she said, sitting up. Edna took Michelles hands. Michelle Be th Weaver, I love you to the top of the sky and the bottom of the ocean. Will you marry me? Michelle couldnt keep a st raight face, Edna looked so funny play-acting at being so serious. She wiped the smile from her f ace with her hand and pretended to be solemn herself. Will I have to live on a farm? she asked. No, Ill take you to a big city. Maybe even Denver, Edna promised. Will I have to do the dishes? No, Ill find someone else to do the dishes. And the cleaning. Can I have a cook? Ill cook. You cant cook. Youll have to go to work. Well be rich and Ill sp end every day with you. You will? Oh, we can be just like now. Well have a blast, well be able to do anything we want, even stay up all night talking . Eating whatever. . Nothing green, please. No green. But chocolate. Ill do it. Ill marry you.
90 Now we seal it with a kiss, Edna sa id. She kissed Michelle and pulled her down on the blanket. It was a good kiss and Michelle kissed back. Then they did it again. Michelle hoped her mom would just th ink they were lying down if she looked up from her brothers game. Good thing there were several large trees in her line of sight. They stayed there a long time, kissing, then stopping, then deciding to do it again, until the loudspeaker announced the end of the game. Their game was over for the day too. Michelle could still hear that loudspeaker, only now it was broadcasting Dukes voice. Michelle, he was saying, will you be my wife? It occurred to her that Duke didnt even know her middle name to toss in there but she dismissed that thought. Edna was her c ousin, of course she wouldve proposed with Michelles full name. She star ted to say yes, but Duke in terrupted her before the single word was out of her mouth. Dont answer yet, he said. I want you to be sure. Pray. Michelle didnt want to pr ay. She didnt need the Lord to show her what to do to find eternity in Heaven and ba bies on Earth. But Duke pulled her down next to him and she prayed. Holy Ghost, come to me now and share in my joy of this new and everlasting covenant offered before me. Ma ke me worthy to accept the highest of the high and to use my free agency to do your w ill. Prepare me to know God the Father and Jesus Christ in eternal life in the world to come. Show me a sign that the celestial glory put forth here is rightfully mine. Amen. The room was quiet except for the hum of the refrigerator motor. Michelle popped opened one eye to steal a look at Duke. His eyes were shut tight and he mouthed
91 a silent prayer she couldnt make out. He r knees started to ache from kneeling on the hard floor. Right when she thought she couldnt take it an ymore, it was replaced by a soothing feeling of tranquillity. She was warm The feeling started in her hands that Duke still gripped and spread from there. Her eyes flew open. Michelle knew she had only one choice. Marrying Duke was the only way for her to achieve eternal life in the Celestial Kingdom that didnt involve having to confess her sins to the bishop. Which she would have glad ly done if the sin wasn t a mortal sin that would get her ex-communicated. If only he r parents knew the embarrassment she was saving them, theyd be grateful and not mad. And maybe she had these feelings for Edna because she didnt have a boyfriend or because Edna herself was to blame. She needed to be away from Warm Springs to figure that out. And babies . she wanted lots and lots of babies. Duke was kneeling in the kitchen waiting for an answer. Edna was sitting in Church, probably wondering if Michelle were okay. Can I give you an answer tomorrow? she asked and Duke said, Take all the time you need. She needed one more time with Edna. She needed to know that she was doing the right thing. One part of her wanted Edna to beg her to st ay, and if she did, Michelle would. She would forget about babies and the Celestial Kingdom and the whole bit. Another part of her wanted Edna to get mad and let her go. She asked Edna to come over the next night since both her pa rents would be at the Stake Le adership meeting at church.
92 She was in her room packing when the door knob jiggled. A rap on the door was followed by Edna calling her name. Michelle let her in and locked the door behind her. I thought you guys werent supposed to lo ck your doors, Edna said. Of all the rules in the Weaver house, th is one had been the most ir ksome, forcing Michelle and Edna to be very creative with thei r clandestine games. Anyone home? Not that I know of, Michelle said. When she turned around, Edna was standing next to her. She leaned into Michelle and pinned her gently to the door. Edna kissed her and Michelle let herself feel it this time, rea lly feel it. Ednas lips were soft and her tongue was strong. It tasted fa intly of licorice. Edna broke away and looked at the pants Michelle was holding in her hand. Whats up? she said, then saw the open suitcase. Youre going to marry Duke, she said without a tra ce of uncertainty in her voice. Michelle folded the pants into the suit case. She nodded, afraid if she spoke she would cry. Hes a polygamist, Michelle, for Christs sake, Edna said. Michelle had never heard Edna take the Lords name in vain be fore. It seemed like everyone was losing their principles. Michelle sat on the bed, still quiet. Edna kneeled before her on the floor. Look, if you have to do this, if you feel you have to get married Edna said. Michelle interrupted her. I want ba bies. And I want the fulfillment of Gods plan. And that means an eternal marriage.
93 But why marry Duke? Find someone here Please. I swear, I wont stand in your way. Michelle put her arms around Edna and E dna lay her head on her lap. Her copper hair covered her face and the way it moved, a ll in one motion, reminded Michelle of the beaded headdresses Cleopatra wore in Michelles favorite movie. Michelle wanted Edna to accept that she couldnt stay in Warm Springs forever. Her prospects for a Temple marriage were tain ted. That didnt matter to Edna, because Edna never planned on getting married. Bu t Michelle had never thought she would do anything but get married from the time she was a toddler playing house. After her sisters came along, shed cart them around like dolls, th rilled to have a babydoll that really did eat and wet. But she couldnt say all that to Edna because she knew that wound would cut too deep. Look, I cant stay here, Michelle said. My parents say I can go to college in Boise, but I know the minute Dukes out of th e picture, they wont be able to come up with the money. Theyre just saying that to keep me here. Where they can control me. You dont think Dukes going to control you? Edna rose up. Its different between a man and a woman, Michelle said, randomly tossing clothes from the pile on the bed into the suitcase. You wouldnt understand. Whats that supposed to mean? She pi cked up a striped ora nge shirt and folded it with perfection. Just that. Youre not interested in finding out about men. You never date or anything.
94 Ive been busy with you. She clutched the shirt to her chest. Im your cousin. That didnt seem to bother you before. It was just games to me. Kissing cousins. When she said the words, Edna looked like Michelle had ripped her heart out and was holding it in her fist. She sat next to her. I have to go Edna, you know that. I cant stay here with you, working at the mini-mart, playing our games Shed been over this speech in her mind at least four times a day for the last week but it wasn t sounding as convincing as shed hoped. Edna interrupted her. T hey werent games to me, sh e said. And they werent games to you. Youre right, Edna, they werent games to you. Michelle came closer to Edna. Because I think youre a lesbian . Michelle let the word unfurl like a flag. She had never said it before in her entire life. Edna wasnt as phased by Michelle sayi ng it as Michelle was. And youre not? she asked. Michelle was horrified. Of course Im not I want to have children, so I want to get married. Do you love me? Edna asked. She colla psed on the bed, the shirt still balled up in her hand. Michelle took it from her and toss ed it into the suitcase. She put her arms around Edna and felt the steady convulsions th at her silent crying induced. Michelle couldnt take feeling her body lik e that, racked with despair, and she knew it was now or never. One word from Edna and she would turn back.
95 She ran her hand up the back of Ednas shirt and played one of their favorite games. Tickle, tickle, tickle, she said wh ile running her fingerti ps lightly over Ednas skin. Scratch, scratch, scratch, she said, scratching where shed tickled, knowing that made the tickle feel even be tter. Rub, rub, rub, she said and kneaded the small of Ednas back in time with her palm. Edna burrowed into the bed wanting more and Michelle laid down next to her. She kissed her tears and rolled on top of her. She wanted to make Edna feel better, she wanted to make everything right. She wi shed they were just kids still. Edna rolled her over and kissed her with renewed vigor, her teet h pressing against Michelles. A surge of excitement went through Michelles body, landing between her legs. Edna unbuttoned Michelles jeans, slipped them off, and wiggled her fully-clothed body between Michelles legs. Then she was on her knees, rubbing her cheek against Michelles lacy beige bikini. What are you doing? Michelle said and tried to pull her up, but Edna sunk lower down. Edna moved Miche lles panties to the side br ushed her lips across the lips between Michelles legs. Dont you want me too? Edna said, looking up. We never have. But we can, Edna said and with that she spread Michelles lips apart with her face and burrowed in. She was like a squirrel looking for an acorn and her tongue flicked back and forth until she knew she hit the spot she was looking for. Michelles back involuntarily arched and her head slammed into the headboard. Michelle knew it was
96 wrong, but she couldnt think about that now Ednas body convulsed with Michelles and she clung to Michelles hips with a fier ceness that Michelle had never felt before. Her body kept convulsing long after Michelle s stopped and Michelle realized it was because Edna was crying, her tears mixing with her own saliva and Michelles fluids. When it was over, Michelle was surprising how quickly shame replaced pleasure. Edna was still fully-dressed, her face shiny. The down comforter was wet and covered in clothes from the piles they ha d kicked over. Michelle f ound her jeans and slipped them on over her wet and crumpled panties. Dont get up, Edna said. That was wrong. Michelle got up anyway. You liked it. I liked it. Please Thats the problem, Edna, dont you see. Weve gone too far. You always go too far. Me? Everywhere Ive gone, youve gone too. Edna picked up another one of Michelles shirts and held it. Not this time. I want more out of life. She wished Edna would wash her face. Michelle could smell herself all over both of them. And you think youre going to find it with Duke? With a polygamist? Yes. He wont be able to give you what I can.
97 Hell be able to give me more. Mi chelle knew the words would be hurtful but she had to say them. After what happened, she knew if she stayed, her fate would be sealed in Hell. That was not an act that could go unrepented. Edna stood up, the shirt falling to the floor. She went to Michelles dresser, the top of which was covered in framed photos of them both. There was a picture of them at the Ponderosa Steakhouse on the occasion of Ednas moms birthday. They were smiling for the camera over Ednas sirl oin tips and Michelles chicke n breast on rice. Michelle had framed it in a twig frame intertwined w ith pieces of bark and moss. There was a picture of them in prom dresses from the year they decided they di dnt need dates for the prom and they would go together. Michelles dress was long and navy, trimmed in white daisy rickrack. Ednas was dark green and sil ky. Michelle had fram ed that picture in a silver frame sprinkled with glittery silver st ars. Michelles favorite was a picture of the two of them in the pond, just th eir heads above water, hair sl icked back. When Michelle looked at that picture, she liked to pretend her hair looked smooth and flat like that all the time. Edna picked up a picture and waved it at Michelle. You bitch, she said and flung the picture against the wall. It hit the wall with a t hud and landed on the floor in pieces. Stop, Michelle said. Let me be with a man. Edna didnt hear her. I love you, do you hear me? Love you and you were just playing games, she said and threw another pi cture, this time with all her might. The glass shattered and sprayed out into the room Michelle instinctively covered her head
98 but Edna stood frozen in the center of the r oom, her toes dug into the faded blue carpet. Michelle looked up. Ednas face looked glo ssy in the light from her tears. Its my only chance . I need to be away . Michelle couldnt say from you. She couldnt say that shed felt like sh ed been caught in a whirlpool for years. Duke had held a hand down into the whir lpool and pulled. Edna took aim and threw another picture. Michelle quickly surveyed the damage. Just when she was about to offer up a prayer of thanks for not letting the flying gla ss hurt either of them, she looked at Edna. Small pinpoints of blood were rising from he r arms and face; two on her cheek and three on her forearms. Youre hurt, Michelle said and started toward her. Yeah, Edna said and she was gone. Michelle stood in the middle of the ro om. Go after her, she thought. But no matter what her mind said, she stayed standing in the middle of the room, too scared to walk through the broken glass. The back of her neck felt sticky and she reached her hand through her hair to two spots of blood formi ng where her neck must have been exposed when she cowered. Her fingers felt the brig ht plasma mixing with her darker hair. Duke and Michelle decided to marry at th e end of the week. Duke was to pick her up on Friday morning. She was almost finished packing except for the things that would make her mother suspicious like boxing up the stuffed an imals that had lived in a hammock above her bed since she was six years old. She hoped to do that after she broke
99 the news to them, but she had a small bags of her most precious items ready to go and most of her clothes in suitcases under the bed. On Monday night, the Weavers had family home evening like they did every Monday night for the last twenty years. Mich elle loved family home evening because her mom always made something good to eat and they got to stay up a little later. Tonight, the lesson was on the value of work. Julie and Brenda started by singing A Happy Helper. Brent went next with a prayer. Bud read a scripture from the Book of Mormon about how Nephi taught his people to work. Michelle read an article fr om the Church magazine called The Day the Dishwasher Broke about what happened to one family when everyone had to pitch in in the kitchen. Norma Jane led the lesson by pu tting up a big poster and making a chart of the familys talents and responsibilities. Th ey then brain stormed ideas on how to make work fun. Share yucky jobs with others, Michelle said fro m the floor where she was stretched out barefoot. A big bowl of caramel popcorn w ith nuts was by her side. Michelle was anxious to get through th e lesson tonight but her mom seemed to keep going, even planning out a work project that they could all do toge ther. They settled on reorganizing the basement Saturday morning. Finally, Eloise said the closing prayer and it was over. Michelle lingered behind after her brot hers and sisters cleared the room. Her mother turned the TV on and was picking up the family room, as if putting all of the kids stuff the coloring book, the purple marker, the solitary sock in a pile would make the
100 room look neater. Her father was already reading the newspape r. He was a very precise newspaper reader, taking only one section at a time, which he would then refold neatly and replace before moving on to another section. Mom, Dad, she said and sat on the big ottoman in the middle of the room that also served as a coffee tabl e. Can I talk to you? Bud folded his newspaper neatly in his lap. Norma Jane turned the TV down, but left it on. She had on her attentive mothe r look that signaled her children were important and she was going to take the time to listen to what they had to say. She used it mostly when one of them wanted to talk to her while she was in the middle of an activity she didnt want to st op, like making dinner or cuttin g out a pattern on the dining room table. Duke asked me to marry him, she said. She could feel the blood pounding in her temples. Been expecting that, Bud said. The paper was now on the floor and Bud didnt make a move to retrieve it. We told you not to see him, Norma Ja ne said. Michelle knew that in her mothers mind, disobeying ranked high, probabl y right along with marrying a polygamist. Whatd he do, come into the Stop-N-Go and propose over the counter? Did he hold up the line? He laughed at his joke. Michelle flushed and it turned to indigna tion. Duke wasnt a man to make fun of and it mortified her to see her daddy mock him. She rolled her hands into fists, unaware of the action.
101 I told him yes, Michelle said. I d like your blessing. She was clenching and unclenching her fists as if to th e rhythm of the moon pulling the tide. Are you asking me or telling me? Bud said. I dont know, Michelle said. She coul dnt look at either of her parents and rested her eyes on a spot on the carpet in the shape of a lopsided star I want to marry him, Michelle said. Well tell him no, Bud said. No, Daddy, Michelle said. Im going to marry him. She lifted her eyes. Hes picking me up in the morning. Over my dead body, Bud said. Im eighteen. You cant stop me, Mi chelle said. She was sweating now and could feel her shirt sticking to her underarms. Eighteen is hardly old enough to make a decision like this. Youll do what I tell you, Bud said. I dont need to remind you th at I am the presiding authority in this family. He punctuated the words presidi ng authority with a fi erceness that made Michelle recoil. You and Mommy were married when you were eighteen, Michelle said. Honey, thats different, Norma Jane sa id. Michelle didnt look at her. She couldnt bear to hurt her and Norma Jane ha d hurt all over her face. And it was all Michelles fault. And if I were marrying some returning missionary, Michelle said, youd be okay with it.
102 Norma Jane blew her nose, but Mi chelle still didnt look at her. But youre not, are you? Bud said. No, Im not, said Michelle, because Im marrying Duke. He loves me more than anyone ever has, even you. Norma Jane sobbed. Michelle still didnt look at her. Bud stood up and pointed to the crumpled figure of Norma Jane on the sofa. Look what youre doing to your mother, B ud said. What kind of monster has he turned you into? He took Michelles face in his hands and turned her head. Daddy, dont say that. I love you and I love Mommy. Michelle knelt on the floor by her mother and clung to her legs like when she was a child. Norma Jane ran her fingers through Michelles heavy black waves, but Michelle knew from the weight of her touch that she wouldnt, or coul dnt, save her from her father. He doesnt love you, Bud said. Youre just a commodity to him. Someone to have babies, and cook his food, and defile you. Bud stood over her while he raged, gesturing with his fi st on every point. Michelle felt like she wa s drowning. The air in he r lungs was slowly being replaced by a hot liquid, making it harder and harder to breathe. Norma Jane cried out, as if the image of Duke abusing her daughters innocent body was seen in a dream, floating in and out of her consciousness. She turned to Michelle. Honey, listen to your father, Im begging you. She wrapped her arms around Michelle. Do what he says. For all our sakes. Her eyes said what they all knew; that Bud was the head of this house a nd his word was law. Even if it was about
103 one of her kids. Even if she didnt agree w ith it. Even if it meant she would never see Michelle again. Dont beg her, he said, then turned to Michelle. You want to go off with some filthy false prophet wholl use you un til theres nothing left, someone wholl steal your babies and your soul? Bud took a step back and for a mome nt she thought he was going to kick her. She could almost feel he r flesh crumple from the force and she winced like a beaten dog. Instead, Bud said, Go ahead then. Marry him. Michelle looked up through watery eyes I need your blessing, Daddy, please. Never. You walk out that door and Im finished with you, you hear me? Finished. He was at the door. No, Michelle whimpered. Dont ever come back. No, Daddy, please. Youre no longer my daughter. Mama, stop him. Youre dead to me. Michelle, just say youll stay, Norma Jane said. No, Mama, I cant stay, I wont. I love Duke and Im going to marry him. Then go now, Bud said. Dukes coming in the morning.
104 Bud pulled Michelle up by the arm and trie d to move her to the door, but Michelle dug her heals in the carpet like her dog Puddin did when she didnt want to go out in the cold or the rain. Bud pushed harder and sh e felt a jolt of pain run through her arm. Stop, Daddy, youre hurting me, she said as Bud shoved her out the door. She screamed. She wanted her mother. She wanted to say goodbye to her brother and sisters. It was in vain. Bud got her to the door and she gripped the frame as he tried to push her out. In the end, he was stronger than her and her hands slipped from the door frame. She landed on her knees. Bud slammed the door and she heard the deadbolt latch. Michelle pounded on the door for a few minut es but then her pride took over. She knew her dad would have forbid anyone, espe cially her mother, to open the door and let her in. It was cold, but it wasnt like she would freeze out here. She would sleep in the hayloft. She used to sleep there lots with Br ent and Eloise when they were kids. Theyd pretend the hay was water and dive into it, sw im under it, or play lifeguard where one had to pretend to drown and the other would be the rescuer. Michelle liked to be the one who was drowning because she could stretch it out for a long time before she went under. She folded her body into herself in the hay and pr ayed to God. Father above, please hear me tonight. I am thankful that you have offere d me a chance to obtain eternal marriage and I will repay you for that by bringing lots of souls to Your mortal kingdom. Please put forgiveness in my daddys heart so I can s ee him before we all re unite in Your kingdom above. And make him come to see that what Im doing is right so hes not still mad. In Your Sons name I pray, amen.
105 If Michelle could have s een her father later that ni ght, she would have seen him refuse to go to bed with his wife for the first time in his life. For twenty years, theyd had a rule: no matter what was happening, they c ould be arguing or busy, and they went to bed together. But tonight, B ud sat in his chair in the family room, the TV test pattern lighting the room with an unear thly illumination. He cried. Bud hadnt even cried at his fathers funeral. He was the stoic one, th e strong one, the one who was a pillar of his family, his community, and his Church. And tonight he cried like a baby. Hunched over, his body shook with the kind of sobs that come from deep in the gut and cant be held back no matter what. If Michelle could have seen her mother, she would have seen her in bed, lamp off, eyes wide open, hands curled like a squirrel und er her chin. For the first time in her life, she was torn between loyalty and unquestio ned obedience to her husband and love and concern for her daughter. It was her duty to support and agree with Bud, but hed thrown, actually thrown, Michelle out of the house. Sh e sat up several times to march downstairs, a prepared speech ready to go, but in the end she was pow erless. She curled up like a baby. Tomorrow Michelle would be gone and Norma Jane might never see her again and she knew there wasnt one thing she could do about it. Michelle was almost asleep when she heard the barn door creak open. Muffled voices overlapped each other and a flashlight switched on. Michelle looked down and saw Brent, holding Julies hand. Eloise a nd Brenda stood behind him. One by one the climbed up the ladder until they were all in the hay with Michelle. Dont go, Eloise said and she wrap ped her arms around Michelles neck.
106 Dads mad now, but hell ge t over it, Brent said. He leaned toward her, hands folded in front of his chest. He looked lik e an angel with the b eam of the flashlight lighting up the golden hay around him. You guys care, Michelle said, wishing they could have been as close as she felt right now for their whole lives. Of course we do, Brent said as if all the years of locking her out of his room and ducking from her in the halls at school di dnt exist. Talk to the bishop tomorrow and everythingll be back to normal. How easy it would be to tell the bishop wh at he would want to hear. She could even use her fathers lecture that she was su re he would deliver as he drove her to the bishops office. She wouldnt have to say a word about Edna. I dont want it back to normal, dont you see? Michelle said. In the end, they didnt see, but they let her go. They ki ssed her and hugged her, then went down the ladder the same way theyd come up, one by one. As soon as Michelle heard the door latch, she fell back into the hay. Dust and chafe drifted up from the hay around her body and she thought it looked like her soul leavi ng her body, like she was dead or something. Her pride was gone and she cried big, hot tears until she couldnt cry anymore. In the morning, Michelle woke to th e sound of Dukes truck coming down the drive. Her hair was a tangled mess and her ey es swollen. She jumped down from the hay and raced to the house. She tried the door, but it was still locked. Next to the door was her purse, her small suitcase, and one suitcase of clothing. There was no note. She was unsure if she should take her l uggage as a send-off or as a fi nal rejection. She opened her
107 purse and found two Hershey chocolate bars. Only her mother knew her weakness for chocolate. She climbed into th e warm cab of Dukes truck. They disowned me, Michelle said, but she was pretty sure he knew that from looking at her. They wont let me come back if I marry you. Duke pulled down the long drive and Mich elle imagined what her parents would do with her gone. Norma Jane would scramb le eggs like she did every morning, along with bacon and sausage made from their own hogs. Shell be back, her mother would say softly to the sizzling frying pan. No she wont, her father would answer. Michelles didnt know if it was because he re ally didnt want her back or because he knew she was too stubborn to come back if she failed. She and Duke married on the way to Salt Lake City in a polygamist church; the Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latte r-day Saints outside of Twin Falls. The ceremony was exactly like the sealing ceremony performed in the LDS Temple, but this one was officiated by Brother Herschel T hompson, a Melchizedek Priesthood patriarch of the Reformed Church. The two witnesses required had to be male so Brother Thompson had two fellow brothers from church join them. Michelle always thought Edna would be there when she got married. Michelle kept turning to l ook at the space where she should be and the nothingness of it repeatedly surprised her. She wasnt even out of Idaho yet. Michelle and Duke both wore white to symbolize their shedding of both clothes and thoughts from the outside world and to celebrate the purity and sanctity of the ceremony. They knelt together at a make-shift bench.
108 Brother Thompson stood before them and began. Today is the day Duke Stead takes Michelle Weaver as his spiritual and everlasting wife. When you were born, invited to this earth, it was for the purpose of recreating Gods Kingdom to prepare in the latter days before rejoining our Father. God has called you to choose the most sa cred and essential principle of the gospel. It is the hardest law to live, but give s the most rewards. You will live together in the highest form of heaven, in suspen sion for those who dont believe, until the millennium. Duke, you are the perfector of the Ki ngdom and have everlasting supervision over all your posterity. It is by divine appointment that you are the head of this household and it is a matter of di vine origin that the order an d authority in the households of the people of God is understood. It is not our mortal wishes but one of law and order. Michelle, today the course of your et ernal destiny will change. You will be rewarded with thrones, kingdoms, power, dom inions, glory, immortalit y, and eternal life. Your desire shall be to your husband and he shall rule over thee. Choose to bless his power and decisions as he acts as a condu it of the true gospel of Joseph Smith. Brother Thompson finished his counsel, th en performed the sealing ordinance that would unite Duke and Michelle for eternity. When Duke kissed Michelle at the end, a quick symbolic kiss, it seemed to Michelle that the ceremony had just begun. She was surprised at how quickly it was over and that one could change the course of their destiny
109 in forty-five minutes, because here she was now, sitting in a kitchen surrounded by four very curious sisterwives.
110 There is a distinction between immoral though ts and feelings and participating in either immoral heterosexual or any homosexual behav ior. We plead with those involved in such behavior to forsake it. Such th oughts and feelings can and should be overcome and sinful behaviors can be e liminated. This can be achieved through faith in God, repentance, and persistence effort. Standards of Morality and Fidelity by The First Presidency The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 11/14/91 CHAPTER FOUR Michelle didnt mention Edna calling he r a bitch or her parents disowning her as she told the wives her story of meeting and falling in love with Duke. She preferred thinking they hadnt really disowned her. Wh en she finished, they sat with chins propped on elbows, or heads cocked with interest, as if they had just heard a chapter from a great love story. Everyone but LaRae, that was, who continued her needlepoint, the black background closing in on the red rose. Michelle was exhausted and anxious to get on with her wedding night. She stood and announced her intention to get ready fo r bed. The sisterwives rallied around her, drying their hands and hugging her. She kisse d LaRae, like a dutiful daughter would kiss her mother. She kissed GayLynn and felt her thunderous expanse. She kissed Rhonda and said goodnight to the baby in her stomach. Cheron and her amber eyes walked her to the stairs.
111 Were glad youre here, Cheron said a nd Michelle really felt it this time. Goodnight, Cheron, she said as she mount ed the first step. Michelle leaned over and kissed her, her lips barely touching Cherons soft cheek. Cheron pulled back. Sleep tight. She took a quick shower, then dressed, fi rst in a fresh set of her new garments, excited to finally have the privilege of weari ng them. The garments were a shield, like an armor of God, that from now on would keep he r safe from the influence of Satan. They could not be removed day or night except to pa rticipate in activities such as swimming or bathing and sexual relations. She looked at herself in the garments, s nowy white and with th e feel of the long underwear she used to wear on the farm. They came to her knees and had short cap sleeves. A small cross marked her nipples a nd groin and stood for the gospel principles of obedience, truth, life, and discipleship in Christ. They had to be worn directly against the skin to protect, so Michelle slipped her best panties, a pair of leop ard print bikinis, over them. She decided against a bra since she didnt have one to match the panties. Sa tisfied with the look of the panties over the garments, she put on a white cotton nightgow n, short-sleeved to cover the garment sleeves and trimmed with small white roses around the neck. Michelle could hear the kitchen door ope n when Duke and Little Duke came in from the evening chores, or maybe she just felt it, as if the house was trying to shake off the cold they brought in with them. By the time Duke came upstairs, she was in bed, cold and shivering. She had to force her teeth not to chatter.
112 She was scared, but not as scared as sh e had been the time Edna had wanted to practice for when they got married and she had laid on top of Michelle and put her finger inside her. Michelle had lik ed it and when it was her turn to be the husband, she kissed Ednas neck while gently rocking against her thigh, which resulted in an unexpected pleasure for both of them. After that, they practiced marriage all the time. Still, this was a man and she was unprepared for his penis. Shed only seen one, again a cousin, this one Bill, who, alone with her in the barn one summer, had convinced her to rub his and see what happened. It st arted off nice, Bills penis was smooth and it slid through her hand softly, but then Bill clos ed his eyes and gripped her hard so she couldnt have stopped if she wanted to. When he did finally explode she wasnt sure he remembered she was there at all. And now Duke. He stripped naked, tossing his clothes and garments into a pile on the floor. Michelle couldnt look straight at him and how much of a man he was. Everything seemed so big, his chest, his thighs his penis. He didnt say anything as he crawled into bed next to her. Neither did she. Her teet h were chattering uncontrollably and she willed them to stop. Duke kissed her once, then twice, then ran his hand under her garments to find her small breasts, which she hoped he wouldnt compar e to those of his fuller breasted wives. With the other hand, he removed her panties and garment bottoms. When he entered her it was only painful for a few seconds.
113 I love you, she said into his neck as he moved on top of her. She gripped his shoulders, wanting desperately to feel his love for her and wanting more acutely to feel her love for him. I love you too, Duke said. It was over quickly and Duke rolled off of her. Michelle was on her back, Dukes sperm leaking onto the sheets from between her le gs. She didnt like it at all and thought of how she and Edna hadnt practiced for this pa rt of marriage. She went to the bathroom and peed. Dukes sperm smelled musty, like mushrooms in the dark. Not like Edna, who smelled of salt and the sea down there. By the time she got back to bed, Duke was asleep. So this was her wedding night. She and Edna used to laugh and talk after they practiced marriage. Sometimes they ate. Edna would sneak downstairs in her robe and ra id the refrigerator of chicken legs, apples, and chocolate milk for them to feast on, na ked in her room with the door locked. Occasionally Ednas mother would bang on th e door and ask what they were doing in there, but they only had to yell out not hing to make her go away. Not like at Michelles house. She had expected that her wedding night would be even more pleasurable than practicing marriage with Edna, Duke was a ma n after all, but right when she felt the familiar tingling she got with Edna start to form, Duke had finished and the feeling had vanished. Maybe one of the seeds Duke had planted in her would ta ke hold and grow. Looking at Dukes sleeping profile, Michelle missed Edna. She turned and faced the wall and closed her eyes, thinking of how soft Cherons cheek felt compared to
114 Dukes when she had kissed her. When she dreamed, she dreamed of Edna, or was it Cheron? They were floating naked together in a large body of warm water. It was the Dead Sea. The night was black and the stars were reflected in the water, so Michelle couldnt tell where the sky ende d and the water began. Michel les skin was on fire, but she didnt know if it was the touch of the st ars or the touch of the Edna-Cheron-of herdream that made her burn. Michelle woke the next morning when she became aware of Dukes breathing beside her. His lips were parted in his slee p and every few breaths blew out in a puff. She was married. And home with four sisterwives. She prayed to the Father that she would be worthy of this appointment, then slipped out of bed. The wooden floor was freezing and she scrambled for her slippers. She heard water running. Someone else wa s awake. Michelle checked the clock. Four-fifty. Back home, she never woke before five-thirty, but she was too excited to stay in bed. Setting the table for breakfast woul d be a good way to prove herself worthy. But when she pushed through the kitchen door, th ere were all the wives, already dressed, Rhonda beating a bowl of eggs, GayLynn stacki ng dishes for the children to use, Cheron feeding the baby with little Bell on her lap, and LaRae, working on her needlepoint again and distracting Bell until food was ready. At leas t half of the kids we re in the kitchen. Still in their PJs, they sw armed around the table like bees or clung to LaRaes housecoat. GayLynn turned. Good morning, sist er, she said. Sleep well? Yes, thanks, Michelle said. She sat on the bench next to Cheron. Am I late?
115 Late? LaRae said with mock disbelief in her voice. You sleep as long as you want. No, no, I want to help. Youll s ee Im good with lots of things. Like what? asked LaRae. Here was a chance to prove she could be part of this family. Well, I have a green thumb in the garden and I dont mind the hard work or working outside. And I love babies; I tended my sisters from the time I wa s six or seven. And the wash, the wash is easy. What about cooking? asked LaRae. Cooking? And baking? Can you bake? Michelle thought about a ll her blackened biscuit bottoms and chocolate chip cookies that always spread in to one gigantic cookie on th e sheet. Im not sure God blessed me with a gift for baking, she said. Hmm. That might be a problem. Because I was hoping to put you in charge of all the cooking. I thought Rhonda did the cooking, Miche lle said, panicked at the thought of having to feed the whole family. She did, LaRae said, but shes going to take care of the laundry and cleaning. I was doing that, said GayLynn, but t odays my first day in my new position. Michelle could tell she was proud to be going to work with Duke by the way she emphasized the word position.
116 I used to have a job, Michelle sa id, at the mini-mart in Warm Springs. Hmm, LaRae said, as if she was mildly amused. This is my first job. How do I l ook? GayLynn asked, twir ling around to show off her outfit, a long dress, mid-calf, in a na vy flowered print, stil l bright from not too much wear; a pair of navy pants under her dre ss; flat shoes; and a long, dark cardigan. Michelle thought she looked like someone who couldnt decide what to wear, so she just put everything on. Its perfect, she said, not wanting to hurt GayLynns feelings. But why are you wearing those pants under your dress? Its cold out, GayLynn said. You dont like it? she asked, looking down at her outfit. No, no, I like it just fine, Michelle said. Really? GayLynn said. Really, you look great. And youll be toas ty! No need to spoil GayLynns first day of work, thered be plenty of time to work on her fashion sense later. LaRae ignored them both and continue d, So I need you in the kitchen. But Rhondas pregnant. Isnt it bad for her to do all the cleaning ? Ill do that. I dont mind, said Michelle. From the expr ession on Rhondas face, it looked like she agreed with Michelle. LaRae disagreed. She cant stand on her feet all day in the kitchen, she said. What about Cheron? Michelle asked. I could take over the kids for Cheron.
117 No, Cheron home schools them, teaches them the scripture, Sunday school, everything, LaRae said. She put her need le down, jabbing it through the red rose to keep it in place, and gave Michelle her full attention. You can cook, cant you? Michelle was confident she could do this. Desperate, but confident. Well, I can learn. I was raised on a farm after all. Sh e wished she hadnt always begged off from kitchen duty by offering to help her father with the outside chores. But he was so willing to have her help and her mother was so willing to have Michelle and her burnt food, spilled bowls, and culinary accidents out of the way. Just remember your reward for accepting your duties with a worthy attitude, LaRae said. Michelle looked down at her CTR ring shed worn since Primary, first on her ring finger and now on her pinky. The phrase choose the right echoed in her head, as it had a million times before in her life. Crowns, thrones, and principalities, she said with resignation. It was pointless to try to look for a way out of her sacred purpose and she needed to accept what the Lord had in store fo r her. Duke would be proud of her. When should I start? she asked. Today, right after breakfast, said LaR ae. Its just us today for lunch, not GayLynn of course Ill make us a lunch to take, GayL ynn said, interrupting La Raes instructions. the sisters and the kids, except for L ittle Duke, Dee, and Lois. They go to public school, LaRae finished.
118 I only home school the kids until theyre eight or nine , Cheron said, then they go to the local elementary. Soon, everyone was up, Duke included. When he came into the kitchen, both Michelle and LaRae straighten ed up, waiting for a morning si gn of affection; Michelle, because it was her first full day married, and La Rae because of her position as first wife. Duke stooped to LaRae, Mich elle was unsure whether it wa s because she was sitting closest to the door or out of genuine affection, and kissed the top of her head, before moving on to Michelle. Duke and GayLynn left after breakfast, all the sisters standing on the porch waving goodbye, more to GayLynn than Duke, a nd the older kids se t out for their bus stop. The work of running the house began. Mi chelle found herself al one in the kitchen by six-thirty in the morning. She poked around, aghast at the lack of a microwave or even an electric can opener. She was really going to look forward to fast Sunday from now on. Bread, sugar, Crisco, lots of canned and drie d vegetables and fruit. Eggs, milk, and margarine in the fridge and a jar of honey with a piece of the comb suspended in it. Venison and chicken in the freezer, plus more vegetables. She had no idea how to put any of these ingredients together into a meal. She needed her moth er. No, she needed God. Heavenly Father, thank you for blessing me with my new family. Please help me to nourish them and keep them full, and please keep this kitchen free fr om disorder. And fire. Especially keep it free from fire. In the name of your Son, I pray, amen.
119 Her search turned up a portable radio in the back of a cupboa rd and she pulled it out. It would be nice company in the k itchen, but the batteries were dead. She rummaged around in the laundry room for batte ries and found a bin with several sizes, including the double As she needed. She set the radio to a country music station and continued her hunt, this time singing along to her favorite songs. She spied a thin cookbook nestled between the stove and the pantry. It was the Salt Lake City 5th Ward Relief Society Cookbook from 1975. It would do. She leafed through the pages looking for id eas, then she set to work. At eleven-thirty, the kids were more than ready to eat and th ey burst through the door, followed by the sisterwives. Whered you get the radio? Cheron asked, looking toward the kitchen door. I found it in the cupboard, Michelle said. You better turn that down, she said, indicating the radio. Im not sure LaRae will like it. Before Michelle could ask why not, La Rae was in the kitchen, hands on hips. Weve never had music on unless its Cheron teaching the kids a hymn or a song, LaRae said. I dont like it. Well, its not like its against any rule s. Were not Baptist you know. Ill keep it low, Michelle said. I dont think Duke will like it. I don t want you to play it when hes around, hear? LaRae said, clicking the ra dio off in the middle of the song.
120 No, I dont. Duke likes music just fine. And he likes to dance, too, Michelle said. And just how do you know that? LaRae said. Ive danced with him, Michelle sa id. Disbelief crossed both Cherons and LaRaes faces. At the state fair. LaRae looked like she didnt want to talk about it a ny more. Just keep it off when hes around, she said with finality in her voice. Michelle returned to the stove to serve her meal of creamed eggs on toast. When she removed the lid from the eggs, the white sauce was no longer white. It was brown, a dark brown. It had been white when she put it on the back burner to stay warm. Suddenly, she didnt have mu ch of an appetite. Cheron hung around the kitchen after lunch. Im not the best cook, can you tell? Michelle said as she dumped the rest of the scorched eggs in the trash. Its not hard to figure out, Cheron said and Michelle could hear the tease in her voice. Do you think LaRae hated it? Michelle asked. She thought it important to impress LaRae. Probably, but once you got past that scorched aftertaste, it was okay. LaRae acts like she doesnt like me. Like she doesnt want me here, Michelle said. Thats not true, Cheron said. Shes just being the first wife.
121 Whats that supposed to mean? It means she has to keep an upper hand. And she likes the household run smooth. So dont forget Duke and GayLynn will be home for dinner at five-thirty. It soon became apparent that the prob lem with planning dinner was that she hadnt taken anything out of the freezer to thaw. She found some ground beef that she could thaw as she fried it and turned it in to a hamburger and green bean casserole by using lots of soy sauce to flavor it. She d found a handful of soy sauce packets in the cupboard that looked like they were forgo tten from a long-ago trip to a Chinese restaurant. She started to f eel quite gourmet with her orient al invention as the skillet dinner bubbled away, filling th e kitchen with the salty tang of soy. She added in sprinkles of this and that she found on the sp ice rack: season-all, that smelled good; salt and pepper; and paprika. That smelled good too. Looks good, Duke said when Michelle placed the pans on the table. Smells delicious, Cheron said whil e Michelle scraped the boiled rice the cookbook said was good to serve with casseroles fr om the bottom of the pan itd stuck to. I call it Green Bean Casserole, Miche lle said, sitting down next to Duke. Shed asked the Lord to help he r and He had responded. Michelle took a bite. The taste of salt was so strong she didnt know if she would be able to swallow. It was supposed to be perfect! Shed worked hard to get all the seasonings in total harmony and now this! She looked around. Duke looked puzzled and moved the hamburger around his plate with the back of his fork. Cheron had a pained look on her face. GayLynn kept chewing for a long time. Only Rhonda ate with
122 enthusiasm, not even looking up to see that she was the only one. Michelle didnt look at LaRae. The kids started to complain, making gagging noises and punctuating the silence with yuck or eewww, causing Lois to snort milk out of her nose. Order, Duke said and th ey returned to silence. Family recipe? asked LaRae. Yes, do you like it? said Michelle, pu tting her fork down with an elaborate gesture. Immensely, said LaRae. What about you, Duke? Duke said, choosing his words carefu lly. Its not like anything weve had before. Its not, is it? LaRae said. Michelle wished LaRae would just say how awful it was rather than sit there and mock her. Th ey ate the rest of the meal in silence. LaRae said a closing prayer after dinner Heavenly Father, we are thankful for this day, thankful for your generosity in pr oviding your people with nourishment so we can fulfill your commandments. You give us all things that come out of the earth to strengthen our bodies and enliven our souls. But your Saints are weak. Please help us in our time of need, watch over us, and keep us strong with the substance we need so Your will can be done on earth. Amen. That night, when Duke entered Miche lle, she didnt think about Cherons soft cheek. She thought about chicken stew with dumplings floating on top, yeast rolls with golden crusty tops, and banana pudding made with vanilla wafers and custard. Duke
123 moved faster and faster, both ha nds on her breasts, pinching her nipples hard in rhythm with his strokes. Right before he spilled his seed into her w ith a moan, Michelle remembered she needed to take somethi ng out of the freezer to thaw for dinner tomorrow. Duke rolled off her. She waited unt il she heard the already familiar pattern of his breath telling her he was asleep befo re making her way quietly downstairs. On Sunday, Michelle was surprised to learn that the entire family didnt go to church together. We dont often all go out together to anything, LaRae said. But what about family things? Michel le said. She was thinking of all the picnics and movies and camping trips her family had taken when she was growing up and couldnt imagine all these ki ds not getting to do that. No, none of that, LaRae said. We dont advertise that were polygamists. Understand? Yes. Well, no, Michelle said. No one ever bothered the polygamists in Idaho. I dont remember one time anything happening like Duke said happened to his daddy. Look, most people here do ignore us, Cheron said. Theres a whole community of families on the other side of the valley and more spread out in between and stuff like that rarely happens. But when it does happen its bad, La Rae said. Husbands go to jail. How would we pay for food? Kids end up in foster care.
124 That scared Michelle. She hadnt thought of the realities of li ving a life that was against the law. That aspect had sounded so idealistic, so brave, when Duke had talked of it. This was just plain reality. Mainstream Mormons are ashamed of us, said GayLynn. They want to keep us quiet and in the background. Michelle looked confused and LaRae explained. Polygami sts are a constant reminder that the Mormons failed in winning that battle. It still shames the Church, and people like us, who refuse to give in, are easi er for them to ignore than claim, she said. An unwanted legacy. It didnt sound quite as utopian. But that works in our favor, Cheron sa id. No one really wants to make a big scene when families are involved as long as we dont take advantage of that and become conspicuous. Yeah, like that family in southern Uta h, GayLynn said. Theyre always on TV and doing interviews. Theyre just asking for trouble. They must have a hundred kids, Rhonda said. Can you imagine all those kids taken away? Babies too. Sad. Or like that family up in the mountai ns who wouldnt pay taxes and when the sheriff came to arrest him for that it got turned into a big standoff over polygamy, GayLynn said. They just busted in after th ree days. Some of the wives were even killed. Thats not fair, Michelle said. You cant just go in and kill innocent people.
125 You can do anything you want with the la w on your side, LaRae said. So its heads down and dont call atten tion to yourself. Got it? Michelle did. Not that it mattered. So far in her newly married life, shed hardly stepped foot outside, much less had an opport unity to create a ruckus. But LaRae, Cheron, GayLynn, and Rhonda were committed to remaining unobtrusive, so she would be too. Church was no exception. Even if they could all go together, it was impossible to transport everyone in the winter with just one pick-up truck. Duke usually stayed home, only attending church on the rarest of occasi ons, such as when the kids had a Primary program during the meeting and one of his wi ves could talk him into it. LaRae and Rhonda attended the Reformed Church across th e valley that other polygamist families around Salt Lake belonged to, as did their kids, Little Duke Dee, Dallas, and Callie. They were up early on Sundays because of the long drive. GayLynn and Cheron attended the local Mormon Church with their kids, Lo is, Ogden, Natalie, Shane, Billie, Bobbie, and Bell. The meetinghouse was an easy walk through Whitefarm Estates. Michelle wanted to go to the Reformed Church since shed never been, but with no room in the truck, it was decided shed go with GayLynn and Cheron. They sang Michelles favorite song, Com e, Come, Ye Saints, for the opening hymn, then the presiding bishop offered an opening prayer. Michelles mind wandered like it usually did during church. She thought about Duke at home alone and hoped he didnt get hungry before they all got back. She mentally composed a letter to Edna, detailing how Duke was the best husband, how much she loved her sisterwives, and how
126 much she was missing her. She thought about LaRae, at another church far way. What was she doing right now? Singing? Maybe sh e would offer a testimony. A testimony in thanks for Dukes bringing a new spiritual wi fe home? Michelle could just hear her testifying, May the Lord bless all my belove d sisterwives, and may we view each other with the spirit of inspiration, and walk together to the Promised Land. Michelle payed better attention duri ng the passing of the sacrament and the several testimonies to the tr ueness of the gospel. The m eeting was then over after a closing hymn and prayer. Afterwards, Mich elle went to Sunday School with GayLynn while Cheron helped to teach the Primary. Th ey all joined up in Relief Society with the other women of the church. There were lots of younger women in the ward because of all the new subdivisions and Michelle felt right at home. She looked around at how similar they looked, just like at home, they mostly had blond or brown hair and petite features. Except for one, a dark brunette whose hair fell in shiny waves on her shoulders. She bent her head forward to peer at a passage in he r study guide and a piece of hair fell forward, blocking Michelles view of her face. Id be ok ay with dark hair if it were all soft like that, thought Michelle. Todays lesson was about developing ones talents. Sister Johnson stood at the front of the room in front of a table. On the table, shed arranged a plate of muffins, a baby sweater, a jar of canned apricots, a nd a small chalkboard with chalk.
127 Everyone has special talents and abilities that were given to us by our Heavenly Father, she said. We brought these talent s with us when were born, and we must develop and use them to glor ify the Heavenly Father. She held up a muffin. Sister Smith uses her talent to provide nutrition for her family, she said. Michelle needed that gift. Sister Clegg uses her gift to clothe her family, Sister Johnson said, holding up the petite sweater in a variegated pink, bl ue, yellow, and green yarn. Good thing no one was counting on her for that one, Michelle thought. Sister Johnson held up the jar of apricots Whoever canned it had trimmed its lid with a pinked square of calico and a few stra nds of raffia. Sister Dietz plans for the future with her talent. Mi chelle imagined a whole pantry with the decorated jars in rows, a different color calico for each fruit a nd vegetable. It woul d sure be pretty, but Michelle needed talent t oday, not tomorrow, so she didnt covet it too long. Sister Bakers talent is teaching, Sister Johnson said. She held up the chalkboard and wrote truth rest ored on it. She helps all of us by spreading the word of the Lord. Michelle didnt so much care a bout that talent either right now she just wanted to learn to cook. And fast. The women oohed and ahhed over the baby sweater and they all had a muffin. Michelle was starving after one of her cust omary bad breakfasts and the crunchy top of the apple-cinnamon melted in her mouth.
128 Sister Johnson talked about ways to deve lop talents and warned them that one will be judged according to their works. But the Lord also gives everyone weaknesses to overcome and develop into strengths, she said. Shes talking about my cooking, Michelle whispered to Cheron. My stomach looks forward to you deve loping that into a strength, Cheron whispered back. Michelle punched her lightly on the arm. She felt Cherons flesh yield under her knuckles and Michelle laughed a little too loud.
129 Eve was given the identity of the mother of all living . before she ever bore a child. I believe mother is one of those rich words with meaning after meaning. I believe with all my heart that it is foremost a statement about nature, not a head count of our children. One Thing Needful: Becoming Wome n of Greater Faith in Christ by Sister Patricia T. Holland Ensign 10/87 CHAPTER FIVE The next day Michelle had a new resolv e. The lesson on developing talents was fresh in her mind and shed spent the day working on a dinner she knew everyone would like. By five-forty-five, she was finishing up with setting the table. The kitchen became a hub-bub of activity; GayLynn and Duke came home from work, the kids started lining up on the bench, beating out tunes with the silverware and blowing bubbles into the milk. Cheron and Rhonda wandered in with offers of last-minute help, but Michelle refused them, instead telling them to have a seat. Duke said the blessing and Michelle served. Everyone stared at the meal on their plates. Its Chicken Marabella, Michelle sa id, trying to remember how itd been spelled in the cookbook so shed pronounce it right. Whys everything brown? Bobbie asked. Its supposed to be brown. It has pr unes in it. And honey, Michelle said.
130 Thats a waste of Gods good bounty if Ive ever seen one, said LaRae. Eat, youre not Korihor, Duke said. The children recognized Korihor from their Gospel study, who, according to the Book of Mormon, had been cast out and had to go from house to house, begging for food. They followed Dukes lead and began to eat the chicken. At first, it seemed like Michelle had succeeded with this meal. The prunes and brown sugar had cooked down from a slow simmer ing in the oven, very slow as Michelle was afraid of burning it, into a rich, thick sa uce that glazed the chicken. But the slow simmering hadnt cooked the chicken and insi de the meat was not only pink, but red next to the bone. The sight of it made Michelle ill. Duke didnt seem to notice and the others followed his lead. This is where I need a microwave, Michelle thought, and made a ment al note to stick that request in her next conversation with the Heavenly Father. Sh e concentrated on ea ting the sauce and the outer side of the chicken. Later, when she cleared the table, red tendons of chicken meat was all that was left of her meal. Hungry, the family had wipe d their plates clean with the bread they had used to catch every drop of sauce. All but LaRaes that was. Her plate was untouched, marks still showing in the sauce where she had drug her fork idly across her plate. Twice a month, LaRae and another sister did all the shopping for things they didnt grow, raise, make, or hunt. Before Mi chelles arrival, LaRae was the only wife with a drivers license, so she would drop Duke at work, then spend the morning on
131 errands before returning home around lunch time. Michelle thought her new sisterwives would welcome her driving; that way LaR ae wouldnt have to go every time, but she soon learned LaRae wanted to go every time. Who went with her was a first wife privilege of choosing. The first Friday of the month was always a visit to the farmers market in the same Salt Lake suburb where the Reformed Ch urch was. There, the sisters could buy, trade, and gossip with other polygamist wives, comfortable that they could be themselves without fear of the law. The other trip was to the Wal-Mart Supercenter, the Scratch N Dent Warehouse or Big Lots, and then Dese ret Industries, the LD S Church-run thrift store that LaRae favored for everything from kitchenware to clothing. She was always saying, If DI doesnt have, we dont need it. Sometimes they stopped at the ceramic shop not too far from the house and dropped off th eir painted items to be fired or picked out new projects. A list was kept on a chalkboard in the k itchen with not only needed supplies such as toilet paper and shampoo, but with special items, such as red construction paper and a package of paper doilies for the kids to make into valentin es for Valentines Day next week. Michelle had been hard at work maki ng up menus for the last several weeks. It was hard for her to tell what would turn out good and what wouldnt, so she restricted her menu items to recipes that had six ingredients or less. This didnt always assure success, but at least it cut down on food being waste d. She added lentils, walnuts, and lasagne noodles to the list on the board.
132 Cheron was accompanying LaRae this month. Michelle had wanted to, trying to convince LaRae that she would be a help since she could drive. She really wanted to see the area, in her month in Salt Lake City sh ed only left the house twice, once when she went to the warehouse with Duke and GayL ynn to see where they went every day, and once when she drove Cheron Billie, Bobbie, and Dallas to the doctor for the kids check-up. LaRae was supposed to take them, but shed a bad case of the flu, which no one else caught mercifully. Michelle consoled herself by trying to cook a special breakfast of pancakes. Everyone except Rhonda was up early for break fast and the trip to town. Rhondas pregnancy continued to exhaust her and some mornings she didnt get up until past six. With Cheron gone, Michelle would have to look after the kids. Dont worry about trying to do any sc hooling, Cheron said. Itll be enough to keep them all in one place. And enough to keep them from messi ng up the house behind Rhonda, said Michelle. Rhondas biggest complaint was that the kids could mess up a room faster than she could clean it. Dont worry, Billie and B obbie can help me get dinner ready, its not too early to learn and Ogden can tend the little ones here in the kitchen with us. She glanced out the window at th e drifting snow. Its a st ay-inside day today. Michelle served the pancakes, hot off the griddle. They were hard, but they were edible. She longed for something good to eat, something like a Village Inn pancake, with lots of hash browns. Oh, that would be good. She had lost four pounds eating her own cooking. Everyone else looked a little less bloated too.
133 Duke left to warm up the truck. The kitchen was noisy and loud. Dee whined that she wanted to go shopping too, only to be met with a strict lecture from LaRae on calling attention to the family by being out of school. LaRae appeased her with the offer of a ride to the bus stop and Little Duke, Dee, and Lois scrambled into their coats, hats, and gloves. Duke stuck his head in the door and announced that the truck was warmed up. As Michelle and the kids left behi nd waved and sang out their good-byes, Shane started crying from his crib ups tairs. Michelle raced up the stairs to get him before he woke Rhonda. She picked him up and carried him to the window. Wave bye-bye. She moved his little hand up and down in th e direction of the truck. Say bye-bye to Mommy. Shane wasn t interested in the departing truck, its windows still too foggy to see his mother insi de. Michelle changed Shane and got him into clean clothes. She then stripped his crib and piled the sheet and blankets on the floor to give Rhonda a head start on the laundr y. How bout some breakfast, pook? She scratched his tummy and he giggled. She opened the door to Rhondas room to check on her before going back down stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, she felt a rush of cold air. Maybe the heater went out. She rushed into the kitchen. The back door wa s ajar; the cold air ru shing into the warm kitchen. Michelle shut it and yelled for Ogden and the kids. Michelle wrapped Shane in the afghan, then lit the oven and opened it. She lit all the burners too. Anything to help warm up the kitchen. She cut up a pancake for Shane and gave it to him on his tray with no syr up and a bottle of milk. He knocked the bottle to the floor. You missed your mom this morning, so you gotta have this. She put the
134 bottle back on the tray and wiped up the small puddle of white milk that had spilled onto the floor. Ogden led the kids back in, all in mismatched sweaters or jackets, hair still uncombed from bed, some in pajamas, some dr essed, Callie with cl othes layered over her pajamas in either an attempt to get warm or because she couldnt dress herself and she knew not to wake her mom for help. Lets start with a pray er, Michelle said. The children raced to kneel along the bench. Michelle turned the chair at the head of the table around and kneeled there. Heavenly Father, th ank you for the blessings of our children. You gave birth to them as sp irit children, taught them your ways in their premortal existence, then gave them physical bod ies and sent them to earth for us to care for and to teach. Please help us ready them to one day be with you again. And help them remember to share all things, get along am ong themselves, and most important, to mind their Aunt Michelle today. Amen. Michelle patted the table and the ki ds lined up. She opened her cookbook to a recipe for water biscuits, theorizing that a nything with water as a main ingredient couldnt be too hard to make. She pulled out a twenty-five pound sack of Pillsbury flour and set it on the table. A light dusting of flour spilled from its seams and coated the table like snow. Michelle looked around. So mething was different, wrong. Where was Natalie? Somewhere in that place that Michelle wasnt able to look directly at, a thought wanted to take form. She tried to stop it, but it wanted to bubble over like a boiling pot
135 on the stove that she w ould lift from the heat just in time to simmer the contents back down. The open door. Ogden, go get Natalie. I hope sh e doesnt wake up Aunt Rhonda. Ogden went upstairs, but Michelle only had a chance to get the Crisco down before he was back. Shes not upstairs, he said. Well, find her. Michelle gathered th e salt and baking powder. Go look in the living room. Shes not there. I already looked wh en I came down the stairs. I dont know where she is. Ogden perched back on the bench, unconcerned. The thought wouldnt simmer back down. She jerked the door open and looked outside. The porch was empty. She shut th e door quickly, her hands already icy without the protection of gloves. Does she hide? Has she done anythi ng like that before? she asked Ogden. No, not really, Ogden said. He quit ma king patterns in the spilled flour with his fingers and paid attention to Michelle. It must have been something in her voice. Michelle turned off the stove and instruct ed Ogden to stay in the kitchen and not to let one child out of his sight. She looked in the living room, even taking the time to turn on the two lamps that illuminated the dingy room in order to check th e shadows. Nothing except an old balled up afghan, its yarn pilled with age. She looke d in the school room. Two containers of Play-Doh, red and white, sat on the center ta ble, their lids missing. That looked like
136 something Natalie would do. At three, she would be much too busy at trying to make pink than with putting the lids back on. But she was not to be found. Michelle snapped the lids on and ran up the stairs. She looked under each bed and under the cribs. Nothing. Maybe she was up in the attic rooms. Michelle started up but th e door was stuck. She pulled and it released, sending her tumbling backwards for a moment. From the looks of th e things on the attic stairs, the kids had never made it any farther th an this with all the stuff they transported up every day. She could barley make it ove r stacks of books; a basket of laundry, clean but unfolded; shoes of all shapes and sizes ; more baby dolls than she could count; and several dirty plates and glasses. The rooms were just as messy and Michelle had to wade through a pile of papers, clot hes, and toys to look under th e beds. She pulled back the blue corduroy bedspreads of the unmade beds to check there. Duke had fashioned closets out of the end of the room with vinyl bi -fold doors on a sliding track and she checked there. Nothing. Please be safe, please be safe, please be safe, she prayed. She raced back downstairs. How much time had elapsed si nce she noticed Natalie missing? Michelle didnt know, but she knew she couldnt waste any more time looking in side. If she was outside, the cold would attack her tender little body in no time, like an iceberg closing in around a ship in the ocean th at shed once seen on TV. Im going to go look outside, she said to Ogden, pulling on her coat. All of you stay here. The panic had now worked its way up from her stomach to her voice and it came out distorted, like a st aticy radio tu rned too loud.
137 Whyre you yelling? Bobbie started cryi ng and Callie joined in. Dallas stared at them, trying to be a man and not cry, but hi s bottom lip trembled. Shane beat his fist against his tray in time to th e wails. Ogden looked perplexed. Are you mad, Aunt Michelle? Billie asked. Billie didnt wait for Michelles answer, instead, she instinctively moved to pick up Bell as if to shelter her from harm. At six, her mothering instinct was already finely-honed. Michelle stopped and took a deep breath. Stay calm, she told herself. She went to Billie. No honey, Im not mad. I just wa nt to find Natalie, okay? Will you be a big girl and help Ogden watch th e kids? She kissed the top of her head, hopefully restoring some kind of confidence in her abilities with kids. Is Natalie lost? Callie asked. No, Michelle said, Im ju st going to check outside. Is she frozen? Callie asked. She started crying again. No, no, baby, she heard herself saying, but not entirely believing her words. Keep saying them and theyll come true. A unt Michelles going to find her. You stay right here, okay? Michelle gave Callie a hug, more to reassure herself than Callie. Callie clung to her for an extra second a nd Michelle didnt want to let go. Outside, she looked around the entire por ch, before noticing the outside entrance to the basement. Maybe she was there. It was full of things for a kid to play with, and it would be warm. Natalie right now was proba bly balled up in a corn er, stacking old pans like blocks, using the canned goods like toy soldiers, and munching on the dry cat food. Natalie had a penchant for putting anything that looked interesting in her mouth. Please
138 be in the basement, Michelle prayed. If she were, and Michelle was sure she was, Natalie would be fine. But to be safe, to be extra su re, Michelle would continue her search of the outside. She examined the snow for prints. A br ick walkway, misshaped from bricks that had come loose and not been replaced, led from the back porch to the gravel drive. The barn sat on the other side of the drive, just a little ways back. L ittle Duke had shoveled after the last snow, so the path to the driv eway was clean, as was the driveway itself, where the snow had melted in the gravel from the salt he applied. She spotted a little pair of prints in th e snow at the top of the drive circled around the front of the pickup. They ended in the gr avel. Michelle rushed to the barn, pulled open the double doors and called Natalies name. Before her eyes even adjusted to the darkness, she left the barn and screamed Natalie s name all the way back to the house. It was a desperate, primitive scream. Would she even be able to see Nata lies blond towhead ag ainst the albino bleakness of the landscape? Snow covered the landscape, blurring the edges between the sky and the land, turning it all into one big ocean. An ocean where a small child would be doomed if they went out too far. Michelle tried to remember what Nata lie had been wearing but couldnt. Her little footed and furry pink pjs ? Or had it been one of thos e mornings when Billie or Bobbie would have helped her get dressed? If so, then she might be in her favorite Pooh Bear sweatshirt and dungarees.
139 Michelle prayed. Father, if I have ev er needed you, please help me now. Keep Natalie safe, keep her warm, and bring her back to her family. She is one of your saints, Lord, but please leave her with her earthly family. I swear if you leave her, she will serve you well. She will bear testimony to your goodness. Please give us the chance to teach her your true word. Please let me find her. Please. She trudged through the snow back to th e house. The kids were still huddled around the kitchen table. It wa s the first time Michelle had seen them being quiet. She flew past them and up the stairs, not stopping to take her coat off or talk to them. They watched her go by. Rhonda, Rhonda, wake up! she said, bursting into Rhondas room. Rhonda stuck her groggy head out from the pile of bl ankets and a patchwork quilt fashioned from leftover scraps from the kids clothing. R honda said she could see the kids growing up every time she looked at it by tracing their progress from baby prints, to calicos and chambray, and finally to sturdier ma terials like denim and corduroy. I cant find Natalie! Mi chelle said. Shes gone! Wake up, you have to help me look for her. Rhonda shot out of bed, the patchwork quilt thrown to the floor. Whatta you mean, you cant find her? Shes gone! LaRae and Cheron left w ith Duke and GayLynn and I got all the kids together in the kitchen cause it was so cold, we were going to start the biscuits, and I was going to let you rest some more, then we prayed, then she was gone.
140 Was she ever in the kitchen? Rhonda sa id. Michelle was surprised to see how fast Rhonda slipped into her cl othes, which had been piled in a chair. Shed only ever seen her move in slow motion and now it was like someone had turned a knob to high. I think so. Yes. No . I dont know. I had to come up and get Shane. I dont know if she was there when I got back or wh at. Michelle let the tears shed been holding back go and they fell like a dam had burst. I dont know, she said, but she knew Rhonda couldnt hear or und erstand her strangled words. Wherere the kids now, Michelle? R honda was dressed and on her way out of the room. Still in the kitchen. Ill look in the house. You look outside, okay? I already did, Michelle said. She had to run to keep up with Rhondas new gait. Lets do it again. Real good this ti me, okay? She took Michelle by the shoulders at the bottom of the st airs. Itll be okay. Just stay calm. Kids do these things sometimes. She probably crawled under so mething somewhere and fell asleep. She couldnt have gotten far. Michelle fell into Rhondas embrace, drawing strength from it like she had Callies. She wiped her face, snot and all, on Rhondas shoulder. Thank you, she squeezed out. For the next hour, the sound of all of them, Michelle, Rhonda, Ogden, Billie, Bobbie, Dallas, Callie, and even Bell could be heard calling Natalie s name. Outside, it
141 froze in the air the minute it left their mouths as if it were made of ice, and it went nowhere, crackling and falling to the gr ound like a snowflake before melting. Michelle, Ogden, Billie, and Bobbie search ed the barn again. There was an old white station wagon in the middle of the barn floor. Faded wooded panels ran down both sides. Michelle ran to it and jerked open the front door. No Natalie. She struggled to open the back end, but she could see Natali e wasnt there through the back window. Still, it was like she had to put her hands in th ere, had to breath the stale car air, had to look at the empty floor without glass between her and the nothingness of an empty back seat, save for a hole that looked li ke it housed a family of mice. Look in the hay, Michelle said, rememb ering how she had slept in the hay the night her father had locked he r out in the cold. Billie a nd Bobbie climbed up to the hay loft while Ogden looked in the stalls, but no Natalie. They left the barn and headed toward the field behind it. Ogden helped Michelle and the girls over the barbed wire, knocking off the little cupcakes of snow that sat on the top of the fenceposts, then he carefully cr awled in between two wires. He emerged unscathed. Hed been doing that since he could toddle afte r Little Duke. The snow was spotty in the open field. The sunny days and freezing nights had formed crusty craters of ice that Natalies twenty or so pounds wouldnt leave a trace of evidence on, as if she were gliding over th em in snowshoes. Last nights snow was already forming drifts around these ice masses and with no trees or even bushes to block the wind, the entire field reminded Michelle of the Bonneville Salt Fl ats shed studied in her high school InterMountain Geography class. Just miles and mile s of salt so blinding
142 it looked like the moon during the day and nothing but blackness at night. The new snow wasnt melting, it was much too cold for that. If Natalie had stumbled into this arctic landscape, Michelle knew her little legs would soon be ti red from navigating the ice, her eyes would be snow-blind, and her body numb w ith cold. Michelle couldnt feel her own ears or nose and shed only been out here a few minutes. Or had it been hours already? If Natalied made it this far, maybe shed gone on to the row of houses that marked the edge of Whitefarm Estates. Ma ybe she was playing in one of these back yards right now or sitting in a warm kitc hen eating cookies and having some milk. Michelle was hopeful. She sent the kids home to let Rhonda know she was going to knock on all the doors that backed up to the farm. She knew it meant a risk of exposure, and the thought of arrest for Duke and all of them clouded her mind as she made her way across the field, head down partly to look for signs of Natalie, and partly to shield her watering eyes from the stinging cold. In the distance, closer to the backya rd of the houses, she thought she spied a Natalie-sized lump curled up on the ground. It was covered with a fresh layer of snow as if a sheet had been pulled up over the lump. Michelle ran to it, tripping and stumbling over the uneven field, shouting no, please G od, no, but when she reached the lump, it was just a pile of brush, nothing really. Michelle caught her br eath, her heart beating wildly, before continuing on. She cut through a backyard and approached the closest house. It was a small and square and had a carport to the side. In the front yard, the owners had made a mound
143 toward the side and filled it with shimmery quacking aspens and large gray rocks, that rose like snow-capped mountains from the be d. The trees slender trunks were almost indistinguishable from the surrounding snow both were so white and patchy. The wind blew through their leaves whispering a quiet trill. As Michelle approached the front door she smelled the warmth of fresh laundry drying wafting from the carport. Back home, laundry had been one of her chores. She especially liked to do it when she was hom e alone, which was rare, moving the different loads through the wash, dry, and fold while watching TV and talking to Edna on the phone. She knocked on the door. It was answered by a woman a little older than she was. It was the woman with the dark hair from Church. Michelle remembered her, but she must not have noticed her. Michelle stumbled into the living room and rubbed her hands together, trying to get warm. It was a pretty room, with a plai d sofa on dark brown carpet. A white satin photo album was displayed on the coffee table. There was a picture of the woman and her husband in their Temple clothes on the c over. The album was trimmed in lace and tied closed with a satin bow. It was their wedding album. Michelle could see into the kitchen fr om where she stood. It was bright with ruffled caf curtains on the window above th e sink and a matching canister set on the cupboard. Fat red strawberries strung toge ther with vine spilled over both. Then Michelle saw it. A small childs foot, in a footed pajama, the kind with white rubber soles on the bottom to keep from slipping, swinging from the kitchen table chair.
144 Michelle rushed past the woma n and burst into the kitchen. She was almost on her knees at the table, thankful, grateful, when sh e comprehended that Natalie was not among the three children, two boys and a girl at the table. They were eating breakfast. The littlest, the blond girl in the pink footed pajamas, sc reamed when Michelle rounded the corner. Her Golden Grahams tipped over and sugary milk slid across the table. The woman was right behind her; the front door still open. Pointing to it, Michelle explained that she lived in the neighboring house and her daughter was missing. Had she seen a three-year-old in pajamas? The woman said no. Now what? Michelle turned to go, ready to knock on each and every door in Whitefarm Estates if she had too. The woman stopped her. Wait, she sai d. Ill help you. Are you going to all the houses on this street? she asked. Yes. Michelle said. Her skin wa s starting to tingle as it warmed up. Why dont I just call? the woman said. She pulled a thin telephone directory out of the kitchen drawer cl oset to the phone and waved it at Michelle. I have everyones phone numbers, we all know each other. The woman guided Michelle to the empty chair at the ta ble with the three kids. She offered her hot cider to warm her up, but Michelle refused, unable to allow herself to get warm and comfortable while Natalie might be frozen in the snow. She sat at the table, paralyzed, as the woma n called the neighbors, aski ng the same question over and over: Have you seen a three-year-old, ye s missing, blond hair, blue eyes? And probably with a milk mustache and traces of to ast crumbs in her hair, Michelle added in
145 her mind, thinking of how when Natalie ate, sh e left a trail of food over her entire body. Smashed peas on her shoes, gravy down the front of her shirt. In the short time Michelle had been married to Duke, she already love d the kids like they were her own. She thought of Natalies pink cheeks and her face loomed in her mind as if it were frozen deep inside an ice-age glacier. She cried s oundless tears and the chil dren stared at her, too scared of the wild woman sitting at ther e table to speak. She must have looked mad with her crazy hair she hadnt pulled back and that was now bushy and full and her bloodshot eyes. The woman hung up the phone for the last time. Nothing, she said and she glanced at her own children safe and warm in the protective shelter of her kitchen. Thank you, Michelle said and got up to go. She felt her muscles tighten as she lifted herself out of the chair and she walked gingerly. The woman walked her to the door. G ive me your phone number, she said. Well form a search party. Youd better call for help. Michelle realized she didnt know her phone number. She hoped the woman would take this for confusion on her part and not think it odd. She took the womans phone number and said shed call as soon as the police arrived. For the first time in her life, Michelle felt like part of a community. The woman stepped out on the porch a nd hugged her when she sent her on her way. My names Sherry by the way, she said. Whats yours? Michelle was so touched that this stra nger saw her as an individual, not as a collective lost in a big house with lots of kids and wives, that she wanted nothing more
146 than to go back into Sherrys nice warm house; into her cozy kitche n that looked exactly the way she always dreamed her own kitche n would someday look. She wanted nothing more than to pour three bowls of cereal for br eakfast instead of the three pounds of bacon and two dozen eggs she cooked every day. Sh ed think about that later. Right now, Natalie was lost and she had to find her. Michelle trudged back home. I cant find her, Rhonda said when she came into the kitchen. Me neither. Michelle knew there wa s only one option. Im calling the police, she said. Rhonda agreed and Michelle called. Within moments, they heard a car in the driveway and Michelle followed Rhonda out the door. It wasnt the police, it was LaRae an d Cheron, home from shopping. And in the truck, sandwiched in the middle, with powdere d sugar from some farmers market snack mingling with her runny nose, was Natalie. Michelle stared, then stumbled to the truck. LaRae and Cheron piled out, Cheron pulling Natalie with her. Michelle fell to her knees. Oh, Fa ther, you are great, thank you for bringing Natalie home. Thank you for hearing my prayer. You are the true being, a just being. I will live in your service for the rest of my mortal days. I will serve you and spread the word of your goodness. Thank you, thank you, thank you for bringing Natalie home. LaRae looked at her. Whats she doing ? she asked Rhonda. Not waiting for an answer, she yelled for Ogden to come help unload the truck. We couldnt find Natalie, Rhonda sa id. We didnt know shed gone with you.
147 Didnt know? said LaRae. Michelle rose up from the snow. W e were scared to death. Weve been searching all morning. The kids are terri fied, right now, you s hould see them, they havent moved all morning. LaRae grabbed Michelles shoulders and shook her. I should of known not to leave you in charge, she said. You cant do one thing right. You dont even listen. I told you myself Natalie was going with us. Michelle shrugged LaRae off of her. No you didnt, she wailed. I didnt know. You waved goodbye to us, LaRae sai d. She pointed to the upstairs window. I saw you. But I didnt see you, Michelle said. You need to pay more attention if you re going to part of this family, do you understand? Youve been not hing but trouble since youve been here, you dont share, you cant cook, you spend all morning looking for a child whos not even missing . . LaRaes voice turned into a steady droning rhythm in Michelles head as she continued to list Michelles faults. Cheron, te ll her I told her, LaRae said. Cheron stepped forward. I didnt hear you tell her, I just assumed . I didnt think . . She went to Michelle. Y ou thought Natalie was missing all this time? Michelle nodded and Cheron reached out to stroke her dark hair. You poor thing. Everythings okay now. Were all safe, she said. Except the police are going to be here any minute, Rhonda said.
148 The police? LaRae asked. She turned to Michelle. Who called the police? I did, said Michelle. Her voice went back to the low wail like when she was calling Natalies name. We were worried. We couldnt find her. LaRaes anger was visible, it seeped from her and glistened on her skin, like sweat on a hot day. Get in the house, she said. Come on everyone. Get these bags, come on. She stopped before passing Miche lle. The police? was all she said. She then gave a litany of orders and every pair of hands took something in the house. Kids, upstairs, in your room and stay there. R honda and Cheron, stay upstairs with them, keep them quiet. And dont flush the toilet. They started up the stairs. Well come up when you can come down, she added to their retreating figures.
149 When we lived as spirit children with our he avenly parents, our Heavenly Father told us about his plan for us to become more like hi m and we shouted for joy (Job 38:7). In order for this happen, we needed to leave our Fathers presence and receive mortal bodies. We needed anothe r place to live where we could prepare to become like him. Our new home was called earth. The Creation Gospel Principles Published 1978 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints CHAPTER SIX Michelle barely had time to call Sherry and report that Natalie had been found safe, warm, and dry before the police cruiser pulled into the yard. All a big mix-up she said, and she hoped her voice conve yed the grateful words she didnt want to say in front of LaRae. Michelle went out on the porch to meet the two officers who emerged from the patrol car. Officer Browning, a small blond woman, and Offi cer Hulet, a tall skinny man, greeted Michelle. Michelle explained the mistak e, that her sister had taken the child with her shopping and had just returned. Mind if we come inside for a minute? Officer Browning asked. Sure, come on in out of the cold. Did she look suspicious or something? Could they tell she was lying? She led them in to the kitchen. As she stepped over the threshold, she realized theyd want to see Na talie, make sure she wa s alright. How would
150 she and LaRae explain sitting calmly in the kitchen with a baby upstairs alone? Had enough time passed to tell them Natalie wa s already asleep? Yes, probably. But LaRae was one step ahead of her. Just as the officers entered the kitchen, LaRae came through the swinging door and in her arms she held Natalie, her face and hands wiped clean and in a pair of footed pajamas. Hi, Im LaRae. LaRae said. And this is Natalie. Our littl e perpetrator. She laughed. I should have told Michelle I was taking her. You can imagine how frantic she was. I had the whole neighborhood looking fo r her, Michelle said. She waved her hand toward Whitefarm Estates. Would th ey speculate on why she hadnt called the police from the moment she thought Natali e missing instead of spending her time searching the surr ounding area? Most calls turn out this way, said Of ficer Hulet. But you can never be too careful. The officers took in the kitchen. Miche lle was conscious of their eyes looking around, at the chore list that list ed eleven children down its side at the table with its long bench to seat so many, the stacks of laundr y in the open laundry room. Why didnt Rhonda finish the wash every da y? Michelle made a mental note to help her get it all put away each day. Officer Browning started across the kitchen. Michelle could barely breath. Duke was going to be furious at her. Hed be the one in the most trouble. They always arrested the man for breaking the law, but tended to go easier on the wives, especially
151 when there were so many children involve d. She pictured the kids huddled in the basement with the house surrounded by poli ce cars, just like the scene Duke had described from his childhood. And it would be a ll her fault. She felt the familiar warm red blotches move acr oss her throat. Natalie, did you have a fun trip t oday? Officer Browning asked Natalie, bending down to be level with her. We went shopping, Natalie answered in her baby voice. With your mommy? Officer Browning sai d, looking at LaRae. With Mommy, Natalie said, nodding her head yes. Thank God Natalie was little enough to call all the wives mommy. Mind if we look around? Officer Hulet asked. Michelle didnt answer. She knew whatever she said would be wrong. Sure, go ahead, LaRae said. Michelle, show the officers into the living room. Michelle pushed through the swinging door Officer Hulet on her heals. Officer Browning stayed behind still tickling Natalies feet and making her laugh. Officer Hulet looked in the living room, taking in the drab furniture and pulled curtains. He looked in th e dining room that Cheron used as a school room. Do you have any more children? he asked. My sister does, Michelle said in a halted voice. She home schools? As soon as Michelle said yes she reali zed she didnt have an answer for why the other kids wouldnt be home, sitting in th e school room dining room right now. The
152 officer nodded his head and didn t ask, instead he eyed her as if sizing her up. She grew hot, her eyes said the truth and his eyes said he knew. She hu rried back to the safety of the bright kitchen. Office Hulet followed. With a final tip of their hats, the officers started to leave. Call us any time if you need us. These are the kind of calls we like to go on. Michelle thanked them, s hut the door, and crumpled onto the bench. LaRae said nothing. I dont think they believed us, Michelle finally said. Us? LaRae looked at her, her head tilted and her mouth tight. You better get up and start dinner. I need to go get Duke soon, she said. Michelle put her head down on her fold ed arms. She was exhausted. She didnt care about dinner. She didnt care about Duke. She didnt care if LaRae hated her. Natalie was home and she was safe. But she did care. How am I gonna tell Duke? she asked LaRae. Youre not, LaRae said. You cant wait, can you? Why do you ha te me? Why? Michelle could just picture LaRae gleefully telling Duke the details of the day. She could even hear her. Shed tell him Michelle was too irresponsible or too ignorant to understand the way they lived. He would agree, thinking hed made a mistake. He would tell her he had misgivings about marrying Michelle, not even from a polygamist family, and that he regretted his decision. Then what would she do? Go home to Warm Springs? It made her sad to think no one there would be surp rised her marriage hadnt worked out, but she
153 doubted her father would take her back. He wa snt one to go back on what he said. And Duke wouldnt be the first polygamist to divorce his wife, sh e knew that from the Needham clan back home. Rumor had it th at one of the Needham wives had been returned to her family after shed been married for a year and hadnt had a baby. Michelle would have thought that her ruminations on being forced out of the Stead household would breed fear in her brea st. But instead, it br ought an inner peace, the kind she got when she aske d the Lord for help and her showed her the way. She felt old already, even though shed only been ther e a few weeks. And tired. When Natalie had gone missing, she didnt let her mind consider the thing it wanted to focus on: that maybe shed made a mistake. Maybe she wasnt cut out for this. What really made her think that was th e glimpse into Sherrys home and life. What looked like a little plain box from the outside, looked like the ideal-to-Michelle home on the inside. When Sherrys husband made love to her, did he do it quickly as if it was on his list of things to do in order to sl eep? Brush teeth, undress, sex with Michelle. Or LaRae, Cheron, GayLynn, Rhonda. It didnt matter. Did Sherry face hours of work every day just to survive? Michelle didnt mind the work, it was the lack of sisterhood she felt from the other wives, especially LaRae, that made her miss Edna and envy Sherry. Looking at LaRae across the table, Michelle knew she woul d never be able to live up to her expectations. LaRae spoke. Im not going to tell Duke, she said. He doesnt need to know. Michelle brought her head up in amazement. Really?
154 You think we tell Duke everything around he re? She picked Natalie up to go. He doesnt know the half of it. The next morning, Michelle was alone in the kitchen. Everyone else had long gone their ways, leaving Michelle to think about what to do. Go now? But where? She looked at the phone on the wall by the door to the laundry room. She picked the receiver up and read her new phone number for the first time. Before she could question what she wa s doing, her fingers were dialing her home phone number. It rang and rang and rang. Mich elle was just about to hang up when her mother answered the phone with a perky hello. Mama? Michelle said. Her breath fo rmed a layer of vapor on the receiver. Michelle? her mother said, quiet as if she didnt want to be overheard. Mama, I Michelle started but her mother interrupted her. Michelle, I cant talk to you. Daddyll be in any minute. But, Mama, I Her mother interrupted again. Miche lle, please. You heard what Daddy said, you know how he is. What about you, Mama? Michelle said. She was standing on her toes, leaning into the phone as if she coul d get closer to her mother ove r the line. Crawl up on her lap like she used to do as a child. Hold her ha nd in the store. Wrap her arms around her knees when she was scared.
155 It doesnt matter, honey, you know it doesn t matter, and Michelle heard the click of the line go dead. She stood there for a long time, the hum of the dialtone seeping into her brain like poison. So much for going home. Michelle didnt cry. Instead, she star ted on dinner, which was her version of lasagne. It was really more like spaghetti casserole than lasagne as LaRae hadnt bought the lasagne noodles Michelle asked for, sa ying spaghettis a dolla r a box, lasagne two for five. We can eat spaghetti. She was dishing it into large, shallow broiling pans, making thick layers of spaghetti, meat sa uce, and cheese when she heard a gurgle and turned to see a what appeared to be a baby in the highchair. She moved closer. Was he real or a vision? Was the Lord sending a messa ge to her that he was sending a soul to her to love and teach His ways? He was a perfect baby, a boy, still wet w ith the white coatin g that clings to newborns skin, dark hair that turned to dow n and traveled down his back, and green eyes . Michelle had never seen eyes so luminous. They stared at Mich elle as if trying to ascertain who she was. Mich elle knew who he was. The baby spoke. Mommy, he said and Michelle felt a tremor go through her. This is what shed been waiting for. It didn t matter if Duke didnt even act like she was his wife any more. It didnt matter if LaR ae would ever accept he r as a worthy sisterwife. It didnt even matter if God knew th at she hadnt been able to escape the impure lust in her heart. He was going to give her a baby. Maybe she wasnt tainted after all. Mommy, where are you? the baby sai d. Mommy, come me home. Can I come home? His voice was sweet like Mich elle imagined an angels voice to be.
156 Baby, Mommys here. She rushed to th e highchair and reached her arms out to sweep him to her chest. She wanted to feel hi s fat skin against hers. She wanted to smell the musky odor of her own milk mixed with the baby sweat on his skin. Her arms failed at the empty highchair and her toe smashed in to it, sending the chair careening against the wall. A bolt of pain shot through her foot. Michelle whirled around the kitchen, l ooking for a sign of the baby. He was gone. She fell down on her knees. Yes, Ill bring you home, you can come home to me, she said from the floor. Thats where she was when LaRae came into the kitchen and almost tripped over her. Whatre you doing? LaRae said. She stepped over Michelle and went to the cupboard for decongestant for Callie. Michelle jumped up and took LaRaes ar ms, holding them to her side so LaRae couldnt turn away. Oh, LaRae, you wont be lieve it. The most miraculous things happened. LaRae didnt ask what, she simply stared at Michelle with a questioning look on her face, as if waiting for her to go on knowing she wouldnt have to wait long. Im pregnant! Michelle said. Pregnant? Already? Thats ridicu lous. LaRaes face darkened, like a sunny day shadowed by a far-away thunderstorm. Why were you on the floor?
157 I saw him. A boy. He just came to me and asked me to bring him to his earthly home. Hes with God right now, but its time to do his work on earth. He wants me to be his mother. Im going to name him Braden. Braden Stead. I dont believe you, LaRae said. Michelle didnt know why not, Duke ha d told her that LaRae knew many women, herself included, whose babies came to them from their premortal existence and demanded to be brought to earth. Youre not worthy enough to be bles sed with a vision, she explained. But Michelle held fast in her belief, ta lking about the baby often, his red wrinkled head, his curly hair matted into tiny pincurls against his scalp, his voice calling to Michelle, begging to be brought home. She never bled again after that and Rhondas midwife confirmed the pregnancy on he r next visit. LaRae had no choice but to believe. Rhonda was the happiest about the pregnancy. She wanted her baby to grow up with lots of same-age siblings around to pl ay with, just like shed had. Duke prayed, Father above, hear our prayer of thanks for the child you have chosen to send to earth. When Jesus gave us the Gospel, even the ba bies and children utte red marvelous things, let this be our utterance to you. Lord, I know you will give if your faithful only ask, so please continue to bless all th e mothers with children for your kingdom. All the mothers. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen But Duke didnt act as happy as he made it seem to God. Thats because hes down to sleeping with just La Rae and Cheron. And LaRaes not real happy about you having a baby and not her, Rhonda told Michelle one day
158 while Michelle helped her clean the downstai rs bathroom. Rhonda theorized that LaRae was taking it out on Duke. Mi chelle didnt believe her and questioned her as to why. I counted the nights. He stayed with LaRae nine nights ou t of the last two weeks. That doesnt mean anything, does it? said Michelle. She was worried her pregnancy and not being able to be with him would create a rift between her and Duke. But she was more worried about an even deep er rift between her and LaRae. Duke was gone from sun up to sun down and when he was hom e, he ate, then fell asleep in front of the TV. It was LaRae who Miche lle had to live with every day. It means either Duke doesnt want to go in there because theres heck to pay or she wont let him in. Ive seen her lock him out for two months in a row, Rhonda said. At least she hasnt done that this time, Michelle said. Not yet, Rhonda said. Soon after Michelle announced her pregna ncy, the midwife restricted Rhonda to bedrest with hers. Her skin was translucen t and her hands and feet were swollen and LaRae said she looked anemic. Michelle made her breakfast and lunch on a tray and let her eat in bed. She took over the laundry, finally finding the floor under the endless mounds of clothing that appeared each day. Shanes diapers al one were a load. Michelle had been harping on GayLynn that she needed to use disposables, but GayLynn said she wasnt going to put them on the shopping list. Michelle couldnt blame her, after all, she wasnt home all day, nor did she do the wash. Michelle would have to work on LaRae to
159 make that happen and in the meantime, her hands turned so red and ch apped that even the Cornhuskers Lotion she kept in the kitchen couldnt sooth them. LaRae pitched in too, taking on the j obs of picking up, dusting, and vacuuming, while leaving the more disagreeable jobs like the bathrooms, mopping, and changing the sheets to Michelle. Michelle hated the ex tra work, but it kept her mind off worrying about Rhonda and she hoped by helping out more, Rhonda would somehow be miraculously better. And it took her mind o ff Duke, who she saw less and less every day. He seemed to sense the mood of the house by instinct. As the tension grew and he had only Cheron to seek refuge with, he found work to be an excellent deterrent, even taking Little Duke and going back to the warehouse some evenings after dinner. Michelle missed private time with him now that he didnt sleep in her room anymore. She knew her own frustration with him was contributing to the strain created by Rhondas bed rest and LaRaes frump, so sh e decided to talk to him about it. One morning, she followed him out to the truck, ignoring the look that passed between LaRae and Cheron that questioned her intent. Duke, she said, folding her arms agains t the door and leani ng her head into the cab. Can we talk? I feel like I havent even seen you for a month. Now? Duke asked. Ive got to get to the warehouse. Well when would be a better time? Michelle asked, her voice edging up. Later. Michelle noticed a thin rim of dirt under his thumb nail and she focused on it. There is no later. You get home late, everyones always around . .
160 Maybe you need to get down on your knees and pray to God our Father for help, Duke said, because if you want me to cleave unto you, you need to be the helpmate God designed. He said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a help mate for him. Michelle didnt like it when he quoted scripture. He knew his Bible too well, better than any of them, and was always ready wi th a line or two that supported his point. Shed seen him do it to the kids and do it to the wives and now here he was doing it to her. The screen door slammed and GayLynn lumbered down the steps. All warmed up? she asked. Yup, Duke said and moved the gearshif t into reverse befo re Michelle could move away from the truck. She pecked his cheek, feeling the cold dry air for the first time. She pulled her robe closer to her as they backed out of th e driveway. A cloud of oily exhaust choked her and she sa w where it had blackened the snow. See you tonight! GayLynn yelled out the window, happily flapping her hand in the wind. Michelle turned and went back into the house. Say good-bye to Duke? LaRae asked. Michelle just nodded as she st arted the breakfast dishes. Cold? LaRae said. Michelle added dishsoap to the sink be fore spinning on her heels. Whats that supposed to mean? she said. Nothing. Dont get all grumpy. I merely asked if its cold out. LaRae said.
161 I said, whats that supposed to mean? And I said nothing. Hey, Cheron said as she reached out to Michelles sleeve, whats wrong? You are a little jumpy. Here, sit down with us. LaRae patted the bench next to her. Michelle eyed her suspiciously then sat down, but on the opposite side of the table from LaRae. Is Duke being a pistol? LaRae aske d. She seemed concerned and Michelle considered that LaRae might be warming up to her. I never see him, she said. Michelle wi shed she could just cry. I feel like I married you guys and all I do is work. She he ld up her hands. Look, look at my hands. I dont even recognize them anymore. Billie and Bobbie burst into the kitchen looking for Cheron, but she shooed them back to the living room with the promise of coloring instead of sp elling today. Maybe you just need more time to adjust. I dont think so. I look at you guys a nd he doesnt spend any more time with you all than me, but youre all fine with it. We eat, we pray, we sleep when hes around and we work when hes not, Michelle said. Whatd you expect? Cheron asked. Whatd he promise you? LaRae asked. He promised me . . Michelle tho ught before finishing. I dont know. The more she thought about it, the more she re alized Duke hadnt really promised her anything or even painted a pi cture of daily life for her. Everything shed dreamed of,
162 shed thought up herself. All hed said wa s how important it was to build the Kingdom with children and how all his wives shared the workload. LaRae stood and took Shane out of the highchair. Well, I guess you got what you asked for then. And with that she herd ed Bell and Natalie out of the kitchen, Shane waddling slowly behind. You need to work on getting on her good side more, Cheron said as she gathered up her lesson plan. Rhonda says she hates me more because Im pregnant. One, she doesnt hate you, so dont lis ten to Rhonda. Two, try to understand it from her point of view. She reall y, really, really wants another baby. Then she shouldnt kick Duke out of the bedroom if you ask me. Dallas pushed through the door, ending their conversation. Aunt Cheron, Billies being mean to us. She said were ignor . .ignor-ramuses. And Bobbie said thats a swear word. Michelle fumed the rest of the morni ng. By noon, shed put three loads of wash through and heated up some venison stew fo r Rhonda. The midwife had given Rhonda a giant handbook of natural healing with eight or ten pages tabbed of things she needed to do or take. More meat was one of them She was sitting on Rhondas bed, talking, folding diapers and waiting for her to eat. Sh e flung the diapers out of her lap and leaned against the wall.
163 You know what Im going to do today? sh e said. Im going to take a walk to that shopping center down the road. The one with the drugstore in it. And the clothes store, whats it called? Mode-A-Day? Mode O Day, Rhonda corrected, fishi ng a chunk of carrot out of the stew. Whatever. Im going to buy some bath gel and some new head bands and maybe an outfit. Do you realize I havent bought anything since Ive been here? Its only been two months. And where you going to get the money? Out of the can in the kitchen, Miche lle said. She had discovered the secret stash of household money in her explorations of the kitchen. You better ask LaRae, Rhonda said and settled back for a nap. That was the last thing Michelle was going to do. She had the chores done and shed set a frozen casserole out to thaw fo r dinner. She finished the diapers, took Rhondas tray and kissed her on the top of the head. I might even bring back a Cosmo for you, she said. Dont drag me into your evil scheme, Rhonda said. She rubbed a pain out of the small of her back. But I wouldnt mind People. Michelle winked at her. You got it. The day was warm for March and the snow was melting. Little rivers of water ran from clumps of dirty snow in miniature culverts along side of the road. There was no sidewalk, so Michelle traver sed them carefully, her head down. The ground beneath her was a model-like view of the earth, with tiny rivers and streams springing from nowhere and making their way to a bigger body of water.
164 The blacktop parking lot of the shoppi ng center was a welcome relief from the muddy roadside. Here, the snow stood in slus hy piles. Michelle stomped through one to clean the mud from her boots, then went into the Mode O Day. The store was crowded, with clothing hung on the walls and the center filled with crowded round racks. The displays were put together by color and Michelle immediately went to a center rack that had several pieces in a dark chocolate brown. There was a pair of chocolate trousers, a matchi ng chocolate skirt, a cream blouse with a silky ruffle at the neck, and a tee shirt stripped in cream, peach, and chocolate. May I help you? a too-thin saleslady asked her. Mi chelle hadnt even noticed another person in the store, customer or sale slady, and she jumped, startled. She told her she was just looking and fingered the chocolate wool of the skirt again. It was so beautiful, Michelle wanted it all. She could wear the skirt and silky blouse to Church, the tee at home, and . . She wasnt sure where shed wear the trousers. They were too dressy for home and she would never wear pants to Church. Well, that would save her money. She added up the other pieces in her head. Seventyseven dollars and fifty cents! She only had thirty. Michelle pushed through th e other racks to the sale rack in the back. A sign on the top announced thirty percent off. Michel le sorted through the mismatched pieces. No four piece coordinated outfits here. She se lected a white sweater with a wide square neckline and a navy button-down-the-front shir t in a stiff cotton and ducked into the dressing room.
165 She drew the curtain and pu lled her shirt over her hea d. Her hair shot up in a explosion of static electricity. She turned sideways and looked at herself in the fulllength mirror. If she stood real relaxed, sh e thought she could see the beginnings of a pooch at her stomach. She put her hand to it. Yes, she was definitely showing. She tried on both shirts and decided on the white sweater It was soft and warm and no one could say she didnt need it. Outside she wandered down the walkway g azing in all the store windows. There was a jewelry store, a grocery store, a Hallmar k store, and a drug store. It was the drug store that she was interested in. In Peoples Drug, Michelle stood still in th e middle of the floor for a moment and tried to decide which aisle to look at first. It was dazzl ing. The endcaps were stacked with colorful products and pict ures of beautiful woman using them. Michelle looked at a brunette wearing Maybelline lipstick and invitin g her to try it too. Shed never worn much make-up and being around all of it here alone, made her giddy. She selected a lipstick tester in the color Sand and gently swirled it up. Using one of the disposable applicators, she lined her mout h and filled it in using the small mirror attached to the display. She stood back. Too dark. She saw her hair in the mirror and rea lized the static was creating a cloud above her head. She went to the hair care aisle, looking for something to calm it down. She spotted the pink row of Dippety-Do, opened one of the squat jars, and inhaled deeply. A clean, soapy scent came back to her. Wh en she was a kid, every Saturday night her mother would sit Julie, Eloise, and Brenda on th e floor in the family room and twist their
166 hair into pin curls, coating each section with a glob of the gluey stuff. Michelle would watch, her hair too curly for pincurls, secretly dipping her finger in the jar of little bubbles encapsulated in gel. Michelle had wondered how the bubbles got in there. They looked like cartoon bubbles in a cartoon ocean. She couldnt very well stick her finger in the Dippety-Do now, so she found a tester of a coconut hair balm and ran a gl ob through her hair. The smell reminded her of the suntan lotion her mother us ed to slather on her before she let her go down to the pond in the summer. We am I the only one who has to put this gunk on? Michel le would whine to her mother. Because youre the only one with beautif ul white skin thatll burn and you dont want that, do you? her mother would answer sensibly as she rubbed the lotion into Michelles back. Mich elle thought it smelled like what th e air in Hawaii would smell like and she would pretend she was there when she played on the bank of the pond. She looked through all the beauty items shimmery gels, eye pencils, and hundreds of colors of nail polishes. She select ed a moisturizing bath gel that smelled like rain. She needed something to help smooth out her skin. Not only were her hands dry, every morning she woke up with her legs and ar ms flaky white with dry skin. It was like the baby was sucking the moisture out of her. She got a big purple bag of candy-coated chocolate Easter eggs, her fa vorite, and a People magazine for Rhonda and a Cosmo for her. She was almost to the register when sh e went back for the ra in-scented lotion that had been on the shelf next to the shower gel.
167 The cashier was young and didnt speak. He routinely rang up Michelles purchases while she dug deep into her purse for the rest of her money. Twelve-sixtytwo, he said. Michelle coul dnt believe it came to that much. She didnt want to spend all the money shed taken. She would have to make a decision on what to keep and what to put back. She wavered for a moment, until she saw the look of di sgust on the cashiers face. Could he tell she was a polygamists wi fe? Or that the mone y she clutched in her sweaty palm was stolen? She stood stiff, knees locked, afraid to move, until she realized his arched eyebrows said he was only looking to finish this trans action and go back to stocking the film behind the counter. Ill put back the candy, she said quickl y. He moved it to the side with a swipe of his hand and she paid. She knew shed have to read the Cosmo before she went home; no way was she going to risk bringing that back in the house. She had lots of experience hiding unacceptable magazines her father hadnt allowed Cosmo and she was sure Duke or LaRae wouldnt. She crossed the parking lot to the De nnys across the street. Perfect. The waitress settled her in a booth by the salad ba r. Over a Grand Slam breakfast, finally, food she didnt have to cook herself, she luxur iated in what stars were with who, how to get shiny hair in winter, and how to tell if your husbands having an affair. When he moves them all into th e house and calls it po lygamy, thats how, she thought. But by the time shed finished a piece of coconut cream pie and both magazines, she was feeling less testy, even indulgent. Her mind drifted to home and she wished she had a watch on.
168 Rhonda would sure love a piece of pie and she hoped she was okay. And maybe LaRae would be worried about her, instead of mad. Maybe Rhonda would sleep all afternoon and never even tell LaRae and Cheron where sh e was. She felt a moment of panic, then remembered the morning shed searched in va in for Natalie. Forget it. Shed go home when she was ready. She turned back to the Cosmo and took th e quiz to see if Duke was her soulmate. She knew before she even answered the la st question, do you and your mate agree on whether to have children or not? that Duke was meant to be. She did love Duke, this was the life she picked, and the last thing she ever did was admit defeat. She finished her second hot chocolate and offered up a Fathe r, thank you for the strength you give me, but you know I need more when it comes to choc olate. She didnt pray for the fact that the Word of Wisdom advised against hot beverages too, she was hoping He wouldnt notice that. It was time to go home.
169 Beware of the subtle ways Satan employs to take you from the plan of God [2 Nephi 9:13] and true happiness. One of Satan s most effective approaches is to demean the role of wife and mother in the home. by Elder Richard G. Scott Conference Report 10/96 CHAPTER SEVEN When she stepped outside, it seemed unnatu rally dark. Shed forgotten to ask the waitress what time it was. A mile home, a few snowflakes fell, landing on her hair and coat, where they stayed for a few seconds befo re melting into her. Over the next mile, the sky blackened like twilight and slush fell from the sky. She picked up her pace, but so did the onslaught from heaven. First it was a thick and wet snow, then it sharpened into freezing rain. Ice stung Michelles f ace and covered over her bare head. She hoped she wouldnt catch cold now that she was pre gnant. A truck roared by, too close to her, and splattered her with black ice. Looking at her ruined coat, she wanted to sit down and cry, but she new she couldnt. She kept goi ng, the beautiful miniature waterways she had traversed on her way, gone, and in there place was heavy wet sleet. There was a gas station up ahead with its bright red and blue fluorescent lights on. She ducked into it and stomped off the ice and snow. Not good walking weather, the old man behind the counter said. No, Michelle said, a nd Ive got to get home.
170 She went into the ladies room. Firs t, she ran her hands under the warm, warm water. When she could move her hands, she spla shed her face with it until she could feel her cheeks again. Her hands were streaked with puddles of blue and copper from the makeup shed tried. She looked in the mirror and saw a distorted face from the smeared colors. She scrubbed the rest of it off a nd returned to the front of the gas station. The attendant was still behind the counter. He wore a striped shirt of navy and sky blue and his name was embroidered in navy above the pocket. It said Clade. If this keeps up, Ill be closing up early, Clade said. Ill give you a lift if you want to wait. Michelle didnt see she had any other choice. She could see the snow falling harder and harder until it was too dark out to see anything but her reflection in the now black window. Her hair was matted from the walk and the traces of eyeliner along her lashes made her eyes look like hollow sockets. She jumped up, unable to keep staring at her contorted image. She pushed the door open, making the little bell above jingle. The cold slapped her in the face. The road was a steady stream of slow moving cars and trucks, the white of their headlights and the red of their taillights re fracturing on the wet road. It looked like an abstract painting Michelle had seen a picture of in art class. The picture was titled Polarized and Michelle couldnt remember th e artist. Bands of color had been painted in various angles across the canvas, like a big heap of pick-up-sticks. Michelle had loved it. It was so different from the flowers and fruit and pictures of snowy hills and lakes her mother favored for their house.
171 Clade came in from the service bay when he heard the jingle. Just got to do a couple more things, then well be ready to go, he said and proceeded to refill the ice cream freezer and balance the cash register drawer. Michelle heard a deafening scream come from deep in her gut, but she knew it was only heard in her mind since her mout h didnt open and Clade didnt blink from counting his twenties. She had to get home. Shed planned on only being gone a couple hours and the big clock above the door said it was now four oclock. She sat again and pulled the People magazine from her bag and started over, but she couldnt concentrate and just looked at th e pictures of movie stars when they were babies. She wished she hadnt put Cosmo in the trash so quickly. She checked on her sweater to make sure it was dry and zippe d up the boots shed loosened. Where had Clade gone? She felt frantic, like a cornered animal with nowhere to go. Soon, she would fling herself back out into the snow even though it would mean sure harm, just like the animal that fights back knowing its going to die. After an eternity, Clade stuck his head in from the service bay. Trucks ready. What about you? he said. The ride home shouldnt take too long, even though the roads werent plowed yet. Clade had four-wheel drive and drove with an easy confidence, talking about his grandkids the whole way. Byron and Bryce. Theyre twins. Iden tical twins. Had a hard time telling em apart at first, then Brenda, thats my daughter, Brenda, came up with the idea to paint Byrons toenails red. I didnt like the idea, I didnt like having my grandsons toes
172 painted like a girl. That kind of stuff can have an effect on ya, you know what I mean? But she said, Daddy, you got a better idea? Cuzz if not, . .. Clade droned on but Michelle didnt hear any more. She looked out the window trying to make out familiar landmarks while praying that shed get home soon. Heavenly Father, I need to get home and I dont mean your home. Im not coming to you yet, so just make Clade feel as desperate to get home as I am. I offer you this prayer, in the Sons name, amen. The prayer didnt take her mind off of Duke He had said she needed to be more of a wife, more womanly, hadnt he? And now l ook at her. Dirty, col d, late, a thief, not a wife and hardly a woman. If not for the lif e inside her, shed wonder if she was even female. Because what does a good woman do? A good woman was like her mom, and her aunt, and LaRae, Cheron, Rhonda, and GayLynn. A good woman doesnt complain. Shes home, making sure dinner is ready at ex actly five-thirty. She doesnt run off to a shopping mall and lose track of time. The cloc k on the dashboard said five oclock. If she made it in time to get the casserole in the oven before Duke was home, shed be okay. LaRae would be mad because shed screwed up again, but he wouldnt. And if he wasnt, then he wouldnt be reminded that maybe she wasnt cut out for the Celestial Kingdom. Maybe she belonged ba ck on her dads hops farm in Idaho. But that was out of the question. She knew it and Duke knew it. Right when she started to cal m down, Clade slowed the truck. Looks like something up ahead, he said.
173 She peered through the icy windshield. It was all the windshield wipers could do to keep it clear. Taillights glowed from the side of the road. As they pulled abreast to them, they saw that a car had slid into the di tch. Clade stopped the truck and jumped out. Michelle sat, staring straight ahead. She took her coat off. It was so hot in the truck, how could she be burning up in the middle of a snow storm? She leaned her head against the back of the seat. Clade stuck his head back in the door. Gonna pull em out. Should only take a sec. Ive got to get home. Michelle started to cry. Do you have too? I cant leave em. Itll only take a sec, Ill get you home. She could see the two brick posts that marked the front entrance to Whitefarm Estates. She estimated that she was less than a half mile from home. It was an easy five or ten minute walk in good weather. She coul d probably walk it with the storm in fifteen. She jumped out of the truck. Thanks for the lift, she called to Clade, I only live up there. Im going to walk the rest of the way. Suit yourself, Clade said and procee ded to hook the tow line onto the car. Twenty minutes later she could see the lights of her house from the edge of the field. The pregnancy was making her so tired, she wasnt sure she would make it the rest of the way home. If only she could sit dow n and rest for a minute. She was cutting through the yards, toward Sherrys house, wh en a dog started barking at her. Another dog from across the street join ed in, then another and another. Sherrys back door opened.
174 Mandy, get in here, she yelled and a ye llow lap rocketed up the steps. Sherry saw her. Whos there? she called out. Its me, Michelle, from next door, Mi chelle said. I was cutting through. Sherry came out and peered at her. Oh, my goodness. Youre frozen, she said. Come in, come in and well get you warmed up. No, I cant, Michelle said. I have to get home. Dinner. The last part didnt come out in a complete sentence. Sherry ignored her protestations and led her up the two stairs into the kitchen. She took off her coat and wrapped her in a blan ket. She brought a big towel for her hair and wrapped that too. Youre always saving me from the col d, Michelle said when she was warm enough to make a whole sentence. Yeah, youre going to have to give up this habit of yours of running around in the snow, Sherry said and they laughed. Th e little blond girl ran in and Sherry shooed her back out with a smile. I have to get home, Michelle sa id. I have to get dinner ready. Get warm. So your dinne rs late, Sherry said. No, Michelle said, standing up. I dont want to make my husband mad. A cloud passed over Sherrys face as if to say what kind of man would get upset over dinner when his wife is frozen?
175 Michelle hastened to expl ain. He works hard all day and is real tired when he gets home. I like to make sure dinner is ready. Sherry looked doubtful. Michelle knew shed already planted a seed in Sherrys mind. She didnt like it, but she didnt know what to do to make it better. Ill drive you home, Sherry said in a take-charge voice. Michelle didnt know how she would expl ain pulling into the drive in a strange vehicle. Or any vehicle for that matter. It didnt matter though. Sherry herded her out the door and into a maroon mini-van before she could say no one more time. She was home in a minute. Dukes truck was in the driveway. She thought of Alma from her Book of Mormon stories, doomed to eternal despair. Th at was her. Lord in Heaven, please keep your foe, the angels of the devil, away from this house tonight. They are the carriers of fury and it is not needed here. Uh-uh. Thank you too for seeing me home safely. Frozen, but safe. In Your name I pray, amen. Michelle waved goodbye to Sherry a nd stood on the porch for a long time. Everyone was in the kitchen, she could hear th eir voices and make out Duke at the head of the table and Dees foot in her favorite shoes, an old pair of saddle shoes from DI she thought made her look like a t eenager from the 1950's. If this werent her house, itd be the ki nd of house shed want to live in. The kind of house you look into the window of while driving by and it looks warm and homey. Michelle didnt go in. Cheron and GayLynn would come to her aid, but the thoughts of
176 LaRaes silence chilled her even more than she was. And who knew how Duke would react, his wife off walking around in an ice storm for no good reason? And with stolen money, to boot. She moved around to the front door. It was seldom used, but maybe it would be unlocked. Michelle turned the knob slowl y. It moved and kept moving. Thank you Lord. She inched the door opened. The house was warm and smelled of her chicken casserole with broccoli and ch eese. She slipped in and pul led the door tight behind her.
177 Keep yourselves above any unworthy behavio r in the tender, intimate relationship between husband and wife. Because marriage is ordained of God, the intimate relationship between husbands and wi ves is good and honorable in the eyes of God. Be a Righteous Husband and Father by President Howard H. Hunter Conference Report 10/94 CHAPTER EIGHT She was on the fifth stair when Cheron came around the corner. Her eyes went straight to Michelles shopping bag. She started to say so mething but Michelle put her finger to her lip. Cheron followed her upstairs and questioned her. I went for a walk to the shopping center, then it started snowing, Michelle said. The man from the gas station down the road had to bring me home. She left out the part about Sherrys warm kitchen. Cheron took the shopping bag and followed Michelle upstairs. Im going to start a hot bath for you. Weve got to get you warmed up. Youre lucky you dont have frostbite. Michelle went to her room and undre ssed into her thick robe. She couldnt remember the soft fabric ever feeling better against her frosty skin. When she got to the bathroom, the tub was half filled with bubbly water and the bottle of bath gel was half empty on the side of the tub. The smell of rain, which smelled sweet like honey to
178 Michelle, mingled with the steam from the hot water and hovered like a ghost over the tub. I found it in your bag, Cheron said. Perfect, Michelle said and she droppe d the robe on the floor and stepped in. The first thing she did in the tub was to lie back and submerge her entire body under the bubbles, head and all. She held her breat h for as long as she could, then came up sputtering for air. Cheron was perched on the edge of the tub watching her. She handed her a washrag to wipe her face off with. Who made dinner? Michelle asked. Sh e reached for a giant orange clip and sunk the teeth of it into her upswept hair to keep it out of the way. I did after Rhonda told me where youd gone. And I told LaRae and Duke you were visiting someone for Relief Society. Did they believe it? I dont think so. Great. Dukes going to think he married an imbecile who runs off in the middle of a snowstorm. What good reason do I even gi ve him for going to the store? Michelle stretched out in the water a nd leaned her head against th e hard porcelain. Her nipples, already darkening from pregna ncy, rose from the bubbles. I dont know but you better think of some thing. LaRae told him you the kitchen money was gone. Cheron reached for the back brush and poured some of the pearlescent gel on it. Ill get your back, she said.
179 Figures. You know, I cant take this any more. She watches every move I make. Why did you go to the store, Michelle? Cheron moved the backbrush low on Michelles back and Michelle involunta rily wiggled into it it felt so good. Im going nuts, Michelle said. Dukes not as affectionate to me anymore and LaRae doesnt want me here. I mean, here I am a newlywed, pregnant, and I feel like a widow. A loose piece of scri pture rambled about in Michel les head. Why do ye build up secret abominations to cause widows to mourn before the Lord? she quoted Moroni. Thats what they do to me. Stop already. You arent a widow and you dont need to mourn. Tell him you were visiting someone sick in the ward with the Relief Society. He ll be asleep soon, never even know when you got home. The brush was going in slow circles on Michelles skin. She didnt answer, instead she just sighed quietly from the feel of the coarse bristles. They sat without talking, Michelle with her eyes closed, wh ile Cheron moved the brush along her back, bringing it back time after time to the small hollow at the base of her back. She stayed in her room until the lights of the house were off before sneaking downstairs to make a sandwich. Duke never knocked on her door or asked her where she had been, but that didnt bring her much comfor t as she tried to fall asleep. Shed rather he get good and mad at her and have it over with instead of silence. At least then she wouldnt be waiting for an ax to fall.
180 In bed, she felt a stab of loneliness like sh e used to get at home. Shed be in a big crowd or with her family and shed feel de tached, like she was alone and standing apart from them. She didnt know if it was because she missed Duke or if it was thinking about Cheron sitting on the side of the tub. The next day, Michelle decided it was hi gh time to get Dukes attention. She didnt care if he was mad at he r and she didnt care if he wasnt supposed to have sex with his pregnant or nursing wives, she wa s going to seduce him. She missed having someone to touch. She enlisted Rhonda in her plan. After dinner, Michelle went upstairs a nd took a shower. She pinned her curls up as best she could. She took her garments off and folded them neatly onto the chair next to her bed before putting on the nightgow n shed worn on her wedding night. Would Duke come to her with the same desire he did on that night? It seemed to Michelle that her wedding night was a lifetime ago, yet it had only been a couple of months. When she was ready, she asked Rhonda to go downstairs and ask Duke to come up, Michelle needed him. Michelle lay back on the bed, her head propped on the pillow. It was still light out and she stared into the tree outside her room. Its gray branches formed stiff roads through the even grayer s ky. Duke didnt come. She was tired so she closed her eyes, just for a minute, but her dreams overtook her. This time she was trying to get home. But home was a huge red brick mansion built on the ocean. The mansion floated on big steel runners, so there was no danger of it
181 going under, even during the most furious of storms. The sound of the door slamming woke her and Duke was in th e room. The room was dim. Come cuddle with me, she said, str uggling to bring hers elf upright in the pillows. Duke sat down on the bed and kissed he r. Whats this about? he said. I miss you. Michelle said. She was fu lly awake now. She pulled his boots off. Get up here. Duke stretched out and Michelle snuggled into his arm. They kissed and Michelle started to feel like she did back when Duke kissed her at the fair or in his truck before driving her down her long driveway. She slipped her nightgown off. Make love to me, she said. She co uld feel her body already responding to his kiss. Duke had his hand between her legs. I wont, he said, but his fingers reached into her and she rolled her hips down onto them. She wanted more. Michelle sat up and straddled him. You can. Dukes eyes were on her body, his hands against the sides of her waist. She moved up and down on him and could feel him harden. See? Michelle undid his pants. No, Duke said, but he held her tight to him. You want to. Michelle c ould tell he still loved her by th e way he held her close. Doesnt matter. Its not right. Please, Duke? I need to feel you lo ve me. I need you. As she spoke she stroked him. Youre ready. Cant go away hungry.
182 Put it in your mouth, he said. No, I want you inside me. Shed neve r put a mans penis in her mouth and the thought of it alarmed her. She was sure the Lo rd would approve of that even less than He approved of her games with Edna. Duke pulled her head down toward his middle, his hand a little too firm on her shoulder. You get me all excited, then leave me like this? You know thats not right. He pushed her to him and Michelle co mplied, taking him into her mouth. She held her head still, but Dukes thrusting made her gag. His hands tightened in her hair, the fleshy tips of his fingers finding her skull. He moved her head in time with his gyrations. Dont run off again, Michelle, he said with a jerk and she squeezed her eyes shut and made herself numb, thinking back to her dream of the floating mansion in the middle of the ocean. The waves were lapp ing at its foundation. Dont stare into the waves, Michelle told herself, but she did. She was memororized by the movement. When it was over, Duke zipped his pants up he hadnt even pulled them off his hips and sat up. Michelle went into the bathroom and knelt by the toilet. She threw up but nothing came out but a thin strand of clear spittle. She wanted to cry, but she was still numb. Nothing mattered except not being sic k, she told herself, staring into the rusty water of the toilet bowl. When she returned to the room, Duke was gone. She got into bed and punched her pillow. She wanted to punch the wall, but she couldnt even do that without attracting the attention of four wives and elev en kids. Thats all she needed. She took her book, What to Expect When Youre Expecting from the night stand, and read into the
183 night, alone. When she heard Rhonda outsi de her door, knocking and calling her, she pretended to be asleep. She wished Ch eron would knock, but she was too scared of running into Duke to leave her room and go find her. That night, her sleep was sporadic and sh e was back in the desert with the tidal wave approaching. She was so small compared to the wall of water. She started to run, knowing she couldnt outrun it. But she did! No matter how fast or slow she went, the tidal wave stayed right behind her, but it never tumbled down. She woke exhausted from a night of r unning in her dreams. Duke was gone early in the morning, off on a three-day trip, befo re Michelle even got up. He was going to Idaho, Boise this time, and Michelle had t hought about asking if she could go. It might have rekindled what they had when she used to sit next to him as he made his way from town to town to do his business. Now, she was glad he was gone. Plus it meant the warehouse was close d, so GayLynn was home with them for the rest of the week. Michelle wanted to help her put toge ther some outfits for work, especially now that she wanted to look nice for the customers shed started meeting with to go over what food plans were available. Since starting in the warehouse, shed come up with offering three different sized plans, emergency, basic, and expanded storage and she loved figuring out what plan would be best for each family. I wish people around her would focus on whats really important, not about clothes, LaRae said when she found them looking through the advertisements in the newspaper. But Michelle noticed that she came back into the kitchen often, listening to their conversation and eyeing th e notes Michelle was making. Later, when they were in
184 GayLynns closet trying to put together ne w combinations of he r clothes, LaRae found reason to come in there too. Look at me, GayLynn said and she twir led around in a pair of black pants, topped with an ecru blouse Michelle had draped with one of her own scarves. Youve lost weight, GayLynn, Michelle said. Look at you, all trim and slim. Hardly, said GayLynn, looking at her prof ile in the mirror. But I do think I look better. Maybe Ill go on a diet. Whered you get the scarf ? LaRae said, then, not wait ing for an answer, turned to Michelle. You havent b een out shopping again, have you ? It was the first time LaRae had referenced Michelles pilgrimage. No. Its mine. I gave it to her, Michelle said. Share and share alike, remember? Michelle says this a cl assic look. I think it suits me, dont you? GayLynn said. You know, LaRae, you could use a litt le updating yourself. Why dont you let me help you? Michelle said. No thank you, LaRae said. I have better things to do. But LaRae stayed and watched Michelle ma ke outfits out of what had been just random pieces of clothing for GayLynn. By the end, she agreed that maybe Michelle should look at her closet and see what she could do. She made sure Michelle knew it wasnt because she thought she looked bad, sh e was just curious. Th ey decided to do it after dinner.
185 Michelle, like LaRae, GayLynn, Cheron, and Rhonda too, loved the freedom of having Duke gone. She could make anything sh e wanted for dinner, so tonight she made macaroni and cheese out of the box. It was a fa vorite treat of the kids and it only took a few minutes to prepare. By seven, Cheron and GayLynn were getting the kids ready for the night and Rhonda was re sting on LaRaes big double bed, surrounded by all the clothes Michelle had removed from the closet, her gray wool socks the only thing visible from her waist down. LaRae stood in the middl e of the room, wearing only her garments with her underwear over them. Michelle set to work. By the time GayLynn and Cheron came in to see how it was going, LaRae was dressed in a jean skirt with a white cotton button-down-the-front blouse. Michelle was tying a red scarf through her hair. You can wear this on the 4th of July and the 24th of July, you look so snappy, Michelle said. Michelle knew the 24th of July was bigger in Utah than Independence Day. Utah had made the day that commemorated the moment Brigham Young cresting the mountain above the Salt Lake Valley, saw the lake, a nd pronounced to his tired Mormon followers, This is the place, a state holiday long ago a nd as a kid, Michelle had wished they could have another holiday in Idaho too, after all, they were Mormon too. Does the scarf look right, though? La Rae said. Look how my hair sticks up around it. It could use a little conditioning. Michel le said after examining LaRaes head.
186 There was a considerable l ack of any beauty products or bath indulgences in the house, save for Michelles bath gel, lotion, and lemon soap, none of which she wanted to share. But it didnt matter, she soon had a ll four women lined up on either side of the kitchen table while she whipped up what they needed from the home health book. First she made hair conditioner out of mayonnaise, lemon, and eggs that smelled like salad dressing. After applying this goop to everyones hair, Michelle wrapped them in plastic wrap and set the timer for twenty minutes. She then made a cucumber face mask for Rhonda to calm her red rosaceae. She crushed up some of the mint the wives had dr ied last summer to put in it and the crisp scent in their leaves wafted through the kitche n. It smelled just lik e the middle of July. Next, she made an avocado mask for herself and Cheron to moisturize their dry skin, and soaked cotton pads with witch hazel to purify GayLynns and LaRaes skin. While the masks were drying, Michelle brought her manicure items down from her room and appraised the wives nails. T hats much more up-to-date, Michelle said, changing LaRaes pointed nails into careful ovals and they all readily agreed. Rhondas were the most difficult to transform with her ragged cuticles, bloody from picking at them, but once Michelle got past the torn sk in, she noticed Rhondas perfect white halfmoons at the base of each nail. She buffed them to a high gloss w ith cornstarch and a chamois rag Little Duke used when he washed the truck. Michelle couldnt cut hair but she could style it, so with the help of her blowdryer and LaRaes curling iron, she worked on everyones hair, except for LaRaes, which was too long in back and too short in front to do anything with except braid.
187 You need to grow that front out, girl , Michelle said but LaRae didnt look convinced. She left the kitchen and for a moment, Michelle thought she might have offended her, but she came back with the radi o Michelle kept in th e laundry room. She placed it on the counter and turned it on, fi nding the local oldies station. Michelle nodded her approval and swung he r hips to the beat. Michelle pulled Cherons hair towards her face, softening it and making her look younger in the process, to the Stones Satisfa ction. She corralled GayLynns hair into her version of a career chignon to Aretha Franklins R-E-S-P-E-C-T. But it was Rhondas hair that the conditioner and styli ng had the biggest effect on. Usually Rhonda didnt take the time to even get her part stra ight and now, here it was, shiny and smooth from the big rollers Michelle had tamed it with, with a side part held off her face in a tiny barrette. They all stood in awe around Rhonda, who admired herself in the hand mirror on the table. You could be a beauty queen, GayLynn said. Michelle whooped and jumped up on the bench. You go, girl, she said and danced around her to Brown-Eyed Girl. Soon LaRae was on the bench with her. Michelle took LaRaes hands and they jump ed from the bench. LaRae threw her head back and laughed. GayLynn and Cheron join ed in and soon all four were dancing, dancing around Rhonda, dancing on the benc h, even dancing on the table. They screamed like teenagers when Pretty Woman came on the radio, the perfect ending for their make-over night. Even Rhonda joined in on that one, swaying softly back and forth
188 while keeping a grip on her pregnant belly. Michelle moved with her when Unchained Melody played, she then spun her gently to LaRae, who sat her back on the bench. Michelle reached toward Cheron a nd they danced, slow, laughing and exaggerating the dance. It felt good to da nce again, good to have fun again, and good to feel Cherons warm, soft body in her arms. She had danced lots with Edna. The fi rst time, they had been practicing for a cousins wedding. Both were scared to dance with boys. Quit leading, Edna said. N obodyll want to dance with you. I cant help it, Michelle said. Here, loosen up. Edna took Michelle s shoulders between her hands and shook them. Michelle responded lik e a puppy getting its stomach sc ratched. They tried again but Michelle again took contro l of Ednas movements. Even though Edna was bigger, Michelle was stronger and Edna felt soft and pliable in her hands, like the salt dough their Primary teacher used to mix up for them to mold Christmas ornaments out of. Michelle pulled her closer. Edna came closer. Their bodi es fit together. Mich elle said butterfly kiss and blinked her eyelash on Ednas chee k. Edna responded by kissing her, first a delicate brush on her lips, then with more for ce, their eyes and lips open. Later, Michelle would wish Edna had closed her eyes so she couldnt have seen how much Michelle wanted that kiss. Now, Michelle was looking into Cheron s eyes and she thought she saw the same thing shed seen all those years ago. Sh e twirled her around and laughed, anything to keep from bringing her mouth to Cherons lips.
189 It was past midnight before any of them were willing to leave the warmth of the kitchen for their cold beds. Michelle was too excited to sleep, in stead her mind drifted back to dancing with Cheron and the feeli ng of her hand against Cherons back or her thigh next to Cherons thigh. But she was just as in love with LaRae tonight, for the first time since shed married Duke. Not in a I-want-to-kiss-you kind of love, but in a feeling of being accepted kind of way. She pulled her Book of Mormon from the nightstand drawer and found a scripture in Alma and whispered it softly to herself. And now behold, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of h eart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now? Alma was speaking to her about LaRae. LaRae with her change of heart and yes, it was a song of redeeming love. Oh, yes, Alma, I can feel it now.
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Hanna, Kimberley A.
The 24th of July
h [electronic resource] :
b a novel-in-process /
by Kimberley A Hanna.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2004.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 193 pages.
ABSTRACT: "The 24th of July" is a fictional novel set in the present day. The story centers around Michelle, an eighteen year old girl from Warm Springs, Idaho, who fears the sexual games she has played with her cousin Edna have tainted her for a Temple marriage. She meets Duke, a charismatic fundamentalist polygamist, who believes polygamy is part of the plan for eternal salvation as set down by the original doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the prophet Joseph Smith. Michelle sees Duke as her chance to put her relationship with Edna in the past and obtain the rewards waiting for her in the celestial heaven by marrying him and having babies. But life as a polygamist wife is more difficult than she anticipated and it is further complicated by the fact that she and Cheron, Duke's second wife, fall in love. When Duke discovers the nature of their relationship, both are forced into making choices that will change their entire way of life.
Adviser: Fleming, John.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.