She was a shapeless blob. A huge, shapeless blob. Her kaftan flopped around her gouty ankles. Her midriff was a Michelin tire – not at all resembling the sensuous pear-shaped form of the Earth Goddess Anesidora she had on her living room wall above the hearth.
Her shoulders were rounded slopes, but not ones that’d ever entice you to ski down them. They waddled when she walked, even though one would think it’s legs that waddle. or maybe they were waddle echoes, following – as they had to – the lurching shuffle she displayed when traversing the few yards from the main office to her own little lair. The lair she thought of as a cubby.
Theresa looked so unhealthy, and a few were so ungenerous as to hope her grotesqueness wasn’t contagious. However, it wasn’t the gout, the lurch, or even the lumpy ski slopes that gave that impression. It wasn’t even her thinning, salt-and-pepper (the salt being closer to the yellowish inside of an onion) pixie cut. Nor was it the inch long hairs – three of them – that grew out of her chin in a slight spiral.
The unhealthy part was truly, forcefully, in the way she looked at you and tilted her head to one side, nodding or rather bobbling as if she were listening to a distant drummer – which one suspects she was. That look, accompanied by a kewpie smile that charmed the socks off of nobody, had an angle to it that, horrifying as it sounds to make this comparison, recalled Emily Dickinson’s beautiful line, “a certain slant of light.” A certain sinister slant of light, to be honest. A dullish gleam emerging from onion-skin orbs, joining with the kewpie lips as if hoping to block out the rather bulbous nose, in order to curry favor with her admirers.
Nevertheless, she thought she was utterly charming – disarming – with her downward and (in other cultures but not hers) respectful gaze. She coupled this gaze with the phatic, staccato “you know.... you know... you know... “ that populated her conversation, probably because she really didn’t know much, this earth mother (who always looked like she wore a thin layer of dirt in her infrequently-washed, wrinkled clothing). The irksome staccato was something she used as a come-on and a caress, inviting you to be complicit, to know what she knew. Welcome to my parlor, said the spider, even as the fly was saying no thank you, I’ll pass, I can’t stand the coffee breath and smell of stale pipe smoke. I can find a better web.
Theresa always just sat there, all lumps and slopes, placing her sausaged fingers in the old temple position, fingers pointing skyward, then rolling them in ways that reverted her audience to the rolls of digit fat whose knuckles apparently bent in the opposite direction of normal. The stiffness of the rest of her body contrasted with the apparent double-jointedness of her hands.
Double was putting it mildly and was applicable to more than her knuckles. The downward slant of shoulders and eyes, quite successful in creating a submissive body mountain language, was a two-faced ruse that actually worked. It hid the mask – ironic, if you think about it, since most masks do the hiding – of... evil. How could such an outwardly gentle, sloping, unhealthy woman not be everything her outward appearance portrayed? Any normal person would be forced to feel compassion for this pitiful being.
Her words, I insisted silently, screaming only into my own ears, listen to her words. Forget the phatic “you know,” repeated ad nauseam as she laid out her ideas in meetings or intimate conversations over coffee. Forget the soft voice, cultivated to seduce you to help with her schemes without saying anything. Listen to the contradictions, hear the untruths, pay attention to her actions, which are actually concealed knives and sneak up behind you while all the time you can only hear how she is cooing “you know... you know... “
A snake makes little noise. Its slither is nearly silent. If venomous, its bite can be fatal, though, and it strikes so quickly. True, she was neither quick nor slender, but her bite was deadly because she had others who would strike in her place while she sat and templed her fingers. Those of us who were not deceived by her slopes and gout-wracked lurching, the veil of her confession to suffering from multiple personality disorder that caused frequent manifestations of flat affect (I’d just call it dullness disorder), were appalled. We couldn’t understand why others couldn’t read her like an open book. She was, to them, kind, gentle, generous, a true Gaia, a learned follower of ancient Goddess teachings, a wise woman, a warrior Amazon, a bold leader for the rights of the voiceless, a healer, a...
Liar. She was a ruthless, soulless liar. I had seen her destroy people with her lilting words.
And the worst part of all of this was not knowing if she knew, deep inside her fleshy sacred space, the crimes she was committing. I knew, and I also knew I had to do something to stop her.
It was actually quite simple. We live in Maine, where ice and snow come all winter, lacing the blacktop with slick pits of glass, invisible, lusciously threatening. I waited until a string of up-and-down temperatures had primed every inch of walking area. I waited until one day the clumsy deity was forced to walk home, leaning tentatively on her cane. Her plan, of course, was to be seen by somebody and for that person to take pity on her. My timing had to be flawless, and it was. Theresa’s door clicked shut and she hobbled toward the elevator to the ground floor. I hurried down the stairs at the other end of the hall and made it to my car. Her route home was familiar. We lived and worked in a small town. We all pretty much knew one another’s place of residence. In her condition, the goddess had but one choice, one direction, one sidewalk to follow. God, she walked slowly, scuffling her pudgy feet and swaying, but managing to stay upright nevertheless.
I followed at a safe distance, knowing where I had to be when she emerged onto Park Street. It was perfect, because I always had to take Park Street myself to go home. I pulled off to the right, at the point right where the street started to slope toward the bridge over the Penobscot, looking as if I were checking my phone for an important text or call. She hadn’t noticed me, because she was concentrating on keeping herself steady. I was sure of that because I could monitor her progress in the car’s side mirror. How fortunate that she hadn’t found a willing subject to pick her up, someone who had taken pity on her. Now I could fill that role. After all, we were co-workers and it was expected that I’d offer to take her the remaining three blocks to her house.
“Theresa!” I called, loudly, putting as much abruptness into my voice as possible, crossing my fingers she’d hear me and respond. She did. She had passed my vehicle and was inching her way downward, her bulging limbs very tense. Yes, she was afraid, worried she wouldn’t make it. “Theresa!” I shouted again, pretty sure she recognized my voice and hopeful that she’d interpret it as that of one who wants to help.
Everything happened all at once. Theresa the divine turned, far too quickly for her lumbering body and the treacherous path. In a space of ten seconds, she lost her balance, slid downward, and cracked her head, set on her short neck, against the frozen pavement. The hood on her shapeless winter jacket did not break the impact.
“Tragic,” we all said a few days later, at her funeral.
“Tragic,” I said.