Susan
The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey


Millennium Summer 
  In Which I Undertake a Mystical Journey to Return an Innocent Child of Darkness to Her Home In a Far-Away Land, Stay In the Home of a Witch, Converse with a Mermaid-In-Training, Travel to the Edge of Space, Dine at the Passion Cafe, Board a Mighty Dreadnaught, Reunite with My Long-Lost Sisters, Touch the Grave of My Father, and Wash My Hands In the Father of Waters Before Crossing Over Into a Future of Uncertainty.


Child of Darkness

        The deafening racket rocked the car as we sped east down I-10 through Cajun country. It had taken some effort to make sure that the rental included a CD player, but she had insisted. The Bonneville's stereo probably had more watts than my bass amp.
        It was some kind of Karmic inevitability come full circle, I suppose the now-old rock musician who yells at his kid, "It's too loud!"
        "What?" she yells back.
        I fumbled for the volume knob, relieving the pain somewhat, "Do you have to kill us with that stuff?"
        "You said you wanted to hear it." She reached impatiently for her 'phones.
        Well, the whole point had been to share some quality time with her. If she retreated back into her private headphone world, I might  as well have flown her back to Florida. I reached out and cranked it. Heads bobbing in unison, we rocked on.
        Over dinner in some roadside greasy spoon, she explained her Gothic sensibilities. Darkly brooding purple nails with eyelites to match, ensembles in variations of basic black, spooky pewter jewelry, but as yet no piercings or tattoos. Not at fourteen. Or fifteen, for that matter or ever, if I could help it.
        "It's really just a fashion statement. And an attitude, like you're mostly pissed-off and want everyone to know it. Everybody in Florida is into it." She was so authoritative.
        "So this Rammstein, it's a Goth band?" Great drummer, I thought, but the vocals were in the most guttural German sprechtsing, a nasty sounding basso profundo, full of rage and menace.
        She rolled her eyes, "It's what we listen to, but they're not really Goth, like Marilyn Manson or Coal Chamber." She'd inflicted those CDs on me, too.
        "I thought that, thematically, they seem to be mostly monochromatic, lacking range or subtlety." I could talk to Katie like that she reads as much as I used to at her age. "For instance, there is no joy in their music."
        "That's because you don't understand what they're singing. It's mostly love songs."
        "Those were songs about love?" Unbelievable.
        "Well," she said offhandedly, "actually mostly just sex."
        Oh, boy. The age-old youthful imperative all over again to shock your parents and defy authority. Same song, different lyrics. But these Goths they're such transparent poseurs. Like we were?
        Nah, back in the days of my misspent youth, we had a real war to deal with, and racism, sexism, the repressive Establishment protest was our defining momentum. These prosperous babies have nothing to rage against, and so they rage anyway.
        At least my daughter was an amateur at this game, not willing to give up her blondness and cuteness for shallow peer approval. She drapes a heavy cloak of ersatz darkness over her essential innocence and tries to go her own way while still getting along with her crowd. That's so terribly important at her age.
        It's harder for her than for most, though. To begin with, she's just too damned smart to find suitable friend material that doesn't bore her to tears, a consequence of life at the tail end of the bell curve. She clings to her protective coloration in public, but it's unsatisfying. And her life since our divorce has been one of constant upheaval. I was returning her from this summer's visitation to yet another new home, by my count the eighteenth in five states from California to Florida.
        In the long years of separation from my daughters, I had had illusions about effecting some kind of 'rescue' of them from a life of turmoil and danger, but the long drag through the Halls of Justice before I was able to compel their mother to let me see them again had turned them into suspicious strangers, infused with the burden of prosecuting a hate-war by proxy. The normalcy and stability I wanted to expose them to had not enough magic to effect the desired cognitive dissonance necessary to cause them to rethink their acquired certainties, and my life was now crumbling around me in another divorce before I could reestablish the bonds of love a father should share with his daughters. Our short times together flew by, immersed in activity with so many others, with few opportunities for closeness.
        Andrea, the eldest, now eighteen and able to turn her back on me, has done so. I can only hope to see her again if she ever reaches enlightenment by means of adversity or introspection. I'll always be here for her wherever here may be wondering if I will be denied the fulfillment of grandchildren. With Katie, there is more hope, though we are still awkward together. I am afraid to hug her. When I do, she is unresponsive, stiff and trembling.
        So after a night's rest in Biloxi, Mississippi, she distances herself by attaching the spine of some Piers Anthony book to her nose. Attempts at conversation are ignored until she finally reaches for the 'phones again. Frustrated, I announce at lunch that I am changing the rules. The barriers she brought will finish the trip in the trunk, and she can just stare out the windows until she's bored enough to be civil.
        Her anger at my tactic lacks conviction. I find her argument with me to be pleasurable, and she senses it, even accepting my logic grudgingly. Back on the road again, she breaks down quickly almost eagerly and we talk.
        It's absolutely wonderful. We talk about comparative criticism of art, literature and music. We discuss cultural elitism. We examine the origin and persistence of archetypes. We even discuss the characters in my book which she dutifully refuses to read (I read it to her under protest).
        I am ecstatic. This is why I wanted to drive her back to St. Petersburg, to be alone together in a bubble of steel and glass, with the world rushing  by.

        We reach Ed Howdershelt's house the night of the second day, around 10:30. Katie is cheerful and charming, and graciously accepts the gift of a genuine Wicca Works pendant. Ed agrees to be the navigator the rest of the way to the new home of my evil ex.
        The neighborhood is dreadful, as I expected. I had visited some of the places in Dallas, San Antonio and Nashville where they had sojourned before, and had hired members of various Musician's Locals to send me photos of others. I'm sorry, but the thought of leaving my daughter in such a creepy place gives me the shivers. I know it can't be helped.
        The house is old and creaky, stairs to half-floors leading from narrow rooms and confusing passages as if designed by M.C. Escher. My evil ex and her current girlfriend (?) have just finished moving, and stuff is piled everywhere. There can't possibly be enough room to put everything but then, there's probably no point in unpacking anyway.
        The evil ex is uncharacteristically friendly, especially with that old charmer, Ed. He invites them to visit, since he doesn't live more than an hour away, and I hope they do. She is proud of finishing a course of studies leading to her becoming certified as a Doctor of Chinese Medicine (I keep my cynical opinions to myself). Ed spots a sword and a bow and examines them with an expert's eye. Katie is reunited enthusiastically with her dog, Angel. I present the evil one with a copy of Susan, which oddly enough I am sure she will read and actually enjoy.
        I give Katie a goodbye hug, and I think she is shocked that her mother does not explode in a paroxysm of rage at such forbidden behavior. The local gendarmes will finish their beignets in peace this night.
        Ed, the evil ex and I all end up on the lawn beside the big house that their little house peers from behind. We talk for quite a while, their cigarettes aglow, while I watch a local denizen pass by on the sidewalk three times. The sinister apparition eventually decides he doesn't like the odds and disappears. Nobody else seems concerned. Color me paranoid.

Next: The Witches' Home


Proper Waffles
Table of Contents

Patrick Hill, 2000