Which Mary?

With cocktail glasses in hand, Dayna and her boyfriend Jake were cuddling on the sagging sofa when Lauren twisted her key in the lock and—by the digital numbers on the TV’s cable box—opened the door at 11 p.m. sharp with a plastic-sheathed gown slung over the shoulder of her pink blouse. At age nineteen, a year from being a high school sprinter and long jumper, Lauren walked with athletic grace on bouncing toes as she approached her mom in the family room.
“How was the rehearsal?” Dayna presented her cheek for a kiss and asked, “Oh, what’s that, Lauren, a new dress?”
“My costume for the Easter pageant. A robe and a hood.”
“Who you going to play, dear?”
“Which Mary?” asked Dayna.
“I’d guess the virgin,” said Jake, “not the harlot.”
Lauren smiled. “You’ll have to go to church to find out, won’t you?”
“What about your fingernails?” asked Dayna.
“I’ll have to brush on a plain color, nothing daring.” She held out her free hand. On each nail, she had painted a daisy in a different pastel. “I surprised Jeremy with his very own bouquet. He’s so romantic. He clutched my hands and inhaled…like they gave off a glorious aroma.”
“Romantic,” said Dayna, “but goofy.”
Lauren draped the robe over a chair. “Jeremy likes to watch me do my nails. That’s why I keep this here.” From the pocket of her jeans, she lifted a pouch, made of crocheted cotton. “He bought this for me at the swap meet. A rainbow bag from Guatemala.” She loosened the drawstring. “Stick-on jewels. Lots of colors. Brushes. Remover. Manicure scissors. File. Seashell flakes.”
“What’s the point?” asked Jake.
“It’s how I express myself,” said Lauren. “Some girls wear clothes from Nordstrom or spend hundreds of dollars having their hair cut and streaked. I just sprinkle glitter on my nails.” She returned the pouch to her pocket.
“Eleven on the dot,” said Dayna. “You’re not punching a time clock, are you?” She flounced her blonde-streaked black hair, formed a smile with frosted lips, and thrust her chest toward Jake, a reed-like man with wavy, dyed brown hair.
Lauren slumped into the easy chair. “Mom, you know about Jeremy’s timetable for success. Saturday night…pick me up from Wendy’s, go on date, go home, prepare lesson plan for his Sunday school class, up early for church. Every Saturday night you say the same thing, like discipline’s bad for you.”
“Doesn’t sound romantic to me,” said Dayna. “And I just happened to peek through the curtains. What exactly do you do in his car? You’re not fogging the windows like I used to at your age.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? He’s the one true love that God promised me and now we’re waiting for marriage. Why do you think Jeremy was picked to play Jesus?”
“I thought he was baching it for the weekend,” said Dayna. “Aren’t his parents off in the mountains renewing their marriage bonds or something?”
“I know what you’re thinking, but Jeremy says us being alone in his house would be too much of a temptation.”
Dayna sighed. “I have to keep hearing it to believe it. Doesn’t his family have a pool and a Jacuzzi? Have you even tried skinny dipping? You should be gathering ye rosebuds.”
“Don’t embarrass me.” Lauren held up a bracelet with a heart charm and pink crystals. “Read the words, Mom. ‘True love waits.’”
“He give you that tonight?” asked Jake. “I gave a Mormon gal a cheaper version of that bracelet and then I professed interest in joining the Saints. Mentioned getting married in the temple. Baptizing my dead papa, a heathen if there ever was one. Directed our conversation toward temple garments. Said I might want to get a pair myself.”
“What are garments?” asked Lauren.
“Sacred underwear,” answered Jake. “They have something to do with the coat of skins God gave Adam and Eve when He evicted them from the Garden of Eden. They’re supposed to remind you of your different commitments…like keeping your knees together if you’re not married. They call them garmies…for short.”
“So the girl wore them under her dress?” said Dayna.
“Hers were like long johns cut at the knee. I put on some music by Donny and Marie Osmond…good Mormons…and we started dancing and I danced her right out of her garmies.”
“You didn’t?” Lauren shook her long blonde hair. “That’s disgraceful.”
“I’m only telling you this,” said Jake, “because most young guys are predators like I was. I’m suspicious of any guy who pretends otherwise. Something’s not quite right with Jeremy.”
Lauren frowned at the empty vermouth and gin bottles on the end table. “How many drinks have you two had?”
“Let’s put it this way, Hon, we’ve had too many martinis to shelter you from the truth anymore. You’re not a girl, you’re an adult.” Dayna tapped Jake on the side of his bullet-shaped head. “But this conversation isn’t about every Misty, Robin and Pam you’ve ever talked out of their knickers.”
“Mom, the windows, don’t get fogged,” said Lauren, “because Jeremy and I discuss our future and pray.”
“What do you talk about?” asked Dayna.
“Our future…about how we’ll get married five years from now when he’s got his MBA.”
“And what do you pray for?” asked Dayna.
“We ask God to free us from the impure thoughts promoted by our sex-drenched society.”
“Sounds like words straight out of the mouth of your Pastor Andy.” Dayna snorted. “And all of that time, you’re gonna stay virgins?”
“It’ll be so beautiful, won’t it?” said Lauren. “And we won’t have to worry about warts or Chlamydia. And what would the younger kids think if we gave into temptation?”
“Doesn’t Jeremy ever get excited?” asked Jake. “Doesn’t he ever place your hand on his lap? Doesn’t he ever complain about having blue balls? Has he ever given you a popcorn surprise?”
“A popcorn surprise?” Lauren raised her eyebrows. “I don’t even want to know.”
“First,” said Jake, “the guy makes a hole in the bottom of the popcorn carton. Then…”
“Not everyone’s driven by their baser desires,” said Lauren. “We have self-respect.”
“No, no, no,” said Dayna. “I can’t bear this any longer. We need a serious talk.”
“I know the facts of life.”
“Not all of the facts of my life, Lauren.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why I left your dad,” said Dayna.
“You were incompatible, right? Opposites. Both too young and unprepared.”
“That’s the easy answer.”
Lauren grimaced. “What’s the difficult one?”
Jake leaned forward to stand up, but Dayna held down his leg and said, “Stay. You need to hear this, too. Lauren, your dad…” She gulped from her glass. “…had some problems with his gender identity.”
“Dad?” Lauren’s face reddened. “Did he try on your underwear? That’s a choice, you know, not an inherent trait. God wouldn’t give a perversion like that to people.”
“He tried to tell me,” said Dayna, “but he didn’t know how to bring up the subject. We were hardly older than you are now. Twenty. Twenty-one. And we just had a big wedding…and I was a virgin in white. It was a different time…before Ellen and ‘Queer Eye.’”
“Mom, as Pastor Andy says, cut to the chase.”
“I kept finding your dad’s underpants strewn everywhere for me to pick up and wash.”
Lauren shrugged. “Guys aren’t neat like women.”
“They had blood in back of ‘em.” She let that sink in for a moment.
Lauren gasped. “Hemorrhoids? Doesn’t that happen when you strain yourself ? Couldn’t Dad use a cream or take a softener? Lots of bran?”
Dayna reached over to thump her daughter’s head. “Yoo-hoo, Lauren, wake up.”
Jake smirked and took a gulp of his martini. “He was getting reamed up the ol’ ying-yang, huh? Dayna, no wonder you were an unfurrowed field when I met you.”
“You’ve really got a lot of class, Jake.” Lauren raised her palms toward Dayna. “Mom, shouldn’t we have this conversation in private?”
Dayna shook her head. “Jake and I decided from the git-go…no secrets. No double lives like a lot of those evangelists and politicians. If he has the hots for the new gal in automotive, I want to know.”
Lauren was quiet for a moment. “But you got pregnant with me.”
“Took weeks of coaxing,” said Dayna. “Claimed he was waiting for ‘just the right moment.’ I was ovulating one night and got him drunk. Kept his eyes closed. I couldn’t understand what he was murmuring. I read a bunch of psychology books. Wondered if he had a Madonna-whore complex. Loves his wife, sleeps with sluts. But that wasn’t it. And then just before our third anniversary, he started leaving blood on the back of his tighty-whities. I asked if he wanted me to make an appointment with a proctologist. He broke down, told me the truth. Must’ve held him for an hour. He didn’t want to lose us, so he went to a hypnotist and a tent revival.”
“Pastor Andy would’ve set him straight,” said Lauren.
“What would your Pastor Andy do?” asked Jake. “Taser him every time he eyed a guy’s crotch?”
“It was either kill himself,” said Dayna, “or move to New Orleans. He gave us all the money in our account except for bus fare and change to buy candy bars. He’s always sent us money and gifts. He was a dear sweet man, but you know that. Heck, if he lived long enough to get married to a man, I would’ve been honored to order a mail-order divinity degree and officiate.” She sighed. “For years, I blamed myself. Kept proving to myself I could turn a man on.”
“Whew,” said Jake. “You always knew how to turn me on…and then turn me inside out.”
“And he didn’t die of pancreatic cancer like I told you.”
Lauren gasped. “AIDS?”
Dayna looked steadily at her daughter. “You know why I’m telling you this now?”
“No,” said Lauren, “in fact, you’ve just ruined a beautiful night. Why couldn’t you just let me live with the lies you always told me about Dad?”
“Why?” Dayna rose from the sofa and towered above her daughter. “Because I’m not going to let you make the same damn mistake I did.”
“You heard me.”
“Oh no, oh no,” shouted Lauren. “You’re not suggesting Jeremy’s one of them. He’s a basketball player.”
“So was your dad. All-league. When we dated, your dad wasn’t an octopus like the other guys…that should’ve been the first clue.” Dayna took a deep breath. “How do you know Jeremy isn’t gay?”
“He gave me this bracelet. We hold hands.”
“Does he give you deep kisses?” asked Dayna. “With his tongue?”
“Has he ever unhooked your bra or slid his hand down your belly?”
“Of course not. True love waits.”
“He sounds hinky to me,” said Jake.
“As Pastor Andy said at our abstinence service,” said Lauren, “why would a guy want to buy the cow…”
“…when he can get the milk for free?” finished Dayna. “He sounds like your Grandma Molen.”
Jake snorted. “I remember Pastor Andy when he wasn’t a pastor, when he was a thug on the football field. Played hard, partied hard. He’s one of those guys who sowed plenty of wild oats and then wants YOU to be celibate.”
“Pastor Andy’s spending this weekend by himself in a hut in the mountains,” said Lauren. “Fasting. Praying. He does this every Lenten season.”
Jake whistled. “And that wife of his…”
“Cindi…” said Lauren.
“The ex-cheerleader,” said Jake. “You can bet she has a boxful of autographed jockstraps.” “Jake,” said Lauren, “for such a lovable guy, you’ve got an awfully sick mind.” She twisted her lips. “Mom, you don’t really think Jeremy could be that way, do you?”
“We’re going to find out.”
“When?” asked Lauren.
“You wouldn’t buy a car without taking a test drive, would you? Why wait?”
“Go paint your nails a passionate purple,” said Dayna. “Then put on your Mary robe. But before you do, take off all of your underwear and your Minnie Mouse watch.”
“I’ll go,” said Lauren, “but nothing’s going to happen.”

Jake drove his Saturn toward the better part of town while Dayna and Lauren talked in the backseat, illuminated by the overhead light.
“Let me see your nails,” said Dayna.
Lauren pushed out her hands from the billowing sleeves of her robe.
“Perfect,” said Dayna. “Now you’ve got the fingers of a woman, not a Brownie Scout.” She opened the family Bible. “Before we get there, I want to read you a little something.”
“You?” said Lauren. “Scripture?”
Dayna cleared her throat. “‘Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine…’”
“Song of Solomon.”
“Just trying to put you in the proper mindset. Now where’s Jeremy’s bedroom?”
“Facing the pool,” answered Lauren.
“Good. Go through the side gate. Sit on the edge of the pool and splash the water with your toes as loud as you can. And then when you see him peering out at you, stand up and let the gown slip slowly down your body. Then ease yourself into the pool. If his window starts to fog, that’s a good sign. Jake and I’ll wait in the car fifteen minutes…and if you’re not back, we’ll figure Jeremy’s a healthy hetero.”
“This is SO embarrassing.”
“Not as embarrassing,” said Dayna, “as explaining to people why your husband climbs in the sack with pot-bellied truck drivers.”
Lauren sighed. “And then what do I do if he fogs his windows?”
“Jeremy’ll come outside in his pajamas or maybe his boxers,” said Dayna. “When he’s right next to you, tell him that the Lord commands him to approach your palm tree and take hold of the boughs…”
“And let him see your breasts are like clusters of the vine.”
Lauren frowned. “But how am I gonna know if he’s attracted to girls?”
Jake turned toward them and said, “By then, it should be obvious.”
Lauren asked, “What if it isn’t?”
“Then you’re gonna need a new boyfriend.”

Lauren was creeping in the darkness along the side of Jeremy’s house when she was stopped by the sounds of splashing and laughter. Then two voices. Jeremy’s tenor and…and … Cindi’s alto. She tiptoed forward and peered at the kidney-shaped pool, steaming and lit only by underwater lights.
Cindi was standing in the shallow side, keeping dry her pile of platinum hair. Jeremy was floating on his back…and he was naked. Now that her eyes adjusted, Lauren could see that Cindi was naked too.
Lauren strode forward. “Is this how you prepare your Sunday school lessons?” Her voice quavered. “Or are you baptizing each other?”
Jeremy pushed his legs underwater and popped up his head. “Lauren!”
Cindi laughed hoarsely. “Is this the girl with the fingernails? Let me see your flowers.” She laughed again. “Now I recognize you. You’re in the pageant.”
“She’s Mary,” said Jeremy.
“Which Mary?” asked Cindi.
Lauren crossed her arms and recited scripture, “‘…and the nakedness of thy whoredoms shall be discovered.’”
Cindi smiled smugly. “‘Who told thee thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee.’”
“Are you suggesting I’m…,” said Lauren, pointing at herself, “…the serpent in the garden?” She glowered at Jeremy. “Shouldn’t you just play Judas instead? You’re already immersing yourself in the role. Talk about Method Acting.”
“Aren’t you the clever one,” said Cindi.
Lauren asked weakly, “Couldn’t you at least wear fig leaves?”
Cindi lifted her shoulders out of the water, displaying huge implants that swung as if attached to gyroscopes. “And cover these gorgeous…?”
“Lauren, go home,” said Jeremy. “We’ll talk later.”
Lauren arched an eyebrow. “When? At church?” She hurled her “True Love Waits” bracelet toward the deep end and walked away, swirling her robe.
“I’m sorry,” Jeremy shouted after her. “I didn’t invite Cindi. She knocked on my window!”
Out of their sight, Lauren stopped in the darkness along the house. She clenched her jaw and pulled the rainbow bag out of her robe. First she cut and filed her fingernails into sharp points. Then she brushed them with a combination of black and white to produce a steely gray. And then she strode toward the pool.
“Our prodigal daughter returns,” said Cindi.
Jeremy sighed. “Lauren, please…”
“Which Mary?” shouted Lauren from the dichondra. “Which Mary! Which Mary! Who wants to be a Mary? I want to be a Roman soldier…”
“What?” asked Cindi.
“A centurion at Calvary!” She pointed at Jeremy. “And you’re the impenitent thief!”
Jeremy stammered, “I…”
Lauren opened her mouth wide to inhale draughts of chlorine-scented air, and ran faster and faster in a circle around the pool. Cowering in the water, turning to follow Lauren’s sprint, Cindi and Jeremy extended their hands to protect themselves.
Once she had gained enough momentum, Lauren stretched into a dive and guided her sharpened nails into Jeremy’s soft palms. At this crucifixion, Cindi let out a shriek that caused a neighbor to phone 9-1-1.

Orman Day’s life has been shaped by a wanderlust that has been both a curse and a blessing. He’s thumbed on six continents, , visited with cocaine-smoking gringo inmates in their Bolivian prison cell, bungee jumped off a New Zealand bridge, witnessed a sky burial in Tibet, hopped freight trains from Los Angeles to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and canoed the Mississippi during a two-month voyage at age 56.