I get spooked when I see Nate Granger. I don’t like psychiatrists.
“So, you’re still handling the holy heat?” Nate leans back and puts up his feet—puts his soft leather cowboy boots right up on his five thousand dollar oak desk. I cringe a bit, but try to ignore it.
I’m half-in and half-out—I stretched my vows out of shape, but still wear the collar and still am a priest, of sorts. Jesus still talks to me from the cross above the main altar—same way he did when I was seventeen.
Feed my sheep.
That’s how he talks—in parables and riddles you might say—cryptic phrases that make me wait to figure them out. Sometimes it takes weeks, months or years—or in my case, a lifetime, but who’s counting?
Then, there’s Claire. But why she waits, I have no idea. She sees something in me. I beg her to forget me but she won’t, or can’t—and I can’t let go either, so we’re stuck.
And that’s why I’m here, talking to Nate Granger who looks like he’d be happier heading up the cattleman’s association than posing as a high-priced shrink in a penthouse office.
“Why do you bother shelling out cash for this ridiculously ostentatious office?”
“I like the view,” he smiles.
There it is—that engaging Jimmy Dean, ‘aw shucks’ grin that disarms you even when you don’t want to be disarmed.
“Damn it, Nate—can you take your feet off the furniture?”
He unclumps his boots from the oak desk. “I will oblige you, Martin—as they say, Salus aegroti suprema lex.”
I have to smile in spite of myself. Only Nate can come across as a country hick and then quote from the Principles of Biomedical Ethics—in Latin—the patient’s wellbeing is the most important law.
“So you see,” Nate drawls on, “I’m concerned about putting you at ease so you’ll be reassured and tell me what’s bothering you, but I can guess it’s either a woman or a demon—and in your case, probably both.”
“Do you really want to hear this or are you just going to rely on discerning of spirits?”
“I’m sitting at your feet, Professor—proceed.”
It’s off-putting the way he uncannily puts his finger on my pulse while feigning disinterest. He knows my history—archeologist priest, turned exorcist—and he probably has discerned my demons.
“I recently returned from Indonesia.”
He nods, “On a dig?”
“Yes—at a site about a 45 minute drive from Makassar, Indonesia’s fifth-largest city. There were almost a hundred prehistoric limestone caves.”
“It was—and disturbing. I saw some things there that have haunted me ever since.”
He leans back in his swivel chair, seemingly more interested in the view of the city and the lake than in what I’m telling him—but then, maybe it’s a ploy to put me at ease.
“I saw some paintings on those walls that made me realize those primitive humans were beset by all kinds of fears and anxieties—they seemed haunted by the specter of evil itself.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I saw depictions of demons—one in particular—a huge dark shape with white eyes that seemed to bore right through me. I regretted looking into those eyes.”
“But surely you’ve seen these images countless times before—why this particular time and this particular image?”
“It’s hard to put into words—those other paintings were representations—this was an abomination. The natural contours of the cave wall were utilized to give it an almost sculpted form and looking upon it—or rather, allowing it to stare into my soul, defiled me.”
Nate swiveled back to face me. “How did it defile you?”
“There was this subdued hissing sound that at the time I supposed was crickets or insects and it seemed to trigger a series of flashbacks and images of women I’ve known over the years.”
“Known—how—in the Biblical sense?”
I sighed. “Some unfortunately, I slept with—but most were temptresses for me. You know how it is with priests—so many things turn you away. That’s why I stepped down from being the archdiocesan exorcist.”
“Too hard on your flesh?”
“You might say that,” I replied acerbically.
“So, I take it that this oppression is ongoing. Is it limited to flashbacks and mental images—obsessive thoughts?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Why aren’t you sure?”
“I suppose the images began to run together into obsessions—and even when I’d be studying an archeological text and doing research, it’d all begin to head in a certain direction.”
“How? Give me an example.”
“Well, for instance, I’d be studying Babylonian inscriptions and I’d digress—become wrapped up in the old Babylonian Lilitu demon—she’s depicted in the famous Burney relief as part woman, part owl.”
“So what does this mean?”
“Lilitu is a precursor to the harpy or later mythological Siren, and I realized I was being seduced through women.”
Nate’s hawk-like eyes focused on me. “Women in general, or one woman in particular?”
“Both. I saw my history as a gradual descent into oppression through my weakness for women—that was the devil’s doorway to me. I plunged into archeological work at the university and went away for months on end to desert digs in the hopes of isolating myself.”
“But it didn’t work?”
I slumped down in my chair. “No. I could run away physically, but I always came back to me.”
“You know, Martin, you can’t demonize the flesh. Celibacy is a constant battle with natural needs and urges—you know my opinion on that—but regardless, all you saw in that cave was an old picture.”
“A picture doesn’t haunt and torment—or make you desolate.”
“No,” Nate whispered, “we do that to ourselves.”
“This isn’t something I made up, Nate—this is real, and it is warfare.”
Nate leaned back again in his chair and returned to staring out the window at the lake.
“Tell me about Claire,” he said matter of factly.
As he mentioned her name, her image flashed into my mind—lovely dark tresses— transparent skin—violet eyes that are so bewitching.
“She’s forty-two and teaches American Lit at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. She’s one of the most gentle, gracious women I have ever met.”
“She sounds wonderful—definitely someone you’d be drawn to and find attractive.”
I nodded mutely.
“She’s beautiful, if that’s what you mean—but she has inner beauty as well.”
“Hmm. No doubt. Have you slept with her?”
“No!” I said indignantly.
“Is that no, as in not yet, or no, we don’t have that sort of relationship?”
Again, he penetrated to the heart of the matter. “I suppose it’s the former—no, as in we haven’t slept together yet.”
“But you probably will and you’re now unsure if you’re consorting with demons?”
“You make me sound like Faust.”
“Ah yes—Faust. Such a tragic hero—his damned life and most deserved death. Is that what you envision for you—damnation, a second death in the pit of hell?”
“Damn you, Nate—are you trying to help or condemn?”
He shrugs. “Right now, I’d say neither. I’m trying to get at the facts—not run away from them or cover them up with theological fogging.”
“Is that what you think I’m doing?”
He smiles good-naturedly. “Our ideas, Martin, are often the smokescreen for our wishes. I want you to think about that before I see you next time.”
He’s an intriguing man, Nate Granger. Like the old Marlboro Man, he rides tall in the saddle and his eyes see forever.
I’m not sure how far Nate’s eyes really penetrate though—maybe all the way to Indonesia and those limestone caves filled with flickering nightmares.
Or maybe his examination light is like a retinoscope, illuming all the nerve pathways and synapses behind the eyes. Maybe he can even probe into the cave of the psyche and see the shadows Plato saw on the cave walls.
And in the end, maybe he can conclude that it’s all a sham—everything is rigged. My devils are only flickering shadows cast by the flames of desire.
He’s a good man, Nate Granger—but then again, he hasn’t stared into my Abyss.
© 2014, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.