(for N. and N.)

 Lenore didn’t personally experience it, the first several times. Still, anyone could see the woman made something happen. She had the gift: some few just do. You might come in only half‑believing that. But when it all unfolds before your very eyes, when you’re an actual witness (as Lenore was now) you really have no choice but to believe. Around and around the meeting hall she strode, waiting for those who wanted help or healing (and there were many among them) to step out toward her. Then, she stopped, extending her right hand, so, palm almost but not quite touching this forehead, that chest. She locked eyes with the suffering souls, softly whispered, a word, a prayer, something, Lenore didn’t know what. Whatever it was, every last one of them fell backward to the ground, not crumpling up, not sinking slowly, no, they went straight down, hard as lumber-jacked trees, and they would’ve split their skulls if there hadn’t been a small crew standing by, ready to catch the fainters. The same special assistants even threw sheets over women who fell wearing skirts, that they shouldn’t be left lying there all exposed.

No one rose up right away either; these folks were out cold. Listen (Lenore reminds herself, whenever doubt starts to creep back in): Something happened to them; they weren’t all faking it, that simply couldn’t be. They felt it; they experienced her. She is one powerful spirit, besides being an inspiring speaker, and a fascinating human being. Lenore finds herself revisiting some of the stories she’d heard and half-forgotten, early on. Like how this seemingly ordinary woman named Faith cured both her parents of inoperable cancers. Or how she went blind and then healed herself so that she could see again, get on with her God-given work.

Lenore doesn’t know how Louis found out about Faith. She certainly didn’t tell him. Number one, there’s not much of what you’d call talking going on between them these days. And two, she’d kind of wanted to keep this quiet for the time being: not a secret, exactly, just one of those things she needed to think about some more on her own. There were still, well, questions, and maybe some small skepticism remaining, her belief not yet absolute. On her second visit, she’d taken their former neighbor George Graves, and the woman lay her hand on him, laid him right out. Sadly, those lesions on his liver killed him anyway, only a few months later, and he suffered terribly the entire time. Even so, Lenore figured she might go back with one of her girlfriends at some point and—who knows—maybe stand up herself. Probably it had been just too late for poor George. Bringing Louis around there, though, is not something she’s seriously considered.

This is not to say there’s any reason to suppose Faith won’t attend to mental illness. By all rights she should, it’s as deadly as any cancer can be, debilitating a person from deep within, destroying his life and his family’s peace. His mother allows as how Louis always did seem sort of low‑energy, even downcast; she thought it was nothing but natural laziness, a lack of drive. Depression? Never heard of it. They’re the kind, his parents and brothers, who didn’t want to see, and still don’t. They don’t put any stock in psychology, or in Lithium or any of the other dozens of drugs that have been prescribed for Louis over the years, none with complete success. They actually lower their voices to a superstitious hiss when they say the words, manic-depressive. As if to make sure the devil that’s got Louis won’t find them. Ignorant as they may be, Lenore can understand their fear, now he’s fallen so far into his own private pit of hell.

What she doesn’t really get is how Louis could’ve gone along for half a lifetime without seeming much stranger than anyone else. She suspects his mother knew more than she was willing to warn Lenore about, during their brief engagement. Still, there’s not much room for recrimination, given how badly she’d needed what he’d seemed to offer. And no denying it, he was always good to her and her two girls, this sweet working guy, always a decent provider; who cared if he couldn’t seem to get up for shifts at his father’s body shop now and then? Or even took to their bed for a week or two at a stretch?

Eventually, though, the nameless malaise caught up with him, turning him more and more inward, or maddening him into bursts of wild activity, just driving him crazier and crazier on the way to dragging him all the way down. He can’t cope with anything anymore, not the smallest request, nothing that suggests expectations. Every conversation is a strain. Occasionally, he seems so close to the edge, the way he talks, the twitchy moves he makes, she thinks, Something’s got to give, something’s got to be done. She doesn’t have any clear ideas; she doesn’t wish anything bad on him. This is Louis. You couldn’t have hoped to meet a nicer man even two years ago, when this last slide started in earnest.

By now, it’s as if his personality has twisted itself inside out, there’s so much pure cussedness mixed in. The doctors have tried to explain that Louis’s case goes beyond what they blandly call his “imbalance;” they say he’s full of “generalized rage,” which he needs to “work through.” As if he could do this kind of work, their work, in spite of no longer doing anything whatsoever. Who are they kidding? Most days he’s more or less immobile, barely budging from wherever he’s dug himself in. He can’t even seem to care. He won’t agree to see or speak to what he calls Those Quacks. It’s difficult to hold back judgments about him not helping himself. Their own family physician predicted that could become the most serious problem. Medication may take care of the chemistry, smooth out the ups and downs (as they say), but it can’t give him the will to fight this thing, to get up every morning and try. Lenore has learned the hard way that no one else, including a loyal and loving wife, can be strong for a man who’s on the verge of giving up.

Sometimes, she just can’t help thinking of it as giving in. You would never have mistaken Louis for a tough guy, back in the day, but he always took responsibility, handled his business. How has he been weakened to the point of surrender? How does a man come to spend his days and nights and days lounging around the living room in pajama pants?  Can it be that he’s somehow grown comfortable in his supposed misery? Comfortable making her miserable too, she reflects, not without bitterness. As long as she doesn’t kick him out, which knowing her he knows will never happen, he could just go on like this indefinitely: Sleeping into the afternoon (while she juggles two part-time jobs), blasting soaps and talk shows until dinner, and then the TV evangelists all night long, stinking up the place chain‑smoking Camels, playing too helpless to make a peanut butter sandwich or a cup of instant coffee, throwing himself into a fine fit now and again when she won’t do for him.

One small mercy: he’s lately been what’s called better stabilized (fewer ups/downs) than before. They’ve let him back in by the Red Coach Diner for the occasional solo coffee at the counter because he’s behaving himself. There’s not so much swearing or crying or screaming or, most unnerving of all, slumping there, still and silent as the undead, staring into space. He doesn’t seem agitated enough to pull anything like what they briefly hospitalized him for (when he was officially, if temporarily, designated “a danger to himself and/or others.”) It’s almost six months since the neighbors noticed him nailing all the windows shut from the inside and called the police. By the time they arrived, he had sealed the two of them up in their once‑cozy cottage, and was holding matches to a pile of Lenore’s decorating magazines on the dining room rug. She would’ve called someone herself, only she didn’t think he would go that far. She was very calm, considering. She hopes it convinced him she doesn’t scare that easy.

But let’s face it, she is scared. He is a very sick man. She’s afraid that his physical health has drastically declined as well. Acquaintances who haven’t seen him in awhile say his appearance is a shock, his belly grotesquely swollen, his coloring awful. And then, there are his eyes, once an unlikely beautiful, crystal blue, but increasingly smaller and blacker and more burnt‑out looking every week. It’s been a long time since Lenore has dared to imagine Louis well again. She doesn’t allow herself to believe that’s even a possibility. There are situations you just have to live with, like it or not, until they’ve run their course, reached their natural end.

This seems to be one of those.

Which is why she’s never consciously entertained the idea of Faith taking on Louis, not even when he started with the voices, Christmas last, and took to toting the Bible around the house, waving it in her face, breathlessly preaching (or something that was supposed to pass for preaching) from its pages. It’s illness, not authentic inspiration, Lenore deduces from the hyperactive shifts in his demeanor, white hot to robot and back again in a few minutes. Nor is there anything particularly spiritual about these impromptu performances, nothing his captive audience of one can access, anyway. Mumbo-jumbo, that’s what it is, and all about him, what’s inside his sick, sick brain.

Now and again, she secretly wonders if he doesn’t secretly know it’s nonsense, only putting it on to spook her. Because, when it comes to his ever‑more‑complicated “religious” rites—soon expanded to compulsive candle lighting, incessant circle‑turning, hours-long singsong chanting—he carries it all out just so, seems suspiciously under control, down to the deliberate way he’ll throw himself on the rag-rug in a seeming trance, spouting that gibberish she’s evidently supposed to think is tongues.  If someone seized him by the shoulders, shook him, flatly ordered, Snap out of it, and get up off that floor! maybe he just would. Not that she’d try that.

Mostly, she’s convinced he’s too cracked to keep himself in check, too far gone to do anything but go along with whatever impulse seizes him. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t make her want to tear her hair out. It does, oh, it does. At the same time, she realizes that an observer who didn’t know better might find it almost comical, the mystic spinning, the frenzied stepping, the constant calling out for Jesus, Jesus, Je‑sus, like an Indian that’s converted but still likes the old‑style rain dance. Maybe she should just laugh it off, it looks so lunatic.

But watching it unloop here at home, in the midst of what used to be their regular, everyday life, never knowing when he’s going to rewind, start back in again: there’s nothing remotely funny about it. It’s unfathomably dark and dismal, the hellish place he inhabits, staging his holy roller spectacles, making a mad magpie’s trash nest of her house. The sad falseness goes too far; it makes her ache, heart-sore and so entirely alone with this. With him. In hell.

Needless to add, his antics have no earthly, or heavenly, relation to what Lenore has seen of faith at work. Or of Faith working what she does. It’s a welcome distraction, though, when she’s put in mind of her passing acquaintance with the spiritualist, no matter by what: it’s a kind of counter‑balance, a comfort, just knowing Faith is out there somewhere; it has the glimmer of something golden, something true and real, available to Lenore, as to anyone who asks. Louis too? It isn’t her place to say. Only God knows what wonders can be worked. Nor should it matter that she can’t imagine such a fantastic thing—Louis being Saved—anymore than she can summon fantasies of being rescued herself. There may well be an answer where no one thought to look for it.  At the least, the prospect of some future encounter with what Faith offers seekers is something to look forward to, something new, when there’s been nothing but this same old story. Living in hell, the healthy mind needs ways and means to go on, hang in instead of just hanging it all up.

The way back to Faith suddenly, unexpectedly, opens when, the very next Monday morning, Louis emerges from the guestroom—that’s where he sleeps those nights she succeeds in shooing him off the couch—and says, “Listen to this dream, Lenore.”

It’s past eleven, and she’s trying to sit down for five minutes, work out her summer teaching schedule at AerobicArts. Can there never be even a moment to call my own? she sighs to herself. Besides, she doesn’t really want to hear it, the stick stuff he must dream. Not the best way to start her day.

But he says, “I think this could be important. “

So she sighs again, says, “All right, then. What is it?”

And he proceeds to tell her that he’s dreamed a vivid dream of Faith. He doesn’t remember her name, he admits, but everything he can recall supports Lenore’s recognition of the woman: Flowing white robes, waist-length copper hair, wide‑set emerald eyes; the way she holds out her pale, slender hands and the way her voice sounds, strong, silver, musical, filling the space, drawing people to her, as if she is speaking directly to each wounded heart.

“She said she could heal me, Lore,” Louis says, in an unusually hushed tone, as if he’s actually awed. It’s almost enough to persuade Lenore that he’s literally seen someone, heard a veritable voice, this time. It’s been forever since he’s called her by his pet name.

“Oh yeah?” she responds, carefully low‑key, neutral. This isn’t the time to let him in on her first‑hand awareness of his dream-healer. Nor does she want to influence his testimony. “But you tell me you’re just fine the way you are.”

His dead eyes seem to brim, slightly brighten, at that. Louis, in tears? “Aw—you know why. I don’t want to get my hopes up. I know I’m not right, Lore, I know that. But she says she can make me right again.”

“How? What happened? What exactly did she say?”

Lenore can’t afford much in the way of fresh hope either, but she’s curious now, in spite of herself. She guesses there must have been angel bands and heavenly choirs, since Louis’ regularly reported visions are Hollywood-Biblical, straight out of central casting. His delusions are about as grand as they come, the emergency room doctor confided to her, taping the ribs Louis fractured the night he tried to fly from their tiny bedroom balcony to the towering oak tree out back. (For once, she thanked God for the overgrown grass.)

This present epiphany, though, is as plain as Faith appears to be.

“All’s that happened is she said, ‘I can heal you, Louis.’ And she held her hands out over my head, like a halo. And I felt —I don’t know what it was, a jolt of something: it went right through me. But it didn’t hurt. It felt fine. I just stood there, feeling it. I couldn’t speak. She was smiling. Then she told me, ‘This is only a dream. But I do want you to get well. When you wake up, you’ll have to come find me. Don’t forget, Louis. I’ll be waiting for you.’”

He scarcely takes a breath before babbling on. “She knew me, she called me by name. She knew what she was talking about, too. I’m already a little better, today, if you want to know. More like myself or something. I’ve just got to find her, Lore! I need to see her, the real her, in person. I don’t even know her name. What’s her name, Lore? You know it; what’s her name?”

“How am I supposed to know, it was your dream.” Truth be told, this is making Lenore a little nervous. She doesn’t know what to think, about how Faith has just happened to visit Louis, how he knows Lenore knows her, or what he wants from his wife.

“But you went to her revival meeting near the racetrack in Yonkers, you know, that lady preacher, the one who travels with those other…” Louis begins. Somehow, invalided and out-of-it as he’s been, he’s onto her, into every little thing she does. Oh well. Maybe it is pure foolishness, her recent sense of wanting to keep things close. He is still her husband. It’s worn her down, though, how he distorts or destroys almost everything he touches, taking the joy right out of life. What’s left that’s hers, for her?

Oh well. This cat’s out of the bag, and no point pretending otherwise. She doesn’t like to lie to him, even if she doesn’t mind omitting anything that might upset his precarious emotional balance.

“Faith and the…” she begins.

“That’s her, that’s the one,” exclaims Louis. “Faith. Faith.” His mouth reshapes itself, half‑grimace, half-grin, and he starts spraying her with so-called Scripture. “ ‘Oh ye of little Faith…But I have kept the Faith…I have the shield of Faith…Without Faith, I’m…’ ”

“Enough already,” she calmly cuts in, before he loses it altogether. That he may think he’s the first one to play the name that way is too pathetic. His quickly crestfallen face doesn’t soften her much.

“Her name is Faith and her group is called the Questers,” she continues, all business. “They seem to make it around to this area once every few months or so.”

The facts don’t always shut Louis up, but Lenore does her best to keep things on that level. Now, he right away wants to know when she’ll be back, because she’s personally invited him and told him that must, must come see her. He says it will probably be the most important thing he’ll ever do in his whole sorry life.

It’s a familiar pattern, and a real pitfall, Louis putting too much stock in anything. He tends to turn to the most fanatical thinking when he’s up, rather than down. Which means that he is completely and utterly crushed when the crash occurs, as it always does. But what can Lenore do? Louis has had a dream. Even she, with her discouraging knowledge of Louis and his lifelong affliction, understands he’s bound to do something about it.

So she checks the town weekly and, sure enough, there’s a small squib on the Bulletin Board page announcing Faith’s next local event. You have to send away for tickets, and Lenore tells Louis he’d better be certain he’s serious about this before she goes to the trouble. He can barely urge his body from bedroom to bathroom and back, mornings, and he’s still half-comatose on the couch, occasionally changing channels, into the small hours. She can’t quite picture him getting into the car with her, or driving anywhere for any reason, not even for a miracle. But he swears he’ll be ready when the day comes. And she figures, Well, he’s got three weeks to work on it, and nothing else whatsoever to do, right? She orders tickets for two, circles the evening on her kitchen calendar. The tickets are free, she won’t be out any cash. She will, however, be madder than hell if he balks at the last minute: this is all his big idea, isn’t it? She won’t stand for any monkeying around when the time comes.

 

Naturally, though, when the time does come—that would be yesterday—he holes up in his darkened room, covers drawn up past his chin, and announces he won’t be attending this or any or any other meeting. “I can’t, Lenore. I just can’t. Leave me alone; I can’t do it.” And she does get good and mad: in fact, she’s furious.

“You just haul your behind out of that bed, Louis Hochman!” she yells. “No way are you going to hide out in here after telling me this woman can heal you. Get yourself up, and get ready to go!” She most likely wouldn’t be yelling like this if he weren’t acting low and slow, trying to seem pitiful. Sometimes, his face is so fierce you wouldn’t even want to look cross‑eyed at him (as her grandmother used to say.)

It’s possible her present behavior is a shock to his system. Next time she checks, he’s slowly pulling on the presentable clothes she’s laid out for him, after which he sits quietly in the living room with the television off until they walk together out to the driveway, climb into the car. Lenore notices he hasn’t combed his weedy hair, much less shaved, then shrugs to herself: whatever he manages has got to be enough.  They drive in near-silence to the store-front church on a side street of the tiny Westchester hamlet where Faith and the Q’s are scheduled for eight sharp.

It’s been advertised as one of Faith’s more intimate prayer gatherings, and there are fewer than fifty people spread out among two sections of folding chairs in the front of the room, a low‑ceilinged cavernous space in the church basement that also serves as a soup kitchen. Lenore and Louis easily find seats near the center aisle, and wait for her to come in, Louis rocking against the chair back, ticky, tense. He can’t stand waiting. But then, he can’t stand anything, when it comes down to it. He relaxes a little, breathes a satisfied sigh when Faith finally makes her entrance from the rear, perhaps recalling from his dream her particular style of sailing into a place, robes trailing on the ground behind her. That radiant smile is on high‑beam, and when she gets to the podium and greets the flock, even Louis lights up and murmurs along with the collective Hello!

But he doesn’t seem especially tuned in to her talk, which as best as Lenore can tell (busy as she always is monitoring her husband’s mood and manner) touches on the rebirth of the earth in spring, then segues into the subject of The Resurrection before finding as its focus Faith’s favorite theme, namely, personal self-renewal, the casting off of old sins and sorrows, sickness and pain, and so on and so forth. Amen to all that, Lenore silently adds. Not surprisingly, the speaker makes constant reference to her one, true source of wisdom, which she familiarly calls The Book; but so smooth is she, and so skillful, slipping in her Scriptural citations in such an easy, unpretentious fashion, it’s a world away from Louis’ wild-eyed, home-made Jesus, Mary and Joseph show, the way he lays it on.

It’s also more than his mind can take in, no matter what he may have dreamed up for himself here. The painful reality is that he has the erratic attention span of a very small boy. As Faith preaches and beseeches in her steady, understated way, Louis’ eyes begin to glaze over, and  Lenore begins to fear for his consciousness, if not his soul. It is altogether possible he could nod right out. Or worse, go off in some less predictable way. She is ashamed of her own impatience and inattention, her fervent desire for the preacher-woman to move things along already; yet God (she tells herself) must surely understand her anxiety to get to the heart and soul of this longed-for evening.

Then (hallelujah) Louis seems more or less with them still, as Faith concludes her sermon, and one of her closely hovering monitors announces what even the most faithful of the assembled must be anxious to hear.

”All right, everyone. Faith will move among you now. Please prepare to come forward. Don’t push, don’t rush up to the front. Faith is here for all.”

Angel, dove, bride of the Lord, draped in ivory silks and satins, her brilliant hair bound in a beribboned braid like a flame down her back, Faith fairly floats to earth from the lectern and out into the standing crowd. As she reaches her hand toward them, one by one, these good people, like so many before them, begin to fall, hitting the cold, cork‑tiled floor, dropping like dead ones, down, down, down.

Lenore almost giggles at the way Louis’ eyes widen, as if it is only now that they are fully open, able to see. But, truly, you would have to be a dead one to not be amazed and moved by the sight. Maybe he is feeling something like the electricity he testified that dream of his briefly conveyed. Lenore herself has no name for the palpable emotion, the living energy that seems to be surrounding them all in this present moment. She keeps her seat, though, even as Louis rises, along with most of the others near them, and shuffles unsteadily toward the aisle where Faith will pass closest to him. Lenore stays put, only pulling one leg up under her to perch a bit higher on the metal chair, so that she can see what happens when healer and husband meet.

And this is what happens:

Still dropping people to the left and right of her, Faith makes a sudden, full stop, less than a foot from Louis. She seems to be studying him, taking his measure, then looks straight into his eyes, staring deeply, if not long, before shaking her head, in sorrow, as it seems to Lenore, though who knows what a seer sees there in that pitch‑darkness. She stretches out a curving hand as if she would clasp one of his sloping shoulders, but is already moving on, leaving him standing there, staring after her. His face: from what Lenore can see, it’s full of nothing.

She has no opportunity just then to ponder the meaning of this mystery, for Faith is stepping into their nearly-vacated row alone, making her way toward Lenore, who hasn’t even stood up, or openly sought succor, or anticipated much of anything. The wide, echoing hall seems to go silent as Faith stops once more, this time to study Lenore’s flushed, uptilted face.  Faith’s famous green eyes are filled with such blazing light, it’s almost hard to look. Lenore does, though, she keeps looking right back up at Faith, holding her penetrating gaze.

Then Faith frames her silky palms against Lenore’s temples and says (barely breathing it, it’s perfectly possible no one else can hear her prophecy, even in the stillness), “Your wish will come true.” The words spin Lenore all giddy inside, as when a carnival ride shoots a vertiginous curve. Or is there something electric as that in Faith’s faintest touch? But Lenore doesn’t let go, fall down, no she doesn’t.  “Hold on; it’s coming to you,” Faith intones. Next thing, she’s gone, continuing on her rounds to those waiting for her in the rows behind. And Lenore can hear them falling, falling, falling.

When she glances over, again, to locate Louis, his expression is darker, with anger, or with hurt. He cannot possibly know what message Faith has conveyed, what Lenore has received. But it is perfectly clear that, from his point of view, whatever’s going on here isn’t right; on the contrary, the whole thing has gone horribly, heartbreakingly wrong. It was supposed to be his night. Faith was supposed to help him, return him to himself, restore him to health, make him whole. Hadn’t she promised—promised—he’d be healed?

Lenore can’t begin to think what she’s going to say to that.

But she’s spared from having to speak too soon: it’s only moments more before he storms out to sulk in the car. Nor does he have a single word for her on the short drive home.

Which is just as well, providing her as it does with some space in which to privately puzzle out what it may signify, Faith passing Louis by and choosing her, among the desperate ones. And how had the healer identified the couple and their plight, how divined the wish a good wife can’t wish out loud? Such speculation strikes Lenore as uncomfortably closer to magical thinking than belief, with Faith cast into the role of fairy godmother. As the hours tick by afterward, as she lies sleepless, still pondering, bedroom door shut (and locked) against the living room television’s garish glow and blare, she wonders whether Faith might not be teasing, or somehow testing her.  “Your wish will come true.” Is this actually the way a servant of God speaks of answered prayers?

And yet: there can be no denying, no more doubt whatsoever, that the fiery-haired woman in white is empowered with something: call it gift, holy spirit, sixth sense, second sight, she serves as lightning rod for something no one who accepts her can reasonably fail to acknowledge.

Even in a dream, even to someone as lost as Louis, she reveals herself and her charge (though now it seems, alas, that the rest of that dream must have been no more than another of his endless delusions.) Faith, encountering Louis in real life, as he really is, had evidently, instantly comprehended what she could and could not do.  For (Lenore is pleased to see) Faith isn’t arrogant, or self-righteous, as so many such spiritual guides seem to be; she knows her limits, doesn’t purport to be God Almighty, or pretend she understands His whole purpose. She is, though—of this Lenore is now sure—in closest contact with whatever it is that makes everything happen as it does. As it should. She must be endowed with the ability to look beyond what most mortals can bear, her revelatory vision encompassing the things of other’s lives those souls themselves can’t fathom, and don’t quite get. Or not yet. What does the Bible say? “Watch and pray; you don’t know when the time is…”

Lenore smiles to herself as she tidies the kitchen after a late breakfast alone: That’s the first such quotation to pop into her head like that, and very likely the last. It’s enough to make her wonder if she isn’t maybe going slightly over the edge after him. But the fact is, she feels—differently about life today. And about herself. As if she’s got something too, an unsuspected strength, a reason to be patient, to watchfully wait, just a while longer.

All I have to do is hold on, she said, because it’s coming. It’s coming. Maybe just when I think I can’t make it, can’t take any more, my heart’s deepest wish and heaven’s will somehow come together as one. Why couldn’t it turn out exactly like that? God knows we’ve tried about everything else on this earth there is to try. Heaven may hold the only hope there is. And, forgive me, Louis, but I believe even you’ll have to agree it’s for the best, nothing else we can do now but put our trust in last things…

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