PART I: BEFORE // Chapter One: Where He Came From: 5

He soon became a regular viewer of “Midnight Movie Madness”, stealing down to the living room two or three nights a week, or whenever he thought he could afford the loss of sleep. There was school in the morning except Saturdays, and he didn’t want to alarm his mother by appearing too tired when she came to wake him.

He soon discovered that viewing the old black-and-white movies on the small screen was a different experience than the huge Technicolor movies at the theater. There he was enthralled by the sheer scope of them, and he found himself paying more attention to the vivid action and lush scenery than to anything else. But on the small screen of the black-and-white Zenith, and with the necessity of keeping the sound low so as not to wake his sleeping parents and siblings upstairs, he found himself for the first time paying closer attention to the dialogue and techniques of character development and plot. He was, however, an equal fan of both experiences.

As the Sixties progressed to their midpoint, however, all was not well with Carl and Vanessa. Carl was still on the road more often than not, checking on and interviewing his subordinates in the field. Thus Vanessa, having reached the limit of what alcohol could do to repress her sexual urges, began turning to more substantial substitutes for Carl. She was now pushing thirty-five, but the ordeals of giving birth to six children had not appreciably diminished her beauty. She began driving the country roads around Ben Allyn in her Chrysler Town & Country station wagon, looking for young farm boys with sufficient equipment and more ardor than brains. She would pick them up, take them home, sneak them up the back stairs to her (and Carl’s) bedroom, get them just drunk enough, and have her way with them.

If any of their distant neighbors noticed these goings-on, they were hesitant to say anything, for Vanessa was “Old Ben Allyn” and her extremely pious parents still lived near the center of town, and her grandfather, now nearly eighty, was the Cathedral’s spiritual leader.

Carl was another matter, however. One weekday afternoon he came home unexpectedly early from a business trip to find the house quiet. As it was only about two, he reasoned that the kids were still in school and Vanessa was probably out shopping or something. Being tired from the road, he decided to go upstairs and take a little nap. When he opened his bedroom door, however, his fatigue instantly disappeared. There, in the Sexy King-Sized bed where he and Vanessa had conceived six children, was a naked, snoring, obviously drunk Vanessa, with her arms around an equally naked, equally drunk, well-built lad of no more than eighteen, also snoring peacefully. Carl bellowed, Vanessa stirred sleepily, and the farm boy sat bolt upright, terror in his eyes. As Carl charged toward him like an enraged bull, the boy grabbed up his clothes and in the same moment executed a perfect swan dive out the open window. Fortunately he landed unhurt and began running down the driveway of Maple Mansion, hurriedly pulling on his clothes as he ran, Carl screaming curses at him out the window.

But Carl, even after discovering in one shocking moment that his wife of more than fifteen years and the mother of his six children was a drunk and an adulteress, couldn’t find it in his heart to blame her. He knew that his frequent and prolonged business trips had caused her loneliness and despair, though she always put on a brave and cheerful face when he came home. And he knew how she felt. He too had succumbed to the loneliness of his weeks on the road, staying at one anonymous hotel or motel after another, by drinking his fair share as well. In addition, he was sometimes not able to avoid temptation, particularly after several rounds of scotch on the rocks, and would invite the occasional willing young woman up to his room for a nightcap. He had never told Vanessa any of this, having convinced himself that nothing ever really happened, though in the deep recesses of his mind he sometimes wondered if that was true.

So, after the revelatory incident, when Vanessa had sobered up enough and Carl had calmed down enough, they had a long talk, a frank and honest talk, for the first time in many years. The upshot was that Vanessa agreed to undergo, with Carl, Church counseling. Carl, for his part, felt that life on the road was losing its glamor. So, using his more than fifteen-year seniority with his advertising agency, he obtained a promotion to a desk job in which he would receive and evaluate reports from the field. He would work out of a small rented office in Philadelphia and send his reports to New York by courier. Thus he could be home seven nights a week, every week.

At first they were overjoyed by the new arrangement. The counseling seemed to be going well, and Carl and Vanessa were spending more time in their Sexy King-Sized bed than ever. But Carl had known the freedom of the road for most of his adult life and soon began to feel claustrophobic in the confines of his small office. And he really hadn’t that much to do, which exacerbated his feelings of imprisonment.

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