The Man of God
Other Voices, Chicago, IL, 2004.
During the pregnancy, following
hard on scandals about other celebrity ministers, Eliot took
Ada to Tucson. She knew no-one there and neither did he. The
press would not notice his doings in the background if he maintained
the flow of stories they were used to in the foreground –
incendiary comments on the news of the day and appearances with
celebrity allies. He flew to Paris. He had himself photographed
in Oslo and implied a role in Nobel peace nominations. He mediated
a civil war in Africa and spoke with executives of oil companies
in Colombia, dined with a mayor, visited a massacre site and
paid homage to a dying poet. In Tucson, Ada waited for the pregnancy
to come to term.
A poet herself, she had come to Boston to accept a prize for
writers showing unusual courage and to teach classes for a few
weeks. Eliot had been on the selection committee and after dinner
with the committee and two editors, each wondering whether to
vie with the other for a book of her passionate lyrics - he
took her to his favorite bar for a glass of wine.
It was her birthday, she said.
Though she had heard gossip, “His third wife’s a
waitress. Tells you something, doesn’t it?”
But she had not met him then and didn’t take much notice.
Neither of them expected the pregnancy, though on that day she
chose to call her birthday, the years closing in and her chances
pinching, she had prayed for a baby. Her atheism had lapsed.
Neither Marx nor Lenin could comfort her. Nor the Prophet. In
any case, she did not believe and wrote as a woman who did not
believe the Koran supports patriarchy. Someone or something
might hear her prayer that she would not die barren. In her
memories, in her family and her family’s friends, her
grandmother’s village, even in Alexandria, a barren woman
was accursed or wretched. Her high school atheism was no match
for this judgement old and wide as the sky itself.
What’s more, on a reading tour in Turkey, she had escaped
an earthquake and walked the ruins while radios still sent news
and songs to bloom in the rubble. A complete fuck-up, though
rescuers were still searching for survivors. She resolved to
have a baby and refute death with life.
She had already had two abortions, one in her second year at
university, another in her first year of marriage when her husband
said, “I can’t afford another mouth to feed.”
A young lawyer building his career, he refused to be swamped
by premature fertilities. A month later, she discovered his
affair with a secretary in a ministry charged with saving antiquities
from vandals and art thieves. After the divorce he married the
other woman but meeting Ada at a film festival, invited her
to dinner. She fed him spoonfuls of custards, he toyed with
the possibility of marrying her again, but sense prevailed.
At this stage, he could afford only one wife at a time.
Eliot and Ada met for dinner again. Again. Again.
It was a week after her birthday that he called the florist
for his usual order on such occasions. Red roses, of course,
now mixed with white hyacinth. She was a poet after all, roses
Ada felt herself charged with honey, like a hive at the end
of summer, and next morning in a café, she caught her
reflection in the glass door swinging in and back, and men’s
eyes when they saw her. Everything swelled with sap and pleasure.
She was beautiful and everyone saw it. Still toying with her
croissant, she started a poem about bees and their dances, opened
her purse for her pretty notebook and gold pen, and wrote phrases
- how a bee grasps the organ it seeks, the flower’s glistening
moisture, the bee nuzzling deep, the hairs, the nectar. Her
mother believed bees brought good luck and she was sure she
would see one this sunny morning. In the meantime, it was a
pleasure to sit being beautiful, holding her red book and gold
pen and writing phrases in Arabic, French or English, whatever
came, emotion recollected in tranquility. In her hotel room,
the flowers were waiting for her.
Eliot nurtured his virile enchantment. He was on fire and it
was fueling his eloquence preaching and writing. Colleagues
applauded his annual lecture at the seminary, the press featured
his conference at the Peace Center and more invitations came
in to his speaker’s bureau.
She wanted him to see the tape of a television interview, but
when it started on the VCR, he turned from image to substance,
“You’re beautiful,” exploring with hands,
mouth, nose and every other organ of delight and power.
Power was what he liked most. Her breathing, her cries, his
control, his timing, his interpretation.
A week passed. Another. He would find a research position for
her at the Center for International Peace. His lawyer would
help with her visa. His brother, on sabbatical in Europe, would
let her live in his house.
She cooked dinner for Eliot and when he saw what she had done
his eyes glistened, “No one’s cooked for me since
I was a child.”
“No one takes care of you. Look,” she stroked his
arm, “Dry. Like a stone in the desert.”
She massaged him with warmed oils. “Now you are alive,
a palm tree.”
In restaurants, he normally ordered steak, cheeseburgers, ribs.
She had prepared chicken soup with bulghur, zucchini stuffed
with chicken, rice and pignola nuts and pastries soaked in honey.
He ate, and it was good but when he left, citing work, he went
to a greasy spoon and ordered sausage and eggs.
She wrote a poem about the dry stone and the erect palm tree.
Next week, in peace after intercourse, their feet playing with
each other, toes walking up calves, sliding along thighs, suggestion
and postponement, he confirmed the job at the Center. “A
year-long appointment. The visa will be no problem.”