Mattie arrives unannounced wearing dark glasses, her hair in a motley tangle. Shivering, her arms curled inward, she digs in her nails into her flesh leaving an angry hatch work of red on her skin.
“What?” asks Chloe, startled, but Mattie speechless, draws in her breath and makes a soft high-pitched bleat deep her throat. She sidles past Chloe into the house. “Come,” Chloe says and directs her to the garden where a table and chairs sit in a shady grove at the edge of the woods, grabbing a bottle of wine and two glasses on her way. The breeze, southerly and sweet is redolent of the wild honeysuckle that has twined in with the other vines and the heavy peppery scent of autumn olives growing wild at the edge of the forest.
“I’m a failure,” Mattie says, slumping into the chair with her legs akimbo, her long fingered man-hands clasped in downward prayer on her lap. “I’m not human. I’m useless.” Mattie removes her sunglasses and runs her fingers through her hair dividing it into rivulets pushing it back from her forehead to reveal red, tear swollen eyes in a face ravaged and slack. Chloe is astounded. This is Mattie, the Mattie she’s known since fifth grade, the Mattie who knows no fear, who took care of her, who protected her. Mattie shoulders curve in and her head lolls forward until her chin hits her chest. Chloe watches and waits for Mattie to continue speaking, concern constricting her facial expression. After a long moment in time Mattie’s head jerks upward like an old woman caught napping. She rolls her head in an exaggerated circle then lifts it and squares her shoulders. She breathes in deeply, opens her eyes, and peers out at Chloe from swollen slit eyes.
“Let me get you a cold cloth to put on your eyes. They’re swollen.”
“I don’t want a fucking cloth. Do you think I care if my eyes are swollen? My world is falling apart and you’re worried about swollen eyes. How shallow can you get? That’s not what I need. I just need for you to be here. I need for you to listen.”
Chloe, blond and cool, sits straight-backed on the edge of her chair. “I’m here. I’m here. I’ll always be here for you and you’ll always be there for me. That’s the pact. We traded blood, remember? We’re blood sisters.”
Mattie laughs softly. “We were idiots. If our blood hadn’t been compatible, we could have done serious harm to ourselves.” She smiles broadly, peering at Chloe; a spark of laughter glittering in the bloodshot slash of her eyes.
Chloe smiles too, relieved. If Mattie can still laugh, she’ll be all right. “You’re going to be okay. I know it. You’re strong. Your angel wings are a little muddy, that’s all. You’ll land on your feet.”
Mattie relaxes, sits up in the chair and shakes her head as if to clear it. “I’ve got plans,” she says.
Mattie pours two glasses of wine and pushes one over to Mattie. “Good, what?”
“I want to go to California. You know how we always said we would do that? There are two places I’m looking at, the Pacifica Mythological Studies Program near Santa Barbara and the Women’s Spirituality Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies in Palo Alto. I think I can afford it. Frank was generous and I get alimony for ten years. I should have a doctorate by then. I’ll pay him back when I start making money.”
“Why are you worried about the money? It was his fault, right? He’s the one who cheated. He owes you.”
“I don’t want his money. When we were together, it was our money. That’s how I thought of it anyway but now, there is no us. It’s his money and he’s giving it to me out of pity, out of a sense of duty. I don’t want pity. I want his love. I still love him. I can’t just wake up one day and be out of love.”
“You’re too good, Mattie. Gavin is disgusted with him. Frank’s called several times but Gavin blows him off. He says he’s a fool for giving you up.”
“Oh my God, how sweet. Bless you, Gavin. He’s one of the good ones, Chloe. I envy you.”
Don’t envy me too much, thinks Chloe. She’s noticed Gavin’s attentions to Mattie and his sympathy. Mattie, with her feline grace of movement, has always been a man magnet, giving off an odor of vulnerable sensuality that’s irresistible to men. Chloe, by contrast a cool Scandinavian beauty, attracted admirers but not the wild passion of the men who came after Mattie. Gavin is no more immune to Mattie’s visceral sexuality than any other man. “Are these schools accredited?” she asks.
“Of course they’re accredited. They have both masters and doctorate programs. Pacifica is a five-year program more oriented to Psychology.” Mattie reaches for her purse. “I downloaded some brochures.” She digs them out, flattens them on the table and pushes them over to Chloe.
“Depth psychology,” Chloe reads. “You mean Freud, Jung, William James, psychoanalysis?”
“Precisely, the program combines an archetypal approach to psychology and incorporates mythology, folklore, philosophy, spirituality, literature, art, religious experience. . .” She trails off. “It’s in depth – the unconscious. Behavioral psychology just doesn’t cut it for me. It’s too cold. I think insurance companies made it up.”
Chloe laughs. “The six sessions and you’re cured approach. Give them a pill and send them back out. They even do it to soldiers in Iraq. God help them. God help us.” Chloe tilts her head as if listening to something.
“What is it?” asks Mattie.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt you. I’m listening for Maya. She sleepwalked last night again. We found her on the porch this morning.”
“Oh my God, you must have been terrified. Was she okay?”
“Yeah, perfectly fine but she’s a little baby Houdini.” Chloe laughs. “Gavin’s going to up the security tonight. He’s worried too.”
“She gets that from you, you know,” Mattie says.
“The sleepwalking? I know. Sorry I interrupted you. You said there was a second school?”
“Yeah, the California Institute of Integral Studies near San Francisco. Their emphasis is on the Divine Feminine, the triple Goddess, Virgin, Mother, Crone. They study the various goddesses in history: Demeter, Isis, Freya . . . There’s a phrase I loved. Here it is,” she says, pointing at the brochure. “‘The Divine Female is a powerful and empowering force, one that remains with us today despite negative patriarchal overlays of meaning and active subjugation/suppression.’ I love that phrase, ‘patriarchal overlays.’ That expresses it exactly.”
“It does. I agree. The essence of life is feminine with a patriarchal overlay. So which one will it be?”
“I don’t know yet. These are just two I pulled up on the internet. I think I’ll go there for a visit. Anyway, I haven’t been accepted. Maybe they’ll reject me. Everyone else does.”
“Stop that. It’s annoying.”
Mattie has had two miscarriages in a row. The last pregnancy lasted almost four months and she had handled the disappointment well or so Chloe had thought. It was Frank who, from all appearances stoic and caring with Mattie, had felt the loss more deeply. He wanted a family and children and after a lot of discussion Mattie quit her job to be a full time Mom even before becoming pregnant. After the second miscarriage, he started seeing someone else although Mattie didn’t know it then. Something was wrong. She knew that. Frank stopped talking to her, stopped confiding. He didn’t want sex anymore and complained that he was tired and stressed from work. Mattie had ignored it. She was in denial. She thought it was a phase, something married couples do after they’ve been together for a couple years. Then, a month ago, he left, taking his clothes and moved in with his new girlfriend. Mattie was blindsided. She had thought their marriage was forever. She had felt safe, secure in his love. Yesterday she had gotten the divorce papers. That’s what set her off.
Chloe and Mattie are opposites physically but their spirits are conjoined. Neither one can imagine life without the other. Mattie is dark, tall and large boned and often overwhelms people with her charismatic presence. Chloe, by contrast, is petite with alabaster skin that doesn’t tan, a hothouse orchid when compared to Mattie’s wild rose. Chloe is careful, slow to try something new. They exasperate each other but they always know one thing. They can trust one another. Mattie has often stepped in to protect Chloe when the world got too rough for her and Chloe has been a chastening force in Mattie’s life. Before she makes big decisions she goes to Chloe first. She has learned the value of her more disciplined mind.
“I’m not even a decent woman. My womb won’t work. You don’t understand how it feels.”
“Mattie, don’t be like that. You’re wonderful and you’ll have children. The miscarriages weren’t your fault.”
Mattie tears. “Maybe they were. Maybe there’s something poisonous about my womb. I’ll be thirty soon. I may never have children and now I have to start over, find a new man and, you know what? The thought of that makes me just sick.”
Chloe is taken aback. “No,” she cries, “no, that’s not true. Frank was there too. It may have had something to do with him. You can’t blame yourself. This isn’t you, Mattie. I’ve never heard you talk this way.” She gets up to hug her friend, leaning awkwardly over the chair, stooping. Mattie clings to her, bawling, her skin damp and feverish, her body shaking with sobs. Chloe starts to cry too.
Mattie pushes her away laughing through her tears. “Look at me,” she says, wiping her face with her napkin. “I can hardly hold it together. I guess I had a come down coming. I always thought Frank loved me more than I loved him. I didn’t think I would ever have to worry about his love ending. I was too complacent, too proud.”
“Come on,” Chloe says, grabbing Mattie’s hands. Let’s walk. It will do you good.” Arm in arm they circle the garden. “I put Lilies of the Valley here under the Oak and some ferns I took from the woods. It’s a natural declivity and sometimes floods in heavy rains. I have to remember to fertilize though. The tree is mature and sucks a lot of the nourishment from the soil.” Chloe glances at Mattie judging her reaction. Mattie smiles weakly back at her. This isn’t her thing, Chloe thinks. “Over here there is more sun and it’s out of the way so I put in a Butterfly bush. It can grow crazy here and not infringe on the more polite plants. We get a lot of butterflies.”
They hear crying coming from the house. “Mommy,” A baby wails. Chloe drops Mattie’s arm and jumps away leaving Mattie a little off balance. She runs for the house and returns carrying a sleepy little girl.
“Say Hi to Mattie, Maya,” Chloe says but Maya buries her head in her shoulder, not ready yet for company. They sit back down. Mattie takes a huge breath and blows it out. She feels calmer after her cry, for having said what was bothering her. “Maybe a course in the Sacred Feminine is just what you need. I wish I could go with you. Maybe Maya and I can visit you when you get settled. I’ve never seen California.”
“Look,” says Maya, pointing.
A cat stalks through the dappled leaf shadows, muscles taut, intently focused on an invisible prey hiding in the grass. Dragging its belly on the ground, it looks ready to give birth at any minute. Chloe watches transfixed as the cat slips in and out of shadows like a thought unbidden that comes in and out of consciousness. Her weak human eyes can’t see the prey. What is it, a bird, a toad, a mouse? The cat hunkers back on its legs and springs, pouncing on a spot in the grass but Chloe sees nothing. Whatever it was got away. After its miss, the cat pauses to delicately lick its paw then leaps onto a rock and sits, as still as a stature on the elevated surface.
“Look at it. It’s too pregnant to hunt. I’ll have to make sure she has food in her bowl.” Chloe says to no one in particular.
“It’s embarrassed,” Mattie says. “It knows we’re watching. Is it your cat?”
“It’s feral. It just appeared. I’m very drawn to it. Silly, I guess. I feel like it’s communicating with me.”
The cat, as if it heard and understood, stares fixedly at Chloe. Its feline yellow eyes seem to pierce her internal boundaries, bypassing civility, forcing its way into the recesses of her being. Chloe, hesitantly willing, silently acquiesces. She has felt a kinship with nature before but she also knows she is unusual, that others don’t seem to experience the same kinship with nature she does. Consequently, since childhood when she first started to experience the occasional physical connection with an animal or plant, she has downplayed the encounters, instinctively understanding that others not understanding why they seems to happen to her and not anyone else.
“What do you want?” Chloe asks. The cat stalks away breaking the spell.
“Chloe, are you talking to cats now?” Mattie asks but to Chloe her voice is in a far off forest and she’s walking, now running, down a path tunneled through the trees.
“What did you say?” Chloe asks.
“Where were you? You left me for awhile.”
Chloe colors, embarrassed, aware that she that she had been so focused on the cat that she didn’t know what was being said to her. She looks at Mattie beseechingly.
“Don’t worry. I was just teasing. I talk to my little kitty all the time.”
“You have a cat?”
“Now I do. I never mentioned her?” Chloe shakes her head. “It was right before Frank left. One of my ex-colleagues gave it to me. According to ancient myth, cats bring fertility. It’s adorable but she didn’t help me hold on to a baby. Can you believe? Frank wants custody.”
“Well, he can’t have her.”
“Of course not. She’s my baby. I named her Freya after the Norwegian cat goddess. Are you familiar with the myth?”
“She’s the goddess of female sexuality, all things female: fertility, childbirth, marital problems, attracting a male . . .” Mattie’s faces lights up as she talks.
“Mattie, I love you but you seem a little nuts. Are you aware how up and down your mood is? I feel like I’m talking to a yoyo.”
Mattie laughs. “Oh my God, that bad? I’ll settle down. I’m miserable because Frank left me and I feel rejected but, on the other hand, I feel kind of liberated. This is my chance to do whatever I want. I was somebody’s daughter and then somebody’s wife and, except for living with you when we were in college, I’ve never been on my own, not really on my own. It’s kind of heady.”
“I think I can understand that. Tell me about Freya.”
“Okay, Would you like to hear a story, Caitlan?
Caitlan, becoming bolder as she awakens, raises her head and looks at Mattie wide-eyed.
“Hi, little girl. Waking up. This is a story about a beautiful Goddess. Do you know what a goddess is?”
Caitlan stares at her. “No, not yet. There haven’t been any goddesses in our stories yet, only queens and princesses,” Chloe says.
“Well a goddess is kind of like a princess on steroids. Sorry, I mean she’s more important than a princess or even a queen. She’s about the most important woman there is.”
“Castle?” Caitlan asks.
“Well, yes, she has a castle, a really big castle, the biggest you can imagine.”
Caitlan smiles and kicks her legs.
“She was the most beautiful woman in the land,” Mattie says, “and wife of the god, Odin. She had a magic cloak made of hawk feathers. With it she flew over the earth sprinkling morning dew and summer sunlight behind her. When she cried, her tears turned into gold. She sounds sweet, doesn’t she? but wait – she has another side, a bad girl side.
“Good, she’s like a human then.”
“Odin was jealous of her. One day, when she was out walking in the forest, she passed a cave where dwarfs lived. There were four of them and they were goldsmiths, really fine craftsmen. They were just finishing a beautiful golden necklace, a necklace with a special property. Whoever wore it would be irresistible to men. Of course Freya wanted the necklace and offered to buy it but the dwarfs wouldn’t sell. They were rich themselves and didn’t need money.” Mattie opens her eyes wide. “They told her that they would give her the necklace if she stayed with them.”
“You mean sort of like a pajama party?” Chloe asks.
“Right,” Mattie says, “just like a pajama party. After the party, they gave her the necklace and Freya went back to her bower. It was a fortress and no one could get in unless invited by Freya. Odin had built it well. One of Odin’s servants – I think his name is Loki. That’s right. It sounds like lock. Anyway, he was a spy and knew about the necklace and the pajama party and told Odin. Odin was angry because he hadn’t been invited to the party. He told Loki to get the necklace, that he wanted to see it.
Maya reaches out to Mattie. “Give it,” he says.
“No, Maya. That’s Mattie’s necklace.”
“Give it,” he says again, his face puckering.
Mattie is wearing a large pendant on a velvet cord. “Is this what he wants?” she asks, fingering her necklace. “It’s an image of Freya. See Maya, see the beaded rope that’s wound around her. That’s her necklace. It has a special name, Brísingamen but that’s too hard to remember. I just call it the Freya necklace. He can have it. It’s fake. I probably paid ten dollars for it ten years ago and I can get another one easily.” She reaches behind her neck to unclasp it and hands it to Maya who starts to laugh.
“Say thank you, Maya.”
Maya smiles at Mattie and wiggles, holding his arms out to her. “Thank you,” he says.
“Oh, Maya, thank you. I didn’t think you would come to me. I haven’t seen you in a long time.” Mattie says, sniffing his head. “Why do you smell so good?” He sits facing out, his favorite position. He likes to watch the world. She curls her head around to look at his face but he coyly turns away, playing with her. “I can see you Maya,” she says.
“Story,” he says.
“The servant had to use to magic to get in,” she says. “He turned himself into a fly. Can you imagine that? Bzzzzzzz,” says Mattie. She presses her middle finger to her thumb and flies around Maya’s head, making buzzing noises. He laughs. “You are so precious, Maya. Freya was asleep on her back and the servant couldn’t get to the back of her neck to unclasp it.” she says, making her eyes wide and touching Maya on the back of his neck. He shivers and looks up at her.
“It was a problem,” she says to him, frowning deeply. Maya frowns too. “What do you think he did?” Maya shrugs.
“He used magic again. He turned himself into a flea and bit her on the cheek. That’s mean, isn’t it?” Maya nods. “It did the trick, though. Freya turned her head to the side and the servant was able to unclasp the necklace and get away. He took it to Odin. The next morning Freya missed the necklace and went to see Odin but he wouldn’t give it back unless she met a condition. She was to bring all the heroes slain on the battlefield to him. Freya agreed but demanded that half heroes be given to her. Odin agreed.”
“Sniker, snack, snicker snack,” Mattie says, grabbing Maya’s arm and waving it back and forth like a sword. Maya laughs. “Odin cast a spell so that if any of them fell in battle, they would spring up and fight again. It was like this.” Mattie holds Maya under the armpits, opens her knees, and drops him to the ground. “See, like that, the soldiers go down and the kings go up,” she says, pulling Maya back up and closing her knees. Maya giggles. “Down,” she says dropping him to the ground. “And up,” she says putting him on her knees again.
Maya laughs hard and says, “Again.”
“Down and up. Down, up, down, up, down, up,” Mattie, says, dropping him and picking him back up in quick succession. Maya laughs hysterically.
“You’re in for it now,” Chloe says laughing. “You may have to do that for the rest of the afternoon.”
“Again,” says Maya.
“Maya,” Mattie says, “I’m exhausted. My arms are so, so tired. I can do it maybe three more times and that’s all. Okay?”
“Okay,” says Maya. Mattie keeps her promise and does it three more times then sits him on her knees. He wiggles but doesn’t demand any more.
“Sounds like the Hindus and the Muslims or the Palestinian problem,” Chloe says.
“There’s a lot more about Freya. I’ve pretty much only told you the ‘Maya’ version. She’s a fascinating goddess. I’ll call you tomorrow.” Chloe, suddenly I’m exhausted. I think I’ll go home and nap. I didn’t sleep well last night. Okay, Maya?”
With her free arm Mattie hugs Chloe then hands Maya back to her.
“Maya, give Mattie her necklace. She’s leaving now.”
“It’s all right. I have plenty of necklaces at home. It’s his now. I’ll get us each one so we can all have them. Won’t that be fun, Maya?”
“Freya, says Maya.