Rose Attar Gum and Mermaid Soap

     Vanessa Wilentz lay on her back as drops of watery fertilizer fell on her brow from the apartment of Roda Ellen van P----.  It was late Saturday afternoon, she had not visited her uncle yesterday and she felt she was swimming in a pool of lead.  She was very confident Friday morning; in fact when she was giving a report in Professor Chelmnickon's class and saw that he was drowsing off, she yelled "wake up" in such a loud and rather abrasive voice that Constantine Rudman (the mathematics graduate student who also took the class) almost turned white in shock.  But her uncle was an intimidating man, and she decided that she could not visit him on the Sabbath and that it would be So Much Wiser to visit him Saturday evening.

       A few weeks earlier Miss Van P---- had begun faking epileptic seizures in order to get her maid to pay attention to her.  She was less than pleased with the results, and would eventually stop them, but she was performing one right now as Vanessa slowly found the will to get up and take the anonymous notes off the bedside table.  It took twenty-five minutes by bus to get to the large, sumptuous and quite tasteful mansion that Ignatius Wilentz, M.P., P.C. called his home.  When Vanessa got there, it was past seven, and the Havdalah service was already finished.  She rang the doorbell and was answered by Mary Lightfeathers.  Lightfeathers was a young Indian woman who had taken the opportunity of a scholarship fund in the name of the late Mrs. Ignatius Wilentz, whereby any Indian could be granted large sums of cash to convert to Judaism and receive an excellent private education.  The program was quite successful; already three scholarship holders had been brutally murdered by anti-semites.  Lightfeathers had changed her name after her conversion to Miriam Sarahson, and it was she who ushered Vanessa into the dark and almost empty house.

       As she entered a small light clicked on the second story landing.  Ignatius left few lights on in the house, so most of the mansion was in darkness, punctuated only by the hum of a computer program.  It was the computer which regulated Lightfeathers' education, by running an a special sequence of assorted tapes.  When Vanessa entered the house a tape was running on Tang poetry, but it was now immediately confined to Lightfeathers' room in the basement.  A strange, undefinable smell filled the air; Ignatius Wilentz did not care for the smell of his niece and her parents.  But unlike his nephew he preferred more innocuous smells than paraquat.  Vanessa heard something like a rattle from the second floor and knew that Lightfeathers had started burning the almonds.  Presently, just after receiving a telephone call from a mad French woman claiming that all the country's blacks should be guillotined, and just after he put down the preparations that were to be needed for Senator Veniot's funeral, Ignatius Wilentz appeared on the landing, right in front of a portrait of George Brandes.  He was almost seventy, though he looked twenty years younger;  with infinite grace and decorum he popped into his mouth a piece of Attar-of-rose chewing gum from Bulgaria that he used precisely for these sort of occasions.

       Wilentz was the liberal MP for Ottawa Southeast.  He had not always represented this riding; in the past he had represented such constituencies as Sartoris-Vanderbilt, South Clitoria, Benedict Arnold, and Avalon-Ribbentrop.  In fact the only thing odder than the names of the ridings he represented was that they apparently never had elections, but he still represented them regardless.  For Wilentz knew a vital secret of the Canadian electoral system:  when you stuffed 245 or 264 or 282 or 295 proud and passionate seats together as tight as sardines you would inevitably get little baby ridings.  Usually these ridings were exported to deserving authoritarian governments with the Encounter seal of approval when they had to have elections; in one case Canada had considerably improved its trade balance with the United States by partitioning the large burly youth of a Manitoba riding named Arthur Meighen-Cocktail Party in twenty-six pieces and selling it to the highest bidder among American city machines.  But sometimes they ended up in the hands of actual politicians.  There was one time when Wilentz was the member for Avalon-Ribbentrop, and Avalon Ribbentrop thought that it would be nice if it left Canada and went for a Caribbean cruise.  So the several hundred square kilometers of Avalon Ribbentrop and its several thousand voters all boarded the S.S. Madeira.  When they found out five months later that the riding had been redistributed to pieces they were all very disappointed.  In 1980, when the Liberals elected only two MPs west of Ontario, Wilentz was elected for the riding of Tuer-Mendes-Frances, the only riding in Alberta with a francophone majority.

 There were many gloomy conversations in the Liberal party elite about the situation in the west.

       "It's so depressing the way the party is out there.  We have only two MPs west of Ontario."

       "Who are they again?"

       "Axworthy, Bockstael, and of course Wilentz.  Only two."

       "Hold on, something's wrong."

       "What?   Axworthy, Bockstael, and Wilentz of course.  Only two."

       "Hold it, you're not counting right.  Bockstael, Axworthy, and oh, of course, Wilentz.  You're right, only two."

       Such was the case of the exportable ridings, and in his more than thirty years of parliament Wilentz had kept a firm eye on them, once attempting to give the new riding of Happy-Happy-Happy to Louis-Ferdinand Celine, because Celine needed the cash.  That fell through, and even non-Liberals managed to get a few of the exportable ridings, though the most famous example, the case of Stuart Reyanaldes, the Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Pseudo-Dorsetshire, belongs to another book entirely.

       Wilentz had been a numbers of times minister without portfolio; he could have gone on to greater successes were it not for a few inconvenient facts.  Politics bored him, he was Jewish, and too often he introduced private members bills that were like the following:  "Today is the birthday of Frederick Nietzsche.  Since Nietzsche was and is infinitely more intelligent than at least 99% of the people in the country, we should commemorate this day as a reminder to all of this country's  worthless philistines."  Similar proposals in favor of Kierkegaard, Spinoza and Maimonides met a similar fate, though a proposal that the present Duke of York's birthday should be celebrated by having all the Tory MPs cluck like chickens almost passed a very bored house.  As for the rest of his time, Wilentz spent it reading.

       When Vanessa told her uncle her problem, he had her read the anonymous notes to him, and popped another piece of rose attar chewing gum into his mouth.  He was born in Poland, and in 1934 with the rise of Hitler and the imminent death of Pilsudski on the horizon, he decided the safest thing to do would be to immigrate to Canada.  Since Canada had no intention of granting him or any other Jew a visa he had to make plans.  His father was making a business trip from Warsaw to the new port of Gdanyia, and he smuggled himself in the trunk.  Once there, he smuggled himself on board a cruise line destined for Canada, carrying all his clothes in a suitcase, his rather paltry savings, a Polish-English dictionary, a package of raw potatoes for him to eat, a loaded revolver in case he was discovered and, in lieu of an inheritance, his great uncle's gilded pocket watch, which he carried to this very day.  There were no problems on the passage and he soon docked in Halifax and took a train to Ottawa.  There he was he a penniless refugee, though with an excellent command of English, and as soon as he could find a wealthy, pompous anti-semite he managed to hypnotise him with his great-uncles' pocket watch into giving him a year's wages.  He then hypnotised a most unpleasant old landlord and convinced him to give him a free room for the next six years, and to convince the local school board into admitting him, an orphan, into their most advanced classes.

      For the next four years he read voraciously, scored well on his exams, wrote a Yiddish pamphlet called How to Smuggle Yourself into Canada, and sent the aforementioned pamphlet back to his parents in Poland.  In 1938 Wilentz managed to get a scholarship to study physics at the University of Toronto and his days of petty theft were over.  He quickly became the best student, and he spent all his spare time reading great philosophers and receiving letters from his father who said that it would be dishonorable to smuggle themselves into Canada, and besides Poland wasn't that bad, and he was throwing his pamphlet in the garbage.  Toronto was a rather parochial university and he soon went to Columbia, and managed to get a bachelor's in only three years of study, at the age of nineteen.

       By this time, of course, the Nazis had occupied Poland, and his family was trapped in the Warsaw ghetto.  Wilentz sent all the food he could afford through the Red Cross, and for several months lived only on diluted soup, though unfortunately to no good purpose.  He sent an updated version of How To Smuggle Yourself into Canada, which never reached its audience.  Conscription was introduced in Canada in 1942 and Wilentz escaped it by revealing that he was not a citizen, and while the lawyers argued about it, Wilentz became a researcher at the Los Alamos project.  It was there he made three discoveries crucial to the development of atomic weapons, which he cleverly patented before revealing them to the rest of the team.  When the mass production of atomic weapons began, Wilentz became rich, and the French and the British had to pay him millions to keep him quiet.  He promptly repaid his landlord and his anti-semitic benefactor, at usurious interest, and a special gratuity, whereupon they both dropped dead of shock.  In 1946 he bought the large mansion that was presently his home, and started buying an enormous library.

       The Canadian government finally, very reluctantly, and very resentfully, granted him citizenship in early 1945.  For the past ten years he had done little but read.  Two encounters with prostitutes convinced him that sex was overrated, and in late 1941 his correspondence with his family ended.  In August 1942, Wilentz, who thoroughly studied the European press, learned about the Holocaust from rumours in the Swiss press, and spend the next two years trying to lobby Ottawa to do something and find information about his relatives.  For the first time in his life, he did a completely futile act.  Nothing could be done to change the minds of Quebecois opposed to Jewish emigration, or to change the minds of Anglophones for whom Québec anti-semitism was an excellent cover for their own prejudice.  On Yom Kippur 1944 Wilentz, for the first and only time in his life, broke down in tears and sobbed through the whole service, realizing that his entire family had been murdered.

       Naturally, after such an outburst, Ignatius could only be pleasantly surprised, though not nearly pleasantly surprised enough, to find that some of his family had survived.  Of the fifty-two relatives and their reasonably close friends that Ignatius had gotten to know by his correspondence, only four remained; his brother Franz, his sister Sarah, his future sister in law Rebekah Kafka, and a cousin of his father's named Avraham Tertzel.  Surviving Shoah was either very simple (you escaped to the Soviet Union and hid there for six years) or extremely complicated.  For all four of his relatives it was extremely complicated.  Suffice it to say, at sixteen Sarah Wilentz managed to escape the deportation of almost the rest of her family to Treblinka by a very degrading act:  she seduced a border guard and made so much noise doing so that the poor man had to push her out onto the free side of the ghetto so his sex-crime would not be discovered.  There she starved, had to prostitute herself and was deported to Ravensbruck with some gentile prostitutes.  After Ardennes she was sent to Buchenwald, where she met her future husband, Felix Simricky, half Jew and a proud leader of the National Socialist resistance to the Germans in Bohemia.  The story of how Rebekah survived was even more complicated, was so horrible that even Ignatius did not like to hear about it, and essentially involved escaping from Treblinka, before spending six months in Auschwitz.  Later Ignatius would realize that while performing the second task was extremely difficult, the first task was virtually impossible.  Only later would he learn how his sister-in-law survived and the answer did not impress him one bit.

       Franz Wilentz, after a large number of extremely close escapes, finally saved himself in late 1944 by boarding a train bound to Berlin filled with Russian POWS.  After they had all been liberated, Franz and Sarah decided that instead of going back to Warsaw, they would follow Felix Simricky back to Prague.  This was a wise move, as Avraham Tertzel's fate showed.  Unlike the rest of his family, which were either Bundist or Labour Zionist, Tertzel was an open admirer of the Pilsudski regime, and in prosperous days he was proud to describe himself as a "professional usurer."

 He survived the first two and a half years of the German occupation by the black market, though the ever constant German fines still wiped out half his fortune.  He survived the next year using the rest of it to bribe and blackmail Irish consulate officials into giving him enough passports to make it to the sea, where he managed to spend the next two years with some Finns.

 Everything he had in Warsaw had been burnt to the ground, but he still had some property in the suburbs, so one fine late summer afternoon in 1945 he announced himself to the present Polish proprietor.  The next morning he was found hanging from a still standing oak tree, built especially for the utterly destroyed city park.  His corpse was fully dressed, but there was a large gash around his navel, and in the slit was stuffed a chain.  From the chain hung a portrait of the Black Virgin, which covered what had once been Tertzel's genitals.  His body had been decently buried long before the Wilentzs found about his fate, but when Vivian Chelmnickon saw the death of the professional usurer he irrationally decided to join the Polish Communist Party that very instant.

       When Franz, Felix, and Sarah all returned to Prague, they encountered Ignatius there.  Since Prague was the only capital in Central Europe which hadn't been reduced to rubble, Ignatius thought it was a good place as any other to start looking for his family.  After spending five months realizing that the rest of his family was completely extinct, Ignatius had to figure out what to do with his siblings.  Sarah had already posed a bit of a problem, because she could not speak Czech, her Polish was atrocious, and she could only talk to Felix in German.  This lead to suspicions that she actually was German, and since the Germans were all being deported tout suite from Czechoslovakia she was in noticeable danger.  This was resolved by Felix offering to marry her, and using his wartime experience to get her an exemption and immediate Czechoslovak citizenship.  Shortly after, a little too shortly after, Sarah gave birth; it was a sign of things to come that the labor lasted three weeks, and when it was over she had not produced the first of the twelve Simricky children, but a stillbirth.  Despite the fact that she got to meet high government officials at meetings honoring her husband, despite the fact that Felix exaggerated an incident at Buchenwald enough so that Sarah could get her own little medal, and despite the fact that she was eating better than she had in seven years, Sarah Simricky did not like Czechoslovakia one bit.  Perhaps her opinion was shaped by the fact that all the childhood diseases that she had previously escaped suddenly came back with a vengeance, along with severe bouts of influenza, appendicitis and one of the less harmful venereal diseases, perhaps all this had turned her against Prague:  "I can't speak a word of Czech!  I want to go to Israel!"  She couldn't speak a word of Hebrew either, but she insisted on the matter; but despite all of Ignatius' efforts, she could not get a visa to Israel, or even a visa to get to some third country from Czechoslovakia.  It was only after Franz and Ignatius had left, and after the Communist coup of February 1948 that Sarah and Felix found a means of escape.  Felix had now entered the foreign office, where the Communists couldn't purge it of democrats fast enough.  When in May 1948 the Communist government needed someone to deliver arms to the Israelis they sent Felix and Sarah, who simply didn't bother to return.

       Franz Wilentz wanted to go to Canada with Ignatius, but both of them quickly discovered that there was no way the Jewish refugee quota could be increased; why if that happened, there'd be more Jews coming into Canada than the Sudetan Germans just expelled from Czechoslovakia.  It would take prodigious efforts with his great uncle's watch (the immigration officials wouldn't take bribes), for Ignatius to get Franz into Canada, and would take even more prodigious efforts to get Franz naturalized before the birth of his son.  Surprisingly, Rebekah Kafka's entry into Canada was much easier.  She had known that Franz had survived up to the middle of 1944, but it was only after spending a couple of years in a concrete factory that she happened to see one day in some yet uncleared rubble a yiddish pamphlet titled How to Smuggle Yourself into Canada.  Following its advice she would have a fateful meeting with Franz Wilentz in the office building of what would become...   But that is for another chapter.  Let us just say that it was after this incident that Ignatius Wilentz first started importing attar-of-rose chewing gum from Bulgaria.

       Vanessa Wilentz interrupted her reading to ask her uncle a question.

 Did he know where Natasha Wilentz was?  Peter was curious and he had asked about her.

      "I have no idea where she is.  My daughter is a grown woman, and I do not need to be constantly informed of her whereabouts.  I have not heard anything from her since her marriage to that Pole."

       After Ignatius Wilentz turned forty it had occurred to him that he had not fulfilled the command of the Torah to marry and have children.  He therefore sought one of the less shallow unmarried female members of the local synagogue executive, and after four of the most surpassingly boring evenings in his life he proposed marriage to her.  She accepted and ten months later a child was duly conceived.  Ignatius was not terribly enthused about this; nothing less than a reincarnation of Nietzsche, Spinoza, or Maimonides would satisfy him.  And since it was his firm belief that only idiots believed in reincarnation, he knew he was going to be disappointed.  So the birth of his first and only child, Natasha Wilentz, did not move him one way or another.

       But try as he might, Ignatius could not ignore the all-surpassing charm and grace of his daughter, a charm and grace that even Neo-Nazis could not resist.  Early on, his wife commented how pleasant it was that Natasha never cried at night and keep waking them up.  Since Ignatius only slept five and a half hours a day, not at all of them at night, he did not know what was so wonderful about that.  But soon he noticed how the most corrupt and unsentimental bagmen in the party prostrated themselves like idiots before the baby girl, how his cooks and maids kept spontaneously giving the toddler sweets and cooking special dinners when they should have been cooking food for the rest of the household, how even sour-faced fifteen year old Peter Wilentz was captivated and made the purest gesture of love he could ever possibly perform, by giving the little girl a cake of soap to eat.  One day the Deputy Minister of Finance came over and gave the four year old Natasha a rattle.  "Does Natasha like the little rattle, does she like her nice little rattle?  Does she, Does she?"

       "Yes, actually I do.  Thank you very much sir."

       But Natasha only became a real problem when her father tried to have her educated.  Ignatius first put her in public school, then after two and a half disastrous weeks, he put her in the most exclusive and authoritarian Catholic school he could find.  No such luck; the entire faculty and all her class was charmed by the six year old Natasha, so Ignatius made arrangements to have her privately tutored.  With firm resolution Ignatius gave her daughter a long and difficult reading list and enormous amounts of homework, while he set out to look for teachers.  His wife was so angered at the load on her daughter she announced that from this moment on she and her husband would sleep in separate rooms.  Actually, they had been sleeping in separate rooms since she had become pregnant; her in the main bedroom, and Ignatius in the library where he did his work.  In the meantime the first of the scholars came, straight from the University of Toronto, but in a few months, their permissive attitude toward their charge was obvious.  Ignatius thought that the best American scholars would do for Natasha's second year.  For two years this lasted, but again they had to leave.  British scholars taught her fourth year, and Continental scholars her fifth.  The last included a consignment of tongue-tied deconstructionists but Natasha charmed even them into lucidity.  For the sixth year, Ignatius Wilentz hired Paul de Man and Martin Heidegger to educate Natasha, believing that anti-semites would not be taken in by her charms.  He was wrong, and for the seventh and eighth years he hired practical, conservative, unsentimental Straussians,  members from the faculty of West Point, and the most impractical Kabbalists to provide the sufficient discipline.  This was more successful.  But then one afternoon Ignatius Wilentz returned home and he saw two of Natasha's English teachers weeping in sheer empathy at a poem Natasha had written.  Since the first one had personally overseen the murder of two-thousand Vietnamese in operation Phoenix, and the second had supervised torture sessions in half the countries of Latin America, this simply wouldn't do.  Personally, he wanted his money back (why else would he have employed war criminals?) but for the ninth year he thought a faculty composed entirely of exclusive homosexuals might do the trick.  And for most of that year it appeared to work well, but when he saw Natasha teaching Michel Foucault the Highland Fling he was relatively close to his wits' end.  Finally an enterprising young scientist found a solution:  Natasha Wilentz would be taught by a very complicated computer program, and this solved some of Ignatius' problems.

       Natasha's mother had long since been dead, having died of an appropriately sentimental  disease when Natasha was seven, and Ignatius had honored her memory by setting up the Mrs. Ignatius Wilentz Memorial Scholarship in her name.  Aside from that, Ignatius showed so few signs of affection to anyone that many people thought he was heartless, cold and more than a bit mad. Jokes were not easily told about Ignatius Wilentz even when he was not there, such was the magnetism of his presence, but only Dr. Roget noticed that by her own careful and premeditated charm Natasha Wilentz ensured that no-one really tried either.  And it was only Dr. Roget who noticed Ignatius' glare to the rabbi to cut back on the clichés during Natasha's wedding.  And it was also only Dr. Roget who read the note from his father in law saying that Philippe did not deserve his daughter and that the marriage would end in divorce, but that she would never really leave him.  Somehow that note meant more to him than the Spinoza Ignatius had given him as a wedding gift, and it was only Dr. Roget who noticed that behind Ignatius's objectivity and dispassionate view of his daughter was a love that transcended affection, desire and pleasure, but not justice.

       Meanwhile, Ignatius Wilentz had the rest of his family to worry about.  Franz and Rebekah had worked since their marriage in one of Ottawa's public libraries; the one in which Ignatius Wilentz made absolutely sure he never visited without a full complement of attar of rose chewing gum.  (If Peter Wilentz accidentally encountered a book from that branch he would go into conniptions.) But Sarah Simricky's fate was to be very different.  For the first seven years of her life in Israel she was not ill for a single day; even during her three pregnancies, all of which successfully produced healthy vibrant children, she was full of good cheer and boundless energy.  Unfortunately everything else in her life was miserable.  It had started a few weeks after they had renounced their Czechoslovak citizenship, and Felix had just received an extremely heavy sunburn.  Felix did not speak any Hebrew before he came to Israel, and in trying to learn it he often had it confused with the other local semitic language, Arabic.  So that day, during a somewhat tense period of the war of independence, he was coming home in purest agony when he encountered a local militia composed of Dutch Jews who mistook his jabberings and skin color.  Felix muttered and stuttered and tried to produce proof that he was the gentile son of a Hebrew mother, and in desperation, showed that he wasn't circumcised.

       "Ah Hah!" said the ringleader.  "He must be a Christian Arab!" and they beat him up anyway.

       When Ignatius learned about this in one of Sarah's monthly letters, he immediately sent her some money.  And he did the same when he found that she had been brutally raped by an Arab, and he would do so again as she was raped again and again by various Arab parties.  But when he read in a letter that one Purim evening, which had taken place after Felix had to declare bankruptcy because his partner in the glass-blowing firm they owned, the glass of which incidentally was slowly ruining Felix's health, had embezzled all the money and fled to Argentina; and which took place when the Israeli Communist party was running a slander campaign against Felix's role in the Czech National Socialists, and when Sarah thought she had syphilis, but was merely suffering from a similar disease which was much less dangerous but considerably more painful, and when two of their children accidentally broke their legs in an accident, and all the talmuds and torahs that Ignatius had been sending them as Purim gifts in previous years had to be sold for food and when all their luxuries had to be bartered away, and there was nothing left and Sarah and Felix were living on bread and water so that they could buy Purim toys for their children, and as they were sitting in their home and the heat and the electricity and the air conditioning had been cut off and the children were about to open their gifts, cruel, lascivious Arabs burst through the room and wantonly, viciously, sadistically and hideously cruelly smashed all the little Simrickys' Purim gifts and then to add to their crime went around going "Boo!" before they left; when Ignatius had read all this, he could not stop laughing.  When Lightfeathers saw him laughing at this and many other horrible letters she was appalled.  "Do you believe she's making this up?"

       "My dear Ms. Sarahson it is only because every single incident in this letter is absolutely true, that I find it so completely hilarious."  And indeed Lightfeathers herself, as well as Peter, Roget and  even occasionally Dramsheet would later find the letters an utter delight.  They tastefully chortled with circumspect glee whenever they learned that whenever Sarah bought a hard-earned ice-cream for one of her children, an Arab would appear out of nowhere and vindictively throw it on the ground and stamp on it.  Even Chelmnickon once found this amusing in an odd, untypical, Polish sort of way.  This thing sort of thing happened all the time; when Ignatius invited the Simrickys to Canada, and let them visit the idiosyncratic riding in Southwestern Saskatchewan that he happened to be representing at the moment, Sarah decided to go on a picnic with one of her daughters.  As they traversed the incredible dull and flat plains they decided to sit down and Sarah gave her daughter a Creamsickle.  But before the latter could open and hope to enjoy it, an Arab jumped from a under a bush, grabbed the creamsickle, threw it on the ground, stamped on it and then dashed away.

       Nothing upset Sarah Simricky more than one Asyysr Benemk, an Arab citizen who raped her no less than seven times, and was responsible for three of her twelve children.  It was not that Benemk actually found her attractive; indeed he was an extremely near-sighted homosexual, who kept mistaking her for her young lithesome son, and would have vomited all over her had he ever correctly guessed her sex.  She had tried to have this insatiable pederast convicted, but when a fire broke out at one of the premier Jewish orphanage for boys, Benemk, for the most selfish and depraved of reasons, personally rescued the thirteen most beautiful boys.  For this the Israeli government gave him a medal, and even gave him the opportunity to be drafted.  This opportunity Benemk took in order to make it that much more difficult for Sarah to prosecute him.  He was a lazy soldier, spending most of his time at the Syrian border chatting in the most subversive way with the guard across the boundary.  Indeed, he was having a debauched and grotesque drinking party when the Yom Kippur War began, and thus inadvertently delayed a crucial Syrian advance twelve hours that could otherwise have split Israel in half.  For this act of unintended bravery the viciously anti-semitic Benemk was promoted from a reserve sergeant to a full colonel in the space of eight months.

       Vanessa Wilentz had now finished reading the seven letters her anonymous admirer had sent her.  "O.K.  What are they?"

       "Oh, they're love letters, of course."

      "Oh really.  I could have guessed that, uncle.  What are we going to do about them?"

      "The letters are hardly illegal or threatening, so the police would probably not pay much attention to them.  Working on my own however, I can arrange a suitably private investigation.  You will place the letters down and I shall summon Ms. Sarahson to make copies and seal the originals in a place far from my sense of smell."  (At this point Ignatius tactfully popped another piece of attar of rose chewing gum into his mouth.)  "If any more letters arrive, ensure that Sarahson receives them.  I shall form a committee of three people to investigate the letters and find the identity of their author.  The three shall consist of my lawyer, Louis Dramsheet, Q.C., a psychologist at Carleton, Dr. Oliver Corpse, and a member of the police force working on his own private capacity.  That will be all, thank you."

      Ignatius pushed a convenient button that temporarily halted the computer education program and which summoned Lightfeathers up from her basement room.  Ignatius directed her to take the letters and to show Vanessa out the door.  He then went into his study and looked over the things that had to be done.  There was the eulogy he had to write for Senator Veniot's funeral.  There was the speech had to write against some fatuous cabinet minister that the press considered a potential prime minister.  He looked for Oliver Corpse's telephone number and remarked how much weight he had gained when he had seen him earlier today.  He then looked through a special black book containing the names of the Ottawa Police force.  Flipping through it he found quickly found the name he was looking for:  Inspector Joseph Tyrone.  At this point Lightfeathers entered the room and awkwardly tried to discuss tomorrow's curriculum.  And then, in a conscientious effort to make small talk she said:

      "Isn't it horrible how those Catholic priests keep sodomizing all those young boys that go to Catholic schools and orphanages?"

      Ignatius did not bother to look at her, and merely noted that "sodomizing" was a brand new word for her.  He was trying to find a letter that Veniot had given to him a few days before he died.  "No, not really.  I have always thought that anyone stupid enough to believe in vulgar Zoroastrian heresies deserves everything he gets."


      "I come from a long line of seamen," claimed Madame Catherine Jeannette Roget Vovelle.  "Doesn't that sort of go without saying?" asked her confused nephew, Giles Seinkewicz, before his mother whacked him on the head with the spatula she was using.  But Madame Vovelle was quite serious about the origins of her family.  Ever since Champlain, the Roget family had lived in Acadia and had spent their lives fishing in the unprofitable waters off the New Brunswick coast.  The Roget family enters our story with two brothers.  One was Henri Roget, the younger brother, who continued the family fishing tradition.  The other one was Corneille Roget, who became the token lawyer in the family.  He was very successful at this, moved to Montréal, became a Queen's Counsel and had nine children.  The virtuists of the world will undoubtedly be pleased to learn that, except for poor Sarah Simricky, all the nasty acts of homosexuality, bestiality, rape and incest, which would have to take place in a novel with this many characters, occurred only among the nine children of Corneille Roget.  Even better for the virtuists the nine children and their spouses all died horrible deaths before any of them reached the age of thirty-three.  Indeed, their deaths were such a tribute to a deeply realistic and pessimistic appreciation of the power of original sin that had Reinhold Neibuhr himself heard of their fates, he would have had an orgasm right there and then.  So Corneille Roget was left with his only grandchild, the very small Philippe Roget.  He was adapted, given stuffed blue kangaroos and wooden toy soldiers twice his size, then his grandfather placed him in the best of the world's dullest medical schools.  The virtuists of the world will be glad to hear that by hard work, ostentatious denunciation of local prostitution and only occasional dalliances with the school's secretaries, Roget became a world respected surgeon.  But even best of all for the virtuists was that when the very important character Dr. Albert Hermann was only a baby, he always tactfully averted his eyes while being breastfed.

       Henri, on the other hand, continued fishing in his not very distinguished Acadian village, and married a very beautiful young woman his age named Marie Abelard.  Well, he was thought she was very beautiful, but Modern Age would have denounced this as cheap sentimentality.  In a short period of time they produced two daughters and then, for a suspiciously long period of time, no others.  The first daughter was named Avare, the second Catherine Jeannette.  Catherine Jeannette's earliest memory was being told about the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary when she was only three and a half.  She had to remember that event, because the second earliest memory wouldn't have made sense otherwise.  She remembered toddling along with her mother and older sister to a fairground when Marie wanted to visit a Genuine Gipsy Fortune-Teller.  She took them both into the little tent and there was a lady in Arabian costume, who wore a black wig in order to cover her luscious blonde hair, had stained her skin with shoe polish and who took a 1932 Tijuana Tarot Card set.  She then started to recite words from the Baghadava Vita in the original Hindi; she didn't know what they meant (in fact they were about a tree one of the characters was describing), but it certainly sounded impressive.  She lit incense, actually a mixture of cinnamon and flash powder, and spoke grotesque French in a ludicrously silly low voice.  Marie Roget was amazed, and Avare was frightened.  But even then Catherine Jeannette was suspicious and suspected that this ostentatious fraud knew too much about secret truths of this and other worlds.  Looking closely at a welt on Marie's shoulder caused by a fight with her husband, the fortune teller solemnly noted that there were problems between her and her husband.  She then gave one of her standard Francophone village platitudes:  you are a devout member of the church of Rome, but in your heart of hearts you feel you have not done not nearly enough.  She then smoothed the hair of the not terribly attractive Catherine and said "this daughter shall not be a temptress of men."  And then she said what Avare and Catherine Jeannette never forgot from that day onwards: "Madame, one of your daughters, though a virgin, shall conceive a child through the help of the powers of heaven."

       By the time she reached her first communion, Catherine had started the occasional bouts of mortification and fasting that she would follow for the rest of her life, this time in order to prove herself worthy of being the successor to the mother of God.  She only stopped the first time when her parish priest told her that privileges from God could not be bought, not even with suffering and pain.  Shortly after that the future Madame Vovelle remembered following her father out to the sea.  He sat down on a rock, while she stood, as he gazed wistfully down into the ocean.

        He spoke.  "I wish that mermaids really existed.  I wish I could see them."

        "Perhaps you already have father.  Perhaps mother is a mermaid and you are simply too stupid and selfish to recognize that."  Madame Vovelle's parish priest had already taught her that being utterly tactless towards one parents was not a vice when confronted with the other six universal sins.  Already Catherine Jeannette had the self-assurance and stature to openly castigate her parents.  At the time Henri Roget could only curse the annoying priests in the village under his breath; only afterwards, when it was far too late, did he realize how right his daughter was.

       For two months later, Henri Roget would Die.  He would be declared officially dead by the authorities of the province of New Brunswick; all his bodily remains (which consisted of his left arm and his scalp) would be buried in the churchyard of St. Ursulla's Catholic church; his manner of dying would become a province wide event, of particular interest to marine biologists, while his wife would marry another man, and become pregnant within the year.

        It happened this way.  The whole town was on a ferry for a summer celebration, and Henri decided that he would introduce the community to the wonderful new sport of water-skiing.  Two kilometers from the shore Roget whizzed by the ferry where his wife and daughters were, while an old crony of his drove the only speedboat in the riding.  But as it happened just as Roget was about to speed by the ferry one more time, the boat bumped against something and boat, Roget and crony flew through the air to splash down right by the side of the ferry.

        The two men were somewhat stunned, while Marie and the men on the ferry tried to reach them with life preservers.  It was only then that it was revealed what the boat had bumped against.  It was a shark, a very large shark, and it had a lot of large brother sharks who swarmed towards the ferry.  (Surprisingly, there were no sister sharks.)  A life preserver lifted Roget out of the water, but then the tension slacked, and the horrified rescuers found that they had only retrieved his left arm.  The poor crony was swallowed in a thrice, while a shark was seen to bite off Roget's scalp.  The beast was shot, picked up from the sea, as the other sharks ate its bottom half and then themselves in a shocking feeding frenzy.

 Roget's scalp and his left arm were placed in a box, while biologists all over Canada would be stunned by the presence of so many sharks near the New Brunswick shore.  The village cancelled all the summer celebration, Henri Roget received a well-attended funeral, and everyone paid their condolences to his grieving young widow.

       The only problem with all this was that Henri was not actually dead.

 When the shark chewed off his scalp, he immediately fell unconscious and sank to the bottom of the sea, while the sharks obligingly devoured themselves.  It was there that he was rescued by the shark's true prey, the true reason that they had wandered so near New Brunswick, a beautiful mermaid with blonde hair.  Using special mermaid magic she insured that Roget could breathe under water, and took him to live under a giant sea clam with a phosphorescent interior far beneath the sea.  There he would rest for the next twelve months, while the mermaid helped with his recovery.  She gathered mud from the sea bottom to replace his scalp and planted seaweed in it to replace his hair, while she managed to catch an octopus and used one its limbs to replace Roget's left arm.  So when after Henri had fully recovered from the shock and delirium and walked back into his home town one bright day exactly one year after he had fallen into the sea, everyone was completely surprised, not the least being his remarried widow.  Marie Abelard Roget had married Daniel Raymond, a county clerk from Moncton who was the cousin of a very dull marine biologist and who was considering converting to the United church.  And when Henri saw her she was very visibly pregnant.

       Naturally everyone was quite embarrassed.  Legally Roget had been dead; now that he was alive he was still Marie's husband, and in the eyes of the law, the proper father of Daniel Raymond's child.  Some suggested that everything should be solved by prosecuting Marie for bigamy and Henri for desertion, but more sentimental minds prevailed.  It was suggested that the second marriage be annulled and this had Marie's sympathy, but Raymond, who already had a low opinion of the church's views on divorce, had no intention of having his child retroactively bastardized before she (and it was a she) was even born.  To have the first marriage annulled would raise similar problems, and be very tricky legally.  So the town could only do one thing:  raise a collection in order to bribe Liberal members of parliament to push through the divorce bill for Henri Roget as quickly as possible.  Corneille contributed quite a lot to the settlement, while Marie agreed to give Henri custody of Avare and Catherine.  Naturally, the fact that Henri must have been deranged, evidenced from his always talking about mermaids, convinced the House of Commons to get the bill passed so that Marie could be remarried to Daniel Raymond just as she was going into labor.  Four hours afterwards Daniel Raymond saw his first and only child, Atala Amara Raymond.

        The ironic fact of all this was that Atala Amara Raymond, later known as Atala "Alice" Amara Raymond, and later still as Alice Amelia Raymond, and later known to her eldest sister as Alice Amnesia Raymond, and finally as Mrs. Alice Concrete, M.P. for the Reform Party for the riding of Western Somme, was in fact no relation at all to Daniel Raymond.  Although Henri Roget never left the sea and Marie never entered the ocean at the moment of her conception, it was an indisputable fact that Atala was Henri Roget's legitimately conceived daughter.  This was how it happened; in the warm, dry phosphorescent shell Henri gradually recovered enough to speak about his wife, and tried to tell the mermaid about her.  It took six months for Henri to be lucid enough to tell the mermaid where she could find his wife.  She therefore prepared a special sort of message to give to Marie;  she took special limestone sodas that bubbled from the ocean floor and she mixed them with special odors such as the salt of the sea, the poison of jellyfishes and the crucial ingredient of marigolds grown in sea-water.  For the fat she ejaculated semen from Roget when he was sleeping and she mixed everything into a small cake no larger than the palm of a woman's hand.  There she wrote on it with special octopus inks a message in French saying that eat this and you will know and love your husband forever.  She then swam to the shore one winter's night and her fins turned into legs and out of duty and punishment she walked in agony on the guillotine ground.  Naked, she slipped into what she correctly guessed was Marie's bathroom, and left the cake, seen by no-one in the village except by the ever-observant Catherine Jeannette.  She then dashed back to the sea.  Unfortunately for all parties concerned except for that of Alice Concrete, the Raymonds had chosen that day to run out of soap, so when Marie went to take a bath the next day she thought this was an extra cake of soap.  And so she washed the marigold smelling mermaid soap all over her breasts, on her arms, at the back of her neck, behind her ears (as her old mother always said she should), around her feet, and between her legs.  The message was washed off with the first bath and nine months later Atala Raymond was born.

       Henri Roget took his unintended divorce with outward good grace, though Avare could see his suffering and wished for her mother to return.  That could not happen, however, for shortly thereafter, Raymond publicly converted to Protestantism and seeing the lack of enthusiasm in his wife's eyes, rashly moved his family to Alberta.  Three years after Atala's birth Raymond sent a letter to Henri saying that Marie was about to have a baby.  But Raymond was wrong:  his wife was not even pregnant, but instead had cancer of the womb causing her belly to swell.  So on the day that she was supposed to enter labor, she hemorrhaged and bled to death.  The first thing Raymond did on learning of his wife's death was to rebaptize his daughter into the United Church.  He then contacted the family firm of Concrete undertakers, and bought the most beautiful coffin that he could imagine.  Henri Roget had to borrow from his brother to take the first airplane trip of his life along with his two daughters, before he saw his wife interred in a Protestant graveyard, far away from her home, buried by people who could not speak French.  He made a pathetic figure, in his unfashionable and plebian clothes of mourning, as he tried to stutter in heavily accented and broken words his over-wrought grief.  As the coffin was lowered into the grave Avare Roget heard the most horrible words in her whole life.  They were spoken by her sister.

        "Our mother died in agony and suffering.  Good.  Her death was caused by the Lord our God, all things that come from God are good and this therefore was a just punishment for her sins that she fully deserved."

        A year later Raymond married a happy young woman in his clerk's office named Mabel Shields.  They had no children, but Mabel loved her step-daughter very dearly and spoiled her horribly by giving her all the shampoo she could want.  It was she was started calling Atala, Alice, and later mistaking "Amelia" for "Amara," and she did this so often that Alice Amelia Raymond forgot that she had any other name.  Henri Roget would live another few years, spending his free time alone and drawing half-naked mermaids.  Sometimes he would try to find everything he could learn about them, and would often speculate on their origins.  Avare thought her father mad, or at least somewhat confused, while Catherine Jeannette believed the mermaid to be one of Satan's more cunning stratagems.  Only on his deathbed, where he was alone because Avare had dashed off to try to get an ambulance, and Catherine Jeannette was running to the priest's, did he realize the Truth, that the mermaid was his own wife, imprisoned in purgatory, and that he did not deserve her love or his salvation.  And he did not even have time to fully appreciate this thought because Catherine Jeannette had re-entered with the priest not quite right behind her, and she whispered into her father's ears "You may not know why the good die and the wicked prosper, but you should never doubt that you are being punished for your sins."

        By staggering good luck, Henri Roget had just drunkenly filled out a life insurance policy for a rather large sum just before he died, so that there was enough money for Avare and Catherine Jeannette to attend the Catholic University of St. Francis-Xavier.  They shared the same apartment and it was there that Catherine Jeannette would meet the man who would be the second most important man in her life, and who would in turn introduce her to her first, her greatest and her most sincerest love.  The first was God, the second man was Dr. Albert Hermann, while the only man who ever enjoyed sexual relations with her, her husband Genet Vovelle, a mathematics teacher with large and completely unfulfilled sexual urges, was around twenty-seventh in the list of important men in her life.

        She met Hermann while he was giving a five-hour lecture on The Imitation of Christ, where he was arguing that the book would still retain its moral grandeur and philosophical brilliance had it even not been written by Thomas A Kempis, but instead had been written by such diverse people as Maimonides, Karl Marx, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Vivian Leigh or Jack the Ripper.  He immediately noticed Catherine Jeannette, because she was the only person awake at the end of it, and he invited her to have some sugarless coffee with her.

        Hermann was (and indeed is) ten years older than the future Madame Vovelle, and was known back in his native Germany as an exceptionally kind and studious little boy.  At five years old he made a solemn vow never to eat a drop of sugar, a vow which he never broke.  At nine years he read a popular summary of Freud's theories and instead of giving his allowance to the church like he usually did, he saved it up and had himself castrated.  He would have remained celibate regardless, but he was so humble he though he should do it just to be on the safe side.  When he was ten he would go to Dachau concentration camp bringing gifts of homemade ice cream to the prisoners and reading the bible to them.  The effort was diminished by the fact that Albert refused to use sugar in his ice-cream, and that as he was a good Catholic he would read the Latin Vulgate instead of Luther's translation, but even the Stalinists appreciated the good will.  At twelve his parents wisely discovered some relatives living in Switzerland and emigrated there.  From sixteen to twenty-seven he took the most advanced courses from the greatest scholars from the greatest Catholic universities in the world, and already by the time he had met Catherine he was one the most influential and powerful laymen in the Roman Catholic church.  He would be granted degrees, and later honorary citizenship, from such countries as Syria, Sierra Leone, Zambia, Poland, Tanzania, Canada, both East and West Germany, Lithuania, Thailand, the Philippines, Ecuador, Colombia, Nigeria, Ghana, Ireland, and Honduras.  Later he would be part of the special secret committee that would ensure that the antichrist did not take control of the papacy.  As part of his duties as a member of this committee he carried on his persons at all times and all places, a dagger of purest and sharpest silver, granted originally to St. Francis of Assisi in order to assassinate a possessed Pope, and handed down from saint to saint for that express purpose.  He was the permanent Devil's Advocate and a special Lay Confessor to the Pope, he had complete access to all the papal archives, and had seen two of the nails that had crucified Yeshua ben Yosepha.  By the time Senator Veniot died, Dr. Albert Hermann would be a member of the staff at the Vatican Embassy in Ottawa, though his actual residence would be at 233 Drogheda Apartments.  But when he first saw Catherine Jeannette he immediately recognized that here was a woman of undying faith who could only be of inestimable use to the Catholic church.  So he gave her a special gift, the final volume of St. Augustine:  The city of God Part II:  It's a really neat place!  Then he gave her advice on how to help the local church and learn as much as possible about holy doctrine.

        Catherine Jeannette had shed few tears for her father (to wit: none) and she had always viewed herself as intellectually superior to her older sister.  So it was with considerable surprise that she one day asked Avare some question about some martyr to the faith under the new Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, and found that not only did Avare know the answer, but that she even knew more about it than she did.  She quickly found that for the past few weeks Avare Roget, who up to this time had only been interested in boys, was attending meetings of the University chapter of the Captive Nations movement, and that she had therefore gained an encyclopedic knowledge about persecution of the church in such countries as Lithuania, Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary, Russia and Poland (but not the Ukraine).  Stunned, and a little envious about her sister's superior knowledge Catherine attended some of the meetings with her and it was there she encountered the group's treasurer, John Seinkewicz.  He was a serious young man, factual, laconic, and proud of his aura of gravity.  Many maritimers had a sophomoric, vulgar and surprisingly vicious sense of humor:  Avare would always recall seeing in the local paper a comic strip about a cat stuffed head first into a boot so that one could castrate it.  John was not like that.  Catherine noted that he rarely laughed, and had a clearly marked preference for those old anti-communist jokes where solidarity with the oppressed was more important than wit.

        Although she had not learned everything there was to know about the Captive Nations, envy and wounded pride made Catherine Jeannette quickly study everything she could.  Soon enough she lost any inferiority to the workmanlike Seinkewicz who often dropped by the dormitory to give Avare special documents.  Naturally, if she felt herself superior to Seinkewicz she could only compare herself to her sister in a better light, and she was therefore quite surprised when Seinkewicz offered the objective suggestion that Miss Avare Roget possessed considerable organizational skills and made a valued contribution to the chapter.  One evening Catherine Jeannette attended one of Dr. Hermann's lectures on Catharism and she realized that she had unaccountably left behind several crucial books behind.  She ordinarily left them near the base of the brand new television that Avare had just bought, and she would ordinarily put on her coat and then grab the books and go out the door.  But tonight she remembered that when she put on the coat, the books were not there, though she had specifically remembered placing them there.  She excused herself from the lecture, raced back to her dormitory, opened the door and found Avare and John naked on the living room floor having sex.  Catherine did not look at them any longer than was necessary, and instead realized that Avare must have stuffed her books out of the way, and correctly guessed that they must have been placed on the top of Avare's clothes closet.  In cool, methodical procession, she took the books from the clothes closet, exited the bedroom, put the books down by the side of the television and a meter away from the passionate couple, turned to open another closet door, took out a croquet mallet that her uncle Corneille had given the two of them as a gift, walked until she stood right over John, whacked him very hard on the back, returned the mallet to the closet, picked up her books, and left.

         Two years after she graduated Avare Roget announced that she was going to marry John Seinkewicz, and ultimately did so.  Two years later Catherine Jeannette announced to Dr. Hermann that she wanted to become a nun.  To her surprise Hermann vetoed the idea with unusual vehemence.  He believed that the Holy Spirit had much higher ambitions for her.  Altruism and self-sacrifice were all very well, but there was a war to be fought, and it could not be fought entirely by nuns.  But it would take time for Dr. Hermann to achieve the full backing of the church for his plans and in the meantime Catherine should marry and start a family.

        She found the perfect husband very soon:  Genet Vovelle, a young man who had undoubted mathematical talents and had considerable charm and wit as well.  Unfortunately his sexual desires were so strong and so unsubtle that any self-respecting girl would slap him, kick him, throw hot coffee in his face, and in one case push him off the third floor of a fire escape.  Even prostitutes felt insulted at his demands and would refuse to sleep with him.  So it took Vovelle little convincing that he should propose to Catherine.  Had he realized how little sex this would involve he would have had second thoughts.  For Catherine had told Hermann about the Mermaid soap that her mother had used.  He in fact had already been aware of this, a special Vatican committee had been investigating the concept.  Any combination of sodas and odors could work, though the ones the mermaid used were the best, but Catherine had learned the special ingredients:  first of course was sperm, and secondly the very rare component of marigolds grown in seawater, which kept the sperm dormant until hot water revived it.  Hermann gave Catherine the recipe before her marriage and before he spent five years at the University of Cairo studying Monophytesism.

        All that was needed was the sperm.  Vovelle was a lustful man, but not a cruel one.  Because Catherine was such an intimidating woman anyway, all his frustrations were diverted into masturbation, so a suitable supply was easy to obtain.  After six months of marriage Vovelle was about to get an annulment on the grounds that the marriage had not been consummated when Catherine appeared with the first genuine smile that Vovelle had ever seen in their entire relationship and happily announced that she was pregnant.  Vovelle could not believe it, and he believed it even less when every obstetrician and gynecologist in Atlantic Canada said that of course the baby girl (who was named Pandora) was Vovelle's daughter.  For the first four years of the little girl's life she was constantly having blood and skin samples taken from her by doctors from most of the cities of North America which all showed unequivocally that Genet Vovelle, and only Genet Vovelle, was her father.  Vovelle was stunned, amazed, confounded, and eventually came to the conclusion that his wife must have seduced him in his sleep, though Catherine strongly denied the notion.  Her only response to his repeated questions was that it was a miracle.

        And so they continued together for another four celibate years, when their daughter had to go to the hospital for five days because an outbreak of measles.  It was when Vovelle lay down on the bed in order to relax after this very trying experience that for the first and only time of her life Catherine Vovelle became filled with sexual desire.  She removed all of her clothes, and then to Vovelle's utter amazement and delight removed all of this.  The next four days were spent in utter passion, but Vovelle's lustful nature got the better of him and he insisted on going on for a fifth day.  By the time he stopped in final exhaustion, Madame Vovelle was completely bored to tears, and by the time she returned home with Pandora she was filled with the absolute conviction never to let her husband touch her again.  The experience had, however, left her pregnant; when nine months later she gave birth to another girl she said "I will name her after the sea."

        Sometime later, around five or six or seven years later, Genet Vovelle sort of vanished.  It was an odd sort of vanishing, it wasn't as if he hadn't gone anywhere at all, and was simply under the floorboards cut up in several pieces.  It was not as if his children never heard from him either; every now and then his youngest and favorite daughter would receive a telephone call exhorting her to work hard on her trigonometry.  And every couple of years there was a postcard with a genuine signature on it.  And as Catherine Jeannette Roget continued her life in various vestry meetings, Catholic youth groups, sunday school picnics, Liberal party intrigues, New Brunswick senators associations, George Bernanos fan clubs, she became known to the world under only one name:  Madame Vovelle.  Whenever her sister thought about this peculiar situation the only thing she could compare it with was with the strange case of Natasha Wilentz.

        Avare Roget's marriage started off with the happiest day in her life.  Her sister had planned to mar it by sending her an anonymous letter written in menstrual blood patented for that very purpose asking her why Avare was wearing white on her wedding day.  Luckily the letter got lost in the mail, ending up in the letter box of a senior editor at Encounter, who had many passionate erotic moments with it along with the books of Russell Kirk.  Seinkewicz had planned their honeymoon to take place on the Canadian Pacific train from Halifax to Edmonton in a large cabin with lots of champagne, but on the second day Avare started feeling strange pains.  By the fourth day they had to get off in Toronto and visit a doctor.  It was chlamydia, and she had gotten it from John who had gotten it from the Prairie whores who had taken his virginity.  The Jehovah Witness gynecologist told her with the evident glee that Jehovah Witness gynecologists reserved especially for these occasions that strange complications had set in that would make sex exquisitely painful, and childbearing impossible.  For five years she accepted this, painfully and with little courage, sometimes crying at the most inopportune moments, (such as the time she shared an election platform with John Diefenbaker and started crying right at his best jokes.)  Catherine gave her letters prescribing specific penances, and John felt hopelessly impotent.  For the first five years of their marriage there was only the strange solitudes of camille tea, other women's baby showers, and dust covered appointment books.

 John could only feel guilty and read Polish poetry to his wife in the shadows of Summer sunday afternoons.

        For five years they would search for different opinions from assorted gynecologists, all card-carrying members of the Social Credit Party, all of whom confirmed her total infertility.  Finally, they saw one doctor who calculated that although Avare could have normal sex again with a few simple treatments only midly castigated by the Vatican, she only had a 5% probability of conceiving a child.  This was not too much different from the estimates of the other doctors, but none of them were amateur mathematicians like this doctors who promptly calculated that at a normal rate of sexual intercourse there was a 75% chance that she would have a perfectly successful pregnancy within eleven years.  Two months later Madame Vovelle received a letter from her sister telling her that she was pregnant and within the year, Giles Seinkewicz was born.

        His father and his maternal uncle were immediately struck at how much love and devotion Madame Vovelle gave to her male nephew, especially when it was contrasted to the ostentatious croquet mallet that she would bring along with her visits.  Avare, too, was a little disconcerted at her sister's affections, and had she known that Madame Vovelle was certainly capable of having far many more children than she had, she would have tried to kill her out of sheer envy.  She would have failed miserably, because Father Antoine Sarraut, the seventy-nine year old blind priest who had temporarily replaced Hermann as Madame Vovelle's mentor, had successfully recommended to her a concerted study of martial arts and quantum physics.  In fact, the real reason that Madame Vovelle gave so many gifts to her young nephew was that for a long time she believed that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the virgin birth.  There had been times when Madame Vovelle thought that the utilization of mermaid soap had now made possible a world of virgin mothers, but her humility and her knowledge of basic genetics made her realize that it did not really count.  So when she learned that her sister had produced a baby after five years of being told that it was impossible Madame Vovelle was willing to ignore the obvious fact that her sister was not a virgin and the almost as equally obvious fact that Giles Seinkewicz could only have been the son of his putative father, and would instead grant the virgin boy all the honors and glories that such a child deserved.

        But in fact she was wrong.  It was neither her destiny or that of Avare's to have a virgin birth.  It was instead that of their sister:  Alice "Amnesia" Raymond.  Although she would live within two hours' drive of Avare and her family for more than thirty years, John Seinkewicz would not learn that she was his sister in law until two years after she first entered parliament on a bold, original, unpopular, populist, courageous move to cut taxes, except when that simply wasn't possible.  For eighteen years she was the loyal and dutiful daughter of her loving step-mother, and who worked hard, went to church every Sunday, volunteered for all the local charity groups and whose only pleasure was to wash hair three times a day.  As Daniel Raymond's own life began to fade into obscurity she became attracted to a very different sort of man.  At twenty-one she fell in love with Hector Concrete,  a man eight years her senior who was already gaining a firm reputation as one of Alberta's best morticians.  They were engaged to be married the next year, but one afternoon two weeks before the date, as she was reading Gone with the Wind (it was near the end, where Melanie was dying), an angel appeared, an angel with leaden wings.

       "Blessed be the powers on high, for though a virgin, you have been chosen to conceive a child."

       Alice looked up.  "Sorry, could you repeat that?  I wasn't listening."  But the angel had already vanished, and she had completely forgotten the incident when eight and a half months after her wedding she gave birth to her first and only child, Elizabeth Concrete.  And we can now reveal that it was Madame Vovelle who had accosted Vanessa Wilentz, Adrian Verrall and Vivian Chelmnickon with her anti-black opinions.  But one should not consider her a racist, for she had the most pragmatic of reasons for acting the way she did.

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