That night, Garrison and I went to Lee's apartment for another party; Steven, McLean, Gérard, and Corin were there as usual. Everyone sat around the coffee table in the living room drinking beers while Lee was in the kitchen with a lump of hashish, some knives, and the stove's front left burner turned on.
"Come on in here, guys," Lee said, holding a small piece of hash on the knives and bringing it to the red-hot burner. "It's just about ready."
"Hot knives!" McLean said enthusiastically as everyone went into the kitchen.
"So, Garrison, why don't you wanna talk about what happened with that kid this morning?" Corin asked.
"I just don't," Garrison said defensively, frowning and looking away. "I'm just glad I still have my job."
"What did he do to make you so angry?" McLean asked, bending over to suck in the hash smoke from the hot knives.
"He just...insulted me in Chinese," Garrison said, then took his turn toking on the fumes.
"Did the devils make you wanna hit him?" Lee asked. The others laughed, while Garrison coughed in anger.
After everyone had had a hit, we all went back to sit at the coffee table. Lee put on a CD of Miles Davis, and everyone started discussing Canadian politics again...everyone except Garrison and me, of course.
"My mom always...used to say, 'The devils made you...want to do it,' whenever I did...something bad," high-as-a-kite Garrison mumbled, me listening carefully.
"Tell me about her," I said.
"Her name is Portia, and she's a...former Sunday school teacher," he said. "Like Lee, she's a tall redhead; also like Lee, she's chatty, even to the point of...gossip."
"Well, we all gossip sometimes," I said.
"Some people gossip...sometimes," Garrison said. "Other people gossip...all the time. And they sometimes...embellish and fabricate...things to make...their stories more...entertaining. My mom always does that...when talking about the neighbours. She often says things...about other people...that I don't think...add up. But my family...believes every word...she says, as if she were...some kind of expert...on human nature. Just like Lee...and those four...over there...hanging on his...every word. They think he's...similarly wise. Listen to Lee...right now."
Lee had switched the topic of conversation from politics to Stu and Lindsay, a married couple from Canada who'd come over to China to teach English at our school for a year; they'd already gone back home recently.
"Did you know that Stu had a mistress?" Lee said, his eyes lighting up.
"How do you know?" Corin asked.
"I saw Stu with a pretty Chinese woman in a restaurant a few months back, just weeks before he and Lindsay went back to Canada," Lee said, grinning.
"Wow," Gérard said.
"Stu took a page from your book, it seems, Gérard," Steven taunted. When Gérard glared at him, he said, "Sorry, Gérard, but I believe in being faithful to my wife. You may believe in going to Confession, then sinning again, but I actually believe in marriage."
"I don't believe in marriage," Lee said, belching. "I say let Gérard do what he likes. As for Lindsay, she's an ugly bitch. I say, good for Stu to get a little action on the side." He took a gulp of beer.
"Who cares what they're talking about?" I said to Garrison. "Tell me more about your mom."
"Well, as I said, she's a talker," Garrison said. "I'm sure she...fabricates nonsense sometimes, if not quite often." Then he whispered, "Like Lee."
"I see," I said. "I'll bet her devil talk was among those fabrications. Though you're obviously troubled, there's no reason to believe you're possessed."
"That's what...the priest told me."
"Yeah, but what happened...this morning...with that kid...makes me wonder," Garrison said. "I was hallucinating."
"That was due to your substance abuse, more likely," I said. "And if your mom's made you believe you have devils in you all your life, that would make you act accordingly. That isn't real possession; it's just the power of suggestion."
"Yeah, I guess," he said. "Mom would say that when I was three or four, before I can really remember, if the exorcisms hadn't worked, I would have been locked away in an asylum."
"Ridiculous," I said. "Do you remember the exorcisms?"
"Not at all; not even one."
"I'm not surprised. I doubt they ever happened."
"She said that, a year or two later, when I was old enough...to start school, the devils had...been bothering me...with such infrequency...that I could...be trusted to...go to school," he said, then drank from his beer.
"How convenient," I said. "I don't think she can be trusted to give you the facts straight."
"Yeah, like Lee. I doubt his story...about Stu and...the mistress. Lee just hates marriage...and he'll make up...any story...to justify...his opposition to...committed relationships. He cheats on...his girlfriend...all the time."
"I think your mom will make up any story she can to justify controlling you," I said. "She's cheated you all your life."
Later on, I took Garrison home and laid him on his bed, as usual. On Sunday afternoon, after church, he would tell me about his dream and what happened at Mass.
This is what he told me.
In my dream, I, Garrison, am in my old Toronto house. I am about five years old, and my brothers and sister are laughing at me about something. The dream isn't clear about what, for during my childhood, they'd laugh at me about almost anything. What is clear is the sound of my mom's voice, coming from another room. She says, "Good! Everyone laugh the devils out of Garrison! It should free him of them."
I wake up, get out of bed, and look at myself in the mirror. I'm still five years old. I go downstairs, by the front door. My mom, kneeling before me, is talking to me as she gets me ready for school.
"You are one lucky boy, Garrison Mauer," she says, straightening my shirt collar. "After all those failed attempts to exorcise the demons out of you, we really thought you'd have to be locked away in an asylum, then throw away the key! But, by the grace of God, those devils don't seem to be troubling you much now, so we can try letting you go to school and see if you can handle it. After all, you can't really be trusted by yourself, with that impaired sense of reality that the devils left you with. Now, run along: quick like a bunny."
As I'm walking out of the house and staggering down the road, I hear her gossipping about Stu and his mistress. I look back and see Lee talking to McLean, Corin, Steven, and Gérard: except that Lee is speaking with my mom's voice.
I continue on my way to school, noting how the streets sometimes look like those of the Toronto of my childhood, and sometimes like the streets of the town in China where I currently live and work. I see Corin and Gérard going through the front doors of my school. I follow them in.
I walk into my classroom, seeing a number of Asians sitting there at the desks. I find this odd, as I don't remember having had so many Asian classmates when I was a child. Also, everybody's an adult, including Corin and Gérard, who are sitting at desks in the front row. I, the only child, sit beside Gérard.
The teacher walks into the classroom. I expect to see someone like Mrs. Szell, one of my old primary school teachers, but instead, I see Father Delacroix writing on the blackboard. He turns around to face us.
"Alright, class," he says. "Today we're going to be talking about demonic possession."
I shudder at the sound of this, then I think,This is a rather strange thing to be teaching children, isn't it? Then I look around the classroom, again seeing only adults, a mix of whites, Asians, and a few blacks. I look over at the windows, and instead of seeing normal ones, I see stained-glass ones, with images of Christ on them.
I look back at Father Delacroix, who is now at a pulpit instead of by the blackboard, which isn't there anymore. "Demonic possession is nonsense," he says. "Now that we know about schizophrenia, multiple personality, and the like, the Church can assuredly bury that out-moded belief for good, looking back at it only in embarrassment. I have never once encountered a case of real demonic possession--not one; nor has any priest I've ever known in all the thirty-odd years that I've been a man of God." Then the priest pointed at me. "Even Mr. Garrison Mauer here, whose cruel mother had made him believe for years that he was possessed, he shows no signs at all of demonic possession."
"See?" Gérard says to me. "We could've told you that long ago."
"Thanks, Gérard," I say, then notice that we're no longer sitting at desks, but at the front pew of a church.
"Thanks for what?" Gérard said, sneering at Garrison. "What are you mumbling to yourself about now?"
Surprised, Garrison looked around, seeing only his church in China on Sunday morning. He looked at himself, 39 years old again.
"Resist the devil and he will flee from you," Father Delacroix said, ending his homily.
When Mass ended, and everyone was filing out of the church and saying goodbye to Father Delacroix, Garrison went up to him. "When you have a moment, Father, can I have a word with you?" he asked.
"Of course, Garrison," the priest said.
After everyone left, and Garrison was finally alone with the priest, they went into a small room together and sat at a table.
"So, what's on your mind, Garrison?" Delacroix asked.
"Well, it's about when you told me, several months ago, that I don't have any devils in me," Garrison said. "Are you sure about that?"
"Of course. You're no more possessed than I am."
"But I've been...seeing things...hearing things."
"That doesn't mean you're possessed, Garrison."
"Mom would say that that's evidence of it, along with the bad things I've done, like almost hitting a kid at my school yesterday."
"And your mom, a mere Sunday school teacher, is an expert on demonic possession?"
"No, I guess not," Garrison said.
"You're obviously very troubled, but I think what you really need to do is stop the drinking and the drugs," the priest said.
"How do you know about that?"
"Garrison, I can smell the beer and hashish on your breath from a mile away. Don't let any cops here know about that. Leave that stuff alone: it's bad for you. Also, pray for guidance, and as I said during my homily, 'resist the devil and he will flee from you'. You'll be OK."
Garrison left the church and met with me at the café after Mass; he told me everything that had happened from after the party until his meeting with the priest. Again, as he was mumbling, the other café patrons were looking at him strangely.
"The priest is right--well, mostly right," I said. "Leave the booze and the drugs alone, and stay away from those five guys: they're a bad influence on you."
"But I want--"
"I know, Garrison, you want to fit in," I interrupted. "Not with guys like that. Get a girlfriend, a sweet, nice girl who'll steer you straight. And I would add, don't bother praying to an invisible man in the sky. Talk about hallucinating."