“You mean he walks around like that in front of the boy?” Vera asked.

“Oh, absolutely. He says he doesn't want our kids growing up with a puritanical attitude towards the human form.”

“So he plans to go around that way even after the girl grows up?”

“Evidently.”

“Oh, Sis.”

“He believes that nakedness is the natural state of man and that the human body is beautiful.”

“He believes that his body is beautiful?”

“That’s what he believes.”

“Sis, he’s five-foot-six and two-hundred-and-forty pounds. Obviously he goes everywhere in the house naked except in front of a mirror.”

Her sister chuckled.

“So when did he get on this nudity kick?” I asked, forcing myself to keep looking her in the eyes.

“Fairly recently. He’s been researching nudist colonies on the internet. He’s thinking about taking out a membership in one.”

“And do you plan to join him?” I casually asked, immediately regretting it, for out of the corner of my eye I saw Vera shoot me a look.

“I haven’t decided yet.”

“How does the boy react to all this?” Vera wanted to know.

“He wasn’t sure what to make of it at first, because none of his friends’ dads walks around that way, but he’s used to it now.”

I had noticed that, every now and then, when she moved a certain way, a gap between two buttons of her blouse yawned open to expose a glimpse of milky-white flesh overflowing her nursing bra, and I resolved that, should my future brother-in-law and his wife decide to join a nudist colony, I – purely in the interest of family solidarity, of course – would do the same, although I had read somewhere that they kicked out guys who got boners. “Ow,” I said.

Vera had poked me in the ribs.

“My sister asked if you thought this was abnormal behavior,” Vera said.

“What? The nudity?” I asked, rubbing my ribs.

“My husband believes that people who put down nudism are prudish and dirty-minded. He says that clothes were invented by the Puritans. Do you agree?”

I was about to venture my opinion that, quite possibly, clothing predated the Puritans, when our hostess’s six-year-old son, newly arrived from school, unloaded his books on a table and entered the living room.

“Daniel, my dear, how was school?” his mother asked.

“Okay, I guess.”

“Hello, Daniel,” Vera said brightly.

“Hi, Aunt Vera.”

The kid looked at me insolently.

“Daniel, this is Vera’s latest boyfriend,” his mother introduced.

“Hello, Daniel,” I said.

The boy turned away with utter indifference.

“Oh, now, be friendly and say hello to our guest,” his mother prompted.

“Hello,” the boy grunted grudgingly.

I had pretty much already made up my mind to dislike the little twerp.

“Are you hungry, dear?” his mother asked.

Daniel nodded. He climbed onto the love-seat beside his mother, who casually continued her conversation with Vera, and I watched with mounting fascination as Daniel, with equal casualness, unbuttoned his mother’s blouse, gradually exposing her voluptuous cleavage, unsnapped one cup of her nursing bra and, pulling out the huge meaty breast, began to nurse on the protuberant bright-red nipple. I felt a familiar stirring down south and discreetly crossed my legs. Vera’s side of the conversation had screeched to a halt as she looked on with surprise and embarrassment, but Big Sis just went on talking amiably and stroking the boy’s hair as if nothing unusual were going on.

I decided then and there to love the little twerp instead, to embrace him fully as a nephew, and I certainly did approve of his choice of an after-school snack.

When the lad was finished nursing, he simply climbed down from the love-seat and left the room, dragging the back of his hand across his lips, leaving Mommy to stuff her breast back into her nursing bra and re-button her blouse.

“So anyway,” Big Sister continued, “I told this meddlesome neighbor that maybe he was the one who should seek professional help, not my husband.”

“Uh, Sis?” Vera interrupted.

“Yes?”

“If you don’t mind my asking — what the hell was that?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re still breast-feeding a boy of six? Haven’t you weaned him yet?”

“Well, of course I have, Vera, a long time ago. But after the girl was born, the boy got jealous watching his sister enjoying my milk, so to pacify him, I started giving him the other breast. It’s much better than having it leak or having to pump it dry all the time.”

I placed my fingers to my lips and giggled.

“But don’t you think it might be psychologically damaging to a six-year-old boy to still have him breast-feeding after all these years?”

Big Sis looked utterly bewildered. “I see not one thing wrong with contenting him in this way,” she insisted. “Oh, dear, where are my manners? Would you two like something to drink?”

I grinned from ear to ear and Vera, seeming to read my mind, quickly erased the grin by shooting me another look.

“Cola will be fine,” I muttered sheepishly.

Just then we heard the front door come open and a cheerful male voice announced, “Boobsie, I’m home!” and I expected at any moment to see a short fat fellow come bouncing into the living room, jovially and unabashedly starting to relieve himself of his clothing.

As it turned out, however, her husband had noticed the unfamiliar car in the driveway, had assumed that he had guests, and had spared us the spectacle of his naked obesity. He turned out to be quite a friendly fellow, a pleasant conversationalist, and not at all fanatical about making converts to his new-found lifestyle; but we could tell that he was itching to get out of his clothes, so we cut our visit short, and as he was closing the front door after seeing us off, I noticed that he was already beginning to undo his tie.

Driving away, I glanced at Vera, who sat with her elbow on the windowsill and her cheek pressed against the heel of her hand.

“What’s the matter, honey? You look depressed.”

“I told you my family is weird. My God, what a nightmare, seeing them through your eyes.”

“Oh, come now, they aren’t that bad. Did you know that your sister is a public breast-feeder?”

“Of course I did, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but what concerns me is that she’s still breast-feeding Daniel at his age. I’m afraid she might be inflicting damage upon his psyche.”

“As long as he’s not still doing it at age fifteen,” I snickered.

“And what about Mr. America planning to parade around naked in front of his growing daughter? What the hell is wrong with those two?”

“They are unconventional, that’s for sure.”

“Oh, that was nothing. Wait till you meet my mother.”




CHAPTER 2


The Future Mother-in-Law



Vera’s mother lived in a quaint little bungalow in a shaded old neighborhood about five miles away. The house featured awnings over the windows, daisies in the window boxes, and cutouts in the wooden shutters in the shape of poodles. A painted statue of the Virgin Mary stood beside the front porch.

The small living room had wall-to-wall furniture that was faded and old-fashioned, and the many shelves and tables were cluttered with pictures of her children and grandchildren, various knickknacks in which predominated ceramic figurines of poodles, and an abundance of cheap religious souvenirs that the old woman had collected during her travels over the decades.

Her mother sat smiling serenely in her easy chair, rubbing the belly of the overfed white poodle in her lap, which also seemed to be smiling at us serenely, its pink little tongue lolling out of the side of its mouth. After some small talk and tea which Vera had brewed, Vera settled back in her chair and asked:

“So how was your trip, Mom?”

“Very lovely, dear,” her mother smiled.

Vera turned to me in explanation. “Mom recently took a Church-sponsored pilgrimage to a small town about seventy-five miles away from here to view an alleged miracle – an image of Jesus Christ that is said to appear every night on the wall of an old church there.”

“Ah,” I said.

“Not alleged, dear — real,” her mother corrected with a smile. “I saw it with my own eyes and so have thousands of others. It is an image of Jesus Christ, and it is a miracle. The Roman Catholic Church is investigating to find out if it has a supernatural cause, which I’m sure it has. A priest there told me it might be a sign from God which He is using to bring more people to Himself. People there were singing and praying and treating each other much nicer than usual, so I am certain that the priest was right. The townspeople were selling souvenirs and a lot of the pilgrims were buying them. I bought one myself.”

She nodded towards a shelf, where stood a chunk of plaster with a picture of Jesus fastened to it. I wondered how much she had shelled out for the trinket.

I cleared my throat and thought I might attempt to ingratiate myself with my future mother-in-law by trying out a little joke that had just then popped into my head. “You know, a long time ago, I had the great honor of meeting Mother Teresa,” I told the old woman.

“Oh, how wonderful!” she exclaimed.

“Yes but I guess I was still rather immature back then because I kind of ruined the experience by giving her a wedgie.”

Vera’s mother abruptly stopped petting her poodle and stared at me with her mouth open.

“Afterwards, some nuns in her entourage wrestled me to the ground and beat me senseless with their rulers.”

“Honey,” Vera said, “maybe give Mom a chance to know you a little better before you begin to delight her with that priceless sense of humor of yours.”

Vera’s mother asked me pleasantly, “So what do you do for a living, young man?”

“I’m a writer.”

“How interesting. What sort of things do you write?”

“Right now, mostly short stories. But I haven’t always been a writer. I used to be a hit man for the Vermicelli Family in Chicago but they kicked me out for my utter refusal to use a gun and for my stubborn insistence on trying to tickle my victims to death.”

This time the old woman tossed her head back and giggled merrily.

I was on a roll now. “After kicking me out of the mob, the gangsters then wrestled me to the ground and beat me senseless with their rulers.”

Her giggling peaked in volume and I could swear that I even saw her bony old shoulders bouncing. Vera’s mother and I sat laughing together for a while longer. Then finally we stopped and she petted her dog and I grinned down at my hands.

“Got any more jokes there, Shecky?” Vera asked.

“Fresh out,” I replied with a grin at her mom.

Vera rolled her eyes. “Anyway, getting back to that image on the wall of the church. Not everyone thinks it’s a miracle, Mom. Some think it’s just a spot on the wall formed by shadows and discolored plaster. Have you ever heard of a Rorschach test?”

“A what, dear?”

“It’s a test administered to mental patients involving a series of ten standardized ink blots. A person sees in the ink blots whatever he wants to see and perhaps needs to see. His responses to the ink blots reveal more about himself than they do about the nature of the blots themselves. The discolored plaster on the wall of the church is like an ink blot, Mom. A Christian will see an image of Christ, a Muslim will see an image of Mohammed, a Buddhist will see an image of Buddha, and a nonreligious person will probably just see a patch of discolored plaster.”

But I could tell that her mother was not even listening. She was petting her poodle and smiling serenely.

“Nearly everyone in the town was touching the wall and praying and singing,” her mother said. “It has become the thing to do to congregate there at sundown and watch the image form out of light from an electric streetlamp. Some people even drop to their knees and cry, they are so moved. I would have done so myself, but the arthritis in my knees is so bad, you know.”

I seemed to recall viewing coverage of this “miracle” on the six o’clock news one evening. The image on the church wall had indeed appeared somewhat human, though I had needed to bend my imagination considerably to get an image of Jesus Christ. A devout townswoman, however, had drawn her own version of what she had purportedly seen: a perfectly delineated image of Christ, with a handsome face, long hair, and a beard, his hand up and his index finger pointing toward the sky like a baseball player who had just hit a home run; there was even a halo over his head.

“The whole town was just overflowing with miracles,” Vera’s mother reminisced. “People were seeing images all over the place. This woman I was with, her poodle made a piddle on the ground, and the puddle formed a perfect image of the Virgin Mary. We called to the others and they came running over and when we told them what it was, they all fell to their knees and wept and prayed and sang over the puddle of poodle piddle. Everybody wanted to touch the dog from which this miracle had sprung. After a while, though, the miracle just sort of soaked into the ground, so we all went back to crying and praying and singing at the wall.”

Mother hugged her poodle and kissed the top of its head.

“Missy here was furious with me for putting her in a kennel and not taking her along on the trip. When I got back, she wouldn’t even look at me for days. She wouldn’t come near me. Whenever I picked her up, she turned her head away. Finally I said to her, ‘If I promise never ever again to put you in a kennel and take you with me wherever I go, will you forgive me, Missy?’ She looked at me then as if to say, ‘Of course I forgive you,’ then licked my face with understanding and affection.”

“Mom,” Vera sighed. “She’s a dog. She doesn’t understand human speech.”

“Oh, no no no, dear, she understands every word I say to her. She’s almost human. In fact, sometimes I have to spell in front of her if I’m saying something I don’t want her to hear. She’s very smart. Don’t you listen to your older sister,” she told the dog, cuddling it. “Vera can be so stubborn sometimes.”

The poodle in the old woman’s lap seemed to grin at us with pampered smugness while her mistress continued to rub her pink overfed belly.

“To help win back Missy’s affections after putting her in that awful kennel, I had a tailor make her a church outfit just like mine. Now when we go out on Sunday together, we look just like twins.”

I cleared my throat again and ventured to say: “I seem to remember reading about a clergywoman somewhere who was performing marriages for pets because she was appalled by the way they were living in sin. She would perform a full-blown wedding ceremony to unite the two animals in holy matrimony.”

“I didn’t read that article but I fully approve,” Vera’s mother said. “The Bible says there’s a place in Heaven for animals. The good clergywoman is just trying to save their souls.”

“Mom, please tell me you’re not still going to that spiritualist.”

“He’s not a spiritualist, dear; he’s a minister, a man of the Lord.”

“But Mom — ”

“He impressed me that first time I met him by telling me my social security number and my life-insurance policy number. How would he know such things if he didn’t get the information directly from God?”

“Mom, they get that information by picking your pockets or by rooting through your garbage or your purse.”

“And then there was that time when he revealed to me, in a message from your father, exactly where my lost necklace was.”

“He probably had his henchmen steal the necklace and hide it there.”

The old woman shook her head. “He wouldn’t do that, dear. He’s a man of God.”

“So how much money have you given him so far?”

“Only about five-thousand dollars.”

“Oh, Mom.”

“His church does good work, dear. They feed the hungry and house the poor.”

“Have you ever asked yourself how that man is able to live in a mansion, wear silk suits, and ride around in a chauffeured Mercedes-Benz?”

“Rewards come to those who serve Jesus, Vera.”

“I hope you’re not planning to give him any more of your money.”

“He promised to put me in touch with your father if I donated another ten-thousand to his church.”

She smiled at us blissfully. The woman was simple-minded, poorly educated, and the obvious victim of religious con artists, but I had never seen a happier woman in all my life.

As we were driving away, Vera said: “After Dad passed away, she started withdrawing more and more deeply into her religious fantasy world. I think she misses Dad desperately and yearns to talk to him again, even if only through someone who deep down she must surely know is a fraud and a swindler.”

“You better do something before she gives away all her savings.”

“What do you expect me to do? Have her declared mentally incompetent? If you start declaring mentally incompetent everyone who believes in God, most of the people in this world would live in mental institutions.”

“Can’t you go to the cops?”

“I tried that. They said they can’t do anything about these ministers, who make it look as though the police are attacking God.” Vera sighed profoundly. “Well, anyway, that was the worst of it. We’ll visit my younger brother next. Sean is the only normal one in the family.”





CHAPTER 3


The Future Brother-in-Law



Her brother Sean lived in a bachelor pad on the other side of town. He worked as a fireman, and he kept erratic hours. We knocked on the door to his apartment but no one answered. Vera found a key in her purse and let us in.

“Are you sure Sean won’t mind us just entering like this?”

“If he did, he wouldn’t have given me a key. Besides, he visits me unannounced all the time. My brother and I are very close.”

The apartment was untidy in a masculine way. A pair of athletic socks lay on the floor. Dishes were piled in the sink. Sports equipment stood all around, and tennis trophies were displayed on a shelf. She wasn’t sure how long we would have to wait so Vera fixed us both a drink and we seated ourselves on the living-room couch. I let my eyes roam the apartment. Framed photographs of beautiful women stood all around.

“Sean sure does look like a lady’s man.”

“Oh, yes,” Vera replied proudly. “He’s always been a Casanova. He has women in and out of this apartment all the time. When we were all living at home, I don’t remember him ever going a single weekend without a date.”

“What’s his secret?”

“He’s gorgeous, for one thing. He’s athletic: he played football and other sports in high school. He’s the classic charmer. And he understands women. It’s as if he knows us inside out, everything we think and feel. Comes from growing up with two older sisters, I guess.”

“Does he give lessons in Casanovaism? Maybe he can tutor me.”

“Why would you want such lessons when you’ve got me?” she asked with a somewhat hurt and accusatory frown.

“Good point,” I replied, and prudently let the matter drop.

After we finished our drinks, Vera rinsed out the glasses in the sink. While she was at it, she did the rest of the dishes, and though she shook her head, actually seemed proud of the mess. Afterwards she re-seated herself and glanced at her watch. “We’ll give him another fifteen minutes. Then we’ll leave and try again some other time.”

Maybe ten minutes later, we heard a key in the lock of the front door. The door swung open and in walked an absolutely stunning young woman. Obviously Sean was giving keys to women other than his sister. The woman was blond, wore a short tennis skirt and carried a tennis racket. She closed and locked the door and entered the living room before noticing us. “Oh!” she said, stopping short and turning beet-red.

Vera gawked at her. Perhaps she could not believe that even her kid brother could get a woman as beautiful as this. “I’m, uh, er . . . terribly sorry,” Vera said, rising to her feet. “We didn’t mean to startle you. I’m, uh, Sean’s older sister, Vera. He wasn’t home so we took the liberty of letting ourselves in. I don’t believe we’ve ever met. How do you do?”

The young woman shook Vera’s hand uncertainly. She seemed embarrassed and even somewhat awkward. Vera introduced me almost as an afterthought and I rose and shook the hand of the stunning creature. She refused to look at us directly and seemed to be rubbing her eye a lot, as if trying to hide her face behind her hand, though why she would want to cover up that gorgeous face was beyond me. Her short skirt was pleated and white, her long legs were shapely and tan, a white knit shirt clung to her small breasts, a pink sweater was tied collegiately around her shoulders, and her blond hair was held back by a pink headband.

“Will Sean be coming home any time soon?” Vera stammered.

“Not for several hours,” the young woman muttered shyly. She wasn’t much of a conversationalist.

“Then we’d better be going. Tell Sean I’m sorry we missed him. It was lovely meeting you. Goodbye.”

Vera left quickly and I had to hurry to keep up. She seemed flustered about something. On our way to the car in the parking lot, I said: “Why did we rush out like that? I would have loved to have chatted with her awhile. We didn’t even learn her name. Why didn’t you want to get to know Sean’s latest girlfriend?”

“Oh, you child. That wasn’t Sean’s girlfriend.”

“It wasn’t?”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“Who was it, then?”

“It was Sean.”

“What!”

I opened her door and let her in and closed the door. I went around and got in the driver’s side and closed that one, too.

“Evidently he’s a cross-dresser now,” Vera said.

“Dear God! That was a man?”

“That’s right, Einstein. You were drooling over a man.”

My face went as red as a tomato. “I wasn’t exactly drooling,” I stammered defensively.

“Wasn’t drooling? Your tongue was practically hanging to the floor. You were lusting over him even more than you were lusting over my big sister.”

I think I turned an even deeper shade of red, if that were possible. I was moving into the purples now.

“I can’t believe he never told me about this. We used to be so close.”

“So you pretended not to notice it was him just to spare her, I mean his, feelings?”

“Something like that. Plus I just didn’t want to deal with it right now.”

“My oh my,” I said and could not help but chuckle.

“Oh, yeah, very funny,” Vera blurted with irritation. “Now my brother’s a freak too! This is going to take some getting used to.”

As I drove, she did not speak for a long time. She rested her temple against her hand as if exhausted and stared unseeingly out the windshield. Finally she said, almost in a tone of resignation: “Well, there they are. That’s the family you’ll be marrying into.” She gave me a sheepish glance. “So what’s the verdict? Do you still want to marry me now?”

“Of course I do.”

She stared at me in disbelief. “Wow. You must really love me.”

What have I been telling you? Besides, ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by the circus.”




Copyright 2016 by Gary Canup