I’ve witnessed childbirth three different ways. I’ve been to two baby showers. I’ve attended a blogging convention where I was one of four men. I thought I had seen women at their most womenish. But none of those experiences prepared me for the master class that was the DEMONSTRATION.
One Friday, Jill told me that she was going to be hosting a Norwex party in our house. Norwex sounded to me like a made-up word. Like loofa. I had no idea what Norwex meant. Could have been a Norwegian word that meant “hey guys, my husband’s going to take the kids out, so why don’t you come over and help me lick melted iced cream off of Viking studs!” I didn’t know. But because I’m a husband I didn’t ask for clarification. That’s a sign of weakness.
She offered clarification anyway because she knows I’m a husband, “Julie’s going to be demonstrating some cleaning products and I’m hosting her. Just try to keep the kids out as late as possible.”
“Can I take them to Chuck’s?” Chuck’s Southern Comforts Cafe is my favorite local restaurant.
“Don’t care. Bye.”
It felt like an eviction. I would have liked more notice, but I was going to Chuck’s so it was a win. We went to Chuck’s and I ate like a man trying to stay away from his wife and her Norwex. I think I had the stuffed poblano and their darkest, tastiest stout. The stout came in a bottle about the size of a wine bottle. I didn’t mind. The kids had arguments with a side of “kicking the booth bench.” It must be on the kids’ menu somewhere because that’s all they ever have.
I ate slowly and let the stout wash over the word Norwex in my mind. Like a soothing waterfall it eroded the R-W-E-X until all I was left with was a blissful NO. It was a seriously big bottle.
The kids grew tired and their arguments grew cold. Ben was leaning in the corner of the booth against the wall, telling me “I’m soooo stuffed and exhausted and I can’t make my legs work.”
The to-go containers came. The ice cream came. The bill came. My bottle was empty. I tipped enough to pay off some of the guilt that comes with having a better paying job than a server. We had to leave. I wasn’t sure how long we were out, but it had to be long enough. How many rounds could the Vikings go?
I was satisfied with my attempt to keep the kids out as late as possible. I didn’t want to face the Norwex. But it’s really hard for me to be away from the fridge on a Friday when I have it stocked with so many delicious imperial stouts. Besides the kids all wanted to go home and tell their screens and devices that they missed them. Ben’s legs weren’t working.
I’m gonna lie and say I wasn’t nervous one bit when I pulled up into my driveway and saw the dark clouds over my house. The sun was down, so it was dark everywhere, but over my house there hung an extra layer of darkness. A localized blotting out of the sky. The light coming from our house was a sickly yellow. It flowed thickly from the windows, weighing on the bushes beneath. Like you could walk up to the light and pick up a handful and watch it hang and elongate from your fingers.
The kids didn’t notice, or if they did, they didn’t indicate that anything was amiss. They were fighting over who was going to go through the door first.
When I first stepped inside the house, I felt resistance. The house had grown an invisible membrane and I had to push my way through this extra thick air. Seriously, guys, it was a really big bottle of stout at dinner.
I told the kids to go upstairs just in case there were any shirtless Viking studs lazing about. Julie likes her Viking studs. The kids didn’t complain. They just went upstairs and their hands sprouted iPads. It would have been a lovely end of the day if there weren’t people in my house.
I wanted another stout to wash down the stout I had at dinner but that would mean making facial expressions and small talk with people on my way to the fridge and I wasn’t sure that it was a price I was willing to pay.
I heard Julie’s voice. She was in the dining room. She was talking about the amazing versatility of Norwex cloths. “Each cloth is silver infused, allowing you to clean up any mess with minimal effort!” I didn’t know she could speak italic.
There was also something about her voice that sounded different.
I stepped into the doorway, ready to jump back into the shadows if anyone wanted to ask me how I was or how work was or where I took the kids to dinner. But no one noticed me.
At the table sat Jill, her mom, my Mom, my sister Maggers, our neighborfriend Laura, Alicia one of the women we housesat for, unschooling Sarah, and maybe one or two others. I can’t recall. I’m not a surveillance camera with unlimited film. I can’t just go and replay every night I’ve been alive.
Being ignored was refreshing. All eyes were on Julie. She had set up our kitchen to accommodate her product display. It was a three-tiered, wire-shelf thing with bottles and rags and all kinds of shit on it, arranged just-so. Hanging from our kitchen sink faucet was this fishnet-looking cloth that I assumed was for sexy-cleaning. Every countertop and surface was cleared and shiny. I wanted to take a photo to prove to myself later that this cleanliness was possible, but I didn’t want to attract any attention.
“The best part is that you don’t need to spend tons of money on soap! With Norwex, just a little water will do!”
I looked again at those around the dining room table and I didn’t like what I saw.
No smiles. Barely touched mojitos circled a half-full pitcher on the table. Small talk and chit-chat had been silenced. It struck me that even the usual sounds of our old house were absent. The kids were upstairs but the floor didn’t creak and their voices didn’t carry. The only sound was Julie’s voice and it was muffled, like she was speaking into a pillow.
The air was heavy. This was serious business. The scene before me looked mostly ordinary. Just women listening to a presentation. But the way the light bulbs flickered slightly and the way my hair stood at attention, told me there was more going on than a simple demonstration of cleaning supplies that can make housekeeping a hassle-free experience so you will have more time to watch Arrow or read The Powerful Lives and Thighs of the Viking Studs. Something profound was taking place. A judgment. A rite of passage. But that didn’t go far enough in explaining what I was bearing witness to. There was more to it than that. Malevolence filled the house. That sense of hyper-reality I felt when I first came home deepened. Reality had taken on a new frequency.
I thought of the lyrics to The Number of the Beast:
What did I see?
Could I believe that what I saw that night was real and not just fantasy?
I think that was my male brain scrambling for a frame of reference to understand and express what I was feeling.
Julie was wiping down our refrigerator’s vegetable drawer, “See how easy it is? Looks factory-new.” Her voice was tight. Thick with fear.
Just a few feet away, the people she knew best—some of whom she had known all her life—were appraising her performance with faces that betrayed no emotion.
My mom was there with her arms crossed and her RBF game was lit. She was ceding no ground. She had just made small talk with Julie a few days earlier. They enjoyed some sangria on my back deck and talked about Wisconsin Dells while Jill drank sangria and asked to talk about anything but Wisconsin Dells. They smiled at each other as they talked. None of that recognition was reflected in my mom’s gaze now. Their previous conversation might as well have happened a lifetime ago between different women.
Julie was a guru and a servant. She was a supplicant hoping to enter a higher plane of woman-ness. No longer a sister, daughter, wife, friend. She was peeling off layers in a spiritual disrobing, shedding her known identity until something more primal emerged. Something that was perhaps the very essence of womanhood. These other women had gathered to fill their collective role as gatekeeper.
I got the sense that if she failed to please these women then something would be lost. A window would be forever closed to Julie. Her standing would be diminished. If she failed, her family and friends would pounce. Perhaps a power struggle would take place. Maybe Julie would be stripped of her woman-powers and they would feed on the energy as it bled from her. Like vampires.
Julie rubbed half a stick of butter on our mirror. “Those of us without kids will wonder ‘why would I ever need to clean butter off a mirror?!’ [choked chuckle] But moms know that our little darlings can be very creative with their messes!”
They watched as she scrubbed that mirror. But spoke not a word. Butter vanished at every pass.
By now, Jill would normally have asked me to join them. And she would have been annoyed when I made some annoying comment about not wanting to. As far as I could tell, she probably thought I was still at dinner with the kids.
I watched with growing discomfort. All the women I had known were gone. Their bodies remained but their eyes betrayed souls that were dark and alien. I suddenly knew that they had been replaced by the Hive Goddess, an entity that could only be identified as SHE or HER or WOMAN.
My knowing deepened. They had all become EVE and there never was an Adam. Or not the Adam in the story we were told. Eve made Adam. The looks on their faces told me this. They told me that the pride is run by the lioness. The elephant herd is a matriarchy.
I was afraid for Julie. I wanted to scream “THIS IS JULIE! YOU KNOW JULIE! YOU ALL KNOW HER!” but terror took my breath. There was this wall between them and me and Julie and the only way back to normal was forward. Julie had to see this demonstration through. She had to prove herself in this ancient rite. Only on the other side could she be herself again.
All of this knowledge passed through me in an instant. I don’t know if these were understandings or ramblings. But my thoughts had gone far enough afield to trip a psychic strand that sent vibrations through the web that connected these women. I knocked against a truth. And it was noticed.
Jill’s mom turned to look at me. Her body was perfectly still. Only her head swiveled slowly, smoothly, to bring her eyes to bear on me. Her lips parted and she spoke only one word. It sounded like it came from the room. From the air above me and behind me and through me. It wasn’t her voice. It was only a whisper. But it was impossible not to hear. The word that stopped the demonstration that night was “Interloper.”
With that word, the other women did the same swivel-head thing. All eyes were on me. Their eyes had gone completely black.
I turned slightly and stumbled backward. Mostly because I’m clumsy. I kept my eyes facing the people I thought I knew. They were standing up. Slowly. In unison. Their black eyes steadied me and held me in place. I was fixed to the spot. The air got heavier. I started getting sleepy. My eyelids were betraying me and closing. The circle of women were flickering in my vision between my invasive eyelashes. They were approaching.
There was a crash as one of the chairs tipped over. Jill yelled “Fuck!” And my eyes sprang open. They were so close. Maggers and Laura were nearly an arm’s length away. Luckily Kirsten wasn’t there because she has really long arms and she could have grabbed me.
With the break in the spell, I turned away to run up the stairs. My only thought was to corral the kids into one of the bedrooms and barricade the door until the demonstration was over.
But the stairs were gone. The house was gone. There was only a corridor behind me. I turned and began running into the corridor because it was the only way to move away from the women. The walls pulsed in and out. The walls were a menstrual red. I had time to think that demonstration was demon and menstruation. I fled.
I could see in the hallway though i don’t know how. There were no lights to shine the way. In the distance stood a figure. I didn’t know who it was. I just knew I couldn’t stop.
Was this how it was at the Tupperware parties? Or Tastefully Simple, Lia Sophia, Mary Kay, fucking candle-something-or-other? Demonstrations arranged and attended solely by women. How far back did it go? What was it before Tupperware? Corsets? Bonnets? Witch stuff? I wondered all this as I fled.
I reached the figure. It was my daughter Elsa, wearing the same clothes she went to Chuck’s in. Her eyes were all black.
“What’s happening Daddy?”
“I don’t know, baby, but we have to go, we have to run the other way.”
“I can’t daddy! I want to but I can’t!” she was pleading with me. Human tears spilled from her alien eyes. “I . . . can’t. Daddy, I . . . I can’t go with the interloper! Interloper! INTERLOPER!”
She was gone to me. I sprinted past her, trying to outrun her cries of “INTERLOPER!”
She stood there, pointing and screeching. Beyond her I could see shapes loping toward me. They spanned the width of the corridor and more and more they blotted out what little light there was.
I ran and my eyelids began shutting. The world blotted out where my eyelashes met. I ran even though I couldn’t see. I ran even though the air was pushing me back. Towards them. I ran even as my knees could no longer push against the resistance and my legs grew still and my arms were held in place and the first hands reached me and I was pulled down and down and the darkness was complete.
“How much stout did you have?” that was Jill. I was on my back in the hallway at the top of the stairs. The house was quiet. Only the hallway light was on.
“You made a total ass of yourself after you came home from Chuck’s! I’m so pissed. I hope you have a horrible headache in the morning!”
Jill stepped over me and went into the bedroom and closed the door.
I propped myself up on my elbows. I looked down the stairs. They seemed impossibly normal. I walked down the stairs and into the dining room. I flicked the light on. The pitcher and mojitos were gone. The Norwex display was gone. The floorboards creaked under my weight.
I turned the light off. I went into the living room and crawled onto the couch and propped my throbbing head with a throw pillow.
I chose to forget. I chose to believe I ruined the demonstration. I chose sleep.
If anyone is interested in learning more about Norwex or looking to purchase Norwex products just contact Julie.