Xenia Schiller


PART ONE: Genesis

In the Beginning...

In the beginning was the Word, which was Her word and Her word was all that mattered. (Later Her word was made flesh, but we'll get to that in a minute.)
     She said She'd gotten pregnant on purpose because She felt guilty for a previous abortion.
     She spoke of the father like an object, when She spoke of him at all. She had used him because he made beautiful babies, a thing She could not have known until after the fact. No one contradicted Her.
     The father, in an ostentatious fit of fertility, between Her and his new wife, begat himself four babies in one year.


Family Matters

Her mother made adjustments when they learned She was pregnant. (The second time, after the abortion.) They lived in an expensive apartment of Her choosing in the Hollywood Hills. They shared a bed, but not in a creepy way, except for that time...


That Time She Spoke in Tongues

She and Her mother had gone to the movies. "Maybe they put something in our popcorn," Her mother later speculated. Her mother felt called to speculation after being awakened by the overwhelming heat and voices—She was speaking in tongues to Others who seemed to answer from the walls. As the sheets billowed around them, Her mother clenched her eyelids and prayed for daylight.


Back to The Beginning (Wherein Her Word is Made Flesh x 3)

The babies came and changed everything. They moved to a one bedroom house in the Hollywood Hills. Her mother slept on the couch to be near the three cribs, while She kept on in the bedroom. 
     As for the babies, they were small and undemanding. Perhaps they knew what they could expect.



Two Versions of the Same First Memory

Baby #1 bit Baby #2 while She was in the shower. When She got out of the shower, She gave #1's arm to #2 and they looked at Her in confusion. "Bite it," She said. Baby #2 did as she was told. This is (essentially) their earliest memory.
     (How the Now Adult Baby #2 Remembers it Going Down)
     Baby #1 and Baby #2 were sitting in the bathroom while She took a shower. #1 flushed red, just like an apple. #2 took a bite from the cheek of knowledge. "I tried to eat you," she recalls. "It didn't go well for me."
     (How It Probably Went Down—An Accord)
     "You bit my cheek and she gave me your arm as retribution?"
     "Yes, yes, that is what happened."


The Man Who would be "Daddy"

She gave love to the pediatrician and in return he gave Her this advice.
     If you want a toddler to give you poopie, simply:
     Fill a glass (Tom Collins, put to better use) with M&M's and set it next to a training seat. "Give me poopie," you say, "and this candy is yours."
     Refill. Repeat. Refill. Repeat.


Of "The M&M Method"

Adult Baby Three had this to say: "I regard this as her greatest parental success and the only positive thing Daddy ever brought to our lives."



Going by so Fast

Babies One through Three turned four and could be trusted in the care of others. So She gave them each a bag of food and sent them to a kindergarten at the foot of the Hollywood Hills. In ruffled panties that peeked out beneath corduroy tunics, knee high socks and loafers, they looked around in confusion. They had never known babies their own age and She took pictures while they cried.


On Losing Her Religion

She sold Her soul to Catholicism for a deal on tuition: 3 for the price of 2. This was the first of many secrets the girls couldn't reveal.


Survival Strategy (Strangers)

They moved to a beige stucco duplex on Franklin Avenue where She coached the girls, no longer babies, to fear Strangers. It was the first of many fears that came with instructions.
     If a Stranger tried to get you, you should:
     Fight not to be gotten, even if what you got was killed. Getting killed was better than being gotten because the Stranger could do anything to you. Always fight. What did She say? Always fight, you repeated.
     Then She went back inside and closed the blinds.



She knew things about acting, like three could work harder than one. So She got them some pictures and an agent. She drove the streets of Los Angeles, braiding hair at traffic lights, repeating the lines over and over until they could feel like someone else. "Just be yourselves," She said, when they were called.


On Losing Auditions

The phone rang and sometimes it was good but most times She was crushed, angry. Your agent is not right, She told them, wiping away invisible tears.  I'm going to have to change your agent. And everyone knew it wasn't the agent who lost Her the audition.


On Winning Auditions

...but sometimes they won one for Her and those phone ringings were some of the best kinds in the world. Because She smiled and everyone knew they had caused the smiles. And there would be the prize of the special dolls (My Friend Mandy) they wouldn't have to share.  And, unlike the birthday dollhouse She built for them to not play in (so that She might impress Daddy), they didn't even have to keep them nice!


A Very Personal Tragedy

The Now Adult Baby Two shares her story:
"She decided the My Friend Mandy Doll was low class, ignorant and had too few interests, so she forced a fancy doll from Buffum's on me. But fancy doll kept quiet about her interests. So I made her pay and pay. ‘Please don't bite me, mommy,' she'd plead with me constantly. I finally lost interest in her when all her fingers, toes and half her feet and hands were a gnarled wreckage. I hated that goddamn doll and wanted her to go find a new family."



On Relationship Dynamics

She seemed tall and proud, except She was short and insecure.  Her children did not know how to tell the difference. They answered tears with hugs, and accepted the sounds Her Words made when She spoke them into being.


Outward Appearances

Her hair was red and then it was gray under the dye. It felt like straw to young fingers. Her eyes were hazel and unremarkable. Her nose tilted up. Her lips were thin and pinched in disapproval. Everyone said She was beautiful. It was not enough.


Ecstasy in the Hallway (Not What You Think)

One night Her mother and Her father, after being disturbed in the middle of the night by strange noises, discovered Her in the hallway, kneeling, crying, raving...to Jesus.
     She was not raving, She said later. She was praying. How sad and revealing that Her own mother would say such a thing to Her own children.


If Her Father is to be Believed

She was hospitalized for a polio-like illness. The doctor ran a gadget down Her legs to stimulate Her nerves but She claimed to feel nothing and failed to react. When the doctor left, She swung Her legs over the side of the bed and walked around the room.


Somewhere in Her Youth

She retired from high school at 16. To take care of the house, She said. Her mother was lost in sadness and had taken to her bed. Later Her mother got out of bed and found herself, but still She did not go back to school.


...or Childhood

Once upon a time, Her father returned from a trip with two gifts. The sister, a toddler, got a furry cap with a pompom.  Hers was plain. The hat was a sign. It meant Her father did not think She was as cute as Her sister. She would never be good enough. He did not love Her as much.
     "I'm so goddamn sick of that story," Her sister said.


To Compensate

She dated much older men, actors, artists, musicians. She claimed to have lost Her virginity at 21, a story confirmed by Her mother who had come to believe anything.
     "I know when it happened because She invited me to lunch to talk about it," Her mother said.
     "Twenty-one?" Her sister said. "She was having sex at fourteen! Such bullshit."



That Subject I've been Avoiding

His name was Dr. Klein. Names have not been changed for privacy. He was old enough to be Her father, but wanted the girls to call him Daddy. Or so She said, so they called Him Daddy, but never in front of his wife. Maybe we'll hop over to Arizona, He might have said, because She took the girls shopping for Arizona. They all had passports just in case, on the off chance, because what if He ever spoke of traveling to foreign lands, in passing, at a moment's notice?


The Other Kinds of Calls

Because He might call, She resented the time She spent away from the rented duplex they called home. Because He might drop by unannounced, it stayed impeccably clean. She did not speak to Girl # 1 for a week after she offered a ride to a stranded friend. She had to provide the ride, and that's why The Call must have been missed, the one signaling them to the airport, the train, the bus, the border. He must have called. He'd never gone this long without calling. It was all their fault. The girls ruined everything. (Later it turned out She didn't really mean that.)


Driving By His House, the Empty One

He lived in the Hollywood Hills, before moving to Jasper, Alabama. She said the girls wanted to go by His house, because of the hill. And it was an awesome hill. And even though the house was empty, it helped Her feel close to him. The girls knew She would take them down the hill if they agreed to want to go by Daddy's old house. She believed them, and they believed themselves. The hill caused their bellies to leap when She went down it really fast and everyone was happy for a brief minute.


Never Go to Bed in Anger

"You're driving me away."
When the girls were eleven She really did drive away. She was never coming back.
She returned an hour later with ice cream.
Relief you could taste.



PART TWO: Exodus

"I lied and said Dr. Klein called and wanted you in Alabama," Her mother finally told the girls. "She was threatening suicide all the time. She said it was either Mexico or Alabama. They were raping and killing women in Mexico.  What would you have done?"
     They were 17 by then, and their answers held no mercy.



On Being Different

She was still beautiful with unremarkable eyes and flaming hair that burned down and around fragile shoulders and didn't bush in the heat like the girls', whose hair was black and curly. Her last name was different than theirs. Where was the father? They drove a pea green VW Camper Van with a bumper sticker of the Blessed Virgin, a shameless display of idolatry. The sheepdog was huge and badly equipped for Alabama summers.
     "Are these the same girls whose photos are in Dr. Klein's office?"


When Asked Directly by the Cashier at the Market

She said no. She gave three fake names for Her daughters. Girl #3 heard and corrected Her, "Mommy, those aren't our real names."
     She hadn't the poise to recover.


What She Said to Girl #3 When They Were Alone in the Car

"You are a critical parent!"



"The Other Woman's Daughter": A Poem for the Ages

Year One

I am thinking of you and all your two thousand parts that Mommy says are covered in hair like a bear. I think of you as we drive by your house, a dark stealthy trip through the suburbs of Jasper. I want to see my Daddy. We are proud that you are ours. It is night now, so no one will see. 

Year Two

I look at your door and I wonder—what is it like inside? I see your pool and am happy that we have a hose. The grass is high and I imagine the feel of it on my bare legs. What would it be like to come near? I want to tell you, "Happy Birthday" but cannot get close enough for you to hear.

Year Three 

Driving by again, I think about gas. It costs so much, will there be money left for McDonald's? In your yard, hidden by grass, is an old thresher. Is this a sign? It is raining tonight.  I am glad you will not get wet. I wonder how you are celebrating your birthday as I watch the thresher rust.

Year Five

Happy Birthday, you old bastard. (I do not say this out loud.) It is my turn up front. Sticking my head out the window, I silently pray to be sideswiped. Yes, of course he loves You. Of course he is going to leave her. (Do You have to talk through this song?) This big balloon should send the message. Didn't You see what his tie said? And Mommy, just yesterday, we saw him give thumbs up. Yes, we can always leave here when school lets out.

Year Eight

It is hot and muggy. How much we all hate you. All except Her. Another birthday, why won't you die? I want to run you over with the thresher.



In the Mornings

One girl, on a rotating shift, is late to school. She sits in the library, which offers a perfect view of Airport Road. At 7:57 (on or about) Daddy will either drive through or stop at that intersection, depending on what the light tells him to do. The Girl should watch for any display of emotion or affection towards the wife who rides shotgun. Take notes. Hope for the worst. (Witnessing an argument could net you an Egg McMuffin.)


The Epiphany (In June this time)

She prayed for wisdom and this is what He sent.
     "Dr. Klein cannot break free because the CIA is investigating him for the death of Marilyn Monroe and the assassination of JFK."
     The girls shared a look.


What the Look Said

God is another Man who cannot be trusted.


Taking Turns

"You've got the rest of your life to be happy. Right now, it's my turn."
     When was it ever not her turn, my sister said recently.


That Powder in that Pill Bottle

She suffered from headaches and took Anacin and a bit of powder from an old prescription pill bottle. She applied it to Her tongue with the tip of Her moistened index finger. A tranquilizer, She said. (Fragile pills, prone to crumbling.)


Other Sources of Income

To supplement the family income, the girls held five part time jobs between them. They surrendered their checks every week but finances worsened. She had been fired but had failed to mention it.



The Day the Berlin Wall Fell

The girls had Her committed. (She had told the sheriff's wife that the Mafia was after them.) I don't belong here, these people are crazy, She told them after meeting three different incarnations of Jesus. She was forced to use stainless steel as a mirror. At the end of three days, a friend said, "The only thing wrong with your mother is Her three selfish daughters."



PART THREE: Revelations

Apocalypse Now Eight Years Ago

They graduated and She suggested a road trip. In the back of the van were garbage bags, filled with clothing. We died in a car accident on the way here, She said. She was sorry, so sorry, but it couldn't be helped. They had died and this was Hell. What were they running from then, they wondered?      Just do as I tell you, She said.
     Her eyes glowed like the Terminator, I remember.




A Tidy, Happy Ending to Hide the Fact that She is Homeless

They returned to California. She got help. They made up for lost time. The father apologized and agreed to do right. The sisters majored in psychology and became therapists. She bought a house where they all spend holidays.
     Daddy died a violent death.







"Pseudepigrapha" started out as a poem ("The Other Woman's Daughter") written as a joke for her sisters, Alexandra and Natasha, on ‘Daddy's' birthday. Over the years she wrote a few other bits, also intended to amuse her sisters, and the piece grew from there.