Elihu Wingate’s knowledge of religion, such as it is, has been purely abstract. For him any given belief is merely an intellectual puzzle: the challenge is to figure out what psychological need is being met by that belief.

What humans won’t do, he marvels, to make themselves feel better.

New entries in Scylla’s blog. “A Rant Against Internet Cafés.” “Why Does Everyone Drive Like an Idiot?” Elihu Wingate scrolls back to the entry on psychologists—she’d titled it “Regretfully Yours.” Some readers have added comments, agreeing with her, complaining about psychologists. Elihu Wingate opens a New Comment window:

I don’t think you should dismiss the work of psychologists so easily.

He hits Post, sits back, realizes he’s forgotten to breathe.

He’s done it. He’s actually communicated with Her.

This should be good, comes the response from Scylla a minute later.

Maybe you can explain the methodology to me. What makes you think you can give people these questionnaires and expect they’ll actually give you the truth instead of plucking out some canned response that they think they’re supposed to give?

We have protocols, Elihu Wingate starts to write. He’s about to describe them when another reply from her shows up.

Do you know how hard it is to tell the truth, even anonymously, even to a stranger? How can you say, I wish I’d never met my spouse? I wish I had resisted that mindless ubiquitous pressure to become a parent?

Because when you allow yourself to think it, to say it to a stranger or write it down on a form, then you have to act on it, it grows inside you, creates this pressure, pushes you to the point where you eventually have to say to your spouse, I don’t love you anymore. Do you know how hard it is to say those words?

Elihu Wingate switches to private e-mail. No, he writes. But I’ve been on the receiving end of those words. And it was hard.

Sorry, comes the reply.

What’s happening? he wants to write. Your husband still doesn’t read your work? Scylla’s never mentioned that on her blog, never mentioned a husband at all. He wonders why she told him that when they were together on the plane, why that little piece of information broke free at 20,000 feet above the ground but is kept locked away from the infinite anonymous space of the Internet.

Question 7. What would you change?

These graduate students really need some guidance.

Change about what? Elihu Wingate writes. The accomplishment in Question 5? Or was it 6? Change about the limits of human ability, or change about the stuff in the Determined by Fate column?

He would have made it last longer, that afternoon putting together the tire swing. He would change the background of the picture. Up the driveway from the happy kids and father would be a house with a different mother altogether, or else a mother who didn’t fill every room with her anger and unhappiness.

At dinner Elihu Wingate reaches for the plate of roasted potatoes and almost knocks over a Virgin with his elbow.

“I’m not sure the dinner table is the best place for these statues,” he says.

“I quite agree, dear,” his mother says.

Elihu Wingate wonders where they’re getting all these Virgins. His parents don’t do much shopping. He thinks they might be getting them as presents from friends, who come to visit or send them in the mail.

One time he gets up in the middle of the night and stumbles over a Virgin that’s right next to his nightstand. It makes a gentle thud as it falls over onto the carpet. He turns on the light. Fortunately this one is made of wood, so she hasn’t been damaged. She has a disappointed look on her face, though. Elihu Wingate almost feels he should apologize.

“The house is getting a little crowded with these statues,” he says to his mother the next morning.

“I think you’re exaggerating, dear.”

“I got up last night and knocked one over. It was right there on the floor.”

“What a silly place to put a statue.”

“What do you think of the survey we’ve been getting?” Elihu Wingate asks Dan Keegan.

“What survey?”

Elihu Wingate goes home to his no-longer-empty house, his house now full of mother and father and Virgins, and the sounds of conversation and weed whacker and the fragrance of mown grass and the scented candle someone has placed in front of a large Virgin on the end table next to the sofa.

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