Serialization Sunday – Hoodoo: Chapter 13
Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel. Our first serialized novel, the taut thriller City of Human Remains, can be found in full here.
Our current novel, Hoodoo, tells a story of visionaries, heretics and lunatics in Utah, centered on the life of Alice Lott, a twelve-year-old girl who believes that God wants her to have an affair with her junior high school counselor.
Find earlier chapters in Hoodoo here.
They named her Utahna, the first child of our new lives. She was supposed to represent everything about us being together as a family forever, about our success, about the happy ending we all thought we were having. The first Lott kid to be born in a private room in the hospital, with snugglies and booties and soft yellow blankets waiting just for her, the first one of us to come home to a room all her own and a crib and a mobile hanging over it and special baby wallpaper with elephants holding balloons in their trunks, marching across the walls. But we forgot all about that when we got a good look at her. It was clear right away she was another Lott to be whispered about when we left the room, another big juicy bite for the gossip ladies to chew on for years to come.
Virg was over the day Mom came home from the hospital, to help welcome the new one to the family, and he was just as surprised as us when Dad paraded her in, Mom trailing behind, forgetting to close the door.
Baby Utahna, skin as white and pink as any Lemuel girl, and a whole head of electric red hair, the exact shade of Virgil’s.
None of us said a word while snow blew in from the porch, everybody frozen for a whole minute, or a hundred years, I couldn’t say. I could see Virgil’s long knobby fingers just twitching for a hat he could yank down over his ears. Mom didn’t look good at all, pale and sleepy, like she could barely keep her eyes open, and Dad’s smile was turned up to a thousand degrees. I finally scooted behind them to slam the door shut.
Any way you looked at it, the whole thing was out-and-out impossible. Mom’s family was blond as far back as anyone could remember, and there sure as heck wasn’t any red hair on Dad’s side. We were all thinking the obvious, except maybe MaryEllen, but Mom was already pregnant when Dad met Virg. Like I said, it—she—Utahna—was completely and totally impossible. Utahna herself sat in royal splendor in the crook of Dad’s arm, greeting us with a slight lowering of her lids and a delicate burp.
In church, Dad stood up to give her the blessing. At first it was just some of the Relief Society ladies craning their necks to get a look at what popped out of Mom, but as soon as Dad threw back the blanket, uncovering Utahna’s head for the blessing, this ssss ssss started up in the front row, in seconds spreading out in waves, passing from mouth to mouth all the way to the back of the chapel. Virg sat up on the stand—he was on the Bishopric—and I could see, even though he was in the same elbows-on-knees-hands-together-I’m-praying pose that every guy over the age of twelve uses to hide a churchtime nap or sub rosa conversation, the tips of his ears were glowing red as his hair while the rustling and whispering multiplied, the ladies’ eyes all lit up with the excitement of scandal, nudging their husbands awake to gawk at my baby sister, and one or two of our good neighbors stood up right in the middle of the blessing, holding their children’s hands tightly, and trooped out of the chapel.
Dad soldiered on.
Mom, sitting next to me, leaned just a bit to one side, deeply interested in the air about a foot in front of her face. Her eyes never moved from that spot of nothing.
For a minute I wondered if maybe Utahna was some kind of miracle that had taken a wrong turn. Maybe Mom, pretty, flirty Mom, had a thing for Virg, maybe it was a real thing, like what I had with Bobby sort of, and maybe they’d both wished for it so much, that even though Dad had already planted Utahna inside my Mom by the time they met, maybe they’d changed her by the force of their wanting into the baby they wished…
I slammed my eyes shut. I didn’t want to think about that. That wasn’t it at all. Utahna was just a freak, like me, like Dad. Like Mike and Denny and MaryEllen, too, though they hid their freakiness better. Sure, they got along fine at school, but nobody else in Lemuel had ever held their Mom’s hand while she was shaking and screaming from the DT’s, or had to pry a bottle from her fingers. None of them had lived in a trailer or taken food stamps to the grocery store. Mike and Denny and MaryEllen and me, we shared that whole dented story, and though they could tuck it deep inside while I had to wear it right on my skin, it was always there for all of us.
Anyway, I’d heard that sometimes a brunette and a blond can make a redhead. And who said her skin had to look like a chocolate milkshake? She just got Mom’s skin, through some sort of weirdo heredity glitch, and that’s all there was to it. Mom didn’t have any Thing for Virg, that was just stupid.
She wasn’t anything like me.
What I had with Bobby was the real thing, all the way. When I told him about Utahna, he looked hard at me and shook his head, like I’d just finished an amazing trapeze act, and he wasn’t sure how I’d done it.
“You have quite the family, Alice Lott.”
I just nodded. I couldn’t wait until I could introduce him to the whole gang.
“This is my fiancé, Dr. Bob.”
I could just see their faces. Old Mike and Denny wouldn’t know what to do with themselves, but I think Dad would take to him pretty quick. And MaryEllen would fall all over him, just like every other kid that got within twenty feet of him.
I hadn’t broken the whole marriage thing to Bobby yet, the time wasn’t right. I’d tell him soon enough. Anyway, Christmas break was coming up, and my biggest concern was how I could see him when there wasn’t any school. I didn’t think I could last two whole weeks without seeing him at all. I guess other kids were thinking about what Santa was going to bring them, dreaming about presents all wrapped up under the Christmas tree, and Sugar Plum Fairies, not how they were going to meet their betrothed.
It turned out to be not such a big deal in the end, though. I had dance class and rehearsal and performances straight through the break, so all I had to do was invent some extra rehearsals, make my classes last a little longer, and it was all taken care of. There was this alley behind the dance studio, and an old wooden fire escape leading down to it. Mom would drop me off for class, and I’d go up the twenty-four carpeted and twelve linoleum steps, into the dressing room, and right out the back door, down the creaky wooden steps to Dr. Bob waiting in his Chevette, steam poufing out of the tailpipe. I’d hop in and duck under the dash, putting my head on Bobby’s knee while he took off, jangling my head all around, gassing and braking, reaching over me to shift, taking me to Our Place, a diner the next town over, Bennie’s Spic ‘n’ Span Café.
The first time we walked in, I stopped dead in the doorway. It was just like the diner where Mom used to work, back in Pahrump, the only thing missing was Mom, or someone like her. Orange polyester uniform with a short skirt and built-in apron, pen stuck behind one ear, chipped ceramic cup sloshing spiked coffee onto the back counter, Mom taking nips while she leaned over, showing her cleavage, shooting the breeze with the cook during a lull. No waitress here. Bennie himself in a t-shirt and stained apron – a mountain of a guy with thick lips – stood behind the counter, shifting a toothpick from one side of his mouth to the other, watery eyes on every customer in the place, every hand, every tobacco-stained finger.
It seemed impossible that this place existed only a fifteen-minute drive in Bob’s Chevette from Lemuel. The people sitting at the long counter screwed their heads around to look at us, take us in, then turned back to minding their own business. Mostly men, in plaid work shirts and heavy boots and gimme hats, hunkered over their food like it was the first hot meal they’d had in weeks. One guy looked Indian to me, probably Ute, or Paiute. It even smelled like Mom’s diner: coffee brewed too long, layers on ancient layers of cigarette smoke and grease. Just about the only place for miles around where Bobby and me wouldn’t stick out like stormtroopers at a debutante’s ball.
Bobby leaned over to me, spoke low in my ear, “You know who Gary Gilmore was?”
“Yeah,” I said, looking around at him, “the killer guy?”
“First man in Utah to be executed after they reinstated the death penalty. He used to hang out here.”
“Really?” I asked.
Bobby nodded, eyebrows raised.
“Cool,” I said.
Bobby was watching me. I think he was making sure I was okay with the place, not freaked out or anything. He didn’t know how much at home I felt. I led the way to the only booth in the place, and slid into my seat like I’d been coming here for years. I leaned my head back against the bench and let out a noisy sigh.
“Feels good to sit down.”
Bob sat down across from me, crossing his arms on the table and leaning forward.
“Yeah,” I said, “Madame Lake taught us this new combination that’s nothing but jumps for days, like fifty entrechats and a soubresaut straight into a sissonne – which is harder than it looks – and then a bunch of pas de chats. It was killer, even though I love pas de chats, but we had to do it over and over again ‘cause Tana kept crapping out halfway through the entrechats and Madame Lake wouldn’t let us stop until she did the whole combination twice without stopping, and boy if I thought it was tough to keep my trailing foot up in the pas de chats the first time around, man, we were all raggedy by the hundred and first.”
Something about Bob made it easy for me to talk. He got hot chocolate for both of us, and a pile of french fries for me, and he let me go on and on about class. You would have thought he’d get bored, but he’d ask me questions, like What’s a grand battement, and I’d show him, pretending my hands were legs, doing miniature dances on the tabletop.
That first night, walking out to his car, the cold air circling my shoulders like an ice jacket, I sidled up to him, putting myself under his right arm so he’d put it around my shoulders, heavy and warm, pull me in against his chest so I could feel his heart beating. Instead, he put his hand on my shoulder and faced me.
“Alice, I love spending time with you, but…”
He let his breath out in a long stream of white that hung in the air between us. I shivered.
“You’re freezing,” he touched my nose, lightly. “Let’s get you in the car and crank up the heater.”
I think he would have been just as happy to let it drop right there and drive me back to the studio, but I wasn’t going to let it go. Before he could put the car in gear, I had to ask. “What were you going to say?”
He dropped his hand from the gear shift and looked down.
“I don’t know. I never know what to say to you. But that’s no excuse for me to…” he put both his hands palm down on his knees and looked out the windshield. “It isn’t right for us to…be doing this. For a lot of reasons.” He dipped his head and looked over at me, “I can’t kiss you again like I did in my office. I just can’t.”
It would have been perfectly easy for me to tell him now, let him know that God said it was okay, and what more did we need?
Instead I asked: “Why not?”
I realized how idiotic that sounded the second it came out of my mouth, but he didn’t say Stupid, because I’m married, because my wife didn’t do anything to deserve this, because you’re twelve years old, because you’re too young to be doing that with anyone, let alone an old pervert like me.
“Listen, this is our place,” he said, nodding at the diner. “If something happens to separate us, we can always meet here, okay?”
Back at the alley behind the studio, I leaned over to kiss him, but he stopped me. Gently, he took my head in his hands, and kissed my forehead.
For a long time after that, after Christmas break was over and school had started again, whenever we met he just wanted to talk with me, not kiss at all. He liked looking at our hands next to each other, his big and blocky, mine kind of long and skinny, his skin so white next to mine. He loved just touching the skin on my hand, or, if we were somewhere private like his car, my cheek. That was all for the longest time, too. Once in a while we’d kiss and hug a little, but nothing more. It was like we were reading from the Sunday School manual: no touching below the shoulders or above the knees. No necking. No tongue-kissing. After all my terror about what this grown-up would want to do to me, we were more innocent, then, than I had ever been with Randall Warner. Even though I could tell he thought about it, wanted more. When he did kiss me, his whole body would shake and I could feel heat coming off his face next to mine and we’d just hold onto each other. It wasn’t anything like with Randall. I didn’t have to put any brakes on—he was doing it himself all the time.
Sometimes, we’d just look each other straight in the eyes for a whole minute.
Founder of the Portuguese Artists Colony in San Francisco, Caitlin Myer regularly reads her work at Why There Are Words, Quiet Lightning, and other established reading salons in California. Her one woman show on Simone de Beauvoir was produced in Seattle.
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