Serialization Sunday: Hoodoo – Chapter 18
Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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.
On the first day of spring, I turned thirteen. Jane was standing next to my locker before first period, holding out a flat square wrapped with what looked like a grocery bag. There were drawings all over it; cartoons of Gerald Ford, a mushroom cloud, teachers from school, Stacey the student body president riding on a missile, one of her crowd hanging onto the nose, the others falling through the air, Brooke trying to fix her hair on the way down, Lisa pulling her skirt down, all of their mouths stretched out into screams. Jane held it out like a tray of sweets, bowing.
“Your birthday present, Mum.”
“Can I open it?”
I was already turning it around in my hands, eating up the cartoons.
“Just tear it. There’s lots more where that came from.”
“No way,” I said, holding the present with one hand while I twirled the combination on my locker, “I’m gonna save this.”
The locker door swung open.
“Wow,” said Jane.
The inside of my locker was decorated with daffodils. They were stuck on the three walls in a solid layer, daffodil heads making a wreath on the inside of the door. Two hung free from the ceiling of the locker, swinging over my books. I wanted to cry, it was so pretty.
“Yeah. Yeah, I guess so. Geez. I wonder how they got my combination?”
“Whoever it is has a serious crush.”
“Well, remember that guy who left a teddy bear and all those stupid poems in your locker?” I was hoping she’d buy it – that it was just some random kid with a crush.
I forgot I was still holding Jane’s present. I half-shut the locker door and slid my finger under the tape, carefully opening the wrapping.
“Aw, and I thought it was a basketball.”
“Ha, ha, Lott.”
It was a record, “Entertainment!” by some band called Gang of Four.
“These guys are great, Alice. You need to play them. Tonight, promise?”
I carefully folded the wrapper, and slipped it, with the record, into my locker without opening the door all the way again.
“Yeah, I promise. Thanks, Jane.”
I had a date that night with Bobby. We were in rehearsals for the spring recital, but I had permission to stay out later than usual, telling Dad I was going out with friends for my birthday.
I had to get to class early to stretch my ankles out. They didn’t bug me much, but once in awhile a twinge would remind me, and Madame Lake didn’t let up about it. She lectured me about dancers that let problems like tendonitis go, and they ended up screwing themselves up for ever dancing again. She said she wasn’t going to let that happen on her watch, so she made sure I was all warmed up before class. In a few weeks, I was going to a workshop put on by the Wasatch Ballet, and I had to be at my best. It wasn’t impossible for someone who was fourteen, say, or fifteen, making it into the company, and if I impressed them at the workshop, it could make auditions that much easier.
After rehearsal, though, I took off like a bear was chasing me. Since the fire escape was right off the dressing room, filling up with all the other girls, I couldn’t go out that way. I had to run all the way down the stairs, around the block, and up the alley to where Bobby was waiting.
He took me back to the Castle, up behind the insane asylum. It was warm enough for us to spread out a blanket and have a picnic. Bobby brought Martinelli’s sparkling cider and hoagies, and a portable tape player. He played Mendelssohn, and we ate, and talked, and looked out over the valley.
I lay back on the blanket, looking up at the stars. He leaned back, next to me, and looked down into my face.
“Bobby, do you love me?”
“Yes. I love you.” He smiled down at me, tasting each word as it left his mouth. “I love you.”
He kissed me, longer than he had since the first kiss in his office. I felt the heat of his body, and pulled him against me. My skin tingled everywhere his body touched mine and I put my arms all the way around him, feeling his shirt sliding across the sacred underwear beneath, his ribs through that, his spine. I put just the tip of my tongue into his mouth, feeling his tongue touching mine, quick little butterfly flicks before pulling back. His hands on my shoulders. My breasts just brushing his chest. I slid one hand slowly down his back to his belt. I held my breath, and slid my hand just over the belt. Just an inch lower. Another inch.
Bobby’s hands tightened, just a bit, on my shoulders. He pulled away to look me in the face.
He breathed once, almost a sob.
He took my hand from his back, held it for a minute, kissed my fingers, then rolled away and stood up, bouncing on his toes, his back to me. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry,” I said.
He sat down next to me on one of the steps.
“Alice, you know I want you terribly. But you have something precious. I don’t want to take it away from you. Do you understand?”
I hid my face with one arm. Yes, I understood. No, I didn’t. I didn’t know anything. Didn’t he want me?
“Take me home, okay?”
When I opened the front door, Dad was sitting on a chair from the dining room, right in the entryway, all the lights on. I was sure, for a second, I’d been found out, my stomach ready to push that hoagie right back up my throat. Dad looked up at me, something wrong with his mouth. His white grin, the big old smile that laughed through everything, drinking and trailer house, D.T.s and pregnancies, that only widened when things got bad like it was going to bite off Satan’s head, had fallen clear off his face. I was afraid if he opened his mouth it would be a great black hole, the entrance to Outer Darkness itself. He was holding a paper. Did somebody write to him about us?
I stood with the door open and looked at him. What was he talking about?
“Your mother’s gone. With the baby. And. Virgil.”
He shook his head, looking at nothing at all, then pulled his eyes up to me.
“Listen.” Dad grabbed at my wrist, missed it, let his hand dangle between his legs, “they didn’t have an affair. There was nothing before Utahna was born. They just. She says, well. She says they love each other.”
His eyes rolled back inside his head. Like he couldn’t see anything except those words she’d written.
“Daddy, I’m sorry.”
I knelt down in front of him and put my arms around him. He didn’t hug me back. I let go and sat down on the floor next to him, staring at the carpet. I felt like a truck had just dumped a pile of fresh cement down my throat, everything inside me slowing down, sticking in place. I don’t know how long it was before I dragged myself up and got him to bed. After I shut his bedroom door behind me, I saw MaryEllen standing in her doorway, bare feet showing under the ruffle of her nightgown, her hair all tangled, like Mom’s when she first woke up in the morning.
Those two words, MaryEllen looking like Mom, almost, almost like Mom, suddenly I wanted to cry. I knelt down in front of her, took her hand.
“She had to go away, MaryEllen. But she still loves us. She said to tell you especially. She loves you a whole bunch. It’ll be okay, I promise. ”
She rubbed her eyes with one hand and looked at me sleepily, then nodded and padded back into her room, bare feet turning green in the shine from her nightlight.
I sat down there in the hall and tried to calm down. It wasn’t like she was dead, I’d see her again. But those words sneaked into my head again, Mommy’s gone, and this time I couldn’t stop the tears. The note said they were leaving town, leaving the whole state, who knows when I’d see her again? I sat on the hall floor and cried. I could still smell her perfume in the bathroom. I could hear her voice and Dad’s, after bedtime, their lights out, talking in the dark. I never heard what they said, just their voices, tired and homey, reeling out the day before dreaming took over. I could hear her in the kitchen, frying eggs for breakfast, yelling upstairs for Mike and Denny to come eat before it got cold. I smelled her hairspray, her lipstick, her scarf drawer, I used to run my hands over all the slippery material, lean over and breathe in her scent. I saw her when MaryEllen was a baby, back in the trailer, jiggling her on her hip, cigarette in her mouth, boiling coffee on the stove. I brought back memory after memory, making myself cry harder with every one.
I cried like she was dead. I dragged myself to my bedroom and shut the door so no-one else could hear while I cried loud like a baby, like a little kid.
I’d lied to MaryEllen. She didn’t love us. If she loved us, how could she leave us like that? We were a drag on her, all those years, all we ever did was weigh her down. I could see it when MaryEllen was a baby, All these goddamn shitty diapers, she’d say, I saw it again when she got pregnant with Utahna, we all had these smiles and party hats on and she looked like she was sitting on death row.
I knew that wasn’t true, of course she loved us. Why else did she hold me on her lap all night long, rocking me in her arms when I howled with an ear infection? The baby thing was hard for her, why shouldn’t it be, but she loved us, she had to. I saw the way she looked at Mike and Denny, like they were made of diamonds, like she couldn’t believe they came from her. I shook my head at myself, shook my head at my own thoughts, I couldn’t get it straight, I couldn’t make it make sense.
I didn’t sleep at all that night. I wanted to knock on God’s door and ask Him what the deal was, just what was this all about; walking around my bedroom, I told Him exactly what I thought. This was His fault. He was the one that made Utahna what she was. He gave her that stupid red hair, the accusation that started the whole thing. If it wasn’t for Him, for His little joke, or whatever it was, Mom would still be here.
I sat down on the floor and stared in front of me. I couldn’t blame God. It wasn’t His fault. Mom left, but He was still with me. I reached for my scriptures, and opened them to this:
“And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.”
If I listened hard to the Still Small Voice, to the Holy Ghost, if I did what I was told, if I didn’t question, if I humbled myself, Mom could come home.
Only through perfect faith could I bring forth the Miracle. Not just a miracle for me and Mom and Dad and Utahna and MaryEllen, but for Mike and Denny, and Virgil and Jane and her mom. For the Mongoloid girl down the street. For the guy who looked like he was my age but was actually old, like twenty-eight, who knocked on people’s doors asking for oatmeal, skinny arms lost in billowy shirtsleeves. For the Schofield lady who was too fat to come to church, or even leave the house. For Brooke and Stacey and Lisa and everybody at Laban. Even for Sister Brimhall. For all the people in Lemuel, even people I never met, everybody in Utah, in the whole country, for the President of the United States and the Harlem Globetrotters and farmers and movie stars and kids in slums. For the communists in Russia and China who never heard of Heavenly Father, where no Elders in white shirts and shiny black nametags could go. For the people in India who looked like me, only poor. For the starving kids in Africa with those puffed up bellies, all that space needing to be filled, all of those people whose lives I could never imagine, who would never see me bring forth the miracle, dance out the blessing for the whole strange, hungry, vicious, sinful, bloody world, the light of a million stars singing from my fingers, sparking hard like flint and stone, my toes against the earth, Heavenly Father moving in me, His words making a dance to shake the universe, my arms lift and the oceans rise, my foot comes down to tilt the earth on its axis, throwing off the unworthy, their black hearts spiraling away into their own deep black freeze.
I couldn’t understand the Lord’s mysterious ways, but I figured I had to do something. Faith without works is dead, and if Bobby was supposed to marry me, maybe I had to give him a push.
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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