Serialization Sunday: Hoodoo – Chapter 23
Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.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.
North of Lemuel
I dreamed a flood. I dreamed waves of dirty water, walls and curtains and whole skyscrapers of water, piling up and smashing down.
I dreamed Dr. Bob building an ark. My Bobby, except he looked like Charlton Heston, hammering boards together while Sister Brimhall, and Bishop Snow, and Stacey and Brooke and Lisa and everybody at Laban and all the Lemuelites pointed at him and laughed.
I dreamed I was the ark, bobbing along on the rising flood, carrying everybody in the world, all of humanity inside my belly. The waves threw me up and crashed me down. They got bigger and taller, and finally they broke through, washing through me, pulling everything from me until I was light and empty, riding the waves.
Then it was calm, and I looked up to see Elder Tanner standing above me, my white baptism dress floating up in the water. His arm behind my back pulled me up, the water flooding off me, and I took a big, deep breath.
Three years since I since I last saw Dr. Bob.
Three years and still I’d close my eyes to see Bobby in the Principal’s office, his face pulled out of shape like it was melting, the blonde woman next to him turning to see, every time the door closing before I could see her face – she must have been his wife – every time I tried to see her face, every time terrified of what it would show, what twisted, crazy horror would have hung itself there in the hours since her husband told her he’d had sex with a thirteen year old girl, but always the door closing with both of them behind it, Bobby’s eyes looking at me, then blind door.
Three years remembering that door, imagining what happened behind it while I denied our love ever existed. “The Principal is Your Pal,” it said, on a xeroxed sheet of paper taped to the door with scotch tape turning yellow and gummy at the edges. Jane wrote me later that the principal resigned that spring, just finished out the school year and moved away and everybody at Laban talked about how he kept saying a thing like that shouldn’t have happened in a nice town like Lemuel, it just couldn’t. And after three years I was starting to see that he didn’t have any idea at all what to do, none of them did, or they wouldn’t have had Bobby right there when I came in, right where I could see him and the way he looked up at me, where I could almost see his wife, and she me, and what might’ve happened if she’d had a good look at me, would she have gone right for my throat?
My whole world exploded that day, and I’d spent three years trying to reassemble all the little pieces.
I was just a dumb kid. I had a picture of Heavenly Father like He was my personal genie. But what was I supposed to think? Those words kept time with my footsteps as I walked to school, to dance class, to church: We believe, we believe, weeble eve, weeble eve, weeble eve. Everybody in Lemuel thought Heavenly Father was whispering in their ears, telling them who to marry or where to look to find their lost cat, all caught up in every detail of their lives. But I didn’t know any such thing anymore. I didn’t know who Heavenly Father was, or what He wanted. As far as I was concerned, He was a dangerous character, and it was safer to keep Him up on His throne in Heaven, and not messing around in my life. I just had to be quiet and obedient and do what my Sunday School teacher told me to do.
Sure, my vision was the real thing. I could still close my eyes and see Dr. Bob all lit up like a disco ball, his smile beaming out a light that almost blinded me. But just because it was real didn’t mean I automatically understood what it meant. Maybe I was just telling myself stories when I decided I was supposed to marry him. Maybe it was nothing but my own brain telling me to Pay Attention.
I was sixteen in nineteen eighty-three, when the floods came down on Utah and showed me just how little we all were in the whole big world. The water drowned whole towns, wiping away streets, taco stands, churches, houses – the desert didn’t know how to absorb the glut that kept coming, pets and cows swallowed up, carried away by muddy currents rushing over the bald earth, no ocean to empty into, the lakes got bigger, puddles became lakes, streams rivers, water crowded against the foundations of the temple, eating into stone and glass – walls glittering with pioneer treasures, crockery and jewelry they’d dragged across the plains – the Great Salt Lake bulged out over its edges, overflowing used car lots and gymnasiums with its brine tears.
In Salt Lake City, streets turned into rivers, running all the way down from the canyon into the Great Salt Lake, shouldering up against shop fronts and offices and schools along their paths to feed the overspilling bowl of the lake. People took boats to work, the city built footbridges over the water, and the sandbagging went on for weeks and weeks.
The Wasatch Ballet Academy joined in to drag wet sacks of sand down the line of workers, shifting hand to hand before landing in the walls that grew all over the city to hold back the flood a while longer. The Academy, where I’d been for three years, since the day after I sat in the secretary’s office, my stomach cramping up, sure the world was ending, when Dad bundled me into the car with MaryEllen in back. “We have to get you out of Lemuel and away from that pervert so you can forget all about him” is more or less what he said, and the Academy was thrilled to have me after what they’d seen at the workshop, so they found space for me in the dorms and Dad got me all checked in while I stared at my new roommate and she stared at me.
Like I would ever forget all about “that pervert,” my Bobby, my one true love, even for a second. Even though I said he didn’t do anything and they couldn’t press charges, everybody made up their minds about him anyway and boy was he a sensation for awhile, everybody talking about the Laban molester, the Lemuel Lecher, that filthy man whose slimy hands had been all over our kids, hearing their secrets, peeking at their undies, and who knows what else he’d done, who else he’d defiled, until he sure couldn’t show his face around Lemuel anymore. So he disappeared, just slipped underground, and nobody knew what happened to him. I bugged Jane to let me know everything she heard, just to see if there was a clue where he was, and no doubt she figured out he really was the father although I wasn’t talking any.
Maybe I should have just let him go, he could disappear and be someone else and start over and – I don’t know – change his name, only now and then thinking about this little girl in a small town that tore apart his whole life and abandoned him when he tried to do the right thing. But I couldn’t. Maybe I didn’t believe in all that We Were Meant to Be crap anymore but you don’t just fall out of love with someone because you’re not supposed to love them anymore. I thought about Bobby every day, Bobby in the Laban halls, crowds of kids turning their faces up to him, Bobby looking at me with those gray eyes, like he could see right into my heart, Bobby in his office, Bobby stripped to his skin, wide open to me, his skin under my lips, smoother than I expected, but chill to my touch like cream in a glass bottle. Only that once on his office floor but I burned for his breath on my belly, his hair tangled in my fingers, every night, my roommate mumbling and shifting in her sleep two steps away while I stretched inside my covers, almost feeling his hands around my hips, his weight along my body.
Was it a sin? I’d tied myself all in knots to make this thing between us Right, until I ended up pregnant and terrified, but even though I didn’t buy it anymore, and even though I was still and always in love with him, I was trying to be good.
I went to church every Sunday, and now I was in high school, I went to seminary too, in a little building just off the school grounds. Here’s the thing about seminary: with that whole separation of church and state thing, they couldn’t have seminary classes right in the school, so they built it just across the street, but you could tell it was all done at the same time and by the same guys – the seminary building looked like a kind of miniature version of the school, and you could sign up for classes that fit right into your schedule like any other elective, art or auto mechanics or whatever. And I’d troop across the street with my scriptures just like everyone else, do the seminary class and learn about Nephi or Abraham or whoever, it was always guys in those old books.
I tried to disappear at school and church, just this big brown girl nobody knew all that well, nice enough, decent grades. It was easier in Salt Lake. There were a bunch of Korean kids in my school, and even one black guy. He’d grown his own bubble of a social circle – mostly fast-talking smart guys – not exactly popular, but nobody messed with him.
I never missed a class and I did my homework and went on Service Projects, picking apples for poor people – like we used to be – at the church welfare farm. Sixteen was the age when girls were allowed to go out on single dates, but I didn’t talk to any boys and dates were something that might have happened in another universe. At night I got on my knees next to my bed and thanked Heavenly Father for my blessings, and asked him to bless my family and all the people in the world who were sick or hungry or scared, and to bless me to be good, inthenameofJesusChrist, Amen.
At the Academy, after school, I made my real prayers. I pushed my body farther than I ever knew I could, polishing my technique, cleaning every speck of dirt from the lens until pure soul shone through. The Academy and those high-ceilinged studios with the mirrors and rosin-white pointe shoe prints scattering out from the box in the corner – here everything else fell away. We put on regular performances, the crowds ten times bigger than the audience at the Nutcracker in Lemuel, and I could hear them before the curtain went up, shifting in their seats and talking and breathing. I’d stand behind the curtain in my false eyelashes, listening to every one of them, letting them steal inside me and fill me up before the curtain would lift and I would be bare on the stage, returning every half-conscious want a hundred times over. I had already had solos at Academy performances, and every year I danced in the Nutcracker with the Wasatch Ballet. My future seemed laid out for me like a wide, clean road all the way to the top, and you would have thought I had everything I wanted. But I never stopped thinking about Bobby.
On my way from school to the Academy, I would stop for a minute, standing on the corner of State Street, gray brown floodwater laced with foam like spit slurping up against my toes, and look all the way north to the dome of the capitol building, up on Gravity Hill – where you could stop your car pointing downhill, and if it was left in neutral, you could feel it rolling backwards, uphill, a thousand teenagers could swear to it – and if I fuzzed my eyes, that dome high above the drowned city could look like a mushroom cloud, like I saw in my dreams and in movies, that big flash and then a tree of smoke, the solid trunk flowering out to the End of the World, the last judgment for us all, and I wondered where my Bobby was. Was he somewhere I could barely imagine, in a hut high up on Katmandu, or smoking a hookah in Casablanca, was he thinking of me?
When the people in Farmington heard the flash flood coming miles away, heard it ripping through houses and cars in its path, heard the apocalyptic clash of junk it pushed before it, they said it sounded like the Voice of God, like a judgment, like the end of the world. My roommate Raylene said she got this weird, last-days sort of feeling when her Dad called to say they were sandbagging the temple, and everyone was seeing signs in the floods, and this new disease called AIDS, and the Russians with all those missiles pointed our way, we all thought the end was just around the corner.
But all I could think was, I hope I can see Bobby one more time before I die.
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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