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Today's Story by Caitlin Myer

Serialization Sunday: Hoodoo – Chapter 41

Every Sunday, Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first serialized novel, the taut thriller City of Human Remainscan 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.

Chapter 41

The first time I saw you dance, in that little theater, I sat in the audience in my suit and tie and watched you from the dark. I think you are not even the same species as me.

The night before my surgery, I got awkwardly on my knees next to the bed.

Heavenly Father, I started. I opened my eyes and looked around me. The old quilt on my bed, the desk and chair, the stereo, the pointe shoes hanging from a corner of the mirror. I closed my eyes, bowed my head and started over.

Father in Heaven,

I know I’ve screwed up a lot. At church they call it a Test when bad things happen. Is this a Test? How do I know how to pass? I’m sorry for the bad things I’ve done.

Father? Make my foot be okay, Please?

InthenameofJesusChrist, amen.

I stayed on my knees and stared at the quilt on my bed, at the loose threads pulling out in curlicues. I had to do better than that. I couldn’t just say I was sorry and expect Heavenly Father to reach down through my ceiling with His finger and heal my foot with a touch.

Starting now, I had to change. I hoisted myself up and went to my desk where Bobby’s letter lay. I touched a finger to his words, then crumpled the page and threw it in my wastebasket. I tried to hold back the picture of Bobby that washed into my head: Bobby on that first day in the gym, his hand on the head of some kid, a fourth-grader. The kid was swinging fists at him, laughing wildly, while Bobby held him at arms’ length, just beyond the reach of those kid fists. Bobby smiling and raising his eyebrows at each crazy swing, another kid hopping up and down, me next, me next.

I clenched my eyes shut, rubbing a hand down my face, then opened the drawer stuffed with Bobby letters. The corners of the envelopes hit the bottom of the wastebasket one after another. Starting now, I would be different.

I had a prayer on my lips when they wheeled me into the operating room, when the drugs hit my blood and pulled me down and under.

After the surgery, I had to stay off my foot for six weeks. They would take more X-rays then. There was a chance it would be healing all right. There was a chance they’d have to operate again, fusing the bones together. I’d be pretty much unable to go on half-toe ever again, let alone pointe.

It was fall, and I started the year at Lemuel High on crutches. So many of the same old people from Laban. I went to every class on time. I studied. I helped MaryEllen with her homework. Jane sat next to me in Anatomy and doodled cartoons on my cast.

I wasn’t sure how to measure perfection. Pictures of Bobby would sneak into my brain and I sang a hymn in my head to drive him out. A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief was a bad choice: I’d try to picture Jesus, but he turned into Bobby, Bobby as the eleven-foot Jesus at the Visitor’s Center. Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel worked better, for a while anyway, bringing up pictures of pioneers hauling their wagons across the plains.

But there were times when I gave in, when I turned to a memory of Bobby, letting it go in one flash of I don’t care, humming myself into sleep on the taste of his kiss.

Dad put my name in the temple, which meant that everyone who went through the temple was praying for me. Hundreds of people, all of them praying for me. I didn’t know how to think about that, I didn’t know how to be good enough.

I fasted for days. I fasted until my stomach stopped growling and I could hear water sloshing around in there. I prayed when I got hungry, when I saw Mike eating a sandwich, when I felt sick on the taste of my own spit. I read the church books sitting on our shelves in the living room. So many of them were about sex. How did I ever think God wanted me to have sex with Bobby? I was light years away from any chance at real salvation.

I looked away from the words on the page and down at my hands. How did I dare ask Heavenly Father for anything?

When Dad was away for a meeting with his lawyer, I clumped into his bedroom on my crutches. He hadn’t changed it much since Mom left. It still looked like it was waiting for the other half of the couple to come home and put her things in place, fill it up, make it look like someone lived here. I knew what I was looking for, but I wasn’t completely sure where I’d find it. I was right on the first guess, though. The drawer in Dad’s end table, toward the back behind his heart pills.

The shiny blue book, the pages soft and flanged out from use, Dad’s blue book, the one the missionaries had given him, way back in the trailer park. Dad kept it right next to the bed. This was where he’d seen the hand coming from the fire. Dad’s vision, and everything that flowed from it, still belonged to him, to us. I could read my own scriptures, the fancy leather-bound ones with my name embossed on the cover and the built-in ribbon bookmarks and gold-edged pages, and I did, but it wasn’t the same. I felt a warm breath from the cheap old pages of the blue book when I opened it.

Things seemed simple and clear in those stories. Like Lehi’s dream of the straight and narrow path leading to the tree. All you had to do was stay on that path, hold on to the iron rod, and you’d find your way to the tree of life. There was a clear line between the people who held to the rod and the people who got lost in the mist. I couldn’t see myself in either place. Maybe I was lost in the mist and didn’t know it.

It was hard following the stories in the middle. The bad guys were always trying to kill the good guys. There were wars, and people being burned and stabbed. The righteous were always so sure of themselves, so sure they were right. I had that certainty once, but I didn’t know how to get it back.

And the wicked were cursed with dark skin. Those words dropped, one by one, into the well of my brain. It was just a metaphor: dark and light. But I heard again those words: “dark” and “skin,” like water dripping into a bucket. My natural instincts bent toward evil. It was tattooed there, on my skin. I closed my eyes. I had to shut it down, get my thoughts under control. I knew doubts were one of Satan’s tools.

I put the book away and hobbled back to my room.

I cheated. Letters still came from Bobby, and I dropped them unopened into the wastebasket in my room, but I didn’t empty the wastebasket into the main garbage. And one night I was almost crazy for the smell of Bobby and I grabbed one of the letters out of there and pressed it to my nose. I breathed in and thought I caught a trace, but it wasn’t enough by a long shot, and I let myself tear open the envelope and open the letter, if I was so weak let me have some small reward, and that’s how you tumble along into sin, I knew that, but nothing felt so good as tearing the paper and the page crackling in my hand.

Meet me at Bennie’s meet me at Bennie’s meet me at Bennie’s meet me at Bennie’s meet me at Bennie’s meet me at Bennie’s meet me

The postmark was a week ago, and I felt heat filling up my chest. I held the page close to my body and screwed my eyes shut, bringing Bobby to life at Bennie’s. I’d just slide behind the wheel of the Oldsmobile and drive myself there and find him in the one booth, waiting, waiting for me.

I didn’t go. I picked up the wastebasket, clanging it against my crutches, just barely keeping hold while I clattered into the kitchen and leaned the crutches against the cupboard so I could upend the little can into the garbage under the sink, Bobby’s letters piling up over banana peels and chicken bones and orange juice cartons. I pictured my hand reaching in after them, not too late to save them, even as I closed the cupboard and dropped the wastebasket, letting it clonk onto the kitchen floor.

I gagged and leaned over the sink, my eyes stuck on the shiny flanges of the in-sink-erator, waiting to throw up, but nothing came.


I was back on the exam table, the paper crackling under me. My naked foot rested on the table, the skin rotted gray and stinking. The x-ray paper rippled as the doctor shunted it into place on the light box. Light glowed out from under and behind the x-rays. I kept my eyes open and focused on the pictures, the doctor moving his pen in the air over slim white bones. I hadn’t thought past this moment, and I didn’t know what to do with my face when he said he wasn’t happy with the results, when he said the bones hadn’t knitted properly and it would be another surgery if I wanted to walk normally some day. I held my breath and waited for the scene to change, for the picture to rearrange itself into something my brain could hold. I closed my eyes and opened them, and I was still on the exam table, the light still glowing through the x-rays, the doctor still talking in that terrifyingly calm voice. I stopped existing in that moment; in the time it took him to say a few words, Alice disappeared.

On the day of my surgery, I watched the mask coming toward me to cover my mouth and nose. Someone told me to count backwards and I heard again the paper crackling under my legs, the liquid sound of an x-ray moving through the air.


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. 

Read more stories by Caitlin Myer


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