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Today's Story by Caitlin Myer

Who was I to take away his hope?

Serialization Sunday – Hoodoo: Chapter 33

Every Sunday, shop Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first serialized novel, treatment 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 31

The desert outside the car window looked washed out, used up, beat to a pulp from its long fight with the floods. The waters had shrunk back, leaving behind wreckage that had been carried for miles maybe, a man’s blue sock, a dishwasher, a doll, pieces of wood and plastic and cardboard pushed along and left where they were floating when the water evaporated in the summer sun. It looked like a whole town full of people had blown by on the run from something bigger than they’d imagined, from a nightmare monster, a bomb, the end of the world.

I leaned my head on the seat back and looked out the window while Dad drove, cradling Bobby in my head. Only two weeks, but I was scared to be away from him for so long, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to take it.

I squinched my eyes against the sun and put my feet up on the dashboard.

“Has Denny written you?” Dad asked.

“Yeah, he sent me a picture of him and Yukio.”

Denny sent me another picture I didn’t tell Dad about, but kept on my dresser in my dorm room at the Academy. Mom and Virgil, on their ranch in New Mexico. They’re leaning against a split-rail fence, Mom’s boot up on a rail, a curl of blond hair blowing against her mouth, one hand shielding her eyes from the sun. Between them, sitting on the fence in a dress, is Utahna. Virg is steadying her with one hand, squinting in the sunlight, pointing at the camera with the other, he’s telling her where to look, and she’s wearing his cowboy hat, it wants to swallow her whole head, but she’s holding it up, away from her face with one baby hand, laughing at the photographer.

Denny moved there to work on the ranch with his new wife, Yukio, after he got back from his mission. Denny had baptized Yukio and her parents and brother in Hokkaido, and he said that the minute he was lifting her out of the baptismal water, all wet and clean, he knew they were supposed to be married. Yukio was from the countryside, so they figured she’d be right at home on the ranch, and Denny was trying to grow a patch of lavender outside their bedroom window to make it smell just like the lavender fields outside Furano, where she grew up.

“She seems nice, Yukio,” said Dad.

“Uh-huh. How’s Mike?”

“Oh, he’s fine, I guess. Hardly ever see him, you know. MaryEllen is doing real good, though. You hear she’s class secretary?”

“Yeah, you told me. On the phone.”

“Oh, of course.”

Dad reached to turn on the air conditioning. He didn’t hardly know how to talk to me anymore, ever since that day. It’s like he was scared to death of whatever he might find out, if he questioned me too closely, so he never did.

“You ready to take this over next year?” Dad patted the steering wheel of the car, raising his eyebrows.

He was into Oldsmobiles now, a new one every year, just like the Cadillacs. This one was brown, like the desert outside the window, like the color of the water standing in big puddles in the middle of the fields we drove past, what Raylene called baby-poop brown. He promised to give me one as soon as I got my driver’s license, but I kept putting it off. I don’t know, all the kids in the high school I went to in Salt Lake couldn’t wait, they all got their learner’s permits when they were fifteen and a half, the first day they could, and I was supposed to take Driver’s Ed last term before summer vacation, but I swapped it at the last minute for a dorky ceramics class instead. I just didn’t like the idea of putting my hands on a steering wheel.

“I’m holding out for a better color,” I said, leaning my head back against the window to look at Dad.

He really looked rough. He’d gone all skinny again, like when we lived in the trailer park, only his laugh was gone. He tried flashing those white teeth at me now, but he didn’t believe in it. Mom had his big old grin stashed somewhere in the suitcases she ran out of our house with. I wondered if she took it out to look at once in a while, if she and Virg had it mounted and hanging on the wall like the head of a deer, if Virg told stories about the wild, brown Jim he nearly lost Mom to. Another one of his great stories. I wondered if Denny was happier there, with Yukio and Utahna, than he used to be here.

I leaned my head back against the seat, and fell asleep.

——

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

——-

To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page
Every Sunday, capsule Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first serialized novel, pills 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 32

“What’re you doing here?”

I jumped almost all the way out of my skin, and turned around to see who’d caught me haunting the Laban Junior High parking lot, peeking into windows.

“Randall?”

Randall Warner, flipping Randall Warner. He’d kept growing, I guess, and working out, he looked like he could hold one of me on each shoulder. He was laughing himself silly, running out of breath, he was so proud of himself for making me jump.

“Geez, Randall. You scared me half to death. What’re you doing here?”

“I was just out for a ride on my bike. Damn, Alice, you look hot, all grown up.”

“Shut up,” I said, grinning.

“So what the fuck, Alice? What was all that shit with you? Were you like, molested?”

I laughed. Nobody had just asked me like that before. I had to laugh again, it sounded so stupid to me.

“Nope. No, I wasn’t molested, not even close,” I said, still laughing. “I was in love,” I stopped and tasted the words in my mouth. When I talked again, I was quiet, “I was in love. It was the real thing.”

“No shit,” said Randall, “With that old counselor dude?”

I nodded, looking at the empty school building, windows dark. Bobby’s window was over to the left, third one in, with the sun shining off it. I wondered whose office it was now. I nodded again.

“Nobody has any clue, Randall. No-one knows what it was like. I even, I had this idea, back then. It was dumb, but, I thought we were meant to be together, like God wanted us to be together. You know?”

Randall slid down the wall until he was sitting on the pavement. I sat down facing him.

“That’s not so dumb. You know I got kidnapped to that reform school in the canyon, right? There was this kid there? Crazy fucker, I mean dangerous violent guy, like scary. His dad came in with some other guys from his ward and gave him a special blessing, they cast out the devil. He went crazy at first, picked up one of the guys and threw him right across the room, but they kept praying, and you know? When they finished, he was just the sweetest kid you ever met. He went home that day, never had to come back. Check this, he’s gonna be a seminary teacher. So, yeah, there’s a lot of shit that happens, there’s just no other explanation for, you know?”

It was nice of him to say it, but I didn’t want to go back down that road.

“Hey,” said Randall, after I was quiet for awhile, and we’d looked at the school and looked down at the ground and I pushed the hair out of my face, “Want to go for a ride on my bike?”

For some dumb reason I’d been thinking bicycle, but we came around the corner and there was Randall’s motorcycle, huge and shining in the sunlight.

“Okay now, you have to put your arms around my waist, and hold on tight. Have you ever ridden a bike before?”

I shook my head.

“That’s okay, you’ll get the hang of it—you’re a ballet girl, right? Just lean with me, okay? When we go into a corner, you’ll want to lean away from it, ‘cause it’s gonna feel like we’re gonna tip over, but you gotta lean into it, or we will, okay? It’ll feel weird at first, but you’ll get it.”

He started the bike, and over the engine I shouted, “Where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise,” he yelled back, “I wanna show you something cool. Hold on!”

And we lurched ahead, my breath left back in the parking lot and I tightened my grip around his middle. The wind blew into my eyes and my hair’s stinging ends whipped my face, and I closed my eyes as we pushed through a whole world of smells and thicknesses of air, and pockets of warmth followed closely by chill. I started to concentrate on keeping myself upright and balanced, not slumping against Randall, trying to match each shift of his body precisely, squelching a shriek down to a mousy sigh that I hoped he didn’t hear when we rounded a sharp corner, leaning into it like he said until our knees seemed psychotically close to the road and I could see individual bits of asphalt blurring by and I was certain, absolutely certain that the wheels would slip that last inch out from under us and we’d be pinwheeling and skidding, arms and legs thrown out, bouncing and jerking into the field, every bone shattered.

But we came smoothly upright again, and soon we were on the old highway, heading south, and I wondered if Randall was planning to run off with me, a full tank of gas and a wallet full of cash, we could make Vegas by morning, gorge ourselves on a cheap buffet, a quick wedding in the Silver Bells chapel with a stuttering priest, I’d find a job as a showgirl, wearing a crown of feathers ten feet tall, and Alice would disappear forever. We’d be like Mom and Dad in the old days, Randall drinking beer every night in our double-wide, playing the slots in the grocery store, I’d smoke Parliaments, just like Mom, my butt getting fat and spreading out in my polyester pants, cig in a corner of my mouth, stained white sleeveless mock turtleneck, sitting on one of those stools, my plastic cup of quarters in one hand, pulling and feeding and pulling and feeding, not even hearing the bells and buzzing anymore.

We turned off the highway.

“Are we going to Thistle?” I shouted, sure we weren’t, Thistle just a stupid old mining town like a thousand others around the state.

Randall nodded his head, then yelled “Yup.”

As we rounded the bend, I saw why. Where Thistle had been, a smooth sheet of water filled the valley like a cup, one or two of the taller buildings in the town sticking out above the water like party hats, or islands in the stillness.

“It’s Thistle Lake, now.”

Randall stopped the bike at the edge of the water, and helped me off, my butt still buzzing from the ride. He pushed just the toe of his shoe into the edge of the water, shivering the lake at our edge, the ripples growing and softening as they moved away from the shore. He picked up a smooth, oval rock, and hefted it in his hand before skipping it neatly across the water, the stone making plashes as it hopped toward what had been the town hall before sinking under the surface.

“It’s kinda creepy though, you gotta admit. Your thing with the counselor guy.”

Randall said it without turning around to look at me. “I mean, not you. But he’s kind of a loser.”

I tried to see Bobby from the outside, the way someone like Randall would see him. He was too close. All I could see were the wrinkles around his eyes, the flush climbing his throat, those devil brows on the Jesus face.

“He’s not like that,” I said.

Randall squinted back at me, over his shoulder.

“Wait. You’re still with this guy?”

If you look at it, I hadn’t been on a real date ever in my life. Randall was just the kind of guy for me if I was in another life, if I’d never met Dr. Bob. I watched his back while he wound up to skip another rock, the sunset outlining his face. He was cute, and only a couple years older than me. Bobby would be an old man by the time I was twenty. If I squinted real hard, maybe I could kind of see what other people did. Bobby with no family, no name. Drifting around construction jobs, living out of his car. Going out with a sixteen-year-old girl wasn’t all that much better than going out with a thirteen-year-old. I could disown the whole thing, right now. Go out on a real date with Randall.

I couldn’t keep it up, though. It was like trying to climb out of my own skin.

“Yeah,” I said, the shame rising up inside me. I was still seeing him, and ready to throw away everything for him if he asked. Was it really Bobby I loved, or was I in love with a vision my brain cooked up for me, a picture of him that wasn’t real? Randall didn’t know the half of it, didn’t know how weird it really was. A homeless guy, scamming showers at the YMCA and messing around with a teenager. It sounded sticky and cheap when I thought of it like that. Like something you’d read about in the Enquirer when you’re waiting in the checkout line at the supermarket.

I wanted to dive down under that water, swim around in the drowned town, into people’s houses, all their clothes floating around me, into the drive-thru window at the burger stand, the sun coming down through the water, the town completely empty except for water and tiny fishes, all the stuff from these people’s lives floating around, towels and books and tires and pots and pans and soap and curtains, I’d swim into the school, start my own town right here, underwater, the fishes my townspeople, I’d float in the town hall and enact laws, no running, no talking, no horseplay, I’d swim until my legs grew together into a tail and scales covered my face, Alice no more, never heard of her, I’m nothing but a trout, going about my trout business, swimming in and around sunbeams, all life nothing but Now, Now, Now.

——

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

——-

To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page
Every Sunday, no rx Fiction365 presents a new chapter in a previously unpublished novel.  Our first serialized novel, diagnosis 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 33

I went back to old Madame Lake’s studio for dance class. I was like a celebrity here, Madame Lake just about turning somersaults to put me right up front, show me off as her discovery.

The studio seemed to have shrunk inward. The piano still had the same dead spots, but there was a new pianist now, a guy with pale skin and big round glasses to match his big round chin. One of the little girls – a year behind me in school – had shot up. She wore a black leotard with torn black tights underneath. Her nails were painted black, and she’d shaved her pretty blond hair down to fuzz. I never thought I’d see anything like that in Lemuel. The other girls left kind of a space around her, like they used to do with me. They still did that now, if I let myself notice. Of course it didn’t matter that I was a guest dancer from the Academy. I could be Prima Ballerina of the whole world, and nothing would change here.

We worked through barre, Madame Lake still doing her old front-side-back-side combinations, but that didn’t mean I could just laze my way through. Even at the Academy, we spent time on the basics. It always came back to plié, tendu, rond-de-jambe. Plié, tendu, plié, tendu. The old, clean routine working its way deep inside me. Each repetition pulling up pieces of my self, my true and whole self.

My heart kept filling every time the floor creaked, the sun shining in through those shabby old curtains. I could see a couple of dancers looking out at the motel swimming pool across the street, the water sparkling hard and bright in the June sun, and I was with them, I remembered wishing I could leap all the way out the window to land in the cool water, blue chlorine and sunshine and kids running barefoot along the edge.

The piano plunked away and we were in the center, the adagio, Madame Lake had a tough one today. People look at the high leaps and think that’s the hardest part, but they haven’t done a slow promenade in attitude, standing ankle wobbling, lifted knee drooping. Nothing harder than finding that core of stillness, turning slowly, slowly in place without seeming to move, like a doll in a music box.

In Madame Lake’s studio, everything else disappeared. Bob and his rough hands could have been a million miles away. I felt like Paul on the road to Damascus, only a slow revelation, no fireworks, no visions from heaven. I had sinned, and forgotten why I was made, but forgiveness was possible. I was reborn in Madame Lake’s studio, the warped floor beneath my slippers, the sad old curtains dragging on the floor. Forget church. My worship was here.

***

I was sitting up in my old bedroom late, right next to the window Randall used to tap-tap in the mornings when he delivered the paper, I remembered the twelve-year-old Alice sitting on the bed, listening to him tap-tap-tap, my knees up under my nightgown, trying so hard to be Good. I felt like I’d been mixed up for years, ever since I met Bobby. Maybe life could be simpler than that, maybe I could just be a good person, and dance, and have a normal life. Yeah, who was I kidding? I couldn’t stop loving Bobby. Not now, not ever in my whole life.

Someone tapped at my door.

“Yeah?”

It was Mike, all stringy these days, home from a night out with friends. “Hey.”

Nice, normal Mike, likeable Mike.

“Hey, what’s the haps.”

We were talking softly, not to wake up Dad down the hall. Mike came in and sat down on my bed.

“Eh, you know, same old stuff.”

He was working in an auto shop, never went on a mission, I kind of always assumed Dad was disappointed in him, but maybe he liked having him around, with just him and MaryEllen left.

“How do you like it up in the big city, anyway?”

“It’s cool. You should come up and see me sometime. I mean, I’m pretty much dancing all the time, so I’m boring, but there’s a ton of stuff to do up there.”

“Yeah, I guess I should.”

“I have a pretty cute roommate, you could meet her, hang out with all the ballerinas,” I raised my eyebrows at him.

“Huh, yeah. I guess,” Mike picked at the bedspread, a quilt I’d had since we moved in, big pink and orange flowers on it, like somebody’s fever hallucination. Mike was pulling at one of the fifty loose threads. “You going to see Jane while you’re here?”

I blew out my breath. Jane, Jane, Jane, Mike had been puppy-eyed about Jane since the first time I brought her over, I kept thinking he’d get over it, get interested in someone else, get distracted, something, it wasn’t like he’d seen her much over the last three years, maybe when I came home to visit, maybe when he went to games at Lemuel High or maybe he ran into her at the store or the park, but that’s a long time to carry a torch, I know, I’m one to talk but at least there was something real there for me, there had been, but for Mike, what was this hope living on all this time?

And I knew the thing that would screw that up, that sweet hope my brother carried around on his face like a kick me sign.

Jane came to Salt Lake for a concert a few months back, looking different now, since the braces came off, and she grew some inches and still going, her hair chopped short and all spiked out.

Something was up with her, and we wandered outside, while the music was slamming away we stepped out onto the street, flat deserted at night like most streets here, the dance hall breathing and pounding with people and music, everything around it dead, quiet. Jane lit a clove cigarette. It wasn’t my place to judge anyone anymore, so I looked at the parked cars and we walked along the sidewalk, the stars bright above us and no moon, we might’ve been the only people left in the city, and when we spoke, it was low and quiet, like we could break the world.

Jane took a drag on her cigarette, and breathing out smoke, she started to talk about one of the popular girls, Stacey or Buffy or Lisa, one of the girls from Laban Junior High who on a merciful day looked away from me when I walked down the hall, who could cut me down with a few words, who did, all of them, who cut me down every chance they got, like cutting me was as necessary to them as putting clothes over their nakedness, and maybe that’s exactly what it was.

“She doesn’t know I’m looking at her, I don’t think, most of the time,” Jane was saying, “but I watch her all the time. I can see, when she’s putting on lip gloss in the girls’ bathroom, that she’s just holding it together.”

“What do you mean,” I asked, I thought maybe she was going to tell me some good dirt on Stacey or Buffy or Marcie, something I could use some night when I was feeling small and dark.

“She’s so fragile. It doesn’t show, not on the surface, but she’s like some porcelain doll. Every inch of her is perfect, perfect. But she has to work for it, and I think—I think I can see it tiring her out.”

Jane’s eyes weren’t looking at anything in front of her, they were looking seventy miles away, looking into this girl’s room, where she was laying out her outfits for the week, or folding down the pages of a fashion magazine, and all at once I got it, I recognized that look from my mirror, that painful sympathy for someone you love, someone you love the way I loved Bobby.

Jane was lit up, Jane was in love with this girl.

But she was wrong, it was a sin, we didn’t even say the word lesbian in Lemuel, didn’t have a way of thinking about Jane, there was no place for someone like her.

And Mike, here was Mike, right in front of me, that same look, that same light for Jane.

It was all screwed up, when you think about it. Here were two people loving, they weren’t doing anything but loving, and Jane was a sinner and my brother had no hope and didn’t know it.

“You really like Jane, don’t you?”

Mike tipped his head side to side, like he meant to say kinda but not really, but then he blushed just the littlest bit, and looked down at the bedspread, his fingers worrying that thread with insect energy.

“Yeah, I guess I always have.” He was trying to sound nonchalant, but his voice ran out and he whispered the last word, and I knew what he felt, he was my brother and for a second my heart beat with his.

Like it wasn’t hung all over his face anyway.

“Listen, you can’t tell anyone, okay? I promised not to tell, but…”

His eyes jumped up to mine, wide and hopeful. This was the guy that used to put me in a headlock until I screamed uncle. I knew what was moving beneath his skin, it was there for me, too. At least I knew Bobby loved me back, at least I had that. But Mike had to know, he was going to find out, one way or another. Better now than, I don’t know, three years from now, and he’s carrying that torch the whole time. Better now.

“Jane doesn’t…like boys. Um, at all.”

Mike just looked at me blankly for a minute, then made a face.

“Yeah, right.”

He turned his head away from me to look at the wall.

“What, you mean she’s, like, into girls?”

I nodded.

“Well, that’s not, that’s just…” he lifted his hands to show how stupid it was, then dropped them in his lap. He stared at them, blinking his eyes hard.

“Well, shit.”

I hadn’t heard Mike swear in years and years, not since the trailer, since Pahrump. He didn’t say it loud or anything, just like he’d been saying words like that all along. It was too late now to take it back, to say I was just joking. I’d screwed it all up for him, in just a few words. Who was I to take away his hope?

He pushed his lips together, nodded once, and got up from the bed, waving goodnight behind him as he walked out of my room.

——

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

——-

To comment on this story, visit Fiction365’s Facebook page