Warm and Disloyal

Laurie never used anything she learned in home ec until she dumped Neil. Now she’s sewed a voodoo doll—back stitch, overcast stitch, running stitch. Two days ago she cut up Neil’s gray Old Navy hoodie that he gave her after the homecoming dance (because October in New York is a stupid time to have teenagers wear strapless dresses) and now a miniature, raggedy version hangs off two sticks she bound together to form his skeleton. She told Mom that she was buying The Sound and The Fury on Amazon, but got some Spanish moss instead, which she says is the most authentic voodoo doll stuffing, just like how the eighteenth century slaves in Haiti did it. She wrapped Neil’s hemp bracelet with blue and red beads around the doll’s waist like a belt, applied drugstore gel to his tuft of brown yarn hair, and sewed on bright green button eyes.

Our parents and I don’t really know why she broke up with him. When she was at tennis after school, I read the journal that she keeps under her mattress, but it doesn’t say one specific thing. There are a couple of complaints: They were going to go to a Dalai Lama peace concert, but Neil pre-gamed too hard and the concert turned them away when they saw how drunk he was. Laurie cried on the sidewalk because she said Neil doesn’t give a fuck about world peace or the Four Noble Truths.

She also said that he spends too much time working on his car—making modifications and memorizing the inner workings of the Chevrolet Cavalier like they’re a song—when he could be doing other, more important things. But I remember when she used to perch on the side of the hood and watch him work, cooing how cool it was that he had a hobby he was so passionate about.

Finally, she claims that he’s not great at giving oral, which is too bad, but I think that’s probably a teachable skill.

Two weeks ago, Laurie wrote, “You can love someone and know that they’re a piece of shit. I don’t want to be the girl who stays with an asshole just because she loves him.”

Since the breakup, she mostly stays in her room. This morning I passed her in the hallway as I was coming from her room and she was coming back from the kitchen. She was wearing a pair of yoga pants with a hole in the thigh and holding a box of frozen cake. Without looking at me, she said, “Only God should judge me.”

Mom and Dad sat around the kitchen island, where Dad was batting away the tiny fruit flies circling the apple bowl and Mom was reading the business section of the Sunday paper. They’re not upset about Laurie’s breakup. Mom once referred to Neil as a bag of diarrhea with eyes. Dad thinks Neil’s just an immature kid and that Laurie doesn’t need that kind of distraction during her senior year.

“Good point!” Mom shouted down the hallway after Laurie. “I am judging you, but should I? God is.”

Dad nodded.

“That’s a logically sound statement,” he replied with his kind of affectionate teasing. “We have such smart kids, Pam.”

“I was never this upset when I did the dumping,” Mom said. “Do you think he slept with her friend or something?”

“It’ll blow over. She knows it’s for the best.”

I went to the refrigerator, grabbed a yogurt cup, and let the door hang open a few seconds extra so puffs of cool air hit my reddening cheeks. The Neil doll was nestled in my sweatshirt pocket, three silvery sewing needles stuck in his heart.

Last night I had a dream that I was naked on all fours and Neil was behind me, not touching me except holding an old tape recorder against my thigh, trying to capture the small whale sounds of my body.

“I can’t hear them,” I turned around to tell him.

“Wait,” he murmured.

I woke up feeling warm and disloyal.

When I got back to my room from the kitchen, I tucked the Neil doll into the storage bin under my bed with some of Laurie’s and my old Barbies and stuffed animals. He blends in with them, and Laurie won’t think to look there.

This is a reprint of work originally published in Gargoyle.

Virgie Townsend’s short fiction has been featured in such publications as Tin House’s Flash Fridays, SmokeLong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years, and Best of Pif, Volume One. She previously taught flash fiction writing to high school students through American University’s Discover the World of Communication program. Virgie has also contributed nonfiction to the Washington Post, Jezebel, and The Huffington Post. Find her online at http://virgietownsend.com.

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