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The medicine cabinet mirror—dotted with rust and turning gray—made the powder foundation on Jackie’s face look ashen and her jet-black hair, blurry. She looked like a shadow of a girl. She smeared black lipstick on her lips and shook out her shoulder-length hair. Her straight-cut bangs veiled her mascara-lined eyes, and the layered ends of her hair stuck out in defiant wisps.
Some of the kids at school—the ones she didn’t hang out with—called her Goth Girl. Some, whose memories wouldn’t die, called her VQ for Virgin Queen.
Jackie preferred Goth Girl, to be one of the living dead, to be numb to the emotions that plagued her. But this was what she wanted, not what she got.
Goth Girl or Virgin Queen, she was a freak, absorbing the emotions around her like a sponge. Sometimes the emotions made her sick. Sometimes they made her see things.
Because of this, she kept to a tight-knit group of goth friends—Jason, Zeta, and Trish—and avoided social activities. She attended high school only because Mom wouldn’t let her homeschool. Mom was afraid she’d hang with Babu all day, making piroshki and doing needlepoint instead of studying. Jackie, afraid of what life offered a freak like her beyond high school, had to admit that hanging with Babu all day was tempting.
Typically, Fridays were movie nights for Jason and her, but tonight would be different. Tonight, she’d subject herself to a hodgepodge of emotions from crowds and rides and the very ground she’d walk on to protect Jason. For this, she would need physical and spiritual strength, which she sought from Babu these days.
Babu’s door was cracked, and Jackie slowly pushed the door open. “Babu?”
The room smelled of beeswax and down. A candle burned on the shrine on the dresser. The flickering flame animated the icon of the Virgin of Vladimir and cast shadows across the picture of Babu, Grandma, Mom, and Jackie. Although Babu didn’t speak English, and Jackie didn’t understand much Russian, Jackie knew Babu kept that picture on her shrine to pray for Grandma, who passed away several years ago; for Mom, who divorced Dad; and for the girl who saw the Virgin when she was twelve—for the girl she had become as a teen.
Babu sat in bed, a country quilt spread over her legs, her thumb pressed against a knot of her prayer rope, her head bowed sleepily, and her lips wording prayers.
“I wanted to say goodbye,” Jackie whispered.
Babu crossed herself and then smiled at Jackie, her gold eyetooth shining from the light of the bed-stand lamp. She patted the empty space beside her. “Sadees.”
Jackie sat down beside Babu at the edge of the bed and took Babu’s hand in hers. Babu’s hand was warm and knotted with arthritis. Jackie rubbed her thumb over the bumps on Babu’s knuckles; her black fingernails were a sharp contrast to Babu’s flour-white skin.
She wasn’t afraid to touch Babu’s hands and absorb her emotions. Jackie got a good feeling from her. Babu filled Jackie’s inner vision with white light. She renewed her spirit. And this is what Jackie needed for the commitment she had made for tonight.
“Kooda eedyosh?” Babu asked.
“I’m going out,” Jackie said as if Babu understood her. This is how they communicated: Babu telling her stuff she couldn’t understand, Jackie telling Babu stuff she couldn’t understand. Somehow they carried on fine this way.
“I’m going with Jason.”
Babu rubbed the top of Jackie’s hand and ran her thumb over black fingernails. “Fsyevo kharoshevuh,” she said in a comforting tone and gently squeezed Jackie’s hand. Then she cupped her hands around Jackie’s jaws and pulled her forehead to her lips. Jackie imagined Babu’s kiss imprinted on her forehead and carrying Babu’s blessings and love with her tonight.
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JoAnne Keltner is the author of Goth Girl, Virgin Queen (Solstice Publishing, 2015) and Obsession. As an only child and avid daydreamer, she spent hours alone in her backyard on the South Side of Chicago, which she imagined to be everything from an alien planet to the Antarctic. She currently lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, with her husband, four dogs, cat, and three chickens. When she isn’t writing or freelance editing, she’s obsessively streaming popular TV shows.
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