Thirteen months ago, when I heard where they’d found Abby’s silver Corolla — at that sharp curve in the gravel road to the lake — the skin of my arms tightened. I knew the exact spot. The news said Abby’s car was parked on the shoulder, the doors unlocked and the interior spotless and empty of personal effects. Outside the car, police couldn’t detect a footprint or a strand of hair, people said, and they found zero clues in the wooded ravine that plunged from the shoulder’s edge.
When Abby vanished, I hadn’t seen her in six years, and we hadn’t been best friends in eighteen. But I cried when I heard, and again a month later, when it became clear she wouldn’t be found anytime soon, and maybe wouldn’t ever. I was seven months pregnant and emotional. I was anxious about the future and fixated on my rapidly growing belly — that hidden, faceless stranger my baby was then.
During my remaining two months of pregnancy, I dreamt often of Abby. It was always dark, and I’d be driving the winding lake road near our hometown, sometimes in my SUV, sometimes in Abby’s sedan from the missing notices that plastered telephone poles and Facebook feeds. Tell me what happened to you, I’d say. Abby would be in the passenger seat, bare heels on the dash, window down, dark hair whipping around her face. In the dreams, she’d never answer me — she’d just laugh and laugh out into the black night.
I met Abby in grade seven sewing class, when she helped me rethread the bobbin on my machine. Abby worked at the sewing machine next to mine and was a natural. Her mother was a quilter and textile artist, I later learned, and she shared her talents. Each class Abby would race through our beginner assignments and then covertly sew her own more complex stuff — dresses, patchwork tote bags. Meanwhile, I stitched forward and back, forward and back, my sneaker up and down on the pedal, fingers lifting the metal foot to tear out my clumsy threads and begin again.
One morning, Abby reached under the table and set something on my lap — a little bone-coloured cotton doll, plump with batting. I laughed. It was our sewing teacher, Mrs. Fielding. Abby had embroidered the blue frames of Fielding’s glasses and added a pouf of grey yarn atop the head. She’d stuck straight pins into the doll’s temples, chest and crotch. Abby cackled and Mrs. Fielding at her desk looked up, a frown above her glasses. At the end of class, as Fielding went around examining our stitches, Abby sneaked over and slipped the doll into the teacher’s purse beneath her desk. The next day, the teacher said nothing to the class, and if she suspected Abby, she didn’t confront her.
Abby and I soon became inseparable. My other friends were still in that murky limbo between childhood and teenager, but Abby was mature, already interested in new and strange things. Our small-town public library had a section labelled “Occult,” and Abby would check out books on palm reading and out-of-body experiences, and then practice on herself — tracing the shallow tracks of her palms, willing her soul to float up and touch the bedroom ceiling. The first time I visited her house, Abby produced a Ouija board from her closet, and we sat cross-legged before it on the carpet. She told me to ask a question, our four hands lightly atop the heart-shaped planchette, fingertips grazing one another’s. You’re pushing, I said, as the heart slid swiftly from consonant to vowel and an answer emerged. I’m not, she said. Abby believed that magic was real, but you needed serious effort and concentration to manifest it.
Abby also introduced me to drinking coffee, another stage my friends hadn’t yet reached. One Saturday afternoon a few months into our friendship, we went to the diner downtown, our backpacks heavy with spare change. It was an old-school place where, for the price of one cup, you could occupy a booth for hours and order as many refills as you could stomach. Kids in grades eight and nine had a ritual of going on weekends and Abby decided we would too.
Our first time at the diner, we claimed a booth and signalled our order by righting the upside-down cups. It was then that Abby and I discovered the most beautiful girl in our town, likely the most beautiful girl we’d ever seen. She was a server named Seraphina — so said her name tag — and she was probably seventeen, a curvy petite with cartoonishly large blue eyes, plump lips and long auburn hair woven into a French braid. We watched in silent awe as Seraphina tipped her steaming coffeepot into our cups and then walked away, braid swaying across her back. I drank my coffee, which at first sip tasted strange and bitter, but as I forced it down, I felt a pleasant tingling at the base of my neck that travelled down my spine, through each limb, until the tips of each finger and toe vibrated.
When our cups were half-empty, Seraphina appeared again at our table. Top up? she asked. Her teeth gleamed in her smile. She was so dazzling, it almost hurt to make eye contact. My brain hummed and my hands trembled as I passed her my cup. As she poured, I watched an impossibly long hair detach from her sleeve and float gracefully to the tabletop. Look, I said after Seraphina had walked away. Abby gently pinched the fine auburn thread, folded it into a napkin and slipped it into the front pocket of her backpack. She met my eyes and smiled.
Later, Abby realized she knew Seraphina’s cousin and said the whole family was Christian. Abby and I didn’t know much about religion back then. Abby’s parents sat every morning on colourful cushions, eyes closed, setting intentions for their day, but my parents didn’t practice anything even remotely spiritual.
Abby and I became obsessed with Seraphina. At the diner every Saturday we drank coffee for hours and watched her in action. The bright laugh she’d release for male customers. The miraculously balanced stacks of plates she carried to and from the kitchen. Seraphina was in grade twelve, so hers was a part-time job, but the other servers were frumpy women in their fifties and the diner uniform of pea-green polo shirts and chinos only made them appear older and uglier next to Seraphina.
It’s not fair, getting to look like that, Abby would complain. We loathed our flat chests and lank hair, our two-syllable names. At least I was blonde and cute — Abby was plain, a little chubby. I felt her envy tugging beneath the surface of our friendship. Of course, we didn’t yet know the tricks of puberty. We couldn’t predict that Abby would become gorgeous, with her thick-lashed green eyes and long legs, while I’d end up broad-hipped and acne-scarred, my hair muddied by time into a dull beige.
Our fixation with Seraphina was intense but brief, like any middle school crush. The magic shattered on a stormy Saturday in November, there in our favourite booth, as rain lashed against the window. Seraphina paused at our table and looked into our drained cups. A third? she said, one flawless eyebrow raised. It’ll stunt your growth, you know. She poured anyway. She turned her big blue eyes to mine and then to Abby’s and we blushed. Seraphina had been serving us every Saturday for five weeks and had never said anything about the number of our refills. It was as though she’d just noticed us for the children we were, or worse, she didn’t recognize us at all.
Miss fucking perfect, Abby whispered after Seraphina walked away. She’s probably never done anything bad in her life. Bet she’s still a virgin.
The next and final Saturday we visited the diner, Seraphina filled our cups once, and Abby and I each stirred in three creamers and heaps of sugar. We nursed our drinks slowly, topping them up with more creamers when they got low. I can still taste the cold, slightly sour liquid slipping over my tongue as Abby reached into her backpack and giggled.
The doll Abby had made of Mrs. Fielding was just practice because the one in Seraphina’s image was a perfect replica of the girl, down to her pea-green polo shirt. Abby had even shoplifted auburn doll hair from the craft store and French-braided the synthetic fibres.
Abby propped doll-Seraphina against the glass sugar canister. Then she pulled out a pair of pinking shears.
Don’t, I said. I want to believe I was thinking of Seraphina herself, but I was concerned about the beautiful doll, the product of too many hours of skilled work to maim.
Abby reached over, grasped the doll’s hair, snipped, and the braid fell to the tabletop. How pretty are you now, bitch? she said. We both looked to the server station across the room, where Seraphina was polishing butter knives, her long braid trembling with her movement.
Then, in one quick move, Abby clamped the serrated blades at the base of the doll’s neck and squeezed. The batting-filled head dropped onto the table, leaving a gaping zigzag above the shoulders. An older server was nearing our table, so Abby swept all the doll parts into her backpack. We kept our eyes on Seraphina, still polishing, oblivious to the malice that had just occurred. My heart was beating quickly and off-rhythm.
Later, back at Abby’s, I asked why she’d cut off the head. She said that she’d felt something strange come on, like a surge of power, a force, that took over her hand. And that after, she’d felt tingling flood her entire body. Maybe that’s what drugs feel like, she said. Or sex.
We didn’t hear about it until Monday morning. One of the Christian girls in sewing told the story before class, fresh tears on her blotchy cheeks. Saturday night, a group of teens on the way to party at somebody’s lake house. The driver was drunk and took a corner too fast and skidded off the gravel road. The vehicle plunged down the twenty-foot ravine and landed wheels up. The three other kids managed to pull their broken and bruised bodies out and up the bank, but Seraphina, in the passenger seat, hit her head hard against the windshield. The Lord took her instantly, the girl said, and began sobbing.
Abby and I found each other’s eyes and watched our unspeakable secret hover in the space between our bodies like an apparition.
After school we went straight to Abby’s. She locked her bedroom door, then pulled out the doll head and body and laid them on the carpet, and then we cried and cried. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Abby kept moaning. Finally, I pulled the shears from Abby’s bag and hacked up the remains into tiny pieces, the cotton innards popping out in clumps. I didn’t want anyone to find them and recognize Seraphina, to trace this wickedness back to us.
Stop! Abby screamed. You’re making things worse!
How could things get worse, Abby? The first and last time I yelled at her.
I scooped up all the hair and stuffing, buried them in the bottom of Abby’s wastebasket, then went home for dinner.
After that day, Abby never again brought out her Ouija board or discussed occult books, and we never went back to the diner, although I walked past it once soon after. In front were piles of deflated bouquets and oversized teddy bears slumped on the sidewalk.
In sewing, Abby kept pace with the class and our introductory projects. Most days, she and I couldn’t meet eyes, let alone speak. We drifted apart. In the remaining years of middle school, I focused on studying. I wanted to get out of our town, go to university and make something of myself. In grade nine, the popular girls embraced Abby and walled me out. In grade twelve, when I was applying for university entrance scholarships, Abby, newly beautiful and exercising her power, dropped out and started dating men in their twenties. She was just as smart as me, and certainly more creative, but Abby’s life veered onto a different road.
As high school went on, I mostly forgot about Seraphina. Although, sometimes, I’d wake in the night, heart pounding, skin slick. I could never remember those dreams, but the image of beautiful Seraphina in her pea-green polo shirt would flash across my mind and I would feel an eerie sadness. By the time I left for university, those dreams had thinned out to none.
I last saw Abby six years ago, in our hometown, where she still lived. She got in touch on Facebook and invited me to her new bungalow, which she’d used her talents to decorate on a budget so that it looked like something out of a design magazine. The year before, at twenty-four, she’d married a handsome older man who made enough working construction that she didn’t need a job.
At first, I felt a surge of envy — Abby’s beautiful home, her needs taken care of, the relaxed small-town pace. Back in the city, my boyfriend and I rented a dingy one-bedroom and were drowning in student debt. But, over the course of my visit, the cracks in Abby’s life revealed themselves. It was Saturday, and Abby’s husband was glued to the TV, sullen and disengaged. He answered questions with one gruff word and expected beer and snacks to materialize before him. I sensed a loneliness in Abby, something deep and bitter.
The two of us sat in her pretty yard, and when the afternoon turned warm, Abby removed her sweater to reveal a pink V-neck and a thin chain around her neck, a tiny gold cross nestled in the hollow of her throat. As we chatted and drank coffee, the cross winked at me in the sun, dared me to accept its place on Abby’s body.
We’re trying to get pregnant, Abby confided that afternoon. We’re praying. My heart sank. Even in that town, Abby could have made something of herself, could have found an equal partner. I’m happy for you, is what I said.
As we hugged goodbye, Abby whispered into my ear: God forgives, Jenna. She pulled back and looked into my eyes. I knew she was talking about Seraphina. But not only did I not believe in God, I didn’t believe that, on the off-chance that God did exist, I needed His forgiveness.
Okay, I said. I stepped awkwardly into my car and pulled away.
That evening, as I brushed my teeth in the bathroom mirror of my parents’ house, I noticed two stray hairs clinging to my shoulder — one long and dark against my white sweatshirt, and the other fine and ashy. Abby’s and mine. I peeled them off and dropped them into the toilet.
I struggled in my twenties, but I have a good life now. A wonderful husband and healthy baby girl, a nice house, a fulfilling career. I worked hard for everything, but I sometimes feel guilty that I possess so much happiness, when others have so little, or none at all.
At the time of her disappearance, six years after she told me she was trying, Abby still didn’t have children. When I’d posted a photo of my swollen belly on Facebook, Abby had messaged me to say she was thrilled. I’m coming to see you, she wrote. But she never did, and that was the last I heard from her.
In the years between when she married and disappeared, Abby had filled her time by sewing quilts, just like her mother. On Facebook, she posted mainly biblical verses and photos of her beautiful work. Recently I went years back through her wall — cluttered with dozens of sad messages from friends that turned increasingly hopeful the further back in time I scrolled. I examined the images of her quilts, searched the kaleidoscopic patterns for clues, as though she’d somehow stitched her dark fate into the scraps of cloth.
The night before I went into labour, I dreamt again of driving to the lake with Abby, down that gravel road where Seraphina was launched into the ravine and killed, at that exact curve where Abby’s car was found. Tell me what happened to you, I pleaded. I’m your best friend. Instead of laughing, Abby leaned over, her hair skimming my cheek, and whispered long and slow in my ear: Seraphina — the S and F sounds like a snake hissing, the vowels like the wailing of a ghost.
I woke at four a.m. in a cold sweat, pain stabbing my midsection. By midday, when the contractions were four minutes apart, my husband took me to the hospital. I’d expected childbirth to be long and difficult, but my perfect daughter arrived in just fifty minutes. The pain was intense, but it miraculously dissipated as abruptly as it had begun.
Since my baby was born, I’ve been consumed by a fierce protectiveness for her little body. I worry constantly that something harmful could override my unconditional love and care, some external force, or even something originating within me. Perhaps my fears are no different from any new mother’s. Since the birth, my dreams have entirely disappeared.
My daughter is four months old and I still wake multiple times a night to check on her. Now it’s three a.m. and I’m standing over the crib, watching her by wan moonlight. She’s asleep on her back, arms spread, legs bound in her sleep sack — her body in the shape of a cross. I reach slowly into the crib and hover my little finger under her tiny nose. I do this each time, even though, night after night, since the first I brought her home, I’ve never not felt it — the faint breath going in cold and coming out warm.
Krista Eide’s fiction and creative non-fiction have appeared in several journals, most recently Prairie Fire and Minola Review. She lives in Vancouver, where she is the managing editor of EVENT magazine, and works in film and television. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC. More: Twitter @krista_eide