The Robert Watson Literary Prize Story THE DYBBUK

Spring 2017 / Issue 101

Cady Vishniac

The first are those souls of the wicked who, after their death, do not merit to enter Gehinnom. They enter living people’s bodies due to our numerous transgressions, speaking and telling all that happens to them there, as is known, may the Merciful save us.
                                                                                                                                                 —Sha’ar HaGilgulim

Dina’s eating breakfast the Monday after Trav’s death when she hears a buzzing noise. She worries another yellow jacket has made its way inside through the tears in the kitchen window screens, then she asks her dad, Ronnie, if she’s adopted. She’s told him Trav was just some boy she never spoke to, the same way she doesn’t speak to any of her classmates, pretty much ever.

“I saw you come out of your mother,” says Ronnie. “So no, you’re not adopted. Sorry.”

“Dad, that’s disgusting.” She fixes her scowl on him for a moment, then looks at the table, her own hands. She cracks her knuckles one by one and rubs her eyes, which are bruised from lack of sleep.

Ronnie hands her a plate of French toast made from stale Whole Foods challah, and she drenches the stuff in agave nectar. He reminds her he’s out late tonight to teach the elder yoga class at Beth Achim. But Ronnie’s not just a yoga instructor; he also runs the synagogue’s adult ed programs and the Sunday Hebrew school. He soothes the Hebrew school kids’ tantrums, tutors the occasional nervous convert, and runs a weekly kollel for twentysomethings. Dina likes to sit on the couch in his synagogue office and observe his effect on people, the way they lean in when he talks.

“I have a thing this morning,” she says, just as Ronnie adds oil to the pan in which he’s making their breakfast. It smokes and sizzles and drowns out her voice.

So Dina gnaws at her rubbery toast, her head still buzzing. Strange, but in that buzzing she could swear she hears Trav, the groaning noises he used to make when they fooled around in his Aerostar. She can’t see a yellow jacket anywhere. Maybe it’s trapped between a screen and a closed windowpane.

She knows she’s not adopted. Why did she ask that?

When they’re done with breakfast, she and Ronnie go to the living room for sun salutations. There is no buzzing here. Side by side, Dina and her father stand with feet planted on the carpet, backs arched and hands taut toward the ceiling, like the elastic limb of a bow. They fold forward and touch their feet. Work back one foot then another in order to stretch their legs. Return to the standing position.

Ronnie prepares for a second salutation, the next step in a routine they’ve carried out faithfully since he started working on his teaching license at East Side Hatha seven years ago. But Dina’s running late. “I have to leave. There’s a special assembly,” she says.

“Have a good day, sweetheart.” He frowns for a moment before easing back into his beatific sun-saluting face. As he lifts his arms to the ceiling again, Dina puts on her backpack and sandals, and ducks out the front door.

On her walk to school, she wonders again why she brought up the adoption thing. How weird of her.

The special assembly in Kathleen Williams Collegiate Academy’s gym is about Trav. Principal Anders leads the Pledge of Allegiance, then Counselor Lewis gets up and invites everybody to discuss it: how they miss their classmate, how disturbing it is when a young person chooses to end his life. Only when Counselor Lewis holds out the mic and asks, “Who wants to speak first?” all anybody can think to do is rock their fold-out chairs back and forth, or tighten, then loosen, the straps of the backpacks in their laps, or squeak their shoes on the wooden floor.

The gym windows are open. A dog yips in the distance, and the buzzing returns to Dina, as if the giant fluorescent bulbs overhead are preparing to burn out again. But didn’t the janitor replace one of the bulbs last Friday? Dina remembers him dragging his rickety ladder out of storage and marching it through the long halls of Kathleen Williams.

She finds herself standing. “It’s cool,” she says, loud enough to cut through the buzzing, though she doesn’t mean to talk in the first place. “He doesn’t miss any of you pussies either.”

The shoe-squeaking stops; a hundred curious teenage faces turn her way. Mortified, Dina claps a hand over her mouth and makes for the double doors that lead out into her school’s hallway, except Counselor Lewis is too fast. He hands the mic to Principal Anders, hops off the stage, and grabs Dina’s arm.

“I know you and Travis were close,” he says, which is his way of acknowledging that Dina dated the dead guy, the suicide. “You shouldn’t lash out.”

Dina opens her mouth to apologize. She wants to tell the truth, that she and Trav had stopped being close when she broke up with him two weeks ago, that a part of her is relieved he’s offed himself with his father’s Glock. Instead, she yells out in a voice deeper than her own: “White power!”

Counselor Lewis drags her into the office and tells her he’s worried about the white power thing because of what he calls “your heritage.” He says Trav was a troubled boy, which Dina understands is another euphemism, a way of referring to all those Confederate battle flag stickers on the bumper of Trav’s van. Then he says it would be a shame for Dina to hate herself, because everybody knows the proponents of white power aren’t too fond of what he calls “your people.” It’s uncomfortable how this man struggles to avoid the words Jew and Jewish, the way Ronnie can never call anybody black or Mexican. And speaking of Ronnie, he’s been contacted. He’s on his way.

Dina feels a headache coming on, hears the bell ring for the end of assembly. She says, “Don’t tell her what to think. You want to talk about her heritage, the camps weren’t even real.” Dina concentrates on her mouth, on not saying anything else terrible, but it happens anyway, pours out in a jumble, the words she intends and the ones she doesn’t: “Sorry, I don’t believe this stuff, and I don’t know why I’m saying it. FEMA’s building real concentration camps all over the country, and they’ve got my mom.”

“Dina, we both know that’s not what happened to your mom. Right?”

“Is my dad here yet?” she asks.

Counselor Lewis tells Dina she can’t come back to school until she finds a good therapist, because she’s clearly struggling with Trav’s death in ways her teachers are not equipped to handle.

This at least Dina agrees with. Every night after the breakup, Trav would call her cell phone and stay silent, just listen to her say, “Who’s there? Stop it Trav, this is creepy.” This past Wednesday, he walked up to her desk as everybody was sitting down for precalc and he grinned, sheepish, and she thought maybe things would be okay, maybe he’d decided to be her friend.

Then he put his hands on her desk, held himself up that way, so close she could taste his breath. “I want to die because of you, Dina. If I die, it’s your fault.” He said it quietly, so no one else could hear. Then the bell rang one last time, and the teacher urged Trav to find a seat. He turned on his heels and went to a desk in the opposite corner.

So now she wonders if it really is her fault. Not just that her ex-boyfriend shot himself, but the other thing. That he’s in her somehow, speaking through her, making her mouth off. Dina should be scared of ghosts, scared of possession, but instead she’s overwhelmed with guilt. If some piece of Trav’s soul is lodged in her, if his spirit is that stuck on her, then what did she do wrong? How did she hook him?

If she were anyone else, she’d have friends to tell her she’s not responsible for a boy’s decisions. But Dina’s a pariah. In third grade the other students would sit next to her at lunch and draw swastikas on the table—Ronnie said it wasn’t their fault, they probably picked it up from their parents. In fourth and fifth grades she won the class spelling bees, and both times everybody booed. In middle school, as if being one of the handful of Jews were not enough, she was the first to grow breasts. Boys and girls took to cornering her in hallways, snapping her bra straps so hard they left red welts on both shoulders. If Ronnie asked, Dina would blame the welts on bug bites, claim some mysterious insect got her when she wasn’t paying attention, and then Ronnie would go buy her Benadryl cream.

When her class moved up to Kathleen Williams, the bullying tapered off. Now nobody bothers her, but nobody talks to her either, unless it’s for a group project or they’re playing in Strategic Games Club, which is where she met Trav. He showed up in a mist of Axe body spray, sat at her table, and beat her at chess. He and his dad had just moved to town from Abilene.

“My mom ran out on us,” he said, “so it’s just me and him.”

“Me too,” Dina said. “I live with my dad. My mom died.” She turned up the corners of her mouth in a strained smile, so he knew she was okay with her dead parent. That she was fine.

But Trav seemed not to see her smile. “Sorry. Shit,” he said. “Now I feel stupid.” He hadn’t been around long enough, Dina guessed, to know who she was, to know she wasn’t worth his feeling sorry or stupid or anything at all.

“It’s really okay,” she told him. “I was a baby. My dad talks about her like she just stepped out.” She smiled again, and this time he nodded.

They played four games that day, and Trav won them all. He was gracious about it too, apologizing after each victory. He asked Dina about her life, and she found herself talking about how she was going to UT Austin in the fall, having been turned down cold by Harvard, early decision, her long shot.

“That’s so far away,” Trav said. “Would you’ve really gone? My dad says I can hit up Cedar Valley in a couple years, but first I have to apprentice him. He’s a plumber.”

Dina wasn’t sure why Trav, who looked like he might already be eighteen, would need his father’s permission to go to community college, but she made some listening noises, and he kept talking. The other Strategic Games people went home, and the janitor came by because it was time to shut down the building. Dina picked up her backpack and told Trav she’d see him tomorrow.

“Don’t walk home in the dark,” he said. “I can give you a ride. My mom left her van. It’s mine now.” So Dina got into his Aerostar and had him leave her on the corner. She didn’t want Ronnie to see the stickers on his rear bumper, the battle flags.

When he dropped her off, Trav looked into her eyes and said, “Dina, you’re a good listener. Can I tell you something?”

“Well, sure.” She chewed the inside of her cheek.

“We think my mom was taken. Because the feds don’t like some stuff my dad believes. She left a note and all, but we think it’s fake.” He was blinking rapidly now, like maybe he wanted to cry but he wasn’t going to let himself.

Dina was skeptical. But she wanted Trav to feel listened to, the way he’d been making her feel listened to all afternoon. She did her best to look attentive while he talked about all the places his mother could be—labor camps, secret prisons, a mental hospital where she’d be force-fed LSD every morning—then he stopped short, kissed Dina’s cheek, and drove off.

Within the week he’d kissed her on the mouth. He’d asked permission to put a hand under her shirt, and she’d been charmed because nobody ever asked before, and then he’d invited her to be his girlfriend and she’d said yes. He told her things that couldn’t be true, like the president was a secret Kenyan or the Israelis blew up the World Trade Center. And Dina’s no idiot. She knew the very first time Trav went off on the Israelis he meant Jews, meant her, but then he brushed her cheek with the tips of his fingers and said maybe she wasn’t even Jewish. Maybe her dad stole her from a Christian family. Then he smirked like he wasn’t serious and she felt the urge to bite his neck, to eat that Axe spray off his skin, and the whole conversation slid off the rails as they fumblingly removed each other’s pants in the back seat of the Aerostar.

It was the first time she’d ever seen a boy’s private parts. She slid Trav’s intact foreskin up and down with her fingers, sucked experimentally, and came home to Ronnie with a lie about losing track of time during a game of Risk. She knew she was making a catastrophically bad call, but she liked Trav’s company, the stream of conversation directed at her and nobody else.

Ronnie’s at Kathleen Williams in fifteen minutes. In the car they talk about Trav. “Principal Anders says you’re upset about the death,” Ronnie says. “You told me you didn’t know that boy.”

“I didn’t want you to worry.”

They stop at a red light. “Was he a friend, or . . . ?” Ronnie arches an eyebrow, but Dina won’t respond. “I am, in fact, worried about you. You don’t really think FEMA’s got concentration camps?”

“No, I keep blurting stuff out.”

“You sure scared your principal. Just know I love you no matter what.” He takes one hand off the wheel and squeezes Dina’s shoulder.

“You ever miss someone who was terrible?” she asks.

He says something back that sounds like “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz,” only that can’t be right because his lips are moving. That’s when she loses control again.

“Trav wasn’t terrible, I was terrible,” Dina says. “No I wasn’t. Yes I was. I shouldn’t have led him on.”

Ronnie eyes her as he drives. She hopes to show him she’s fine, so she says, “Not really, I know I wasn’t leading anybody on,” but then she adds, “Wrong, I’m a huge bitch, Dad. The hugest.”

“Oh, honey.” By now Ronnie’s turning into the synagogue parking lot. “I can tell you feel conflicted, but it’s got nothing to do with you. I can promise that much.” He squeezes her shoulder again. “There’s no knowing how some boys get so unhappy.”

A week after they started dating, Trav drove the Aerostar up 71, pulled onto a dirt road, and stopped in a field by a barbed-wire fence short enough to step over. He swore his dad knew the guy who owned the place, and then he opened up his trunk, where he kept two guns in a plastic bin.

Dina froze, and Trav explained these were Ruger Mark IIs. His dad took him out for target practice every weekend so they’d be prepared if the UN sent in troops to conquer Texas. There was a place along the back end of the barbed-wire fence where his dad’s friend had strung up a straight line of targets made to look like the president, and now Trav wanted to show Dina how to shoot those targets in the center of mass, the chest.

“There are rapists crawling across the border every day,” he said. “I just want my girl to know how to protect herself.” He raised his arm to wipe the sweat out of his eyes. Dina could see the edge of his farmer’s tan poking out from inside the sleeve of his T-shirt, the stringy muscles of his arms drawn taut.

It took her a minute to unfreeze because she felt so horrible for the president, but Dina followed Trav out into the field and shot at a target, so far off the mark she couldn’t tell where the bullet went. Trav said to just forget about it, and then he came up behind her in a bear hug and moved her body around so her form was better. “Exhale,” he said. “Pull.” This time she got the president in the hip.

Trav said she was a natural. They started going to the field each day instead of Strategic Games Club, kept it up the rest of the time they were dating, except the one Friday after the dog. On the way home from target practice, she’d rub baby wipes on her hands to get rid of the ammonia smell of spent gunpowder. Ronnie would ask about her day, and she’d talk about a Spanish test, how fue sounded nothing like the past tense of es, or she’d tell him she’d run a nine-minute mile in gym, and the whole time, in her mind’s eye, she’d replay the impact of bullet on paper, the meditation of aim, the satisfaction of her accurate shot.

The day she and Trav broke up Dina figured target practice was over for good, so she walked home from Kathleen Williams alone, went into Ronnie’s study, and used his new widescreen computer to download a bootleg copy of Call of Duty. The bright explosion of the Russian broadband jammer over Wall Street filled the whole display, Ronnie’s fancy speakers playing back the intricate death cries of Russian infantrymen. She’d finished the first three missions when Ronnie poked his head in and said, “Isn’t that violent?”

Dina paused the game. “Yeah, but it’s a skill. It’s soothing. I have to concentrate to get it right.”

Ronnie sniffed. “Well,” he said. But he didn’t make her stop.

The day she gets sent home from Kathleen Williams, Ronnie takes Dina to his office at Beth Achim and pulls out his laptop. “You can use the big computer.” He points to the boxy Mac that sits on his desk. “Are you really into those shooting games? You can play one if you want. Just keep the volume down.” The rabbi, a too-thin, too-serious man who Ronnie likes to joke is barely older than Dina, works in his own office down the hall. The rabbi wouldn’t appreciate Call of Duty or anything like it.

So Dina promises to be quiet, and Ronnie lets her borrow his credit card to buy the latest Tomb Raider. Then he gets on the laptop to design fliers for the Purim picnic. It’s one of those rare moments when Dina’s sincerely frustrated about her family situation, being raised by a chronically relaxed man. He shouldn’t be pawning her off on a computer game, getting back to his own work. He should notice her crisis.

She goes to say something along the lines of “It’s possible I’m being controlled by my dead ex-boyfriend,” but then a painful force slams her teeth together, her jaw sprung like a mousetrap. An invisible leash pulls her face to the Mac’s screen, her fingers to the keyboard and mouse, which she uses to fire up the game. Lara Croft becomes curious about Kitezh and sets out for Syria. An hour after that, she’s in Siberia, stranded by an avalanche.

Dina as Lara is shooting her way toward an abandoned Soviet mine when Ronnie taps her on the shoulder. “How’s it going?”

At that exact moment the building’s ancient central air kicks into gear. The vents make a sound like someone playing kazoo one room over. Is it just Dina, or is the room vibrating? “This is some penny-pinching Rothschild shit,” says a voice that Dina can’t, at first, identify as her own. “Cheap fucking building. It has to be some sort of disguise, like you people keep gold bricks in the basement, right? Or did you Texas kikes do something to piss off the Elders?”

“Sweetheart, you’re scaring me,” says Ronnie. His expression is level as ever, but the skin of his cheeks is pale and a quiver has snuck into his bottom lip. He’s finally noticed something wrong. “Why are you talking like this? What’s happened to you?”

Dina can hear the voice that is and isn’t hers, is and isn’t Trav’s. “I loved your daughter like you would not believe. She didn’t judge. I loved to kiss her and I loved her tits and everything. Did you make her break things off, you old shit? You tell her she has to marry one of your Christ-Killer buddies to propagate the race? The kids would only be half-breeds. I know she’s not really yours. You should have let her go, half-dick. I’m here to haunt you, you kosher fuck.”

The worst day, the dog day, they went out shooting and Trav said they should get the president in the dick, or about where his dick would be, low on the middle of the torso. Dina thought he was just being an idiot, just being Trav, but at the same time she was tired of always aiming dead center. Shooting the president in his gonads was a way to mix things up. She shot, and a hole appeared in the crotch of the president’s black suit.

“Let me try to get his foot.” She shot again, low to the ground, and missed. Another hole, this one at the bottom edge of the target paper where it was blank and white, equidistant from each of the president’s dress shoes. That’s when she heard a shriek on the other side of the fence. She dropped the Ruger and ran toward the noise. It was a chocolate Lab, chained tight behind the targets to the other side of the barbed-wire fence, and the poor thing was foaming around the corners of its mouth, each rib jutting from a too-narrow chest, but with a swollen belly. At first Dina thought it must be pregnant, a girl dog, but then she saw where its hot pink dog penis was sticking out.

The Lab looked Dina in the eye and stopped shrieking. There was thick blood oozing out from its back, but more distressingly, there were masses of earlier cuts and scrapes all along its legs and up its sides. Flies buzzed around the open wounds.

“Trav,” Dina said.

“Yeah.” He was already standing next to her. She hadn’t noticed.

“Trav, this is just beyond . . . We should call someone.” She took her phone out, but Trav grabbed it and put it in his own pocket.

“I’m sorry, Dina, but we’re not really allowed to be here, not like I told you. My dad’s friend would be pissed,” Trav said.

“You mean we’ve been trespassing all along?” She recognized that her voice sounded whiny, uncool, even babyish. She thought, for the first time, about all the reasons someone might own a field in the middle of nowhere. “Is that—does this dog belong to your dad’s friend? Did you know it was here?”

“I didn’t know, but . . . ” Trav stared at the ground, at the unmown grass that swished around their feet. “I can’t say I’m surprised. You just head back.”

Dina still can’t say why she turned and walked toward the road, but she did. A few seconds later she heard a gunshot. She knows even now that was the right thing for Trav to do, a mercy killing, not unlike what a veterinarian would do in the same situation. She knows her single shot meant the dog had to die, and it was her fault for aiming at the president’s foot, Trav’s fault for taking her out there, her fault for enjoying herself. Both their faults. But she mostly blames him.

Trav caught up to her back at the car. “I apologize,” he said. “This is complicated. My dad’s friend—he doesn’t spend a lot of time here, but he wouldn’t like it if he knew I was coming without my dad. And I’m not allowed to talk about it. Not with you, not with anybody.” He handed her phone over.

“Then why bring me out here, Trav?”

“I apologized, Dina. It’s all I can do.” He opened the door for her to jump in the Aerostar, then he drove her to the corner near her house. Neither of them spoke for the whole drive. She walked inside and told Ronnie she was sick and skipped dinner.

The next day at Kathleen Williams, Trav smiled at her during assembly, and they sat together at lunch, and he picked her up after school in his Aerostar like she’d only imagined the last twenty-four hours. Only she knew she hadn’t, because they didn’t go back to the field. He bought her enchiladas at Torchy’s, and it turned out he had a pack of cold Dr Peppers and a checkered blanket in the trunk. They picnicked at the Arboretum, watched a Little League football team practice tackles on the grass.

And then it was the weekend. Not just any weekend, but her mother’s yahrzeit, which she hadn’t told Trav about, because what could he do? He couldn’t roll the Aerostar, flags and all, into Beth Achim’s parking lot. He couldn’t make conversation with Ronnie’s friends: people like Rich and Cindy Kirbaum, a dentist and divorce lawyer respectively. Or grouchy Mr. Kaplan’s granddaughter Julie, who was a medievalist, a postdoc at UT. Sometimes Julie would carpool with her professor friend, who studied illuminated manuscripts. Rather than kiss the torah, the professor would put down his siddur and bring his face close, scanning the polished handles, the velveteen mantle for some clue.

Dina struggled at times to talk to these eccentric grownups, could barely answer their yes and no questions, and Trav? Trav would be lost. So she did him the favor, when they were together, of pretending Beth Achim didn’t exist.

That Saturday she rose with Ronnie for the Mourner’s Kaddish, and everybody looked at them—Ronnie’s friends and the stern young rabbi and the hyper children and their parents and the old folks who made up the bulk of Saturday worshippers, the ones who came into the office after yoga to pinch Dina’s cheeks—and all of them knew Ronnie, and therefore knew her, and swathed them both in pity.

She knew when she went back to the field on Monday, the dog would be gone. Trav would handle it. What she’s most ashamed of is how she played along, let him pretend things were normal.

Trav taught Dina to like herself—only then she understood how liking herself meant she should stop dating him. He might not be all bad, but something bad was in his life, leaking into hers. So after three months of skipping Strategic Games Club to cruise around in the Aerostar, of letting Trav lick her breasts in secluded parking lots, of lying to Ronnie, she managed a separation. When he sat down next to her at lunch, she handed him a typed note, got up, and went to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face.

She didn’t know how to bring up the dog, so Dina settled on college as her excuse for hurting Trav’s feelings. College, which was just around the corner. Any day now, she wrote, she’d be into biochem or polisci or computers, pre-med or pre-law. She’d live in the dorms at UT, only a short drive away but at the same time another universe, a cocoon of young adulthood, a place where he couldn’t follow and would never be at home.

So I know this is the best thing for both of us, she wrote. Please don’t get the wrong impression. I’m really glad I met you, Trav. I really want you to be happy and have a good life. I really want us to stay in touch, if that’s okay.

After her outburst in Ronnie’s office, Dina faints. When she comes to, she’s supine on the couch with one of Ronnie’s thick Kosher Sutra books tucked under her head. Ronnie crouches over her, holding a mug of water. Dina gulps the whole thing down, spilling some on her face.

“Sorry,” she says, wiping her mouth with the back of her sleeve. “I feel strange today.” She sits up.

Ronnie opens his mouth, inhales, closes his mouth. Opens again and starts to say something. Gives up. Opens one last time and closes. Dina knows they’re in a serious situation here, but can’t help thinking her father looks like a fish, gulping.

“Let’s go to the studio,” Ronnie says. “My class won’t start for hours.” What he calls his yoga studio is just a converted attic. It used to be accessible only via trapdoor, but when he started training at East Side Hatha, when he started talking about yoga classes on the synagogue property, Beth Achim’s board agreed to install stairs.

He reaches out a hand and pulls Dina so she’s standing, so she’s hugging him. Her father smells like peppermint Dr. Bronner’s. “Thanks, Dad,” she says, then she hears a noise like gears grinding. “I hate you.”

He sucks in his breath with a hiss but does not stop hugging her. “I know this isn’t you,” Ronnie tells her, which Dina appreciates. She knows this isn’t her either. He gives her one last squeeze and takes his arms away. “So, upstairs.”

They march past the rabbi’s office, and as luck would have it, the rabbi does not poke his head out into the hall. They go upstairs, and on the way up Dina keeps talking, or rather, Trav does. “Where is your Jew gold?” he asks. “Where are your horns? Dad, I’m so sorry. Don’t you hear that whining? It’s like someone brought a Chihuahua in here.”

Ronnie’s face is stony, like he’s girding himself for battle, and he says nothing. They get to the top of the steps and enter the empty attic room with its sloped walls. He motions her over to the mats. They unroll two, facing each other, and he tells her to lie down with limbs loose. Eyes shut. The sound is so loud now, like a running chainsaw inches from her nose.

“The FEMA camps,” Dina says as she gets into position, “are totally real. I think my mom got sent there.”

“Feel your spine straightening out against the floor,” Ronnie says, and then he sniffs like he’s crying, only his eyes are still and unblinking, and a person can’t cry that way. “Feel it stretch and release tension, savasana. Breathe deeply. Feel your energy rise and fall with that breath.”

Dina breathes deeply. The windows of this studio are open, and car brakes squeal in the street below. Her energy rises and falls. The brakes squeal and squeal. She says, “Sitting congressmen have spoken about the camps. Glenn Beck on his show. Those places are where they take the dissidents and the true Patriots. And the true Patriots’ mothers.”

Ronnie talks over Trav. “Raise your right knee and bring it to your chest,” he says. She stays there for several moments, releases, does the same with her left knee. “Feel your legs relaxing. Feel how they’re longer now.” The cars stop squealing their brakes and start honking. Someone pounds on a horn for ten seconds, twenty.

“It’s for the New World Order,” Dina continues. “They have to crush the Patriots to keep the American population compliant when the UN reveals itself as the one-world government.” In her head, in the part of her brain that’s still her own, Dina enjoys the poses. They stretch out the achy place where her back meets her hips. Only she can’t relax too much, because a fire alarm is going off somewhere, or is that a chorus of baying wolves? “When they’ve cleared out all the dissenters it’ll be time for population control. Random executions, only not really random. They want to destroy the white race. They’ll start by killing Aryan babies.”

Ronnie’s jaw is clenched tighter than Dina thought possible, but to hear him, you’d think he was unfazed. “Sit up on the center of your mat with your legs straight in front of you. Support yourself by placing your hands behind your back on each side. Now raise your hips and lean your head backwards. Try to form a straight line with your body.”

Dina does what he says, and the blood rushes to her brain, blotting out the noises, blotting out Trav. A whelming. “This is working?” she says. “It’s working, I think, Dad.” She stays in the pose for a long time, for minutes, until she’s shaking.

“Back to asana,” Ronnie says.

There’s a pause while Dina moves to a sitting position. She’s trying to hold on to that whelming feeling, the head rush. She’s trying to make Trav pliable, make him shut up.

Ronnie stands. He does the fish thing again with his mouth: open and shut, open and shut. He asks, “Let’s say, in theory, the person I’m speaking to right now is Travis. What does Travis want?”

And the piece of Trav that cleaves to Dina says something almost reasonable: “I’d be happy with an apology.”

“Trav, I’m truly sorry,” Dina says. “I liked you, I did, but I was so lonely, maybe I would have liked anyone.”

It must not be what he wanted to hear, because he reaches out from inside her, curls her fingers into a ball against her will. Next thing Dina knows she’s punched herself in the eye. She sees blotches like she’s just had her picture taken, like she’s been staring into the sun, and her lips form the words: “I don’t accept her apology.” The blotches take over her field of vision, and the head rush comes back full force.

“Take it easy, Travis,” Ronnie says.

Dina gets up. She’s aware of dust motes floating in the studio, the humming fluorescent lights above her head, the creaking noises a building makes as it settles, and she’s still saying it, “I’m sorry,” over and over like a chant. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry.”

But it’s not helping. There is an anvil on her forehead, a hammer pounding away at her hairline. Her legs are on fire, and she’s kicking her yoga mat to the side, arms extended, fingers reaching out, twitching, for Ronnie. He doesn’t move, even when she wraps her hands around his neck and tightens her grip.

“I’m going to kill this hippie cliptip,” she says. “Trav, don’t.”

Ronnie doesn’t try to escape. Dina’s thumbs are bearing down on the space just above his Adam’s apple. “Stop me please,” she says.

“Dina, you have to stop. You,” Ronnie sputters. He’s turning red, but his arms hang by his sides even as Trav, as Dina, tries to throttle him. “If Travis is in your head, kick him out.”

Dina turns inward, examines the topography of her brain. There is blackness and a keening that might be her own voice. She’s still in the studio, still assaulting her father, but she’s also chained tight to a barbed-wire fence. She’s trapped in a body that won’t do what she tells it. Ronnie’s wheezing under her thumbs.

“I can’t,” she says, so her father says, “Forgive me,” and that’s when he slaps Dina across her cheek, not as hard as he can but hard enough.

Her head snaps to the side and bounces back in a jerky, lightning-fast motion, and she relinquishes Ronnie. She feels the painful rip of two souls separating, for real this time, as Trav flees. Then she crumples onto the floor. She hears cars honking as her consciousness contracts, the central air whirring and her classmates reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. She hears the cries of Patriots in FEMA camps, the savage howls of UN Peacekeeping troops as they land on the beaches of Galveston in the dead of night. Every dog on the planet whining for release. Shots fired, the low chant of a Mourner’s Kaddish, and on top of it all the known universe roaring apart, flipping inside out for her benefit.