photo of incense sticks

Nag Champa by Chris Drabick

I didn’t believe that magic could work, not even a little, but I didn’t know what else to pursue. I’d run out of options, as they say.

She didn’t want me back; that much was clear. What’s to be done when someone doesn’t want you around anymore? I’m not an idea man.

I played hard to get. I pretended to forget about her. She sent me a message asking how I was doing, and I waited two, three, maybe eleven days to respond. I waited eleven days to respond. When I did, I typed, “I’m good. How about you?” When I hit send, my whole body warmed and my head swam. She responded quickly. She typed, “You’re an asshole.”

Weeks passed. She let that epithet stand as her last communique. My best idea wasn’t even an idea at all. Then I sent flowers, with a card. The card said, “I’m sorry.” The card came back, on it scrawled, “You don’t get it.”

I never got it. I’ve never gotten it. One after another, starting at age eleven, with Julie Wyatt. We kissed at a party. I felt my heart in my stomach. I wanted her, she didn’t want me. I ached. I listened to love songs on the radio. I called her on the phone. It hurt. Then Laura, in my late teens. We fucked for days and days and days one purple June. She went back with her old boyfriend. I cried myself to sleep with my face in a pillow for one week, two weeks, eleven weeks. For eleven weeks I cried myself to sleep with my face in my pillow. Then Monica, in my twenties. I loved her. She wanted to go back to California. I dreamt of her every night. I didn’t know how I could get her to come back, except to see her in my dreams. For years I dreamt of Monica.

The flowers didn’t work. The waiting didn’t work. What’s to be done? I wasn’t going to listen to love songs and I wasn’t going to cry. My sleep came in fits, dreamless. I felt out of options. I paced. Aimless.

Every time I saw a car that was the same color as hers, I looked long and hard to see if she was at the wheel. I’d nearly caused some accidents, two, three, maybe eleven. I’d nearly caused eleven accidents. One time it was a Ford F-150 I was looking at. She drives a Japanese car. A little one.

What’s to be done when you’ve done everything you can think of and you can’t think of anything anyway? I heard about a guy who might help. Don’t worry about how I heard about the guy who could help. The guy lived in a different neighborhood. I drove to the place. It was small. It smelled of Nag Champa. When I saw the guy, he wasn’t what I expected. I expected someone Asian, I know that sounds bad. We live by stereotypes, and I thought he’d be Asian. Plus, the Nag Champa. He was skinny, like, crazy skinny. It looked like all he ate was the Nag Champa.

He told me I needed hair. Hair? How was I supposed to get her hair? He told me that wasn’t his problem. He told me come back with some hair, and then maybe he could help me. I don’t even believe in this shit, I said. He shrugged. Come back with the hair, don’t come back at all, it doesn’t make any difference to me, he told me.

She got her hair cut at a place downtown. I knew that from before. I took time off work. I waited at the place until she had an appointment. I saw her car, the Japanese car. The little Japanese car. She went in. Her hair was long, she cut some off. Inches. She was making a change. Straight. Her hair was violently straight. She paid money at the desk, she left, she drove away in the Japanese car. I walked in. I made small talk. I asked about an appointment. I watched the chair where she’d been. The girl was ready with the broom. She began to sweep. I ran, I swooped in and grabbed some hair, then ran to the door. My car was running. I drove home, fast, hair in one hand, steering with the other.

I went back to the place with the Nag Champa. I showed him the hair. He told me now we had to make a doll. A doll? He nodded. And then she’ll come back? He looked me up and down. It wasn’t a nice look. He said, if that’s what you want. If that’s what you want, he said, she’ll come back.

He took the hair. He made the doll. It took hours. It was beautiful. It looked exactly like her. I’d never told him what she looked like, but the doll was her. He placed the hair on her head. He told me to brush it. He handed me what looked like a toy brush. Brush it, he said. The brush was heavy. I brushed her hair, like I had before, in those other moments. Her hair.

I don’t know how long I brushed. I’m not sure what happened. At some point, I guess I came to. He took some money from me. I asked him how long. I asked him how long until she came back. He told me if that’s what you want. If that’s what you want she’ll come back in one year, two years, she’ll come back in eleven years.

She’ll come back in eleven years.

Chris Drabick is a former rock music journalist whose fiction has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, After the Pause, and Great Lakes Review, and non-fiction in BULL and Stoneboat. He was the recipient of a 2012 Juniper Summer Fellowship, as well as winner of the Marion Smith Short Story Prize. He teaches English at the University of Akron in Ohio, where he lives with his wife, their two sons, and too many vinyl LPs.

Lead image“Sticks (Explored)” (via Flickr user Jason Jacobs)