The privet shrub was a holy den of lines and untamed columns which Mabel immediately recognized as a temple from the Roman coffee table books. We were girls, well-versed in red tents and undeserving of temples, so the shrub became a secret kept from the neighborhood boys with whom we played video games.
Mabel’s dad was a literature professor which explains why he wore bow ties and kept piles of books against the wall of the garage. The books smelled musty; she said he wouldn’t miss one or two, and we needed a few books to line the pine straw mattresses in our privet temple.
Sometimes I slipped up and said our “private” temple, but Mabel pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose so they settled on the bony speed bump—“It’s a privet temple, Denise.”
It was Mabel’s idea. Everything from the temple to the mattress was Mabel’s idea. She read about the mattresses in a book about woodland Indians and the way she told it I was sure she could teach a class on the subject. So we sat in the temple and tore out hundreds of pages and wadded them up in our fists then unwadded only to wad them again until the paper was soft and smooth enough to feel the cotton inside. Soon only the covers were left.
One book was about colonial New England but the other book was silky, purple, and mysterious. Titled simply Doppelgängers, I wished we’d read a little before wadding the pages so we could decipher what the title meant.
Mabel played it off by pretending not to care—“Doppelgänger? Whatever that means!” she snorted. I laughed along but wondered what it meant.
“Maybe you could ask your dad,” I suggested.
“Don’t be silly. Then he’d know we stole his book! Do you think my dad is a him-becile? He’s a college professor for god’s sake.”
“Himbecile,” I muttered under my breath, hoping to add the new word to my Mabel-enhanced vocabulary.
What ruined our temple wasn’t the wind because even after it blew the wadded mattress morsels half a mile back into the woods, we probably could have still reclaimed them. It wasn’t the professor turning bloodshot red and raging around the backyard about his precious books either. It wasn’t even the strawberry-lipgloss kisses Mabel and I exchanged six times as part of a Roman temple ritual. No, it was the boys who ruined our temple—the boys who snuck into the woods behind Mabel’s house and found it, the boys who wrote “Home of the Dopey Gang for dopeygangers and dorks!!!!” all over the street in pink and white chalk.
“I told you so,” Mabel remarked with a hand on her bony left hip.
“Didn’t I tell you so, Denise?”
I nodded. She’d warned about the boys and the purple book cover which she thought would be better buried than left as evidence for the professor to find.
“I told you boys can’t keep secrets or play pretend.”
“Why? What’s wrong with them?” I imagined kidneys shaped like pyramids rather than purses.
“They’re bloody blokes, that’s why,” she snapped.
I was transfixed by the image of barefoot boys with bicycle spokes poking out of their skulls and blood pooling in the space below their eyes. Mabel used words like nobody I’ve ever known.
Later that summer, we started playing softball on the church team, but Mabel and I started a base ahead of the rest. In circles curved like the underside of a giggle, softball girls talked nonstop about boys.
Mabel said the girls were boy-crazy which meant they were clueless about the boys’ inherent stupidity—and what boys did to sacred temples or doppelgängers. We practiced our pitches in the least trafficked corners of the outfield, my friend Mabel and I, both of us big on knowing but never telling.
Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the ghost of Hannah Arendt. She lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and three small people who don’t believe she was a finalist in the Black Warrior Review’s annual poetry contest this year. Her syllables are forthcoming in Mulberry Fork Review, Far Enough East, Avatar Review, and Rivet Journal. http://alina_stefanescu.typepad.com/writing/