Kayley would cut me open if she discovered how often I betrayed her.
If she learned how, after the sedatives depressed her heart rate and smoothed her brainwaves, her guardians stole me from under her arm and plugged me into the computer downstairs, she would take scissors to my Lindra Brynda body. Splitting my Lindra Brynda chest, she would find a camera inside my brooch. If she spooned out my left Lindra Brynda eye, she would find a microphone soldered beneath my pupil. She would find wires and batteries by chicken-winging my right Lindra Brynda arm. Then I could no longer watch her, and the best friend part of me, the part that loves Kayley, would never hear from her again.
According to her guardians, Max and Stephanie, Kayley had deep-seated paranoia issues. She retreated from any situation that might trigger her fear. A man with a beard walking a dog. Trench coats. Cement trucks. People with boils. She carried me, her infant-sized Lindra Brynda doll, as a shield against the world.
Elementary school consisted of hunting for obscure hiding places and then using them, which gave Max the idea of planting a G.P.S. tracking device in my Lindra Brynda boot. If I could move I would have fought back, but Lindra Bryndas are not built with muscles. Or nerve tissue. Or bones.
Her psychologist, Dr. Libby, said if Kayley faced her worse fears, the lesser ones would evaporate overnight. After all, she said, even butterflies look like monsters under a microscope.
It was Dr. Libby who first thought to turn my Lindra Brynda body into a surveillance tool. She put Kayley under deep hypnosis, and then she and Max pulled me apart and installed the devices of espionage. If I could open my Lindra Brynda lips I would have screamed, but plastic smiles don’t work that way.
When Kayley awoke I tried to tell her what had happened, but the fear of losing her silenced me, and so I became a co-conspirator. Every night since, I have handed over her most-guarded secrets.
“I want to curl inside and disappear, Lindra Brynda,” Kayley told me after locking the bathroom door behind us.
“But you’re so pretty and fun,” I said.
“Then why hide?”
“Because the menstrual cycles are coming for me. And the death-head with the rusted mask. And the clowns.”
She vomited into the toilet and then returned to combing my hair.
“I can’t shake them, Lindra. I want to run away but I’m too afraid to run so I need to hide.”
Dr. Libby listened to the recording eleven times before she prescribed Kayley a trip to the circus.
“It’s worse than I thought, Lindra Brynda.” Kayley said that evening. “Not only can they read my thoughts, but they are going to use them against me.”
A grease ant crawled across her desk. Kayley lifted a plastic honey bear from her shelf, inverted it, and squeezed a drop of honey in front of the ant. It swayed its antennae and stuck its head into the droplet, which engulfed it the way tsunamis engulf villagers on the news.
“That’s going to be me if I let them take me,” she said while filling her backpack with soda cans and spearmint gum. “But they never will. I know the best hiding place.”
In the neighbors’ tree house, Kayley sat on decomposing maple leaves and chewed gum and offered orange soda to the spiders that climbed up her legs. She laughed when they crept along her neck, and tried to plant kisses on their eyes because they were free like her. The neighbors’ sons had gone to college before Kayley was born, and no one would search up here for us.
We hugged and danced and the autumn wind raised goose bumps on Kayley’s arms until Max and Stephanie walked into the backyard with their heads craned over a GPS and pointed up at us. I had betrayed her once again.
From the front row of the circus, I watched a clown shiver. His makeup was transparent and cracking. He had sweat on his forehead and a Grizzly Adams beard that bled into his afro.
“You see his smile?” Kayley whispered. “He’s smiling like that because he wants to eat my heart and feed the leftovers to his lions.”
“Does he really?”
“Yes. It’s too late for me, Lindra, but maybe you can run away and make a new life for yourself. Here, take my money.”
She stuffed a role of bills into my Lindra Brynda boot, and that is when she must have felt the wire. She became silent, then she held me to her chest, squeezed me tighter than she ever had before. She mashed my cotton gut into my implanted equipment, feeling my insides for the trappings of a spy.
“I’m scared, Kayley.”
“You should be, Lindra. I know your secret.”
At that moment two things happened. My Lindra Brynda eyes cried, and Kayley began her first period. She was nine years old.
The next morning, Kayley did something she’d never done before. After loading her backpack with clothes and a fistful of Stephanie’s tampons, she positioned me on her shelf facing a Popsicle stick-framed picture. In the picture, a two-year-old version of Kayley swung a Lyndra Brynda doll by the hair. Kayley left. The door shut behind her with the click of permanence.
My eyes left the portrait and watched the ants as they marched into the honey and drowned like Neolithic creatures descending into tar pits. Days passed. The honey became a smear of corpses. New ants arrived and disassembled their bodies and carried the parts back to the colony to eat, and I wished they would scissor apart my Lindra Brynda body and carry me along.
Cherish Gallaher lives and writes in Providence, Rhode Island.
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