March 30, 2013
I’ve been spending a lot of time at the VA Hospital since Mickey moved in. “A lot” translates to maybe eight day-long trips while Mickey had various ailments looked into including a broken shoulder (mea culpa) and cataract surgery. So it’s not like it’s become my second home, but eight visits is a lot to someone who eschews hospitals and had never been to a VA hospital even once prior to 2010.
An amazing thing about the VA hospital is the cross section of society you meet there. I expected to see veterans, yes, but the word “veteran” conjured a very definite mental image in my mind that I’ve discovered was nowhere near the truth. Yes, you meet the almost stereotypical dignified, white-haired veteran with the carefully coiffed wife sitting quietly by his side, but you also meet the crazy Nam vet with the greasy hair who’s cussing everyone, the pockets of black veterans speaking in slang that I can only understand a fraction of, young men with empty eyes, dying men with eyes full of pain, young women vets who carry an incredible amount of pride on their tiny frames, and lesbian vets who think a tall woman like me is the cat’s meow for some reason. And the most amazing thing of all is how many of them (white-haired vets with coiffed wives excluded) seek me out to tell me their stories. Amazing stories. Wonderful stories.
Yesterday it was Henry. An elderly black man that I had a hard time understanding at first, until he whitened-up his vocabulary enough for a pasty person like me to follow, which I thought was very sweet of him, considering that I was just another middle-aged white woman in the human sea that is the ER waiting room. He started out telling me that he’d taken almost no game this year. His eyes filled with regret. Not one single deer. I didn’t tell him that I’m a vegetarian, I just let him talk. He talked about going out hunting with his brother-in-law and bagging about a dozen rabbits, then discovering that dialysis had made him too weak to carry them out. There he was, he explained, in the “woods” with a dozen freshly killed and gutted rabbits and him too weak to take them home. But thankfully his brother-in-law hiked out for help and someone brought a truck and he got those rabbits home; he wasn’t sure why he bothered since his wife couldn’t cook a decent rabbit stew even after all these years of him bringing them home.
He told me about how in his time he wasn’t allowed further east than 8th street. “Your mama wouldn’t let you?” I asked. My own naivete astounds me sometimes.
No, it wasn’t his mama. It was the whites. Unless a black man was hauling garbage or mowing lawns, he wasn’t allowed past 8th Street.
Then he told me how he missed beans. Lord, how he missed beans. Something about the potassium in beans being deadly when you’re on dialysis, so he couldn’t have them any more. He remembered coming home from school and his mama would have a big pot of beans on the stove and a huge pan of cornbread, and you didn’t want to be late getting home or you wouldn’t get seconds.
And he told me about how he listened to the staff at the VA talking to people and how he was convinced the world had no sense left at all any more.
He asked me if I wanted to go outside for a cigarette. I didn’t want a cigarette, but I wanted to go with him, so we did. And we stood on a veranda under multiple “No Smoking – $75 Fine for Violators” signs while he smoked an unfiltered cigarette with hands misshapen by age.
He told me that being married to a military man was a special responsibility (I didn’t bother to tell him that Mickey and I aren’t married – I don’t think that was the point) and that he hoped I understood. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I did or not, but that I would try to understand better than I had before.
Then we went back inside and we watched the news and Henry got me laughing so hard about Obama flying B-52s over Korea that I’m sure I disturbed the people around us.
And then Mickey came out of the back and I said good-bye to Henry. We won’t meet again in this world, I’m sure and I’m sure he was sure of the same thing. It was in his eyes.
October 23, 2012
(Originally published by Everyday Weirdness)
Nicole realized she was dying when she saw the person approaching on the ice.
At first she thought help had finally arrived, that someone on the snowy hiking trail one hundred yards to the east heard her cries. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been immersed in the frigid water, but she reasoned that it had surely been long enough for a rescue team to find her.
She glanced at Sebastian. He sat patiently on the surface of the frozen lake, staring at her with wise canine eyes. “Gonna be alright, Bass,” she whispered. A whisper was all she could manage; her ability to shout froze almost immediately after she plunged through the ice. “Help’s coming. Gonna be okay.”
The dog looked over his shoulder at the approaching figure. His tail thumped softly.
“Careful,” Nicole tried to warn the person. “The ice…” It was too much effort, so she laid her head on the outcropping between her senseless hands and watched.
It was a woman coming across the ice, a woman in a full-skirted sundress with a sweetheart neckline. The dress was white with a gay pattern of small red parasols scattered across it. The woman wore red sandals and as she drew near Nicole could see that her toenails were painted crimson.
Nicole’s shoulders hitched. “No,” she moaned, “no, no, no.”
The woman stopped. Her red sandals were just inches from Nicole’s head. “Hi, Nicky.”
“Not like this,” Nicole gasped. “Nana, not like this.”
Nana Beth sat on the ice between Nicole’s outstretched arms, gracefully sweeping her skirt under her. She patted Sebastian’s head and smiled at the dying woman. “There are worse ways, darlin’. And, well, you really were asking for this.” She added as an afterthought, “Or something like it.”
She reached into the pocket of her dress for a pack of cigarettes. She lit one and blew out a thin line of smoke. “You came out walking alone, at dusk, on a frozen lake, and you’re thirty pounds overweight. What did you think was going to happen?”
“It was a shortcut.” The cold wrapped Nicole tightly, squeezing.
“Some shortcut,” Nana observed. She took another puff of her cigarette. “You’ve been taking a lot of shortcuts since you lost your little man. I’ve got news for you, girly-girl: There are damned few shortcuts in life and none at all in grief.” She listened to the younger woman’s weak, airless weeping for a moment. “Other women have lost children too.”
Nicole’s teeth began to chatter violently. She’d clamped down on her tongue sometime earlier and now she swallowed a mouthful of blood as memories exploded like starbursts: The sweet smell of Micah’s hair, the Michelin-Man rolls of his arms, the swimming pool, the unguarded moment. She remembered the sound of her own screams; she remembered screaming into his face, she remembered trying to scream him awake.
Nicole laid her head back down on the ice. Blood from her mouth painted the white surface with a gay pattern that matched Nana’s dress.
Nana Beth flicked the cigarette butt into a nearby snowdrift. She got up and began to dance slowly back and forth in front of Nicole. “It’s almost over,” she promised. She moved lightly on the ice, twirling slowly. Sebastian got up and moved with her, his eyes locked on Nana’s face. His tail wagged slowly.
“Don’t leave,” Nicole said, or thought she said, or tried to say.
“I’ll wait right here,” Nana Beth promised. She skipped back and forth on the ice in her red sandals.
Suddenly Nana was kneeling with her face just inches away. Nicole could feel the warmth of her whisper. “It’s easy, Nicky. It’s as easy as letting go.”
At first she thought the water was rising, then Nicole realized she was sinking. She stared at Nana’s bright smile as her grandmother’s face retreated and the water crept inexorably over her shoulders, neck, face.
Nana Beth whispered, “Good-bye, Nicky.”
Nicole turned and looked into the lake, her hair floating above and around her. In the inky darkness, she saw another figure. Skin bright like sunlight flashing on a fish, Micah paddled toward her. His dimpled hands – she loved those small hands more than life – touched his mother’s face, and he giggled happily in a burst of fragile bubbles.
Nicole reached for her son and held the vibrant heat of his child’s body against her. She put her face in his hair and breathed deeply, and smiled as the scent of him rushed into her on a stream of baptismal water.
October 23, 2012
(Originally published at write-in.com)
After she moved into the home on Bayou de Torte, the first item on Chrissy Plangenet’s to-do list was calling the city about that eyesore of a house down the street. She still had boxes stacked in her kitchen waiting to be unpacked, but they could wait. Reporting that ramshackle place came first.
Three days of incessant, insistent phone calls later, a city inspector came out to the neighborhood. Chrissy stood on her manicured lawn and watched with satisfaction as the inspector fought the tall weeds on his walk around the old house. He almost broke his neck on the rotten wooden porch stairs as he went up to deliver a notice of violation.
A woman with long tangles of blonde hair opened the torn screen door and spoke with him. Chrissy couldn’t hear what was said, but she relished the scene as the inspector tore a sheet of paper off his pad and handed it to the woman before fighting his way back through the overgrown yard to his city car.
She had a housewarming party that weekend. Chrissy invited her work colleagues and some friends from her sorority days at LSU, and almost all of her new neighbors. She had no desire to meet the person who lived in the battered, offensive old house, so of course no invitation was issue in that direction, but she took special care to invite the handsome Sheriff’s Deputy who lived three houses down.
The party started off as a great success. Chrissy took particular pleasure in showing her tastefully furnished house to the neighbors and encouraging them to enjoy the lavish buffet catered by Chez Maurice and delivered all the way down from Baton Rouge by special order. The wine was flowing, the music was properly muted, and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time until the doorbell rang.
“Ya’ll just go ahead and make yourselves at home,” Chrissy said breezily over her shoulder as she went to the door. “Mi casa and all that.”
She opened the door and froze in surprise. There, right there on Chrissy’s porch in front of God and everyone else, was the woman who lived in the old house.
“I heard you were having a housewarming,” the uninvited neighbor said with a smile. Her blue eyes, which were as pale as the washed-out cotton sundress she wore, regarded Chrissy with genuine warmth. She held out a plate covered with plastic wrap. “I brought you some of my homemade cheese bread.”
Chrissy stared at the woman and at the bread held out to her like an offering. She shifted her wine glass to her other hand and took plate. “Why, thank you ever so much. Aren’t you just the sweetest thing?” She used the toe of her patent leather pump to swing the door closed.
Beth Harding from across the street stopped in the act of spearing braised asparagus onto her plate. Her face wore an expression of disbelief. “Chrissy, was that – ” Beth broke off, apparently unable to finish the question.
“Oh, it was that dreadful girl from downstreet,” Chrissy said lightly. She dumped the bread, plate and all, into the garbage. “I swear, I don’t know what she had on her feet, but I believe it was clogs. Can you believe that? Clogs!”
Beth set her plate down and pulled Chrissy aside. “I can’t believe you just shut the door in that woman’s face.”
“Well, what was I supposed to do?” Chrissy laughed again. “You didn’t expect me to invite her in, did you?”
Sauntering over with his face happily flushed with wine, Todd from next door asked, “What are you two lovely ladies conspiring about?”
Beth looked at him, her brown furrowed. “Chrissy just slammed the door in Paulette Delacroix’s face.”
The wine hadn’t made Todd that happy. He immediately looked as concerned as Beth. “You shut the door on her face, Chrissy?”
“Why, of course I did. She wasn’t invited.”
Simultaneously, her two neighbors repeated, aghast, “She wasn’t invited?”
Chrissy stared at them as if they had lost their minds. “Of course not. I can’t believe she had the gall to show up here with her plate of – whatever that mess was. If she knew it was me who turned her into the city, well…” She trailed off, taking a sip of her wine.
“You did not,” Beth hissed.
“Of course I did. I can’t believe no one’s complained about that abomination of an abode long before I came along.” She started to sip her wine again, but something in their faces stopped her. “What’s wrong with ya’ll?”
Todd shook his head. “Hasn’t anyone told you about her?”
Chrissy looked from one to the other and at Mariel Jenkins who had wandered over to listen. “What about her?”
“Honey, you’re aware that you’re living in Delacroix Parrish, right?” Todd asked.
“So, the Delacroix family has lived here for upwards of two hundred years. That old house Paulette lives in was built by her great-grandfather when there was nothing for fifty miles ‘round except swamp and gators.”
Chrissy shrugged. “And it looks like it, too.”
Beth leaned forward and touched Chrissy’s arm just above the lovely crystal bracelet that glimmered at her wrist. “The Delacroix females have always been conjure-women.”
It was Chrissy’s turn to stare in disbelief. “Ya’ll are kidding me. You can’t seriously believe that woman is a swamp witch.” She laughed, but there wasn’t much amusement in it.
Mariel joined in. “Serious as a heart attack, girl. Why do you think none of us have complained about that house before? It’s not smart, that’s why.”
The chiseled face of Rob, the handsome Deputy, appeared over Mariel’s shoulder. “Holding a Neighborhood Watch meeting here in the kitchen?” he teased.
Chrissy went into instant coquette mode and tossed her auburn hair over one shoulder. “Not without the strongest, bravest man on the block.” She glanced at the others, then linked her arm through Rob’s and walked away.
The waspish whine of a lawnmower woke Chrissy early on Sunday morning a week later. She rolled over with a groan. She’d enjoyed a wonderful dinner and far too much wine with the incredibly charming Rob the night before, and her head was pounding.
“Oh, what in the hell!” she exclaimed to herself.
Throwing on a robe, Chrissy staggered to her front door. The buzz of a lawnmower down the street assaulted her aching head, but it was forgotten the moment she got a good look outside.
Chrissy wandered down the cement walkway, gasping at the lawn surrounding her house. Swoops and swirls of blanched grass were burned into her lovely yard. The stench of ammonia filled the air. It looked and smelled like some impossibly large giant had unzipped and taken an enormous piss, perhaps trying to write his name on her grass.
The landscaper who responded to Chrissy’s frantic call couldn’t explain it. “It can’t be that your water is bad, Ms. Plangenet, because all ya’ll are on city water and your neighbors aren’t affected.” He pointed down the street to the old Delacroix house. The lawn there had been mowed back, the weeds removed, and the grass shone green as emeralds. “See? It’s just your yard.”
She glared at the old house. She could almost picture that Delacroix woman sneaking over in the middle of the night, pouring some sort of industrial cleanser on Chrissy’s perfect lawn. “That bitch,” she hissed to herself. “So that’s the way she wants to play it.”
It took several more days of calling, but when the inspector arrived on the block a second time, Chrissy moved a chaise lounge onto her yellowed front lawn to watch as he cited Paulette Delacroix again. As the inspector drove away, Paulette turned to look upstreet. Chrissy smiled and waved.
Coming home from work the next day, Chrissy slowed to look at the painters who were busy on the Delacroix home. From a weathered, dismal gray, the boards of the old place were slowly being transformed to a pale peach color. Paulette Delacroix waved happily to Chrissy from the porch.
Todd was standing in his yard when Chrissy pulled into her driveway. He nodded towards the Delacroix house. “Really starting to shape up, isn’t it?”
Chrissy snapped, “If she’s got enough money to paint that monstrosity, you’d think she’d do something with her hair.”
“Some of us got together and are having it painted for her,” Todd said. “I’ve been sending my stepson over to work on the lawn.” He shrugged at Chrissy’s look of shock. “We saw what happened to your yard.”
Slamming the car door shut, she snorted, “It wasn’t some sort of hex, Todd. That bitch ruined my grass with a bottle of ammonia, plain and simple.”
Todd sipped his can of beer and shrugged again. “If you say so.”
Chrissy stalked up the walkway and let herself into the house. “Ignorant Cajun fools,” she muttered, completely ignoring the fact that there were multiple Boudreaux poling her family pirogue, so to speak.
She set her briefcase on a side table. At the same time she became aware of an eye-watering order and a litter of small white tuffs on the slate floor. “What in the world?” Chrissy stepped around the corner into the living room and screeched.
At least a dozen cats froze in the act of disemboweling Chrissy’s expensive throw pillows. A white cat, two calicos, a tabby and a handful of others – her living room was full of cats, and they were destroying her furniture. The stench of their urine stung her throat.
Chrissy shrieked again as Todd came thundering through the front door. He pulled up to a stop behind her so quickly that his beer sloshed onto the carpet. “What in the hell?” he cried. “Damn! What’s that smell?”
The cats dashed as a group over the furniture. There was a small pet door in the kitchen – a remnant from a previous tenant – and they all leaped gracefully through it.
“Cats!” Chrissy screamed. The pet door flapped behind the last cat’s tail, and then swung silently back and forth in a diminishing arc until it was still. “ I hate animals!”
Todd walked over to the kitchen door and pointed. “Then why do you have a doggy door?”
Infuriated, Chrissy stomped so hard that she broke the heel off of one shoe and fell, landing plumply on her ass amidst the mass of pillow entrails.
“Are you alright?” Todd asked, running to her. He leaned down to help her up and trickled beer over the shoulder of her silky blouse.
Chrissy couldn’t breathe. She’d never been so angry. She shrugged off Todd’s hands and stalked out the front door. Her screams had gathered several other neighbors on the sidewalk and they watched in amazement as the sophisticated redhead clomped clumsily – one heel up, one heel down – towards Paulette Delacroix’s house.
Mariel Jenkins stared at Todd as he emerged from Chrissy’s house. “What happened?”
Todd threw up his hands. “She’s got too many cats, I guess.”
“That could be why her yard died, you know,” someone remarked sagely. “Urine. You’d think a woman like that would know better than to keep too many cats.”
“Some women are obsessed with them,” another neighbor opined.
Chrissy came to a halt on the sidewalk in front of the now-peach-colored house at the end of the street. A dozen or so neighbors gathered in a semi-circle behind her to watch. “You!” she screamed shrilly at the house. “Get out here!”
The newly-repaired screen door opened and Paulette Delacroix came out. Her mouth dropped open. “Why, what happened to you?” she asked. “Are you alright? Do you want to come in and I’ll help you – “
“Help me!” Chrissy screamed. “You want to help me?” She pointed an accusatory finger at the blonde. “You think I don’t know what you’re doing? You think I don’t know how you’ve got the others bamboozled? Well, you don’t fool me one bit, sister.”
Paulette stared at Chrissy as if the woman had lost her mind; which, indeed, seemed a possibility at that moment.
“I know what you did to my yard,” Chrissy hissed. Her voice had become low and dangerous. “And I know it was you who put all your damned cats in my house. Let me tell you right now, you frumpy bitch, I won’t stand for it. Do you hear me? I’m calling the police and then I’m filing a lawsuit against you. And if that doesn’t do the trick, I’ll be over here to kick your ass twelve different ways to Sunday. Do you understand me?”
The small crowd of neighbors parted quickly to let Chrissy stomp through them – up-down-up-down on her broken shoe. She stopped in the center of the street and angrily kicked off both of her shoes before continuing barefoot towards her house.
“That wasn’t real smart,” someone whispered, “antagonizing the Delacroix woman like that.”
Up on the porch, Paulette held her hands out blamelessly. “I don’t have any cats,” she said.
The call to the police didn’t produce the results Chrissy expected. After listening to her frantic story, the two officers strolled down the street to the Delacroix house. When they returned, they declined to go back inside with the overpowering smell of cat urine, choosing instead to stand on the sidewalk. Chrissy stood with Rob beside her; one of his strong arms hugged her shoulders reassuringly.
“You realize that Ms. Delacroix doesn’t have any cats,” the older policeman pointed out.
“So she says,” Chrissy snapped. She wiped at her eyes which were burning as much from angry tears as the smell of urine coming from her living room.
“There’s nothing to indicate this is anything other than an animal control issue,” the second officer said, “at least when it comes to the cats. However, there’s the harassment issue to consider.”
“Yes,” Chrissy exclaimed. “Exactly! That woman has been harassing me since I moved in.”
“I mean your harassment of her,” the officer said. He looked steadily at the redhead. “I don’t know what you think is going on here, but it’s against the law to threaten people.”
Chrissy’s mouth fell open. “She ruined my lawn and my living room!”
The first officer spoke up again. “There’s no evidence that Ms. Delacroix has been anything other than welcoming since you moved into this neighborhood.”
“You’re lucky she doesn’t want to pursue this,” the second officer added. “We recommended a protective order against you.”
“Against me?” Chrissy couldn’t believe her ears.
Rob squeezer her shoulders. “She’s had a run of real bad luck this week, guys,” he said quietly. “She’s shook up. You understand.”
They both nodded but looked unconvinced. “Just stay on your side of the street, Ms. Plangenet,” the older one said. “If we’re called out here again, I’ll recommend charges to the D.A.’s office whether or not your neighbor wants to file a complaint.”
Chrissy turned to Rob as the officers walked away. “Can’t you do something?”
He shook his head. “We’re within city limits and I’m County. Sorry.” He released her shoulder and gestured towards to house. “What I can do, though, is tear up that carpet and get it out before you get sick. You can’t sleep in a house with carpet that badly soiled. You’d better call your insurance agent.”
She turned and stared at the Delacroix house, and was sure she saw a curtain move on the second floor. You’d better be watching, she thought. You’ve made an enemy of the wrong person.
Chrissy was determined to get revenge. Whatever she did, it had to be good. It had to be something that would get the message across to that plain, countrified Delacroix woman once and for all that she’d picked the wrong person to mess with.
She was still plotting her vengeance three days when the garage caught on fire.
The interior of Chrissy’s home was shrouded in visqueen. Sheets of thick, cloudy plastic hung in the entrance to the living room, shielding the rest of the house from the pervasive stench of cat urine, which had soaked through into the wooden subfloor. Several more sheets hung over the door that led from the kitchen to the garage to tamp the odor of stale smoke.
Chrissy sat at the dining room table, staring moodily into space while her insurance agent thumbed through a sheaf of paperwork. Beth Harding sat beside her, holding her hand and occasionally stroking it. Chrissy barely noticed. She didn’t want comfort. She wanted to kill Paulette Delacroix.
“It actually falls under your car insurance coverage, Ms. Plangenet,” the agent was saying, “since it was technically your SUV that caught fire.” The balding man shook his head. “The fire inspector said you must have driven over a piece of newspaper. The paper got sucked up under the engine, you pulled into your garage, the paper ignited, and – well – you know the rest of the story. The good news is that your policy will cover a car rental until yours is repaired – or declared a total loss, which is the most likely.” He looked at Chrissy and shook his head again. “I have to say, I’ve never seen such a run of bad luck.”
Beth patted Chrissy’s unresponsive hand. “She’s been through so much. The poor thing.”
Nothing compared to what that Delacroix woman will be going through, Chrissy thought.
It was almost nine o’clock at night when the insurance agent finally left. Beth Harding saw him to the door and went out onto the sidewalk to confer with Mariel Jenkins.
“It’s the most extraordinary thing,” Beth whispered.
“It’s not extraordinary at all,” Mariel argued. “We told her not to mess with Paulette. We warned her. You just don’t go around starting shit with a witch.”
“I have no idea why she just wouldn’t make peace – “ Beth broke off as the front door opened behind her.
Chrissy walked out into the night air. Shoeless, swaddled in sweat pants and a faded tee shirt, and carrying a gas can, she walked blindly past the other women.
“Hon?” Beth queried nervously. “What are you doing?”
Chrissy turned and gave her a ghastly smile. She held up a lighter. “I’m gonna burn that witch. That’s what you do to witches, isn’t it?”
Mariel went running towards her own house. “Phil! Phil, get out here! Chrissy Plangenet has lost her mind!”
Beth ran after Chrissy. “You don’t want to do this,” she pleaded. “You’ll wind up in jail as sure as I’m standing here.”
“I don’t care,” the woman answered. She stared at the Delacroix house with its manicured lawn and fresh paint. “It’ll be worth it.”
“I can’t let you do this,” Beth shouted. She put her hands on Chrissy’s shoulders to stop her, then drew them back and shrieked.
Startled, Chrissy turned to look. Beth was holding up her hands and laced around her fingers were auburn tresses. Chrissy dropped the gas can and reached for her hair. She began to pull away long handfuls. “No!” she screamed. “No, no, no, no, no!”
It took four of the neighborhood husbands to subdue Chrissy until the ambulance arrived.
* * *
The repairs on the house were complete by the time Chrissy was released from the hospital. She stood in the foyer, looking at the lovely hardwood floor that had been installed in place of the old carpet, and she sighed. Later that afternoon, Beth was going to drive her downtown to get a much-needed manicure and pedicure, then over to the dealership to pick up a new SUV. Then everything would be back in order. Well, almost everything. There was one more thing she had to take care of.
She picked up the blue cardboard cake box from Chez Maurice and walked outside. Chrissy hadn’t gotten where she was in life by being stupid, and she certainly hadn’t effected her release from the hospital by any lack of smarts, either. She told the doctors what they wanted to hear: That she had been the victim of several unfortunate coincidences. That stray cats had ruined her living room and a stray piece of newspaper had started the fire. That it was all just a sad series of unconnected events. That she had not been cursed by a swamp witch.
That’s what she told the doctors. But she knew better.
If the Delacroix house looked lovely and amazing, Paulette looked even more so. She opened the screen door and stepped out onto the porch, staring at Chrissy. Paulette’s blonde hair cascaded thickly over her shoulders. Her smooth bosom swelled in the v-neck of a silky dress.
“Chrissy!” Paulette exclaimed softly.
I had no idea she was so pretty, the redhead thought jealously. “I need to talk to you,” she said. “I need to – apologize.”
Chrissy held out the cake box as a sort of offering. “I was unkind to you when I first moved in. Very unkind. I’d like the chance to start over. I’d like you to forgive me.”
Paulette took the box and smiled. “It’s all water under the bridge, isn’t it?” she asked sweetly.
“Is it?” Chrissy’s mouth was drier than her medications could account for. “So, you’ll take it off?”
“Take what off?”
The two women stood on the porch, looking at each other. There was a long silence, then Chrissy continued, “Just take the curse off, please. I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never bother you again. I’d like to be – well, I’d like to be friends. Just take the curse off.”
Paulette shook her head slightly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She turned to go inside, but Chrissy’s hand shot out and grabbed her wrist. “Ms. Plangenet, you’re hurting me.”
“Just take the damned spell off!” Chrissy hissed. “I know what you are. I know. Everyone was right. You’re a swamp witch, a conjure-woman. Please take the spell off. I promise I’ll never say another word against you.”
Rob, the handsome deputy, appeared in the doorway behind Paulette. His hands came down lovingly on the blonde’s shoulders. “Is everything alright, darling?”
Paulette nodded. “Everything is fine, sweetheart.” She continued to stare at Chrissy. “Ms. Plangenet, I’m Roman Catholic.” She reached for the gold chain around her neck and pulled a crucifix out of her ample cleavage. “Isn’t this lovely? Rob bought it for me. Turns out that he’s Catholic, too.”
Chrissy stared in disbelief. “You and Rob – “ she began.
Rob stepped out and shut the front door behind him. “We’re going to be late for mass, pumpkin.”
Paulette smiled at Chrissy. “Funny how things work out, isn’t it? But I’m so glad you’re feeling better.” She stepped down the porch with her arm linked through Rob’s.
Chrissy shook her head. “So, you’re not – “
Paulette stopped. “Not what, Chrissy?”
“You’re not a witch?”
Rob and Paulette laughed gaily. “I’ll go start the car,” he said.
Paulette watched as he walked away, then looked back at Chrissy. She tucked the crucifix back between her breasts and said, “Surely you know there’s no such thing as witches.” She winked. “By the way, it sure is a shame you’ll be moving. You will be moving, of course.”
Chrissy watched the Delacroix woman saunter down the sidewalk, dropping the cake box into the garbage can on the way.
October 23, 2012
(Originally published at Everyday Weirdness)
“Holy shit, Faith,” Todd cried, hopping awkwardly to avoid the small terrier. “Do you have to lay there?” He continued toward the kitchen, shouting over his shoulder, “I’m gonna end up stepping on your dog!”
“Our dog,” Emma corrected. She came out of the bedroom and stood in the living room, toweling her wet hair. She smiled down at Faith. “She’s your dog, too, you know.”
“Yeah, well, she likes you better.” Todd emerged from the kitchen with a cup of coffee. He and Emma regarded each other across the small dining room.
Faith was on the floor between them. She looked from one to the other before turning her dark amber eyes back to the mirror.
“She loves that old thing,” Emma said.
“Why did you put it on the ground?” Todd asked. “I liked it better on the wall.”
Waving her hand at the antique mirror, Emma answered, “I like it propped against the lower wall. It’s very on-trend.”
“It’s very on-comfortable and on-noying. Mirrors should hang where people can look in them. You know, actually use them.”
Emma laughed as she went over to kiss her husband. “Faith is using it.”
Todd carefully held his coffee mug out as Emma snuggled against him. He put his other arm around her and kissed her wet hair.
“I wonder what’s so fascinating about her own reflection,” Emma mused.
“She’s a woman,” Todd snorted. A little of his coffee sloshed onto the floor when Emma poked him. “Give a woman a mirror and she’s fascinated. Human, canine – it doesn’t make any difference.”
Emma giggled and twisted in her husband’s embrace to look at the little dog. “Seriously, though, what do you suppose she sees? Do you think she knows it’s her own reflection?”
“Honey, she’s a dog. I doubt if there’s any real deep thought processes going on inside Faith’s pointy little head.”
Faith listened to the drone of her humans’ voices. One ear flicked toward them briefly when she heard her name, but otherwise she was intent on the mirror. She had a rudimentary sense that the other dog was herself. She had no interest in that image, knowing that it would do whatever she did on this side of the mirror. Her keen eyes were locked on the other image staring back at her.
There was no word in her limited vocabulary that Faith could associate with the creature. It wasn’t “cat”. It certainly wasn’t “dog”. It gibbered and capered behind the reflective surface, without sound and without scent. Its wide mouth was full of teeth – multiple rows of long fangs from which long strings of dark saliva depended. It tried to scare Faith with those teeth the first time she saw it, after the mirror had been moved down to her level, but the little dog was undaunted. She’d jumped up and barked furiously at the mirror, causing her humans to laugh and stroke her short, wiry coat.
Since that time, Faith stood guard. The mirror creature would disappear from time to time, but when it returned and pressed its twisted blue face against the glass, Faith was always there to meet it. She sensed the mirror creature hated her.
The creature put its flat fingertips against the mirror. Its purple tongue came out and left a long smear across the reflection cast by the humans. It chuckled silently.
The hair on Faith’s ruff came up. Her little lips peeled back from her own impressively sharp teeth as a growl escaped from deep in her chest. She half-rose, ears pinned back, and stared the creature down until it moved away from its side of the glass.
“What is wrong with that dog?” Todd laughed.
“She’s just being silly,” Emma responded. “Aren’t you, Faith? Aren’t you just a silly-willy girl?”
“Argh, baby talk!”
“Oh, you’re just jealous. You want me to talk baby talk to you, don’t you? Don’t you, Toddy-Woddy?”
The humans giggled their way into the kitchen, arms locked tightly around each other. As their reflections disappeared from the mirror, Faith settled back into a sitting position. Her ruff slowly fell smooth again, but she continued to growl softly.
The mirror creature gnashed its teeth, disappointed. It gave the little dog a look of pure hatred.
Faith didn’t care. She watched the creature as it slowly backed away, then disappeared for the time being. The terrier held her ground. In a moment she would go eat and drink, and perhaps one of her humans would take her out for a walk. But she’d be back at her post in front of the mirror before long.
Faith is on guard.
August 6, 2012
Love was easy in the days
When adolescence barely crested the hill
The sunrise was giddy
The sunset was fire
And all we knew and all we cared to know
Was the landscape of each other.
Shuttles and war exploded
And bills and obligations
Obscured our view and
Love wasn’t so easy to find
When wallets were empty.
But now I look back and
Oh, the love wasted in worry
Unseen for all the bulk rate mail
And unopened letters!
Where was I?
Where were you?
You were there
As was I, although I didn’t always know it
And love was always
Just as easy as your warm embrace
Your julipped drawl
And the brilliance of your crystal eyes.
May 24, 2012
Collin slid down in the passenger seat. Wedging his head between the seat and the doorframe, he stretched as much as possible and grimaced at the ache in his legs. “I told you we should have taken the SUV.”
From behind the wheel, Lacy asked, “With gas prices the way they are?” She let that sink in a moment before adding, “You’d probably be more comfortable in the back. We could put the bags up here.”
The highway slipped past them in the washed-out pastels of the dawn breaking behind them.
“Honey?” Lacy prodded. “Do you want me to pull over so you can climb in the back? You must be tired. You drove all night.”
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” Collin snapped. He grimaced again and put his left hand on her thigh. “I’m sorry, Babe. I’m just –“
“Worried,” she finished for him. “I know, Sweetheart. But we’ll be there soon. Another hour at most. It’d be nice if you could get a few minutes of rest before – well – your brother – “ She reached for the stale bottled water in the console and sipped at it. “Someone needs to be thinking straight when we get there.”
“Brent is fine, he’ll be fine.” Collin sighed. “He’s always pulling this shit. It started in high school. He gets everyone upset and we all come running. It’s what he does.”
“Oh, shit, I hate that,” Lacy cried. She moved the car closer to the center line.
Collin stared at her, his tired mind trying to decode her words.
Lacy glanced at him. “In the road,” she explained. “Something dead. I’m not looking, I’m not looking, I’m not looking.”
She was such a softy for animals. It was one of Lacy’s qualities that toppled Collin from lust into love several years earlier. He smiled a little and squeezed her thigh again as he turned to look out the window.
A blackened, dirty smear of blood in their lane, something round by the fog line on the right. A raccoon?
Collin stared at the dead thing as the car rushed past it. He sat up a little and shook his head as if to clear it. “Lacy,” he began softly, “what did that look like to you?”
“I told you, I didn’t look. I never look. What if it was a dog? I don’t want to see that. If it was a dog, I’d cry.”
“It wasn’t a dog.” Collin’s lips felt numb. “I know this is gonna sound crazy, but – it had an ear. And a neck.”
“Gawd, don’t tell me,” she cried. “I don’t want to hear this.”
“Lacy.” Collin pondered for a moment before adding, “Lacy, it looked like a head.”
She made a wry face. “Christ on a pony, Collin.”
“No, seriously. It had an ear. It looked like a head. You know. A human head.”
She glanced at him again. “This is a joke, right? ‘What’s that in the road, a head?’ Right? Ha ha ha. Very amusing.” She didn’t sound amused.
Collin reached for her bottled water and took a deep drink. “I must be really tired.”
“The back seat – “ she reminded him.
He waved off the suggestion. “I can’t sleep. Maybe some music.” He fumbled for the remote and switched on the CD player. Rhianna came blasting back at him and he quickly switched it off again. “Christ on a pony is right,” he sighed.
An enormous oak loomed on the side of the road ahead, denuded of leaves but still towering in defiance of the otherwise-empty Midwestern landscape. Collin watched it approach. “Funny,” he remarked.
“That tree. It’s limbs look like arms.”
“Limbs look like limbs,” Lacy said, then giggled. “It’s got great composition. If you want to get your camera, I’ll pull over.”
“No, no. Let’s just get there and get this over with.” Collin sighed again. “Fucking Brent. He probably stopped taking his meds.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine like you said.”
Collin stared at the tree as it ran up on his side of the car. “He’s an assho- Fucking shit! Fucking shit, Lace!”
The little car swerved in the lane. “What?” Lacy cried. “What? What the fuck, Collin?”
He pressed his hands and face against the window as they zoomed past the tree. “I don’t believe this.”
“What?” Lacy cried again. “You almost made me wreck the car!”
Collin unbuckled his seatbelt and turned around in the seat, kneeling on it. “There was a leg in that tree, Lacy.”
“Oh my god, you are so full of shit!”
“No, no, I’m serious! There was a fucking leg hanging over one of the branches! Swear to Christ, Lacy!” He stared out of the rear window as the tree retreated. “It had a tattoo on the calf.”
Her lower lip began to tremble. “You’re scaring me, Collin.”
He flipped around back into a seated position. “You gotta turn around.”
“Lacy, I swear, there was a leg in that tree!”
Lacy’s mouth was set into a tight frown. “I told you to get some sleep, but no. You had to go and be a big urban fucking cowboy, driving practically all the way here by yourself. Now you’re seeing things. Great.”
Collin stared at the road ahead. She’s right, he thought. I’m tired. I’m just overtired and stressed out. He ran a hand over his face. “If Brent hasn’t killed himself, I swear I’m going to kick his ass.”
“Just be calm, honey. Please? Stop this shit and just be calm. We’ll be there really soon.”
He let out a deep sigh and slumped back down in the seat. “This is so messed up. I hate my brother.”
“No, you don’t, Honey,” Lacy crooned. “If you didn’t love him, you wouldn’t be so worried. Just calm down. We’re almost there.”
Collin stared at the stark barbwire that separated the highway from the emptiness beyond. “I can’t believe I took off work for this.”
“That’s what I love about you,” Lacy assured him. “You have a huge heart.”
He responded with a non-committal grunt as he watched the triple strand fence to their right. What was it for, he wondered? What did it keep in? Or, what did it keep out? And who was responsible for stringing it across these empty miles?
There was something dangling from the fence just ahead. A broken fence pole, Collin thought. Maybe Lacy was right, maybe he should get out his camera. He fumbled behind his seat and came up with the case, but it was going to be too late. They’d be past it in a minute.
Collin watched the broken piece of pole suspended in the unforgiving wire as they approached it. Damn, he thought, that almost looks like a wrist.
“Fucking shit! Fucking shit!”
The little car swerved again. This time, Lacy was screaming. “God damn it, Collin, stop that shit! What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you want to get us killed?”
Collin turned and stared straight ahead.
He looked at her. “That was an arm, Lace. That was a fucking arm.”
She stared back at him, heedless of the road. Her normally tanned skin was blanched of color. “Collin,” she croaked hoarsely, “Babe. You’ve got to keep it together.”
“It had a tattoo. I saw it. It had a USMC bulldog on the bicep.”
“Collin, you’re – “
“I fucking saw it, Lace,” he shouted.
She turned her face back to the road, silent.
“You gotta believe me!”
“No, no, I don’t,” she hissed. “Just do me a favor, Collin, and keep your ass in that seat and close your fucking eyes until we get there. Okay? Okay? Or is that too much to fucking ask?” She was screeching by that point. Drops of spit flew from her lower lip.
Collin stared at her. “Babe – “
“No, fuck you!” she screamed. “You’re losing it, Collin! Just sit down and shut up or I swear I’ll turn this car around and we’ll go back to Chicago! Shut up! Shut the fuck up!”
Christ, I’m losing it. Like Brent. Like Mom. Lacy is right, I’m losing it.
The remaining miles were passed in silence until Lacy maneuvered the car off the road down a dirt driveway. She saw the emergency vehicles parked in front of Brent’s ramshackle trailer. She saw half a dozen dogs milling around the EMTs, their tails wagging, begging for attention.
“Oh, god,” she moaned.
Collin opened his eyes.
The car was still rolling when Collin jumped out and ran toward his sister. She was dressed in almost nothing in spite of the frigid Autumn air and there was a new tattoo carved across her décolletage.
He wrapped his arms around her and felt her shaking. “Brent?” he asked.
His sister shook her head. “I don’t know, Coll, I don’t know,” she sobbed. “They say there’s a suicide note. I didn’t see any fucking note, but I got here first and there’s so much blood. Oh, Coll, there’s so much blood!”
Lacy came up behind them and gently peeled away Collin’s weeping sister. A uniformed policeman approached them.
“Officer,” Collin said to him, “What – I’m his brother – what’s going on?”
The officer shook his head and turned to gesture at another man in Dockers and a button-down shirt who was walking out of the trailer. Collin took a staggering step toward the civies-attired stranger who had suddenly become the most important person in Collin’s shrinking world. “Sir? Sir?”
The man stopped and asked, “Are you family?”
“I’m his brother,” Collin answered.
The man sighed. “Your brother left a note that indicates suicide, but – “ He stopped.
“But?” Collin cried. “But what? For Christ’s sake – “
“There’s no body,” the man interrupted.
Collin took a step backward. “No body? What does that mean? How can it be a suicide if there’s no body?”
The man stared at him while producing a card that he shoved into Collin’s numb hand. Collin stared at it. County Coroner.
“I don’t understand,” Collin said.
“There’s no body, just the note and, well, some evidence.” The Coroner regarded Collin suspiciously. “When did you arrive?”
Collin nodded. He could hear his sister’s breathless sobs from somewhere behind him. “We just got here. We drove all night.”
The Coroner moved in closer and dropped his voice. “We have a note indicating a suicide. It seems to match the handwriting of several journals and other pieces of writing your brother left behind, but we’ll have an expert look more closely at that, of course. That wouldn’t be a necessity except for the other evidence.”
“Which is?” Collin prompted. He glanced over the Coroner’s shoulder and watched the other officers as they ignored his brother’s insistent pack of dogs.
“The bathtub. And the saw.”
Collin stared at him.
“It would appear that a body has been dismembered in the bathtub,” the Coroner said softly.
One of the dogs barked and reared up on its hind legs, begging for a pet or a treat. One of the policemen stopped to stroke its shaggy head.
Collin felt a chuckle rise up in his stomach. He tried to swallow it, but just when he thought he’d conquered his mirth, it exploded out of his mouth. He was aware that everyone was staring at him, but he couldn’t stop. He bellowed laughter. He doubled over with it, then fell to the ground howling.
“Collin!” Lacy ran to bend over him. “Collin! Honey, what is it?”
“His head,” Collin roared, wiping tears from his cheeks. “His head! And his arm and his leg, too!”
The Coroner gestured for an EMT. “Sir, you’re in shock. Let this medic take a look at you.”
Collin waved the EMT off, chortling. He pushed Lacy away and rose unsteadily to his feet. Only Brent. A suicide. Scattered body parts. The ultimate conundrum.
Taking a deep breath, giggling once more, Collin straightened up. He cleared his throat. “I believe I know where you can find the body.”
April 12, 2012
There was screaming in the coach cabin, a soprano to the scream of the engines’ contralto. Miranda realized the folks in the rear cabin had a better view.
She clung to the armrests and breathed in the general panic. Before the cabin went dark, she’d seen the faces of the flight attendants as they strapped themselves into jump seats. One young female attendant was weeping. The other attendant, a slightly older man, strapped himself in with deceptive calm, as if he was participating in a drill of some sort. His nonchalance didn’t fool Miranda. She’d seen the look on his face. Acceptance. Inevitability. That’s when it hit home: They weren’t going to land in Oslo.
The frigid Norwegian Sea was below them and that was as far as this plane was going. Return your seats to an upright position and check the overhead bins for personal belongings before deplaning.
Miranda turned in her seat and pressed her face to the small window. The starboard wing was aflame, brilliant in the dusky sky.
She felt a slight touch on her hand and glanced at the passenger beside her. Carefully coiffed and impeccably dressed, the older woman raised her eyebrows.
Miranda shook her head.
The woman nodded. Taking her hand from Miranda’s, she reached into her jacket and withdrew a pack of cigarettes. Mind if I – ?
Might as well, Miranda’s eyes responded.
Oxygen masks with their ridiculous yellow cups fell and dangled. The female flight attendant already had a portable oxygen unit in place to cover her sobs. Her male counterpart did not. He stared inexorably ahead, one of his hands on each of his knees.
No smoking, no smoking, the tiny LED alerts blinked above their seats. Miranda exchanged an amused glance with the woman beside her who sat with the unlit cigarette between her lips, shuddering. The cigarette. The woman. The plane. Shuddering.
Miranda looked out the window one last time and thought about her family, her job, her dog, her car payment, her potted plants…
Thank God I’m not in coach. There are children back there. There are babies. If I was back there I’d –
February 3, 2012
Turn right in 200 feet.
Cody took his foot from the Navigator’s accelerator and peered at the darkness beyond the rainy windshield. There were no road signs and nothing indicated an impending crossroad.
Turn right in 100 feet.
He turned the wipers on high and stared at the trees to his right. Still no indication of a road ahead.
Turn right in 50 feet.
“I don’t see shit, Brittany.” Cody had named her Brittany. He harbored fantasies about Brittany and her smooth, unshakably confident voice riding his cock as they maneuvered unknown byways together.
Turn right in 25 feet. Pause. Recalculating.
There was nothing, only an unbroken expanse of pines on either side of Cody’s vehicle. He glanced in the rearview out of habit, not because he expected to see headlights behind him on this dark stretch of Oregon road, not in some perverse hope that another driver would come along to guide him.
Make a legal U-Turn at the next opportunity.
“Oh, Brittany, you bitch. You know Chelsea, don’t you?” Cody suspected they were best friends, this sexy, disembodied GPS voice and his ex-wife. He struck the steering wheel the palms of both hands. “Oh, fuck my life.” He was suddenly reminded of Stephen King’s short story, “You Know They Got a Hell of a Band”.
“Recalculate all you want, you twat.”
Something flashed reflective green and Cody automatically tapped the brake pedal. “Is that a road?” he asked the night.
Turn right in 50 feet.
Cody swung the big SUV off the paved highway and onto a graveled road lined with spindly lodgepole pines. He gave the accelerator an encouraging boost. He felt the rear tires slide a bit in warning, but gave them a tad bit of gas in defiance.
“Oh yeah, baby,” Cody hissed, turning into his slight spin and righting the vehicle on its eastward path. “We’re doing it now.”
Pines closed in on both sides, but he felt a surge of relief. “We’re on our way, you slut.”
You have arrived at your destination.
Cody put an unconscious foot on the brake pedal, staring at the weak trees around him. “What the fuck.”
The Navigator crept slowly forward to a point where the road ended and the forest of skinny tree trunks blocked path ahead.
“This is not happening.”
He hit the dome light and, stretching his travel-weary muscles, reached for the Rand-McNally Road Atlas under the passenger seat. Cody sighed, “I fucking hate you, Brittany.”
Don’t be hatin’, Cody. You have arrived at your destination.
Cody forgot about the atlas and sat up straight. He stared at the GPS. “What?”
I said, don’t be hatin’, Cody. You have arrived at your destination.
Cody rubbed his face with both hands. I’ve been awake too long. Too many miles and too many hours. Maybe I should take a nap here, then figure it out in a few hours.
You have arrived at your destination.
“Okay, that’s it. I’m over tired.”
He reached for the handle and swung the heavy Navigator door open into the dank Oregon forest.
December 19, 2011
In a few short days, Winter arrives! This is my season. This is my time.
As a child of Southern California, I never knew anything about winter until one year when the boy I loved at that time drove us up Mt. Palomar and into the heart of winter. Cars were stalled and stuck all along the highway, and the chains my boyfriend had in the back of his Ford Pinto Wagon were too large for the vehicle’s small wheels. Still, we stopped and helped push several stranded travelers out of the drifts, then descended the mountain to have hot chocolate at a tiny local cafe. I’ll never forget that evening. People stared at me. People always stare at me because, frankly, six foot women aren’t all that common even in Southern California. But I knew they were staring at me that night for a reason that had nothing to do with my height. They felt – as I did – my oneness with the season. Surround me with snow and ice, and I’m in my element. My inner fire glows.
There’s a blizzard warning on part of the Southern Plains tonight and, oh, how I wish it was headed my way.
Come Winter! Come snow and ice and chilling winds! I embrace thee, as you embrace me.
This is MY time.
December 9, 2011
I really hoped that I’d have one evening this week that wasn’t spent in tears, but the moon is full and grief runs high among my loved ones. And so, realistically, I suppose tears are the norm this week.
When I was young I thought there was nothing worse than my own personal afflictions. Now that I’m a middle-aged (if I live to be, say, 120 or so) woman, I know better. As a mother, an aunt, a great-aunt, a lover, a woman who put in the years necessary to nurture friendships throughout a long adulthood, I realize how wrong I was. The worst affliction is that which our loved ones suffer. Lay it on me, I scream to the gods. Send it my way, I have the knowledge, I have the experience, I can handle it! If I could take all the pain away from those I love by bringing it on myself, I would. But it doesn’t work that way, does it?
My son, my thirty year old “baby”, posted on Facebook this week that he was standing in fires of his own making. I wrestled my mom-self into submission and responded as the crone I am, the aging woman with the cauldron and intimate knowledge of the Old Ways. I told him that those fires are sacred. They burn away our illusions. They leave us standing here naked with nothing – nothing – except the realization that we surround ourselves with illusion every chance we get. We cloak ourselves in illusion as if it was cloth of gold instead of the mind-numbing crap it really is. Illusion is comfortable. It keeps us from examination of reality.
In the midst of psychic and emotional fire we burn away everything superficial and stand naked before ourselves. Pain is dreadful, pain is awful, but it strips us of everything except the knowledge of what’s really important in our lives. It gives us the chance to step out of the illusions and into the reality of life. It gives us a rare and sacred chance to see what’s worthy dieing for, what’s worth living for. And in passing along this ancient wisdom to my son, I think I might find a lesson for myself.
The fire doesn’t hurt any less just because the flame belongs to someone else. I’m standing in the fire also – the fire that is the pain of my loved ones. In this vicarious fire I find my own illusions stripped away and I find myself face-to-face with my own naked self, and I wonder: Is this my rite of passage also?