November 6, 2016
So you raise a child and you make so many mistakes that you sometimes wonder how this boy stayed out of jail and off drugs. You have friends who made far better parenting choices whose grown children fight ineffectual battles against social dragons that are beyond your imagining, and you feel sympathetic horror for those parents as their child fails again and again. You can’t take any pleasure in that, not one moment of schadenfreude. Instead, you feel a sickening thrill that’s akin to running up to the edge of a cliff and almost going over. The best you can feel is relief that you somehow – not through one single effort of your own – avoided the same fall. Your heart knows, that could have been me down there on the rocks. It should have been me.
You see your son grow up and you stand back in awe over the person he’s become: The depth of his compassion, his wisdom, his common sense – all of those things in spades. And you acknowledge that he is this marvelous person not because of your questionable parenting skills, but in spite of them.
And you see him with his own child, and you know that everything good is going to be passed down to another generation, in spite of all the baggage you dragged along as a parent and sometimes – admit it, don’t shy away from the truth – you made him drag along for you.
You realize he doesn’t see your failings; or perhaps he does, he just has heart enough to pretend he doesn’t.
And you’re thankful for heroes.
September 30, 2016
This morning I suddenly missed the face of a woman who has been my online friend since the MySpace days of 2005. She’s a gorgeous woman, one who so surpasses what’s considered pretty that, until I got to know her better, I was confused by her habit of posting at least one selfie a day. Did she think the rest of us weren’t jealous enough already? What was it that drove her to post so many selfies? Indoor selfies, outdoor selfies, casual selfies, formal selfies…
Once we became phone/email friends, I understood her much better. As beautiful as she is, she never heard those words from the one person in her life who should have been telling her daily, hourly, every single available minute how attractive she is. Instead, he was busy tearing her down about her weight (totally within the average) or her lack of income (and whose idea was it that she be a stay-at-home mom?). He not only tore her down by what he said, he also tore her down by what he didn’t say. Those three little words: You are beautiful.
Let me jump to the good news regarding this friend. I realized today – it was a total epiphany of the happiest sort – that she stopped posting so many selfies because she no longer needs to. A man who adores the very air she breathes came into her life, and the asshat who found reasons to compare her to her teenage self and draw ungracious comparisons is a thing of the past. She’s happy now. She’s validated now. She not only feels loved, she feels beautiful. There’s no longer a need for the validation of the online masses. The person who matters most never lets her forget how beautiful she is.
It’s not a matter of being needy. I’m the single most independent woman I personally know. I’ve never been unhappy while single. I can live and have lived alone with great complacency. I have, I believe, at least average self-esteem. I don’t cringe when I look in the mirror. In fact, I have a form of body dysmorphic disorder that leans the other direction. I look good when I look in the mirror. I think I’m tall, fit, and beautiful. Only my clothing size clues me into the fact that the times, they are a’changing. I wore an 11 junior in jeans when my son was five. Now I play the brand-versus-size game. Cheap jeans? A 20. Three digit jeans? A 20. The sweet spot is jeans that cost $70 to $90 dollars – an 18 or even a 16, depending on the brand. Hey, a 16 for a woman who is almost 60 years ago is hot, right?
But that confidence fails me in the most unexpected and unhappy ways at times.
Sometimes I catch sight of myself in a surprise mirror, or in the wretched lighting of an airport bathroom, or in an unforgiving glass storefront. And I’m appalled. I admit it. I sometimes look at my reflection and wonder, who is that fat old woman? And who could possibly desire her?
It’s a wonderful thing to hear that someone loves you. But those three words when totally unaccompanied by the other three eventually grow a mental ellipsis after them. “I love you…even though you’re fat.” “I love you…in spite of how old and wrinkled and disgusting you are.” “I love you…but no one else could possibly want you.”
Men and women BOTH are prone to deflect these compliments. “No, I’m ugly!” Time after time, heartfelt compliments can be deflected.
Here’s where you need to really listen to me, even if you haven’t listened to a single word of this blog before now: Don’t give up. If he or she says, “but I’m fat”, you counter. “No, you’re perfect!” Give him or her examples of their beauty. Tell them they have beautiful eyes, or they have the most adorable feet you’ve ever seen, or their hair calls to mind poems about the stormy ocean crashing against a rocky coast. Don’t give up. Your loved one is deflecting because they need to hear why you think they are beautiful.
When a compliment finally hits home in spite of all the deflection and demurring, think of the way the color mounts into the cheeks of your loved one, the way the light sparkles in his or her amazing eyes. Isn’t it worth the trouble? No matter how many times you have to tell them they’re beautiful, isn’t it worth a little effort to see how your words cause beauty to burst forth in their face, in their eyes, in their smile? Damned straight it’s worth it. And if you give up because of an initially deflective response, then move the fuck on and let this person you claim to love find someone who isn’t so easily dissauded.
“I love you.” Cheap words.
“You’re beautiful.” That’s what you should be saying.
January 17, 2015
My last (or maybe second-to-the-last) first cousin on my mom’s side passed away today. My mind is all over the map trying to take that in.
For the first 25 years of my life there was always a cousin Linda. She was the first person besides hospital staff and me to hold my son. She probably held me when I was a newborn.
My sister and I thought Linda was as beautiful as a fairy princess back in the 60s with her tiny waist and full skirts, her sunset hair and paler-than-possible skin. She babysat us and her boyfriend (later husband) used to help me color the hard parts in my coloring book. She shared her bottle of Pepsi with me and my sister, which was a huge treat since soft drinks weren’t on the menu around our house growing up.
Linda and I briefly became running buddies once I turned 21. I don’t mean “running” like in yoga pants and sneakers, I mean we ran the bars together, drinking cheap white zin and dancing to Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” (which is impossible to dance to sober, have you noticed?) with random California cowboys. Harmless fun, good times.
I haven’t laid eyes on my cousin for 33 years. How is that possible? And now she’s moved on. The princess of a girl who loved her ragamuffin cousin. The fiery redhead who hated another older girl cousin of ours for the later’s shoddy treatment of me – Linda hated Dorothy on my behalf and you just can’t buy that kind of friendship, I don’t care what color your credit card is.
I cried for a long time today. I still cry on and off as I write this. It’s obviously not because I “miss” Linda; she and I haven’t been besties for 33 years. It’s because I feel the biggest drawbridge imaginable just slammed shut between the first quarter-century of my life and where I stand today. Even more than losing our grandparents, aunts, uncles, this loss cuts close. I assume that’s because Linda and I are relatively close in age, and there’s that whole “if she went then I must be next” thing. Or something like that. Or maybe it’s because this is the first time in my entire life that I’m standing in a world where my cousin isn’t also standing.
But since I’m among friends I’ll say this in a whisper: I think Linda’s passing has shaken me up so much because I just found out that fairy princesses are mortal. That can’t be right. That just can’t be right.
September 2, 2014
You fade to starlight
And the years get lost in the ribble and rabble of every day and
When did you grow old?
Was I working, distracted, oblivious?
Was I caught up in the nothing when you started to fail?
Years so short to me,
So long to you,
And perhaps it’s best that I haven’t noticed,
That you kept your fatal secret,
That time crept silently upon us
Or my heart would have been years in the breaking.
You fade to starlight
As other, younger ones come along to grab at my heart
But never like you.
Never like you.
You are my starlight, fading.
May 3, 2013
This is in response to, “A Letter to Liberals” by author Michael Charney. His blog can be found here: http://www.chasingglennbeck.com/homeblog/2013/5/2/a-letter-to-liberals.html#.UYRcmoIyHdU
Hello, Mr. Charney –
Let me take a moment of your time to introduce myself. I’m a West Coast transplant currently living in Oklahoma, in a smallish town about 30 miles east of Oklahoma City. I live in a single-family home with my boyfriend and two dogs. Being older than you, we have no children left in the nest. Our sons are married with sons of their own and are living on opposite coasts.
Our house is very simple. It’s a good 75 years old, perhaps older. The plaster interior walls can’t completely hide the round vents that give evidence to the fact that this house was once heated by woodstoves. It’s a small place, less than 700 square feet with two bedrooms and one bathroom. The plumbing gives us problems sometimes, but in the six years I’ve lived here the landlord has always been quick to repair any issues that arise. I believe so firmly in living within my means that the rent is always easy to pay – on time, every single month. My landlord deserves his money no less than I deserve what I work for. We have a small HDTV on which we stream movies via Roku and Netflix because I refuse to pay for cable television – just another example of making sure we always live within our means.
Do you hate me? No? Then I feel safe in asking you to continue reading.
Like you, I work in Human Resources. I’m the payroll manager for a minority-owned security company that boasts a sterling reputation among our industry peers, employees, and customers. I’m also the published author of short fiction and non-, one young adult novel, one novella, and more ghastly poetry than you can shake a stick at. Seriously. I’m the worst poet since Rod McKuen. (At least no one can blame me for “MacArthur Park”.) I’ve always worked, often more than one job at a time. Staying home to raise my son was never an option and I’m not sure I would have done so even if given the chance, but I certainly don’t revile women who choose a career as homemaker and mom. That’s the lovely thing about the little movement called “Women’s Liberation” that came out of the 70s. Women are free to pursue professional careers or raise children. Typically we do both.
Are you hating me yet?
We are a spiritual family. My boyfriend is a Vietnam-era veteran who still embraces much of his Southern Baptist upbringing. Although I was raised Lutheran, for almost 20 years I’ve practiced a little religious philosophy you may have heard of called “witchcraft”. Surprisingly to some, not surprisingly to others, my boyfriend and I have no problem reconciling our beliefs. You see, we both believe in cherishing the earth and loving every single creature that walks, crawls, flies, swims or slithers across its surface. (Well, maybe the b/f isn’t so fond of things that slither. That’s okay. His heebie-jeebies didn’t stop him from helping me safely remove the snake we found in our bathroom last year. That’s the grand thing about love: It overcomes the heebie-jeebies every time. I adore him for that.) I don’t need weekly sermons to remind me that the Creator expects me to obey a certain moral code because that code is simple: Love one another. Help one another. Be good to one another. If you listen closely, I think you’ll hear the words of the wise and wonderful man you call your savior, Jesus of Nazareth, in those rules.
The other week when a little girl crashed her bike in the street outside of my house, I ran over to her. I helped her to her feet, examined her boo-boos, and walked her home to her mother. Contrary to what some might believe about “my kind”, I did not whisk her off to become the weekly sacrifice at a local witches’ coven. Witches don’t practice human sacrifice, nor do we worship satan. In fact, we don’t even believe such an entity exists.
Are you hating me now? Silently or overtly?
I don’t recognize any church dogma which tells me how I should feel about gay marriage or abortion. Among a multitude of other blessings, the Creator gave me a wonderful combination of intelligence and compassion that allows me to come to my own conclusion about such things. When it comes to gay marriage, I don’t care who is marrying whom as long as only consenting adults are involved. Any loving couple (or sextet or octet, I don’t care) who choose to commit their lives to each other are welcome to do so as far as I’m concerned. In fact, I rarely give the matter any thought at all. When it comes to abortion, I have stronger opinions, but when it comes down to where the rubber meets the asphalt, it’s not my place to make a decision for any other woman or to cast judgment on her for her choices no matter how far removed they might be from choices I’d make for myself.
How about now? Do you wish I didn’t exist?
To sum it all up, I’m a single mom and grandmother who lives her life with a quiet determination to abide by the Pagan Rede: Do no harm. And more than that, I try to do small, good things when I have the chance, although I confess that I don’t go out of my way looking for opportunities for demonstrating compassion. The opportunities seem to find me as often as necessary to remind me that we’re all in this together, and if we don’t start acting like it, we’re in big trouble as a country and as a species.
No, I don’t hate you Mr. Charney, and I never did. I hope the goodwill is mutual. The only complaint is that your “A Letter to Liberals” was admittedly not autobiographical, and I question why not. This piece, “A Letter to Conservatives” is entirely my story. My life is open to scrutiny and I can tell you right off the bat that anyone looking will find both good there and bad. I’ve done wrong, I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and some of them were fairly egregious. I guess that’s what being human is all about.
I guess we’re not so different after all, are we?
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.
December 10, 2012
Shakespeare, Richard II, Scene III, Act ii
Of comfort no man speak!
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs,
Make dust our paper, and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth.
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills.
And yet not so — for what can we bequeath,
Save our deposèd bodies to the ground?
Our lands, our lives, and all are Bolingbroke’s,
And nothing can we call our own but death
And that small model of the barren earth
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones.
For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings!
How some have been deposed, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed,
Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed —
All murdered; for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court; and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable; and humored thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!
Cover your heads, and mock not flesh and blood
With solemn reverence. Throw away respect,
Tradition, form, and ceremonious duty;
For you have but mistook me all this while.
I live with bread like you, feel want, taste grief,
Need friends. Subjected thus,
How can you say to me I am a king?
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 by Everyday Weirdness)
I remember how my mom cried over the dogs.
I remember, waiting here near the shelf where a box of what used to be me collects dust. I’m not the only one on the shelf. There are a couple dozen boxes here. We used to have names. I don’t know where the others went with their thoughts and memories. I’m alone with the boxes.
Buster dug out from under the fence once and ran away. I ran away, too, but it was years later and I went out the front door. It took us three days to find Buster. He was at the pound. My mom took my hand and we walked between two rows of kennels. There were a lot of dogs and their barks rattled off the block building like gunshots. I didn’t know what real guns sounded like then. My mom squeezed my hand so tight it hurt and her face was pinched like she had a toothache.
She paid to get Buster out with sixty one-dollar bills, her tip money for the week. I got in the car and she handed him to me, then went around to the driver’s door. That’s when I saw her cry.
I asked her why she was crying. We had Buster back and he was fine. She said it was the other animals. They broke her heart, she said. The sunlight was pouring in through the dirty windshield and I saw lines on her face. That was the first time she looked old to me.
They never found my head. It’s in a wash near Palm Springs and I used to go look at it before two Hispanic guys covered it up. Even though they didn’t speak English I could tell they were afraid. I think they were scared someone would blame them, so they covered my head with rocks and no one – not even me – could see it.
The other dogs broke my mom’s heart, the ones left behind. They were homeless, she said. They didn’t have anyone to love them. They were unclaimed.
It’s strange how I can remember Buster’s name. My mom’s name started with a “B”, too, I think – Brenda, Brianne, Belinda. I’m 08-0116, written in black marker on the outside of a box.
I wonder if my mom looks for me. I told her I was never coming back. She said I wouldn’t last a day on my own. Sometimes it was cold even out in L.A. and sometimes I was hungry, but I lasted longer than she thought I would.
I almost called her once. There was a payphone outside a store and I stared at it for a long time. The guy I was with yelled at me to come on. I didn’t like him much after the first week. I went over to the phone booth but there was no receiver. There was just a broken metal cord and a square hole where the coins used to drop. So I went with the guy and found out that real guns don’t sound anything like guns on TV.
I remember how my mom cried over the dogs.