The tearoom was a place where if the people had very different beliefs, they all were deeply spiritual. Can they stand together in spite of the differences? Read Voodoo You!
Most of our clients were middle-aged Bostonian women on their lunch breaks or out of the house for the day. They wanted a time in their week that was all about them. But not all of them. A fair number of them worked as psychic practitioners themselves. In the same way you wouldn’t do your own psychotherapy or your own tooth extraction, you didn’t do your own reading. For about the same reasons.
Not everyone was mainstream either. Lest we get around to religious name calling, the tea room was an endless alternative faith convention. We also had Sisters of Ishtar, Artemesians, White Mountain Brethren, Druids, Sisters of Ra, Wiccans, and a group of Eastern disciples who practiced levitation. We discouraged the faux vampires, not because they were vampires, but because they were posers, and predatory. We did welcome the Zoroastrians until they left a ritual mess we could not contain or clean up. These groups were zealous, insular and sometimes scary. But they kept themselves separated in their xenophobia. The tea room was not a place of worship. Instead it served all kinds of psychics as a point of connection. We all understood that whatever trouble you had stopped at the tea room elevator door.
You didn’t always know who you were talking to. I didn’t know who the tall angular woman was when I first met her. Dark skin gleamed against her white dress. She tied her hair in a white cloth with odd folds in it that looked more like a cross between a turban and crown than a head wrap. remove period Her blackness was a blazing shadow. But it brought your attention to her presence without focusing on her face. She might have been thirty, or sixty. Her eyes were much older.
I was sitting at Maggie’s table when Madam Marie arrived. Her presence was so unsettling, that everyone turned their head either away or towards her as she walked through them. I asked Maggie who she was.
“That is Madam Marie. She be the head Mambo in Boston.”
“Mambo?” I asked.
“Voodoo Queen,” Maggie answered me. “Madam Marie ain’t her name. The scarf she wear, that’s the seven-fold tignon scarf all voodoo queens wear. You better not wear one like it unless you are one of them.” Maggie gave Marie a wide berth, although they acknowledged each other in brief nods.
Madam Marie beckoned me to her table. “They say you be Mirella.” She appraised me. Like her, I didn’t use my real name in this place “What you see for me?” Her lips pressed in a grim line. Eyes wide open. Her smile was warm but not her eyes. She had a reptilian quality that made her exotic. Like a serpent, there was no malice in it. Only flawlessly polite instinct and observation. She wasn’t American. Likely she wasn’t legal. That hardly mattered in the tea room. Her voice had a tropical overlay mixed in. The snake bracelet she wore might have meant anything or nothing. The small leather bag at her neck told me more. It was a gris-gris, a voodoo charm.
I peered into her cup. I saw nothing at the handle. The leaves clinging to the rim told me that her life was made of people who came to her as she came to me. I described them as I saw them one by one: the bent woman in pain, the woman with a sick child, the lost boy who lived with her now, off the streets. The list swelled. She was a warm rock in the cold world these people inhabited. She kept them warm. She kept them safe.
A clump of leaves fell out of her cup onto the saucer. “Something is leaving your life. It’s been a burden. It will leave within a six.” She knew the custom. It was easier for a reader to get a number than to know what that number meant. Six hours, six days, six weeks, six months. It was useless as a measure of time, but sometimes the number held significance as a location or identifier.
Where the clump of leaves had been, I saw a smattering of small dots. “When that leaves, a nice bit of money will follow. I see a party.” There was some kind of wild dance, erotic but in no way about romance. “I see you open the gate for a young woman. I don’t think she can go through it.” The girl was falling backward from the opening. “Someone with an R in their name is angry and she’ll turn on you. Renae, Rachel?”
“Richell,” she answered. “You think?”
I nodded. “There’s a storm over her, but it may splash over on you as well. She won’t tell you the truth either way.” Her lips pressed together again as if she were thinking that over. I saw a wild group of people dancing not as couples but as rhythm itself. She swayed in the center, snake wrapped around her like a caress.
“You dance, I see. There’s a man with a C in his name. He holds a knife. Don’t trust him.”
“You know I don’t,” she said. Then she gave me a wide grin. There was one gap between her teeth. She clapped her hands once. Very demonstrative for her. She must have been pleased. She tilted her head and slipped me a twenty. “For you. For sight.”
She rose gracefully. Her stance was flexible but full of power. She had endured probably everything. She was almost living stone. “I see you again.” She patted the table with her hand.
As she left, the air went out of the room. I felt the vacuum as she got into the elevator.
Maggie explained to me that the dance wasn’t a social event. Madame Marie led the ancient ritual as a priestess. She served the gentler Petra loa spirits who specialized in healing. I had read her cup. I didn’t fear her. I knew her. Not her real name, which she might not ever give to me. But I’d read her cups enough to know her life looked much like my own. It was a series of people coming to her for help of one kind or another. I came to understand and like the voodoo women from Haiti. They were straightforward and honest. If you were, they responded in kind. I wouldn’t, however, go out of my way to cross any of them.
After Madam Marie, I had three giggly school girls in identical jeans waiting as my next clients. Since they shared jeans, tops, and cell phones, they were a unit of a sort. The only difference between their cups was the name of the boy. And in one case, it was the same boy.
The next Saturday I saw the swirl of white skirts that meant Madam Marie was here. Madam Marie had whisked in the door with a woman and a four-year-old girl in tow. The woman and her child were in bright tops and summer skirts, but they had the same unbending posture and dignity. Both women wanted to be read separately. They sat at a table across the room from where I read, and came up one by one.
Madam Marie came first. She brought her empty tea cup in hand on its saucer. She sat it down in front of me
“Did you get your windfall?” I asked. My earlier accuracy made her more talkative.
“But of course, Cher. What you seen now?” She patted the table and pushed the cup towards me.
I held it up close to read. It was still warm. “Wind whirling around you, but you are centered,” I said.
“Folk coming in for the weekend. We dance,” she told me.
By now I knew that was a euphemism for a ritual of some kind. I didn’t much care to know about that. But I could see it coming.
“You have guests everywhere,” I noted. “They’ve come from everywhere. There’s a man from the south. He’s riding a storm in towards you.” He was literally straddling a black tea leaf cloud with lightning coming off it. “Martin? Marvin? I can’t tell if he’s bringing trouble or if he is the trouble.”
“Martin. I thought he was coming as a peace gesture.” Marie tapped the table with her lacquered finger tips. I wouldn’t much want to be Martin this weekend.
“Not so much.” I answered. “You watch him. I don’t think he means you well.”
“You know it, Cher.”
“I see a snake.”
“He my friend. Don’t you worry about him.” Her smile was almost cozy.
“He rides on your shoulders.” The snake in her cup was draped over her.
“Yes, he do.” I wondered if this was literal or metaphysical. Did she have a real snake?
“There’s a woman coming to you with a gift. Be careful of it. She’s asking for more than she’s offering you.”
“What you think?” she asked me.
There were coins falling from the woman’s hands out of reach. “It will cost you in ways you can’t know or count. Someone with a ‘V’ in their name.”
I could see her tick off names in her head. “Vom, or Van or Vam, maybe?” I asked her.
“Maybe,” she answered.
“There’s a new baby. A little girl.”
“My grandniece. Her mother bring her up north for a blessing.”
Then I rattled through the flow of people in her cup, waiting for her help. It was charted water. The people came and went. Her consistency was her care for them.
“They’re coming next weekend?” I asked. I could tell because all the chaos was in the middle of her cup, not the bottom or the rim.
“I be busy,” she said. She smiled again and folded her hands on the table.
“I didn’t get your name,” I risked the question. It was a test for both of us.
“Madam Marie,” she said. She smiled at me. No hand shake. Either that or her name would be a loss of respect and I knew it. She’d given me her title. That was a gift of respect and trust. “You read for my niece there. Yvonne.” She waved the girl over to the table.
“She’s not your sister?”
“No. My sister’s girl. She at the crossroads.”
The women changed places. Yvonne was a less-sure copy of Madam Marie. Her bright clothes were a disguise. Where Madam Marie took up the whole room, Yvonne was a small shadow in the corner. Her smile was soft, but not her eyes. She might have been eighteen or twenty-five. You couldn’t tell.
I took her cup from her. Everything was clumped at the bottom. There was a tornado shape swirling out from the biggest leaf pile. The clump scattered loose and spattered the bottom of her cup. “You’re in a state of change.”
She gave me a dead blank stare. This woman wasn’t going to give me any clues. Not a problem. The energy shivered off her.
“You’re here for the ritual.” I could see from her face I wasn’t supposed to know about that. Too bad. I did. “You haven’t seen your aunt in years. But you love her very much.”
One tear. Just resting in the corner of her eye.
“I see a bird soaring above the chaos. There’s a way out if you’ll take it. It will take courage.” I didn’t tell her about the other bird next to it, falling out of the sky. “I do think you’ll be moving, though. You came without your husband’s permission.”
“He not my husband,” she acknowledged, “but yes.”
There was a haziness that formed around her, a bubble in space and time. That happened sometimes with strong psychics. They made their own privacy, even in the bustle of the tea room. It invisibly encompassed us both. I watched as smoke swirled around her. It settled around her head, coming out from her ear. It wound like mist and circled her face. The smoke shifted. It moved like a snake, slowly and sinuously. On one side, I saw a crude mouth form. Then eyes and a nose. It spoke not to her, but to me.
“She mine. She born to be mine. She know what she got to do. She always known what to do, but she stubborn. But she know what you got to do.” Then it was speaking to her. But I could see and hear it. “It’s that time. You don’t deny me. It’s that time,” the shape whispered.
Too shaken to keep my balance. I grasped the back of my chair for support. The smoke drifted away. The bubble evaporated. I was left staring at Yvonne.
“Does your aunt know?” I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t seen it. She knew I had.
“She say that my guide. You gotta do whatever your guide tell you.”
“Is that what the ritual is for?” I asked her.
Her head turned away from me, refusing to tell. But I knew already. It was her initiation. It was the beginning of her life as a priestess.
I had a working knowledge of most kinds of spiritual mysticism, but here I was out of my depth. Most psychics will let spirits affect them only for short periods of time, if at all. Voodoo rituals served their loas and invited the loas to ride the worshipers in their passions. I liked Madam Marie personally. But even temporary possession terrified me. You couldn’t always know what you had let in. I shivered as I pulled in my scarf around my shoulders.
Her aunt rose from her table across the room, with the child in hand. “Yvonne, you get done. We got to go shopping.” Madam Marie smiled broadly. “I told you she be good.” She handed me twenty for her niece as well. Yvonne wasn’t done. There was something she wanted to say, needed to say. Madam Marie wasn’t going to let her.
I reached across the table and pushed the plate of cookies towards the child. “Who is this?” I asked.
“This be Nicole.” The child had been examining her shoes. The cookies had drawn her eyes to mine. She reached out to touch the energy around me, not physically but with the energy she already owned. It set off an internal sparkler. It was, in its own way, a smile between us.
“May she have a cookie?” I asked.
“Not every day,” Madam Marie said. “This day special.”
The child did a double-handed cookie grab.
They marched to the elevator together, trailing cookie crumbs.
What had I seen? The tea room was its own twilight zone. But the tea room was a place where ordinary walls didn’t conceal much. The womb-like red decor gave people a primal sense of safety. That was illusionary. In the tea room secrets stood out in the open. Everyone lied. But the lies bought you nothing. Mostly they underlined whatever was truly true. Lying worked about as well as a cat covering up on linoleum.
Every so often people brought in impressions of their past that were so strong you could see them. Sometimes the future vibrated for them so hard you could see it coming. Whatever I saw off the niece was real time, right now. And insistent.
The week passed from one day to another, from one reading to another. Most clients came once a week or two on their day off. I was finishing with the kindergarten teacher who always came in on Saturday afternoon when I saw Yvonne in the mirror. No child or Madam Marie in tow.
Yvonne sat down and waited for me, her legs crossed, one leg swinging. But not in nonchalance. There was a dark bruise on her throat. Sorrow, shame, rage and panic rose off her in waves. One of the girls had served her tea. She’d drunk most of it. I sat down across from her. “How can I help?” I asked her.
“You read for me.” Her eyes and her voice were flattened, as if she’d been pressed against the floor. Maybe she had been.
“Of course,” I answered.
She handed me her cup. I didn’t even have time to start to read it. The smoke wafted up around her and formed the spectral snake that rested around her shoulders. It spoke again. It was talking to her, but it shot a glance at me that acknowledged I could hear it too. “She do what I say, because I say it. She be safe. Her child be safe.”
Most people who have guides aren’t afraid of them. Yvonne was so terrified of this being that the cords of her neck stood out like rope. The guide twisted and wound around her neck and shoulders. She flinched at its touch. It turned its focus back on her.
“Madam Marie been mine since she years younger than you. It be your turn. I make you safe. I make Nicolle safe.” Its voice was oily smooth.
The word “safe” seemed to have acquired new and terrifying meanings. Safe from the Neanderthal who had hurt her? Safe spiritually? Safe from what the snake would do if she didn’t follow orders? Safe from Madam Marie’s anger? Safe from what?
There was a clatter from the kitchen. Someone had dropped a pot. It brought us all back to the reality of the room.
But she knew I’d seen it. She knew I’d been shown. That was permission. She could tell me.
“My aunt, she a great priestess.”
“Yes,” I said. “We all know that. She’s a good leader. Her people love her.”
“She say I be like her. She want me when I was twelve to live with her. To learn from her. I love her but she scare me. Her gods scare me. I ran.”
Well they might, I thought. I was scared past breath.
“What does she want you to do?” I asked her
“It not her,” Yvonne explained. “It her guide. He say I’ve got to give up my man, the one I ran away with.”
“Maybe that might be a good idea. At least for a while. If you’re away, you may see it all more clearly.” The bruise at her throat offended me. I wanted her away from this jerk.
“My guide say I have to kill him. Stab him in the heart.” Well, that, I thought, wasn’t going to bring clarity. Or was it a metaphysical request? If it were literal, it brought the possibility of other, much worse problems. Like a life sentence in prison. Or the internal moral decay that happens to people who have the misfortune of killing someone.
I looked at her aghast. “He wants you to what?”
What answered was not the girl but the snake. “One man less. And an evil man at that.”
“You can’t do that.” I was talking to Yvonne but I was talking to the snake as well. It couldn’t possibly ask that of her. “You can’t ask that of her. If they catch her afterwards the court will execute her.”
The snake wound gently down her arm. It reached across the table towards me. It held me with gold eyes. “Who are you to say?” it asked. I couldn’t move under its gaze. “You all die sometime. She die. You too. Someday.” There was an implicit threat in that.
Yvonne was so mortified she might have been naked. I’d seen more than she wanted to show to anyone. She clutched at a leather bag at her neck.
“I got to go,” she said as she turned to flee.
She didn’t even wait for the elevator. She bolted down the stairs, unsteady on her heels. I knew she wasn’t running from me.
And there it was. Would a guide or a guard take a person to their destruction? I’d never asked the question. Who were we all talking to? Trusting? Leaning on? What said their druthers had anything to offer to her advantage? That their goals were for the benefit us puny humans?
I opened the windows. The air felt foul inside and out. I went down to the corner for fresh flowers, to clear the room. I can’t say that worked.
Madam Marie never brought Yvonne to the tea room again. Would the girl run to back to her man? Stab him over breakfast? Make him a very special coffee with herbs? Ask her aunt for a favor? Turn to another young man to fight for her, over her?
Or did she walk in Madam Marie’s shoes? Madam Marie would have welcomed her. She was Madam Marie’s choice. All of Yvonne’s options were tainted. In the end she didn’t choose. It might have been better if she had.
I found a picture of her in the newspaper, several months later. “Young woman slain by boyfriend.” There she was, in an old school picture. A smile full of promise that ended in a hateful love. Knifed in her bed. She might have done better to kill him first.
Madam Marie came in, serene and strong, week after week. Nicole came to be in her care, and she often came in with her niece’s child in tow. Nicole had three fat braids with rubber ball bands on the ends, white shoes and sweet pastel dresses. She didn’t speak much to me. But her sight was evident from the first. We had crayons and cookies out for her and she usually waited for Madam Marie in the kitchen.
Today Madam Marie came through the elevator, sternly holding Nicole’s hand. Madam Marie brought her directly to my table. She sat at my table and grabbed my hand. Like a friend in pain. Maggie slipped back in to the kitchen with the child in search of cookies. Madam Marie spoke to me privately.
“Nicole good. She good as gold. But she scared bad,” she said. “We keep her safe, everybody keep her safe. But she scared out her mind. She peed the bed last night.” Nicole was too grown-up for that unless something was physically wrong or her fear was overwhelming.
Madam Marie was a voodoo witch. She was a personal icon of terror. But Nicole never had any reason to fear her aunt. Nicole was more than her ward. Nicole was her baby. Madam Marie would never let anything dangerous, near the child. Although I don’t know we shared the same definition of dangerous. Madam Marie’s protection was strong and able to defend the child.
So, if Nicole was scared, we needed to know where that was coming from. Nicole saw more than shadows. Madam Marie had her own ways of knowing, but she’d want confirmation. It takes a village to raise a psychic child.
Of course, we weren’t sure if Nicole was seeing something past, present or now. But it was an adult matter. Nicole not only needed help but she might also need help just to tell us what she was seeing
I went back into the kitchen. Maggie had found her cookies and milk. Nicole had done her duty by them. I brought in a pad of paper and some crayons. I sat. She touched the edge of my energy. I brushed hers, gently, in greeting.
“Would you draw for me, Nicole? Your Gran tells me you are the best artist.” Nicole was not our first or last child client. I knew enough to have the sixty-four-color crayon box with all the flesh colors.
It was a safe request. She grabbed a crayon and began. Her tongue poked out in concentration as she drew. She drew the house with windows like great eyes. She drew herself and Madam Marie in front on the porch with a dog at their feet. She seemed not to hear me. She certainly didn’t look at me. But she picked up a black crayon and began what was a scribble over the house. She picked up the red crayon. Made an oval. The oval became an eye. Then over it all she drew arms and legs that made the scribble into a huge black man with the eyes inside him.
I sat back. When she wanted me to join in, she’d give me a sign. Her face glowed red in anger. More anger than fear.
I let her lead me there. “Is that someone I know?”
“That not someone. That be something.” Nicole pushed her upper lip forward in intense concentration.
“It doesn’t look happy. Is it bad?” I asked.
“Kind of,” she said.
“Is it someone you know? Is it just a monster or is it a person with bad things inside?”
“Monster comes and goes. He isn’t a nice person either.” She narrowed her eyes. She hated this thing.
“Have you seen him?” I asked. I was trying to figure out if this was spiritual or physical. Not that that made much of a difference.
“He around. I see him sometime.” Her eyes focused back on her picture as she surrounded the house with red flowers.
“Do you see him when he’s not there?” I was still trying to assess the risk.
“Sometimes.” The grass she was drawing turned into a faster, harder scribble.
“Did you see him last night?” I asked.
“He with Gran in the temple clearing outside. With the other people. They was all dancing and clapping and beating the drums. He was near the bathroom. I needed to tinkle but I sure wasn’t gonna until he was gone.” She wrinkled her nose as if she smelled something bad.
I asked, “Did Madam Marie see him?”
“She don’t see the monster. She just see the man. She don’t hear him. He talk to me at night.”
“Do you hear him out loud or inside your head?”
“Out loud. And inside,” she said. Not just a home invasion. He was intruding into psychic space. Something spiritual was breaching their defenses.
“Does he talk just to you?” I probed gently.
“He yell so loud, he talking to everyone.” Her face echoed a face I’d seen Madam Marie make when she was angry. “But Gran won’t listen.” She shook her head in disapproval.
“But you do.” I said.
Such a serious little face. With burdens no child should bear.
“Can you tell me what he’s like?” I asked.
“He big. He make big messes. And he tried to hurt Veve.” Clearly that was beyond forgiveness.
“Who is Veve?” I asked.
“My dog.” Nicole pointed to a brown circle with four legs, a head and a tail. Clearly Veve.
“How did that happen? I asked.”
“Veve didn’t want him to come into the house. She barked at him. She bit him too. He kicked at her after that.”
“Is she going to be okay?”
“Veve didn’t let him get near her. Gran say Veve is a guardian.”
“Do you know the man?”
“He say he my daddy. Gran say he ain’t. But when he come to the house it’s not just him. He have that cloud inside him. That angry cloud pick him up and make him do things. It shake him up and down.” The drawing of Nicole was turned to look at the monster. Madam Marie’s image seemed to be focused on something else.
“Is this your house?” I touched the drawing, feeling energy in the crayon strokes.
“Gran’s house. But I stay there too.” She drew in more pink flowers by the edge of the sidewalk.
“Do you like staying at your Gran’s house?” I asked.
“The house be just fine. Don’t like being outside it though.”
“Because of the monster?” She nodded in answer.
“You love your Gran?”
Nicole gave me a serious nod.
“She loves you,” I confirmed for her.
A smile spread across Nicole’s face.
“Does Gran look after you?”
Three big nods. “Always. Best as she can.”
I thanked Nicole, refilled the milk glass and walked back outside with Madam Marie. Maggie took over in the kitchen.
“Madam Marie, Is there a new man around in your family. Or your congregation?”
“There always be people come and go. Now family, we stay pretty much the same.”
“Someone you haven’t seen in a while?”
“All kinds of new people come up north. Oh, God.” She was thinking of someone specific. Madam Marie was not normally demonstrative, but she was clearly shaken. “In my congregation?”
Madam Marie was a voodoo priestess and the morality was somewhat different from mainstream. The loas, the voodoo spirits, were complicated and amoral. They protected Madam Marie and anyone in her household. But that didn’t mean that they might not use someone cruelly.
“I’m not sure of anything, but there’s a man who Nicole says has a cloud inside him,” I said
Madam Marie ran through names. Cousins, uncles, step brothers, people from her temple. She shook her head. “No one I know for sure. Not necessarily my congregation. Could be one of Bocor Claude’s people. They service the Rada spirits. They always at odds with me and mine.”
“Whoever it is, Veve doesn’t like him. She tried to bite him.” Madam Marie smiled at me.
“Veve be my best babysitter. And my guardian. She bite more than one fool who got too close. But I still not sure.” Madam Marie shook her head.
I told her to keep Nicole close and to ask the women in the community to watch as well. It didn’t mean what Nicole had seen hadn’t happened. Or that it wouldn’t. Vision is elastic. It stretches time. The past and the future are often indistinguishable from each other. Sometimes you didn’t know until you let it play out.
After Madam Marie and Nicole left, I went into the kitchen for a cup of tea. The tea kettle was at an odd angle. I grabbed the handle, and I burned myself on the boiler. Pain flared through my hand. It wasn’t serious. Just angry red. Tight and very tender. When one of my clients went to touch my hand later that afternoon, I could feel it before she reached my skin. It was prescient pain. I felt it before her touch. And yelped. It was a wound that gave me an awareness of what was to come.
I thought of Nicole with her sensitivities. I wondered if there was a wound that made her aware of things before they came to be. I thought of her mother who died. Of the violence between her mother and her mother’s man. Of the isolation of a little girl left with an older relative. Of course, there was a wound.
It was Saturday when Nicole rushed in, Madam Marie in tow. Another child might have hugged my knees. Nicole brushed the edge of my energy and I let it glow around hers. Madam Marie caught up to us.
“Do you need me to read, Madam Marie? I asked her.
“Is there a way to read for Nicole?” she said. “She not drink tea.”
“I have something that might help,” I offered. I had a collection of polished beach stones in a sand box, in one corner of the room. It was a place where clients built and rebuilt their future hopes in the sand. I took Nicole’s hand in mine and brought her over to the sand box.
I took a pretty black and white agate and placed it in the center. “This is you, Nicole.” She nodded. I took a larger piece of slate and placed it in her hand, “This is your Gran. Where do you want her?”
Nicole put her Gran right by her. Then she drew lines in the sand with her finger, round and round in concentric circles. “Are you in your house” I asked.
“Nope.” She shook her head so her braids swung from side to side. “That’s our fence.” She began to scribble in the sand. There was the man with the monster inside. She drew Veve, barking at the man. Then she smoothed the sand out from the circles. Nothing was threatening from outside. The man was gone. She had made it safe. She topped the image with one cloud with the sun shining past it.
I plucked up the black and white stone. I placed it in the child’s hand.
“That for me?” She asked.
“That is you.” I answered. “You are the only one who gets to decide for you. Your Gran will help while you’re young, but no one chooses for you but you. You keep your stone in your pocket. It may tell you things.”
She shook the stone in her hand. She held it up to her ear. “It’s not saying anything.”
“It will if you need it to. Or maybe it will help you say something.” Nicole tucked it carefully into a pocket. Then she skipped off to the kitchen where she knew we kept the cookies.
Madam Marie sat down and grabbed my hand. “I tell you something I not supposed to tell you.”
I was mildly shocked. Madam Marie was known for not sharing secrets.
“You know about my serpent friend.”
“I know he’s your loa and that he’s part of you.”
“You know too much for a white lady.”
“I’m part Irish,” I told her. “I’m not that white.”
She smiled as if to say that didn’t count. “There be other loas.” Madam Marie was trying to explain something to me. I let her. I thought I knew where this was going. I was wrong.
“Loas don’t change,” Madam Marie said. “They be forever. They be your friend forever. They trick you forever. They be your darkest enemy, a knife in the night. But they don’t change. They follow your line.”
“Your blood-line?” I asked.
“Sometimes blood. Sometimes people you choose. Sometimes the people who choose you.”
“Is Nicole going to be Ayida’s?”
I knew Dumballa was the loa represented by serpents and that Ayida was his consort. It was a good guess that Ayida was the loa Madam Marie served. I’d consistently seen snake imagery in her cup.
“Someday,” Madam Marie acknowledged. “If Nicole choose. Her mother couldn’t bear the choice. You can’t do this if you weak.”
“Nicole isn’t weak,” I said.
“No, but she young. It too early. Way too early to know.” Madam Marie shook her head from side to side.
“Is she part of the rituals?” I asked.
“She just be old enough to watch from the circle. She watch us dance and feast. She don’t need to see anything that scare her.”
“But she has,” I said. “She’s seen something that terrified her.” We both looked over to the child who was too solemn and too silent for her age.
“This man with a beast inside, is he her father?” I asked.
“He be her sperm donor. He got Yvonne pregnant, and two other girls at the same time. He ain’t much of a father. But her blood is his blood. The thing that owns him, want to own her. He part of Monsieur Claude’s group.” I knew Monsieur Claude’s people followed the Rada loa, the ones who specialized in revenge and destruction.
“Is he the man who murdered her mother?” I asked.
“That be another fool. Yvonne never had much luck. She wouldn’t choose. She just run from one thing to run away to another. Other things chose for her.” Marie shut her eyes and shook her head slowly.
“Can the loas choose? Without permission?” I asked.
“They strong. Petra loas very strong. Her father belongs to the loa, Baron Cemetery. The baron will come out of the graveyard hunting her. He terrible strong.”
I asked it out loud. “Is Nicole being stalked?”
“She being courted,” Madam Marie explained. “Our gods, they don’t just take us. They court us. We come to love them. We come to need their love. We do whatever they ask. We serve them. Some are kinder than others.”
Everything I knew about Baron Cemetery, the loa master of graves, was dark magic. “Nicole saw a dark entity in her father. Is that her father himself? Or does the loa take him over?” I asked.”
“That the problem with the dark ones. They take you. There ain’t much of you left.”
“How far does this go back?” I asked her.
“All the way to Africa,” Madam Marie said.
“The relationship with the loas as well?” I asked.
“It all be part.”
I said, “Do you think Nicole is seeing past or future?”
Madam Marie scratched her head and tucked in her turban that had wound itself loose. “I think she be seeing both. Mostly she sees what’s now.”
“I thought you were going to tell me you had a real snake,” I said, mostly to relieve the tension between us.
“But of course, Cher. Who you think I’m dancing with?” Her smile cracked open, she slapped her leg and gave me a real laugh. I wasn’t sure whether she was teasing me or not.
Most religious beliefs have their dark corners. In most cases, I don’t want to know. If you think as a Christian, you have no dark side, remember that you drink your god’s blood and eat his flesh. Not every dark or hard thing is evil.
Madam Marie was getting ready to leave the tea room when I saw a wild-eyed black man slide into the tea room. He saw Madam Marie across the room. His clothes smelled of vomit, stale cigarette smoke and rum. He pointed at her across the room. His face was a mask of rage. “You can’t run from me. I find you. I find my child.”
Will was working Rita’s books in the office. He pushed outside the office door. “You can’t do that in here, sir. You’ll have to leave. I’ll call the police on you,” he said. Will’s face was a mask of a reasonable man. Speaking reasonably. He had his phone in his hand. Will was not a brave soul, but he was protective. Will stood in the doorway, unsure what he could do but determined none of us would be harmed.
This man wasn’t going to listen to reason. I reached him first. I grabbed one arm. Will put his phone down and grabbed the other one. The man went limp in our hands. It was hard to hold the man up. He felt like dead weight. “Out. Now.” I yanked him by his arm and headed him toward the elevator. He smelled like a dumpster. He struggled in my grip and then I watched as his head fell back and rocked from side to side. His slack mouth took on a vile smile, evil and dark. His eyes lit from behind. He might be drunk, but the thing inside him was in control. He smelled something more like a dead thing. He didn’t move but I felt a vacuum form around him
The man was a shell. Squatting inside him was that black scribbled monster with red eyes that Nicole had drawn for me. The baron, the black loa of the cemetery. There was a ragged shadow spreading across his chest. The shadow deepened into a pool. The center of it cracked open and the smell changed to graveyard mud and burnt ashes. Nicole was standing behind Madam Marie’s skirt.
Then a shadow stepped out of his chest. A man-form made of ash and smoke formed from the shadow. He wore a formal top hat and tails, but daubed in mud and dusted in ashes. The shadow man smiled a feral smile, and tipped his hat to Madam Marie and to Nicole. I felt my shielding engage around me without having thought about it.
The man had gone limp since the Baron’s spirit came out of it. Will dropped his arm and started to punch in numbers. I let wretch fall where he was. The only sign of life out of him was a low whining sound.
Madam Marie stepped towards the slumped-over drunk. “You found her. Now you go. You not much of a father if what you bring her is your hate.” Then she turned to the shadow. “You!” Her face was twisted hate. Her hands contracted to claws. “You think you can force my child? With her people standing by?” Her eyes rolled back into her head, though her body stood stiffly as if was a plank. From Madam Marie’s mouth a pale golden serpent slithered, on to the floor. It grew as it wound its way down her body until it almost filled the room. It coiled carefully, waiting.
The battle was not between Madam Marie nor this man. Her loa serpent, Aiyda and the Baron crackled in the space between them, for those who could see. The loas circled each other like prize fighters, like jungle cats. The snake coiled and then struck at him. The baron danced away from it, knife in hand. The tail of the snake whipped behind him. It wrapped around his ankle. He slashed it and the tail convulsed in pain.
Nicole pushed past me. She stood between her father and Madam Marie, directly in front of the fighting loa. Everything stopped. She raised her head. “This is for me? You fight over me?” Nicole said. She’d seen men fight over women in her Gran’s house. She knew it was that kind of fight. The man might win, but that was not what defined what happened next. The men fought. But the woman chose who she went home with after. Nicole’s eyes were glassy and her skin ashen. There was a force drawing her toward the Baron. But the snake pulled her as well. She flashed the Baron a look of pure hate. The snake slithered around her feet protectively. She was there to choose. But not all the choices were equally good. Nicole clutched her pebble in her hand. She would make her own decision.
We all made sure that she could. I saw my energy flow from me into her as a green cloud around the child’s. I felt Madam Marie radiate her red glow through the girl. Then Maggie, standing to the side, joined her energy glowing blue against Madam Marie’s red and my own green. The child was bathed in circling color. Soaking up strength from all around her, it flowed into her and emerged into a blinding white beam shooting out her eyes and her mouth.
Her words were for her father, his Baron Loa. She spoke with a grown woman’s voice. “You want me to choose? I’ll choose! You ain’t my father. You ain’t my kin. And you ain’t any part of me.” Everything stopped. Nicole reached her hand down to the serpent who shrank in size to a snake a child could bear on her shoulders. Slowly the serpent wound up her arm and twisted gently around her neck. The light show was over. She was a little girl again. She reached back for Madam Marie’s hand.
I could hear Will talking with the 911 operator. “168 North Tremont. We have a man unconscious.” I thought to myself, how do you tell the emergency line that you have unconscious possession victim? I had no clue, which is why I left it to Will. He hated psychic situations, but for real life emergencies, Will was flawless.
That was when the elevator cranked into motion. Rita walked into the room eyes wide and mouth open. “Mirella, what is going on here? This place smells like a trashcan.” I pointed to the man on the floor. Rita lifted her eyes across the room to see Madam Marie and Nicole. “Madam Marie, with all respect…” Actually, respect was absent from Rita’s voice. It was a sound like leaking battery acid. Quiet but deadly.
The man lay where he fell, crumpled as if he were kicked. Marie motioned with her hands as if she were wiping the mess away.
Maggie stepped between, and reached for Rita’s arm. “Little thing happened. We took care of it. Tell you later.” That was code for ‘This is a damn-all mess but it’s over. We’ll fill you in as soon as we can.”
Madam Marie grabbed Nicole and walked past him to the elevator. I thought I heard the sound of a snake looping in the dust on the floor. It slid in ripples between him and his child. He seemed to shrink. The graveyard and ash pit smell lifted a bit. I turned away from him, not wanting to watch. The police arrived. They assessed the man twisting on the floor and made the way clear for the EMT’s. Medics strapped him to the gurney as he shook and moaned. Rita glowered over the proceedings.
After they got him down the elevator, the sun flooded through the windows where it had been sullenly gray. I opened the windows and let the breeze clean the room.
Was I wounded too? My mother and I lived so alone. I had no real sense of myself then. I’d scrabbled through school to find that school didn’t count or change anything. I still wasn’t sure of who I was. I had my wounds as well. I saw, through my wounds.
Next week I found Madam Marie and Nicole at the tea room, sitting with Rita. Rita wore her crown of braids. Madam Marie, the seven-pointed scarf that declared her the reigning Voodoo queen. They’d made a detente over tea and muffins, two queens at a peace conference. I saw Madam Marie slip a small wad of bills into Rita’s hand. “We sorry for all that mess last week.”
Nicole ran to me and pulled at my skirt. “You got my cookies?” she asked.
“You know I do.” I waved her into the kitchen. I could see the small hazy golden snake draped around Nicole’s shoulders.
Rita was getting up so I could read for Madam Marie. She followed the child into the kitchen. I heard milk poured and the child’s happy patter.
Madam Marie grimaced as I sat. “I need to say sorry to you as well. Didn’t mean to bring that trash anywhere. But you stand with me and with Nicole, like a friend. That make you my friend. You need something I got, it yours.” I shuddered inwardly to think of what that might be. And was grateful.
“It wasn’t your fault,” I said. “It wasn’t your mess. It just followed behind you.” It really wasn’t. You can’t be called accountable for the evil that stalks you. Only the evil you do.
Then I remembered Maggie right in the middle of it, shoulder to shoulder with the Voodoo queen. “Is Maggie your friend as well?”
“We might as well be,” Madam Marie admitted. “We know each other since Eden. She just worried I’m goin’ to hell. But she a strong light.”
Madam Marie nodded towards the child as I sat down. “Dumballa be a good loa. He teach her love and how to care for people. She too young. But it who she is.”
Madam Marie sat at her table and nibbled on her muffin. I raised her cup to read.
Did you like this story? Voodoo You is printed in Tea Room Tales, on Amazon.com.
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