All magical requests come with a price. A girl with witchcraft, no friends, and only her mother’s bees to confide in will pay whatever’s necessary to keep the girl she loves safe.
I was somebody’s firstborn child, the price somebody paid for gold and a spotlight. I was made to be given away to a woman with the wisdom of the bees. Mama sends me to school with perfect braids plaited up tight, buys me new clothes each spring and each fall, and though she wards me against sickness, accident, or ill-wish, she doesn’t love me.
No one has ever loved me, not for my whole life.
Jefferson carries my schoolbag and my lunch (but never my book) and helps me inside Mama’s white-walled, tail-finned Cadillac, my kid-gloved hand nested in his big brown one. Every day we drive along the avenue that borders the park for miles. Mama’s bees gather and fly, greeting every flower with a kiss.
I watch the other side of the street, walled with buildings where the wealthy live. Their big windows gaze at the wilderness in the middle of a maze of concrete and steel. A lone figure walks in the building’s shadows, and I lurch over the front seat to tap Jefferson’s shoulder.
“You see that girl? Pick her up. She’s in my class.”
“Miss l’Abielle don’t pay me to be a school bus.”
“Have some mercy! Lucille’s my friend.” She could be my friend, if I stop in a big black car and ask her if she wants to ride with me. If I say just the right clever thing to her in school. If I say anything, anything at all.
Jefferson eases into the intersection. “We’ll be late.”
Lucille Grady walks on. One of her socks bunches around her skinny ankles. She lists to one side under the bulk of textbooks and composition books, the battered leather case holding her clarinet strapped to its bulk. A wisp of ebony-wood hair whirls from her head, floating upward against a breeze. Sunlight falls on her face, lighting it up gold as desert sand.
She is the smartest girl at Reardon Picking’s Youth Academy, and Mama would never let us be friends. As we pass I raise my hand, but she never looks at the car.
Zola holds the door open for me when I come home. I dash past her up the wide staircase, my soles thumping on the mezzanine’s carpet. The piano tinkles a snatch of Chopin as I grab the newel post and fling myself around it with unladylike haste.
Announced, I run all the way up to the fourth-floor working room and wait outside the entrance with my hands behind my back. The door swings open at Mama’s word, closing behind me with a click.
Mama wears an apron over a yellow frock with tiny hand-tucked pleats. Her hair’s set in beauty-parlor waves, and her nails are pale pink shells. She wields a pestle in a wide marble bowl and casts her frowning eyes on me.
“Is that how a young lady climbs stairs?”
“Do I have to send you downstairs to do it again?”
“No, Mama. Sorry, Mama.”
I wrinkle my nose and sort through the scents of rosemary, lemongrass, the soapy smell of lavender, the earth-dark smell of valerian. The pestle’s scrape as it crushes dried herbs makes my scalp smooth out and my eyelids droop.
I shake my head to clear the spell from my senses. “Who’s having nightmares, Mama?”
“Fetch the jar of passion flower.”
“I’m right? You’re making sleepwell?”
“Theresa Anne, you could tell sleepwell when you were five.” She points at the center table. “Tell me what you see in those cards.”
Cards lie in a cross on a square of saffron-yellow silk. Diamonds: ace and ten. The deuce of clubs, the lady of spades, and at the bottom, the eight of hearts. “Money coming from gossip from a visitor, and that invites talk about a woman.”
I squint at the queen. “Dark hair. Dark eyes. She’s not married. She’s a widow, but she’s not married. It’s you, Mama.” The ten of diamonds becomes a narrow building, the red shapes somebody’s windows. “The money’s in a house.”
Mama hmphs and sticks her hand out. “Where’s my passionflower?”
“But you asked me to—”
She snaps her fingers, stilling my tongue. “The passionflower.”
It isn’t fair. I stomp to the corner shelves, the wheeled step-stool rattling before my angry toes. The passionflower’s on a shelf over my head, drowsing in a deep brown glass jar.
She taps the other jars on the counter, her long pink nails tapping on the tin lids. “Put these away.”
I can move and talk at the same time. I pick up the jar of French lavender and shake it. “Mama, can you tell Jefferson to stop and give my friend a ride to school?”
“Your friend?” she cuts a glance at me. “What’s her name?”
“What do her folks do?”
“I don’t know.”
“Tell your friend to tell her mother to call on me.”
I cover up my heavy stomach with the jar. “They don’t live up here.”
“They don’t?” Mama huffs out a breath. “Her pa’s a factory man.”
Not good enough for me, she means. Or else Lucille’s mama wouldn’t be caught dead on our doorstep, to chat and take tea with the lady neighbors speak of with caution. “Can you please tell Jefferson to stop for her?”
“Not without speaking to her mama first. You tell her at school.”
I can’t do that when I never even say hi to her in the halls. It isn’t fair.
“Fix your face, Theresa Anne.”
“But it’s just a ride—”
“Enough. Go upstairs and tell the bees someone’s coming.” She flicks another glance at the cards. “And do your schoolwork. If you have to waste your years with that, least you can do is your best.”
The bees come home at teatime. They dust pollen on my hands, track it along the straight rows of my braids, then light on a dish filled with tumbled agates and fresh water to drink their fill. The hives dot the rooftop, surrounded by flowers and herbs that shouldn’t grow here, but under Mama’s hands, they do. I sit at a table next to the glass dome that fills the stairwell with light, the surface sparkling clear after a washing. Sunlight passes through the glyphs of protection painted on every crystal-cut pane with blessed water, pouring good fortune and safety inside.
“Lucille got three perfect scores today,” I tell the worker sister on my knuckle. I consult the textbook and copy another line in my composition book. “I did too. But Lucille’s already read a hundred books, and I’m only on ninety-eight.”
The worker sister flexes her wings, listening. The bees always listen to me.
“I need to think of the perfect thing to say to her.” I don’t ask for the wit to say the right thing, or the charm to make her notice me, but my tongue aches with the unspoken wish. I may talk to the bees all I like, but I must never utter a desire in their presence.
Movement catches my eye. I peer through the skylight down the stairwell and glimpse a woman in powder blue climbing past the mezzanine. She’s one of Mama’s clients. Probably a weeping woman—seems like half of them are always weeping. They don’t know what to do, they don’t know who to turn to. So they come to Mama, wearing their best hats with shoes and gloves to match, and she gives them tea that takes a spoonful of honey to swallow and no sip tastes the same from one draught to the next.
The weeping women go home with beeswax candles to light while they pray, or with sachets to tuck into their pillows, or with herbs to sprinkle in the family’s supper. They come back in a month or a week, still lost, crying for more.
But there are the ones who don’t weep. The ones who leave their tea untouched, the ones who know exactly what they want, and exactly who to come to. Mama sends most of them away. Sometimes she smokes out all seventeen rooms of the house after one of them comes. One time, she stood in the front hall and picked up the telephone, dialing it herself to call the police.
But sometimes she puts them in the iron birdcage elevator and sends them up five stories, all the way up to the garden on the roof.
Sometimes, she sends them to tell the bees.
“Three B’s been empty since Enos died three months ago,” an old man tells the bees. They circle and whirl around him, landing on the shoulders of a suit that’s been sewn together longer than I’ve been alive. I know him. He sits on the stoop of the Henri Louis Arms with the other old men, their glass beer bottles hidden in brown paper bags, playing guitar and harmonica and singing with reedy, spiritual voices. “Landlord says he’s renovating, but nobody been in there since Enos’s grandson came to get his things. Now he says Four C has noise complaints, but nobody minds Marlon’s music. He plays real sweet, and not a minute after eight. My hot water been broken for a month without him coming to fix it. I live in that building forty years. I know what he’s up to.”
He sweeps his hat off his head, a crease in his brow from the brim. He still has his hair, close shorn to his scalp like fine white lamb’s wool. “St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid, save us,” he implores. “Save our home.”
The bees gather on the brim of his hat. A bee sups at the track of salt water on his cheek, and then they gather in a great murmuring cloud and fly off.
“They heard you,” I say, and he grips the curlicued iron bars of the elevator and cries in relief. Mama doesn’t charge him a dime.
Three days later she’s head to toe in rose pink, from her Italian-made shoes to her skirt and smart jacket, on her way to the bank. The Henri Louis Arms is for sale, after the owner died in debt.
She doesn’t ask me why Lucille’s mama never calls on her.
It is my first day as a senior student. The collar of my new school blazer scratches at my neck. My brassiere straps dig into my shoulders. My new flute case doesn’t have a scratch. Mama won’t let me dress my hair in anything but plaits, or use even a little makeup. Everything I wear is new, washed in herbs for power and success, smelling like flowers and the dark earth they grow in.
Lucille stands waiting at the crosswalk.
“Please stop here,” I ask, but Jefferson keeps on driving.
I win the class mathematics quiz. Lucille’s sonnet is read aloud in class. At lunchtime, I catch up to her on the way outside. She tilts her head at me, and I knock my teeth together trying to think of something clever.
“Congratulations,” I say.
“Thank you.” She smiles, and it catches at my heart. “I thought yours was wonderful. Longing and sad.”
All the heat in my body rushes to my face. “You read my poem?”
She lights up and starts to say something else, but one of the upperclassmen yells, “Lucy! You get over here!”
Lucille turns around, startled, and heads her way. The other girls eye me before they saunter off school grounds toward a mean-faced boy in a crested burgundy blazer, his coat and face the wrong color to be a pupil of Reardon Picking’s. I wait on the concrete staircase.
Maybe Lucille will look back.
I don’t like the guidance counselor, but I have to ask him for college applications. He looks at my tests, looks at me, looks at my tests again. Pages through all of them, gaze flicking through wire-rimmed oval spectacles at my dark skin, at my braided hair. I wish I had some bad-luck root, but Mama never lets me in that cabinet and she can’t grow it on the roof. That needs blighted land, or graveyard dirt.
He shuffles the papers back into a pile. “Your test scores are exceptional. Unlike anything I’ve seen.”
Lies. He’s seen Lucille’s, and he probably gawps at her like she’s some freak too.
“You’re bright. You’re quick. What do you want to set your mind to?”
What do I want to shut the door on forever, set aside to pursue one thing? I want everything. I want English literature. I want chemistry. I want architecture, music history, Latin, Greek, philosophy. I want to race Lucille to the dean’s list. I can’t bear to leave the bees.
He’s waiting for an answer.
“I don’t know.”
“Stop, you have to stop!” I shake Jefferson’s shoulder. “Look at her face! Stop!”
Jefferson slows the car, eases it next to the curb. I push the door open myself. “Lucille!”
Her left eye’s swollen shut and purple, her lip bruised. She swivels her head around to stare with her good eye, and I’m hot with fury.
“Who hit your face up?” I demand.
“Tell it to a fool, not me. Get in.”
She glances up the street, down the other way, ducks in fast like somebody might see us together. “You got your own driver? You really rich like they say?”
“It’s Mama’s. Lucille, this is Jefferson.”
“How do you do?” Lucille asks, but Jefferson’s back in traffic.
“Was it your daddy?”
“No.” She shakes her head and curls bounce. “It’s my fault.”
“Gerry Riley. I didn’t mind him right.”
“Why you have to mind Gerry Riley?”
“He’s the boss’s son,” Lucille says. “Pa works at the rendering plant. He makes me do his English essays. He—”
Is going to die. “Tell me.”
She scowls. “What do you care for?”
“Nobody in that school smarter than you.”
“Maybe, maybe not.” I look ahead, park on one side, sky towers on the other, traffic in between. “Tell me about Gerry Riley.”
“He found me walking after school, said I was his girl. I said I wasn’t anybody’s girl. He hit me, and made me kiss him after.”
“That’s the last time,” I say. “You come to school with me now. You go home in this car. Gerry Riley can kick rocks.”
“I can’t make him angry. Pa can’t lose his job,” Lucille says. And she’s right. She’s right. I can’t keep her safe.
Not by myself.
Mama sits back in her scroll-armed chair, the long, curved fingers of kentia palms towering behind her. A teapot, cups, and honey rest on a little table at her left side. She gestures to the seat opposite the table, diamonds and gold sparkling on her fingers.
“Sit and tell me about it.”
I don’t drink Mama’s tea, and I don’t cry. I tell her what Lucille said about Gerry Riley and her pa’s job at the plant. I tell Mama how smart Lucille is, how fast she does figures, how well she remembers, how she can’t be used and knocked up by a clean-cut thug like Gerry Riley, and Mama hears me out. She drinks her tea.
And then she asks me, “What do you want?”
For Gerry Riley to die. “I want her safe.”
“This girl your friend?”
“I wish she was.”
Mama cocks her head. “You love her.”
I put my chin up. I do. Enough to ask Mama for help. Enough to ask for her sake. “What can I pay you?”
It doesn’t matter that she’s my mama. She has a price. I’ve got money. I get five hundred-dollar bills on my birthday, my name day, and Christmas. I get stock certificates, property deeds, and savings bonds on New Year. Money isn’t anything to me.
“What will you give me to make Lucille safe?”
I don’t really understand.
“Whatever you want,” I say.
“Oh, child.” She purses her lips, squints her eyes, and nods. “Go tell the bees.”
I go up the elevator to tell the bees everything, and they hear me.
Jefferson picks Lucille up every morning and drops her off after school. Lucille sits by me in class. She comes with me to sit in the reading tree. If she comes in first, I’m on her heels, and when I lead, she’s right behind. Gerry Riley waits for her by the school, but he can’t get close to her with me there. He glares at me through the back window, hating me so hard it bounces off the Cadillac’s protections.
We sit in the orchestra hall on a rainy day munching cinnamon red hots, our chairs side by side in the empty room. She plays me the fluttering, delightful opening of “Rhapsody in Blue” and shivers rush over my skin as she pops the clarinet away from her mouth and grins.
“Do it again.”
“Do you really live in a mansion?”
“It’s a brownstone.”
“A whole brownstone. How do you keep it all clean?”
“We have a maid, a cook, and a housekeeper,” I say. “And Jefferson.”
She makes a face. “My mother’s a maid, in the Beaumont Hotel.”
“You’re going to be more. A scientist. An engineer. A doctor. Anything.”
“What about you? You could do anything too.”
I sigh. “I don’t know how to choose.”
“I do.” She pulls her clarinet apart. “What makes the most money? But that won’t work for you, will it? You’ve got buckets of it, you and your mansion and your household staff. You gonna have a come-out? Do your fancy people do that?”
“With the white dress?”
“Why’s it always a white dress?” I ask. “I was named in a white gown. Confirmed in a white gown. Now it’s the come-out.”
“Then marriage,” Lucille says. “The biggest white dress of all.”
“I won’t get married.” I know in that instant it’s true. I’ll never wear that particular gown, never stare through lace at a man and promise to obey him.
“Because you’re a girl’s girl?”
My heart crawls up my throat.
“That’s what the other girls think. That you stare at me because you love me. Do you love me, Theresa?”
I want to laugh. I should laugh. It should sparkle out unoffended, but still a denial. I should laugh.
I don’t make a sound.
“Tell me. I won’t tell.” Quick as a cat, she grabs my wrist and pulls me close enough that I can smell the red hots on her mouth. “Do you love me?”
This close her eyes are brown, like mahogany wood. I love her eyes. I love her smile, her quickness. She is asking, and I’ll give her whatever she asks.
She smiles then, red lipped and knowing. “I like that. You should kiss me.”
I can’t believe it. It’s not real. She slides her hand up my shoulder, under the narrow snakes of my braids, her cold hand on the back of my neck to pull me closer. Her tongue slips into my mouth and I flinch, make some kind of squeak.
She cocks her head. “You never kiss before?”
No one ever loved me before. I shrug, turn my face away.
She guides my chin back. “Then let’s try that again.”
Lucille and I find every secret place in Reardon Picking’s Youth Academy and we kiss in it to make it belong to us. She asks me if I love her, again and again. I always say yes.
She never says it back.
I bring her to my house, where she stares pop eyed at the hand-carved wood, the wrought iron in the staircases, the rosewood piano on the mezzanine, and the elevator.
“In the house! You have an elevator in your house!” Lucille cranes her head back, staring at the vines and morning glories cast in iron, bees nudging at blossoms. Lucille trembles and reaches for my hand.
Maybe one day it’ll be her elevator too.
She squeezes my hand and smiles. I open the gate and lead her to the roof.
It’s like seeing the garden for the first time. She wanders along the slate pathways, cocking her head at the plants, at flowers that shouldn’t grow here, but they do.
“What kind of flower is this for a garden?” She stops at a vine and touches a heart-shaped leaf. A trumpet-shaped fuchsia bloom nods its head. “My mama says morning glory is a weed.”
“It’s special.” Its root is powerful, granting success and luck, but I don’t say that. A worker sister dances on the air, hovering near our faces. Lucille twitches in alarm, shying away. The bee comes closer to me, and Lucille shrieks.
“A bee! A bee!”
“It’s all right,” I say. “She’s from the hive.”
“There’s a whole hive?” Lucille’s chest pumps like a bellows, the whites showing all around her eyes. The bee ventures a little closer and Lucille swats at the air, screaming.
“Don’t! You’ll rile her up!” I turn to the worker sister. “I’m sorry. Please go.”
The worker sister flies away. Lucille runs for the elevator. My stomach is a clenched fist, and the need to cry fills my throat with a stone.
I find her inside the wrought-iron cage. Lucille trembles on the ride to the third floor. She lets me put my arms around her, and she’s breathing better when we walk into the library.
“We can do our forms here.”
Lucille’s gasp is worth everything. She turns in a circle to take in the high shelves, and spins the huge globe in its rosewood stand. “You have a whole library. All to yourself.” She raises her head and gives me a half-embarrassed smile. “I’m sorry I’m afraid of bees.”
“It’s all right.” Maybe she can get used to them. Maybe I can show her they’re safe, special. I sit next to her and bring out my folder of university applications. Lucille’s got forms for dozens of schools, as if the best universities wouldn’t have her as a scholar. I write my application slowly, every letter perfect. It’s the neatest application anyone ever saw. I want to show it to Mama. I want to read it to the bees.
“Where are you applying?”
I show her. She fills out the ones we have in common first. “We could go together. Room together. Wouldn’t that be fine?”
Our own little place. An apartment with floors the color of honey and a fireplace with green tile, a window seat that looks out on a lawn with blossoming trees and sugar maples. It’s so real, I know it’s a vision. Our apartment. Our home.
I shudder as the vision bursts, a chill premonition crawling up my back.
“You okay? You look like— Oh, I . . .” Lucille’s face goes pale and her throat flexes, like she’s trying to breathe but she can’t. I touch her shoulder, my fingers hooked into a summoning sign, and the moment I finish sketching God’s eye on her, she’s breathing in deep gasps of air.
“I feel strange,” Lucille says. “I feel—”
“How are you girls?” Mama comes into the library, her big smile showing the gap between her front teeth. She bustles right over to me, her hand on my head like she’s checking for fever. I melt in relief. Mama’s here. Mama knows.
“Lucille’s not well.”
“Let me see.” She smooths fragrant hands on the crown of my head, leaving a feeling like she cracked a warm egg on my scalp, and asks Lucille when she’s supposed to be home.
“Eight at the latest, Miss l’Abielle.”
“Plenty of time.” Her fingers tangle in Lucille’s hair. “Such a blessed color.” She weaves a tiny plait into Lucille’s curls, every twist and bump a linking spell, a ward against evil. Lucille sits still for it, and gasps when she sees four strands in a ladder-braid.
“It’s so pretty.” She looks up, wonder in her face. “I feel better. I feel . . . “ She looks around, awe in her eyes. “Safe.”
All the saints Mama could call on were in that braid. “It’s good luck,” she said. “Theresa’s showered in luck every day.”
“She has to be lucky, to read on the rooftop and not get stung.”
“Lucille’s afraid of the bees.”
“Now bees don’t hurt unless they’re scared or mad.” Mama runs her hands over Lucille’s scalp, and Lucille shivers as the protections spread over her. “Theresa, go into my study and get the raspberry-leaf tonic. Lucille needs a little bracing.”
She cuts me a look over Lucille’s head, and I rush to her suite. I stroke the stuffed cheetah that guards the door, partly for affection, and partly to touch Mama’s wards. I bow to the fetish masks on the wall, and the feeling of being watched eases from dreadful focus to sleepy curiosity. Her desk chair lies on its side, as if Mama rose in haste and knocked it over.
Mama dealt a hand of patience. The ace of spades lies next to the jack. Then the two of clubs, the deuce of spades, the nine. Black cards of doom and red cards of lust spell a dire sentence, enough to make her come running to my side before I could call out to her.
They cascade downward, all pointing at the queen of hearts.
Those cards of dark plots and ill fortune end with Lucille.
I rush up the stairs to the roof. The sunset is a ribbon of salmon pink and pale violet, sinking into the west. I reckon the Chaldean hour of Saturn and dash to the hives, drowsy and peaceful. The bees go quiet with the sunset, too logy to rise and hear what I have to say.
I implore them anyway. “St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid,” I plead. Saints and beekeepers all. “My beloved lies under attack. What must I do to keep her safe?”
A single bee crawls out of the box, taking flight. It lands on my hair, and I ask again. “St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid—”
The worker sister crawls down to my ear, and I hear her voice.
“What will you give to keep her safe?”
Mama never took anything from me the first time I asked the bees for Lucille’s safety.
“Will you pledge yourself to us?”
Mama taught me all my curiosity demanded, except for the things from which I could never turn back. I was the price she asked of some long-ago woman, someone who didn’t weep or drink her tea. Mama kept me and braided blessings into my hair. She stitched the glyphs and signs of all the saints in my clothes. She never took my choices away from me.
“Will you love me?”
“Then I am yours.”
The sting brings tears to my eyes, and I put my hands out to soften my fall.
I stand up, but my body lies on the warm slate tile. The wards shine over the house, glowing with the signs that tell the spirits that a mistress of the bees dwells here. All the house spirits bristle with vigilance, watching for another assault.
Mama never taught me how to pull my soul out of my body. I am a mistress of the bees now, and I can never turn back. I sink through the floors, down and down to the library, where Mama stares at my soul-body with huge eyes.
There is so much I know now. So much I see. Mama is splendid with power, and her tears spill at the sight of me. I put my hands on Lucille and her eyes flutter back some, her mouth going a bit slack as she shivers.
I find the sorcery that reached her: a dart, poisoned with infatuation. Mama will give a girl a spell to make her womanly charms strong, or to a man to magnify his handsome ways, but those have nothing to do with the enslavement of love spells. It’s sunk deep in the pit of Lucille’s belly, meant to give her the deepest need. I pull the nasty thing out; it feels like slime and iron chains.
And I know right where it leads, right where a candle dressed in the fluid of male lust and carved with Lucille’s name burns. Fury sparks bright and terrible in me, and I hold the thing tight in my hand even as it pulls away, eager to go back to its source. So Gerry Riley bought a bewitchment, did he? I’ll show him a bewitchment—
Mama shouts it just as I slide through the walls, through the wards, set on finding the punk who tried to bind Lucille. I look back to her outstretched hand. Why does she look so afraid?
The little dart writhes in my hand. It hooks into my palm, teaching my soul pain, and yanks me back to the spell-candle in Gerry Riley’s room.
Right into his trap.
Gerry Riley’s room is full of models—model cars, model ships, model airplanes. Posters of long-nosed cars hang all over his walls, between shelves full of books with unbroken spines. They perch on the edge of the shelves to hide a bag of weak reefer, a fifth of cheap bourbon, and a pulp magazine full of girls in lingerie who advertise an afternoon’s delight. Why can’t he go to one of them? A rich man’s son could take the cost. But a rich man’s son thinks he has the right to whatever he stretches out a hand to take.
He can tell I’m there, but he can’t see me.
“So you caught the enchantment instead,” he says, and sits up in his bed. “I told the magician about you, about how you took Lucille from me. He told me what to do if I trapped you.”
I slap his face. My hand passes through his cheek, and he shivers just before he smiles.
He turns on the light. I’m in a room that smells of model glue and a hint of blood, with a sour salty smell I can’t place. On the walls are signs, marks to make the room a cage for a spirit.
He picks up a card from the desk and reads from it. He chants Latin that makes my bowels shiver, words that wind their fingers around me and hold me down. They slide over my face, shading my view as if I see him through lace.
I know my Latin. I know the words of Mass and the forbidden poetry of Catullus and the twisted summoning version he speaks now, the magic of chains and control. I slap him again, and he falters, but tells me how I’ll obey him and speak no untrue word to him and put his life before my own. The words seep into me, and if he speaks them all, I’ll be his thing, and the first command I will obey is to bring him Lucille.
I haul back and hit him again, smashing the hook of his spell against his cheek.
He yelps, and blood trickles from his lip. Wide eyed and white as tissue, he stops chanting, reaches up to smear his fingers in the red.
I can hurt him. To make the candle send out its hook, he had to make it a living thing, with his blood and his seed and his ugly desires.
The spell binds him as much as it binds me.
The card full of Latin flutters to the floor. He scrabbles backward to get away from me, the hook in my hand, the line that binds me to the candle that is his body for as long as it burns. I make a loop of that line, wrap it around his neck, and pull until he stops kicking.
The candle is a stub of wick in a pool of wax when the maid opens the door and breaks the prison holding me tight. I slip through the door and return to my body, ushered out by her screams.
Lucille writes when she goes to college. First they come every other day, thick with pages and excitement. Then a week can pass before I see another, apologizing for not writing sooner, for the letters being thinner.
Then she starts writing about Jean, the girl she studies organic chemistry with. Jean is in possession of a great many insights profound enough to relate to me in letters. Jean is so clever I would love her on sight. Jean makes the coffee in the morning, and sits in the window seat with a cup, watching the maple leaves turn brilliant red while a fire burns in the green-tiled hearth and warms up the common room.
I bring a package to the post office. I send her a jar of honey from the bees, combed to a clear golden liquid and infused with rose petals for love and beauty. Then Jefferson takes me home and on the steps is a woman in her best hat, with her Sunday shoes and her gloves to match, her eyes red like she’s been crying.
I go to her, put my hand on her shoulder, and invite her inside Mama’s house for tea.
“St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid” copyright © 2020 by C. L. Polk
Art copyright © 2020 by Alyssa Winans
Originally published February 5, 2020.