Here's the last installment of the story!
I pick my way to the door, trying not to ruin my black high heels or slip on ice. On the porch there is a bouquet of red roses lay, their heads as dark as blood against the snow. I smile, thinking Mark is already turning out to be an ideal distraction from Kevin. I pick up the roses, Here she is, Miss America, and step over threshold like the bride of Satan, dressed all in black with blood red flowers, Josh following. By the time I look at the card, I stop smiling. The handwriting belongs to Kevin -- Saw these and thought of you -- and I think I might vomit. All that rich party food seems to be stuck in the back of my throat.
"Shouldn’t you get those in water before they die?" Josh asks.
I sit down at the kitchen table and start to break the necks of the roses one by one, tossing their heads in the garbage.
"I think they’ve been out in the cold too long already," I say, a few stray petals littering the floor as I continue to pull the bouquet apart.
Josh’s therapist has proclaimed our family toxic, a word that gets used so much that it has lost its power to shock. Language, like everything else, gets old, starts to mean something else, like a pair of sagging breasts that used to thrill. Today the therapist asks what my life would be like without any chemicals and I think I would feel like a chained dog, forced to circle the same territory until someone gets home and then it’s only a slightly bigger area to roam and perhaps you’re guarded with an electronic fence that’s shocked you so badly that you don’t even need a chain anymore. You become the chain. I shrug and say that I would feel pretty good, like the world was my oyster, only that I was never in an r month, thinking about the warnings against eating them raw during the summer. She wanted to say, cut the bullshit, Josette and I could have almost loved her if she had, but instead she said, Joking and sarcasm are defenses against strong emotion.
To which I say nothing, not wanting to get trapped by my own words. I think of an old ad from the seventies, a Kodak one aimed at housewives, trying to get them to understand the importance of their role in documenting family history -- when you are the camera and the camera is you. I do not know why this comes to mind, but it does, and I suspect that someone else would know and that’s the point of this uncomfortable office with its sagging chairs, the de riguer Kleenex box positioned on a table between me and Josh, the box decorated with a orange crocheted outfit, probably made by a grateful patient, accompanied with a note -- Thank you for healing me, now I am well enough to make crocheted gifts for friends and family, even samplers with helpful sayings. I look around the office, really look, and notice that everything in this place is disconnected and ugly and realize that’s because nobody knows the therapist, her job being a dumping ground, and these are all projections of what someone might like. She does that part of her job well, staying invisible. I scan her bookshelf -- all the classics, Man Against Himself, The Courage to Create, some truly awful Leo Buscaglia
books (perhaps a gift, I think, in a fit of generosity), Trauma and Recovery.
The first time our entire family went to therapy was the last year Josh was in college and almost didn’t finish because his mutilations had gotten out of control. College, our escape, turned out to be what Josh and I referred to as a big old less than, our term for something longed for and found terribly wanting. Father bitched about having to pay some Jewish crackpot to pick us apart even though the family therapist appeared thoroughly Protestant, dressing in outfits that would have been best described as a cross between David Koresh and Davy Jones. I thought of him, looking at us all with exhaustion when we wouldn’t talk, which was much of the time. Just like now. Even without the censure of our parents being in the room, Josh and I would make the worst interview, one that even Barbara Walters couldn’t revive. And I don’t like being called out on my behavior, given that Josh is the one that landed us here with his latest slashing. The truth about the Vicodan, the Fiorcett, the Tylenol Three, the Xanax, the Valium, the Darvocette, the Percodan, the Demerol is a simple one -- I hate to swallow almost anything, especially pills, because I have a terrible fear of choking and yet I swallow more shit than anyone I know. I fear things that have already happened and things that might happen and things that most certainly will happen. A few blocks from our place, a fundamentalist church puts up a sign with different sayings each week to scare people into their doors. From this week -- There Is No Stop, Drop, and Roll in Hell. Sitting here without anything to distract me from myself, I think don’t I know it.
I, like most people, do not take much pleasure in doing the right thing. I take pleasure in getting off the hook, the eleventh hour save, in mercy. After therapy, I drop Josh back at the apartment and head downtown for the voodoo store, Knight Light. I need to sort out the Mark/Kevin situation and this is as good a way as any. Knight Light, a small place, the size of someone’s living room, is crammed with hundreds of candles and ointments, holy water, roots, herbs -- John the Conqueror, Queen of the Meadow, Devil’s Shoestring, Grains of Paradise. One of my coworkers told me about this place a year ago and I come here once a month, oftener if I have serious problems like now since those fucking roses arrived on my doorstep. The first time I came in to the shop, I bought so many candles, Sunshine, the main candle dresser, asked if I was a church, mistaking me for someone buying for a representative for a cut-rate Catholic parish who couldn’t afford the upscale church-sanctioned supply shops, but the question itself made me smile, imagining my body as the stations of the cross, each consumed with a particular bit of suffering.
I make my way through the crack addicts that linger by the door, the living dead, modern day zombies that sometimes haunt my dreams. The snow from last night makes the city look cleaner and also sadder somehow. I shake the excess from my boots as I enter the store, the smells from the various oils rising from glass burners, each one with a different purpose, lemongrass for money, honeysuckle for protection. No matter how many times I have seen this place, I never get tired of it. A statue of Jesus, trapped in a dry-cleaning bag, retails for 49.99 and underneath the statue a sign reads, All Sales Final, a bargain price for the Almighty, to be sure.
"Beautiful Josette," Sunshine, the main candle dresser says, when I walk in and rushes over to give me a hug. "You looking good today. Lord, it’s good to see someone I like." I do not like touching anyone that I’m not having sex with and even then it’s iffy, but I try to let myself feel it, not rush away like I am wont to do.
I pick an empty box from the back and take off my coat.
"You need something special?" Sunshine asks.
"Man trouble. I just got a new one and the old one came back," I say, on my knees now so I can inspect the lower shelves.
"Ain’t that always the way. Honey came back even after I dropped him and his stuff off at the shelter, saying he couldn’t live without me." Honey, Sunshine’s long-time live-in boyfriend, from the pictures Sunshine has on her laptop, appears to be the whitest man in all of Detroit, and I cannot help but feel deep pity for him even though he’s a registered sex offender who keeps losing jobs when people find out about his past via the Internet where he is required to stay posted for years as such. Between his ill-fitting clothes, cross-eyes, and great financial and emotional dependence on Sunshine, Honey is always in his hour of need. Sunshine manages to keep the faith despite everything, which keeps me returning to this place. That and the stripped-down honesty of everything -- people spending what little extra money they have on various instruments of hope. And nothing is too strange to be addressed -- there are a row of penis-shaped candles that you rub with oil to get control of your lover or to obtain money. I have not resorted to this yet.
Knight Light, lodged between a liquor store and a human hair outlet, appears itself to be a dream, an oasis of fiction in an otherwise bleak landscape. Even Sunshine herself is a partial fiction -- after she was gang-raped by a group of men who debated for an hour if they would kill her or let her go -- she promised she wouldn’t report them and she did, causing her to have to change her name, and she chose Sunshine. I think of the Bible verse on the table where she pours oil on the candles -- The light shines in the darkness and the darkness knows it not.
"Which one do you want?" she asks.
"I don’t know," I say, scanning the shelves lined with saints, with requests for protection, for health, for love, for clarity. On the other side, there are candles for revenge -- destroy everything, doom, double reversible (to throw a hex back to a person who threw one on you). The rules of voodoo caution against too much of the bad, though -- for everything you do, it comes back to you threefold.
"The old one is married."
"You love him," she says. I hate how transparent I am.
I put some novena candles in my box, and Sunshine starts to dress them, carving deep into the top so that the oils can soak into the body completely. She sprinkles incense and glitter and confetti on them, prays over them. I read the prayer on the Lady of Lourdes candle -- Cast a merciful glance upon those who are suffering, their lips constantly pressed against life’s bitter cup. I could use a merciful glance -- I put that one in the box, thinking yeah, a merciful glance might be nice.
I get home and set the candles up in my bedroom and living room, thinking about what I want and if it matters in the long run. Josh seems to be taking a nap, so I turn on the television and look for distraction when Coley, strolls out of his bedroom.
"Back so soon," I say. "Did you leave something here? Your brain, perhaps?" Today she’s dressed in one of Josh’s button-up shirts he wears to work and nothing else.
"Josette, I was afraid I might not get to see you. I thought you might be at work, saving the world from venereal disease or not at work, spreading it," Coley says. Her eyes look so smudged with make-up that I wonder about the last time she’s washed her face.
I flip through the channels -- fake jewels can be purchased on one station, a pasta strainer on another, movies no one wanted to see when they were made, reruns of shows from the not-so-distant past. I want to call Kevin, but no good can come from it. Why do I want something so bad for me? My stash of pills calls to me, and I think it‘s an emergency (my mother used to say to me and Josh, don‘t do anything unless it‘s an emergency and even then, you want to think about it) and far better for me than getting back into the demands of an affair.
Coley returns to Josh’s bedroom after using the bathroom, and I take a Fiorcette and wash it down with a shot of vodka. I go into the bathroom to brush my teeth and notice Coley’s amethyst nose ring soaking in the lid of our rubbing alcohol. Nothing on me is pierced, not even my ears. What would it feel like to have something sharp go through your flesh so deeply that you could wear something in the hole for the rest of your life? I can hear Josh and Coley laughing in his bedroom, and I put my toothbrush back in its holder next to Josh’s.
Josh’s computer sits in the living room, and I turn it on. In the time it takes to boot, I think of the perfect message to send Kevin. I know this course of action will only lead to more misery, more pain, but I cannot stop myself. At least I’m not calling him. I send him one line -- What do you want from me? It’s an honest question. And for once, I wouldn’t mind getting an honest answer. I have an e-mail from Mark, asking me when I want to get together again. Somewhere between right now and never, so I call him and see if he’ll meet me here now. It doesn’t matter that Josh is home since he’s with Coley, and I can hear them having sex.
"Do you want to go out or stay where you are?" Mark asks.
The logical thing would be to leave Josh and Coley here alone, but there is nowhere I can think of that I want to be. I tell him to come over, and we’ll decide. But I already know the answer. I don’t want to leave. For Josh’s birthday parties, my parents always took us to the same place, Casa Bonita, a Mexican restaurant that attempted to be an upscale Chuck E. Cheese with lots of games for children. The food tasted awful, but that wasn’t the point. The place contained a waterfall and video games, skeet ball and air hockey. I never noticed any of that, though. In the back of the restaurant, I’d go to a room the size of a closet. It was the fake prison, with rubber bars on which I would climb. No matter where else I might go, I’d always end up there, seeing how far the rubber bars would stretch, and what I could do without leaving the room.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"If I had my life to live over again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner." Tallulah Bankhead
Cocktail HourDrinking music suggestion: Let's Groove Earth, Wind, and Fire
Benedictions and Maledictions