The porch steps heaved under the well-fed heft of Madame Rousseau, signalling her entrance to the little salon before the cowbell on the screen door rang out. Marie, busy with another head of curls, arranged her face to be expressionless to hide her disdain. The truth was, if she only worked on women she liked, she wouldn’t have many customers.
“Bonjour, Madame,” she called out with practiced pleasantry. “Will you want a moisture treatment today?”
There was little in her arsenal that could turn a stuffed goat into a great beauty, but the art of flattering rich and vain white women paid off handsomely. As the daughter of a woman who bought her own freedom, working for her way was a matter of pride and an act of resistance. Marie’s business helped her support her children and her own slaves. Perhaps most importantly, using money from the oppressors, she had the means to help the poor and the hungry. There were so many of them.
“I need something else,” Madame Rousseau said. “A hex on young Micheline. She won’t leave my husband alone.”
Marie restrained herself, but Madame Thibodeaux, the client in rollers, let out an amused chuckle, earning the glare of wrath from Madame Rousseau. All three women knew it was Monsieur Rousseau who was constantly subjecting young girls to lechery.
Marie used to explain to her clients that she did not perform hexes or conjure harm in any way. But it always fell on deaf ears to these vindictive, jilted souls. So now she took their money without qualm, and privately offered up a different prayer in her heart. She would do a secret spell for Micheline’s protection and let Madame think it was a curse. The girl was all of fourteen and had already needed two treatments with herbal abortifacients. Marie had confidentially provided these for her free of charge, holding the defenseless creature in her arms as she sobbed herself to emptiness.
“Oui, Madame,” she said aloud. “I will need to go to the botanica. I need some ingredients for the gris-gris. Come to my house tomorrow evening.”
“I can come tonight,” Madame insisted, but Marie shook her head.
She was going to the prison after her hair appointments today, to take a condemned man his last supper and pray with him until his morning hanging.
“The spell requires a waning gibbous moon,” she said. “Good that we only have to wait a day. Bring an intimate item from Micheline if you can—a comb or handkerchief, or a tignon.”
“Oh, thank you dear Marie,” Madame Rousseau said. “I’ll be calling on you after dinner then.” She slid her payment across the vanity table. Marie nodded and forced a small smile, then tucked the envelope into her bodice as the rattling bells rang a farewell. Deftly she removed Madame Thibodeaux’s curlers, plumping up the thinning tresses with her fingers and a bit of sticky salve.
“Madame, I daresay that with this new style, you can celebrate your twentieth anniversary looking as fetching as the day you married him.” She took a piece of bark from her supply cabinet and wrapped it carefully in paper. “A lagniappe,” she said. With a sly smile, Marie instructed her to stir it into her husband’s Sazerac after dinner. “You will be newlyweds again tonight,” she promised.
It cost her nothing to make Madame Thibodeaux feel happy and youthful, and Marie was quite certain of the payoff by word of mouth.
She closed the door after her, and waved, then picked up her broom and began tidying the shop. While she swept, she prayed, preparing for the long and heavy night ahead.
writes, edits, publishes, and teaches small fictions, from Toronto, Canada. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Trampset, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Bending Genres, Unbroken, JMWW, Cleaver, New Flash Fiction Review, Litro, The Dillydoun Review, and others. Her work has been nominated for Best Microfiction, Best Small Fictions, and four times each for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.
Lorette is the founding editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted to literature inspired by visual art. She is also an international visual artist working with collage and mixed media to create urban, abstract, pop, and surreal works. She has collectors in thirty countries so far. Visit her at: www.mixedupmedia.ca
⚡ Two Must-Read Books by The Queen of Ekphrasis, commentary in MacQ-9 (August 2021) by Clare MacQueen, with links to additional resources
⚡ Featured Author: Lorette C. Luzajic at Blue Heron Review, with two of her prose poems (“Disappoint” and “The Piano Man”); plus “Poet as Pilgrim,” a review of Pretty Time Machine by Mary McCarthy (March 2020)
⚡ Fresh Strawberries, an ekphrastic prose poem in KYSO Flash (Issue 11, Spring 2019), nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize