Michelle, a slender, brown girl of 18 leaned against the magnolia tree watching them. The couple got out of their car: a white man around 35 with windswept short blond hair and his elegant wife also in her thirties with shoulder length black hair. They looked casually rich in their designer jeans that were wrinkled in all the right places.
They’d parked their jaguar in the driveway and now stood on the lawn envisioning, Michelle was sure, lofty possibilities for the house she’d grown up in as a child.
It was a two story sprawling wooden house with a wide porch and what used to be a swing; before Katrina had splintered it into shards of wood that now lay tossed over the lawn and steps like broken teeth.
The demon storm had destroyed the inside of the house too – photographs, old hats and clothing she and Simone used to play dress up in, antique furniture, were gone now. All that couldn’t be salvaged had been gutted and piled in the front of the house. But the frame, as if immune to the elements had fought the hurricane and won. Unlike Grandmere Angelique who’d died of a stroke.
She pushed her braids out of her face and fought back tears. Hurricane Katrina in her fury had torn through New Orleans. Like a woman scorned, she’d ripped and destroyed the city, leaving its children homeless, hungry, in shock, crying for their brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, tossed to the four corners of America – like their ancestors before them.
Her parents André and Louisa had fled to Baton Rogue. André had begged his mother to come with them — had tried to force her out of the house. But Angelique refused. “I’ve seen storms before, Cherie. They come and go. I’m not leaving my house, non – it needs me to keep it safe…”
Michelle had found Angelique’s body in the attic. She’d hid there when Katrina hit.
And now these people, these strangers, wanted to buy it. What do they know of the scent of magnolias in the air each morning, or the taste of the Mississippi?
She’d pleaded with her father to keep the house. But André had said no. “The water damage is too bad and now the insurance company won’t pay!” He spat these last words bitterly. “Thirty years, thirty years Mama pay them bloodsuckers, eh? And now they won’t fix her house!”
“We can fix it Papa!”
André only shook his head. “No Cherie, it’s just a shell, not worth saving.”
She remembered playing in the backyard with her sister, Simone, both running from her grandmother giggling on stubby little legs, past the vegetable garden and wild roses… until Angelique would collapse on her white lawn chair laughing with them.
“Time for a snack, eh?” And grandmere would shoo the little girls through the backdoor into the kitchen for sweet cakes and milk.
Michelle remembered the mantelpiece and the sepia photographs that lined it too. Photos of Angelique when she was young, and Grandpere Henri who’d died when Simone was just a baby. There were pictures of her father as a solemn eyed toddler too, wedding pictures of him and her mother Louisa, of her Great Grandmere Cosette; and one photo of her lover André.
Angelique told them of their family history: how their roots could be Angelique told them of their family history: how their roots could be traced to Dahomey, Africa, where men and women were great warriors, before the French had enslaved them. Grandmere told them that their ancestors had fought in the revolution too under General Toussaint to free Haiti, and some later made their way to New Orleans.
When they were older, the sisters learned the history of the house. Cossette had worked as a laundry woman. She was also a great Vodoun mambo, who’d first met their Great Grandpere André Dumont, a rich white man, in New Orleans. And Cosette had petitioned the loa to give André sight into his own heart. Soon after, he became smitten with her dark beauty and strength. But to publically proclaim his love would have meant death for them both. So he hired Cosette as his maid, and on his deathbed willed her the house. Michelle remembered her father shouting, when he first caught grandmere telling his daughters about Cosette. She’d never seen him so angry! “You never tell them these things again!” He’d raged, his café au lait face twisted with emotion. “Such stories to tell little girls!”
But when they were 14 and 12 the sisters had snuck away to a Vodoun ceremony. Michelle remembered holding tight to Simone’s hand in the moonlight, watching…With the sound of the drums punctuating his movements, a young man stepped into the dance court wearing a cane in the crotch of his pants.
The drums accentuating his movements as he skillfully spun with leaps and pirouettes…suddenly he shuddered, and fell to the ground as if in the throes of a seizure…then he became an old man, walking laboriously with a cane.
It was Papa Legba, the ancient loa who stands at the crossroads of life and death – the honored one who is called before all others.
One by one, the loa appeared and rode their human horses. The sisters watched wide eyed as a woman fell to the ground and became a serpent… as another transformed into a growling panther…
Previously published in Genesis Science Fiction Magazine 2010 Cover art and design by Quinton Veal
Previously published in Genesis Science Fiction Magazine
Cover art and design by Quinton Veal
Copyright Valjeanne Jeffers 2010, 2012 all rights reserved