Black Magic

‘That damn witch must have done it to us.’  I cringed; how had I mistaken Mary Cathaway for benign?

‘Witch?’  Helen scowled and put her hands on her hips.  ‘The witch didn’t get me pregnant, Jackson.  You did.’

So she kept reminding me.  Still, Helen wasn’t leaving me much room to make amends.  She’d pretty well removed me from the decision-making process.  I tried again at the same tact—my only tact.

‘I can pay for it.’

‘I don’t want anything to do with your dirty money!’  Helen wheeled to go.

‘Wait,’ I said, grasping at her retreating arm.  She spun back at me and slapped me hard across the cheek.

‘Where’d it come from, Jackson?  Nobody just buries all that money.’

‘I found it, OK?  I dug it up.  I don’t know where it came from.’  I stepped back from her charging fury.

‘Then what do you know!’  Helen craned her neck so that her words impacted on the bridge of my nose.  ‘You traipse around the countryside making a mess of everything for the sake of this damn crusade, but when you uncover a stash of dirty money you don’t hesitate to claim it for your own.’

‘Get off my case, Helen.  I’m trying to come up with a solution here.’

‘Solution my ass.  You’re more than willing to throw down a stack of bills.  You’re not the one who has to go through it.  It’s easy for you that way.  Well fuck that and fuck you, Jackson Calvert.  I’m having this baby; you can like it or you can be damned.’

She wheeled off, leaving me no rebuttal.  I still didn’t understand how this could have happened.  Helen was religious about her birth control.  It wasn’t a question of if she’d forgotten to take it; it was a question of why it hadn’t worked.

I found Aunt Faye in the kitchen wearing her blue bathrobe.  Her brother’s disappearance had rendered her agoraphobic, and the bathrobe had become a kind of uniform.  The blue garment was as tattered as her will, hanging off of her in drooping, incomplete folds.  Today she stood at the kitchen counter, dipping a teabag into a chipped mug, entranced by the motion.  Her hair was unkempt and her eyes heavy with sleep.

‘What are you arguing about?’  Faye kept her eyes on the teabag.

‘Nothing.  Don’t worry about it.’  I hadn’t told anyone about Helen’s condition.  You don’t announce abortions.

‘Have you seen Cathy?’ Faye said.  With a sidelong, distracted glaze her eyes drifted down the dark hallway toward Cathy’s vacant room.

‘Haven’t seen her.’  Cathy was off with Monty.  They’d taken to spending more and more time together, although as far as I knew nothing had yet been consummated.

Faye sighed.  She set the wet teabag down on the counter and wrapped both hands around the cup and lifted it to her lips.  She looked up at me over the brim of the mug.  Steam veiled her face.

‘Tell me again you don’t know where he is.’  For a moment she was the Faye I knew, before she’d relegated herself to the blue bathrobe.

‘I haven’t a clue.’

I still wasn’t sure why I felt guilty speaking the truth.

Faye set down the cup.  She wanted to believe me, and I think she did, but until they found out who had abducted my father there was no one else to ask.

The phone rang.  Faye eyed it with a sense of bed-ridden detachment.  I lifted the receiver.

‘Hello?’

‘Jackson?’

It was my mother.  I knew from the tone in her voice that she had no idea what had gone on the last few days, and how could she.  This was just another phone call.  I’d been planning on calling her to break the news but wasn’t yet prepared.

‘Mom.’

‘How are you?’

I took in several long breaths and the quiet stretched out long enough to mean something.

‘What’s wrong?’  The ensuing emptiness buzzed with trans-Atlantic static.

‘I’m not sure how to say this….Dad was…my father has turned up missing.’

‘What?  When did this happen?’  Her voice didn’t register as much surprise as I’d expected.

‘A week now.  His house was trashed and the door was left wide open.  There was a gun there, an old gun of his, and it had been fired.  There’s…there’s some worry that there may have been foul play involved.’

I groped for something else to say but none of it escaped my mouth.

‘Do they have any suspects?’

I saw no reason to worry her.

‘I don’t know….it’s…nobody knows.’

‘Jackson, I…’  As the words began to spill out of the phone they began to take on the timbre of shock.  ‘I mean just this morning I was thinking about the time Johnson said he was taking you to the circus but it was actually a card game.’

Oh yeah.  That time. I was six-years-old.  He’d let me sit at the table.  I’d had a pretty good time that day.

‘Jackson,’ she said in a rush, like she was just realizing something.  ‘Are you ok?’

‘I’m fine.’  I didn’t feel as casual as I sounded.  ‘I mean I’m not fine at all, but under the circumstances.’

‘I’m coming back,’ she announced.  ‘You need me.’

‘Mom….’  It was a welcoming thought; I hadn’t seen my mother for several years.  Then again I didn’t want to even contemplate having to explain this mess to her.  ‘…I don’t think that’s necessary.’

‘Why didn’t you call me right away?’

‘It was too crazy here.  I just found out two days ago.’

‘You could have called me.  I would have come back right away.’

‘Look mom I’m sorry I didn’t call.  I didn’t think it was the sort of thing where you needed to come back, that’s all.’  I knew it was pointless to resist.  There was no talking Dorothy Calvert out of anything once she’d made up her mind.  When I hung up the phone it was with a newfound sense of dread.  My mother was coming to Poscataw.

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