Thursday, February 18, 2021

Overthrow of a Utopia:


 

Millions of years ago--in a distant galaxy--a planet existed that boasted an advanced technology fueled by intellectual curiosity.   The citizens of Utopie had undergone many changes since the founding of their government.  At the founding of Utopie, a small group had dominated others. The Dominante came in many physical types; some were small of stature while others were tall.  They possessed blue skin that glowed like coal on fire, and their golden eyes penetrated the darkness.  The Nascente were once the natives of the land, but when the Dominante arrived in flying ships powered by the wind, the Dominante usurped the Nascente's land with their superior weapons and glowing eyes. The Nascente were a people of superior hunting skill; however, they lacked the Dominante's deadly weapons and soon succumbed to the cannons, poisoned gas, and expanding bullets of their enemies. The Nascente soon inhabited only a small part of the prosperous planet, living in squalid conditions; however, many of the Dominante envied their raven tresses and glowing bronze skin, making concubines of their women.

As the Dominante progressed, their leaders searched for other ways to enhance their expanding economic power.  They invaded other planets, particularly that of Lebensmittel, and enslaved the people there. These people were tall and majestic, marked by their burgundy skin, taut bodies, and green eyes.  They were relegated to rural areas and worked on elaborate tenant farms, enabling the ruling Dominante to build an exclusive and elitist socialization system. 

Eventually, leaders emerged from the ranks of both the Lebensmittel and Nascente people who fought for the rights of their people. One man in particular, Reverend Fromm, preached reconciliation among the people while he demanded their rights and paid respect to the country's gods. Even when a deranged Dominante assassinated him, he achieved equality for those who faced discrimination. Soon, many leaders of the Dominante heard the pleas of the oppressed. Injustices were rectified, and the various peoples progressed towards unity. 

Some Dominante, however, were unwilling to relinquish a stranglehold on their power. A leader emerged from the Dominante who would stroke their unease. This being was one of the Dominante, but he possessed glazed eyes that no longer shone brightly, and his blue skin had turned to gray ash. He was of the most elite class that controlled every major infrastructure n the planet. During state festivals, he donned elaborate robes and appeared with his chosen concubine at the balcony to wave at the masses. His supreme concubine was not of any race on Utopie. Hass, the Agitator who would be Ruler, selected his concubines from a planet populated by females of porcelain skin, gray eyes, and tails like that of wild horses. These females walked upright , but their tails railed behind them.  Hass seized power and worked to eliminate the rights guaranteed to the many classes. 

Soon, another leader emerged who sought to reconcile a divided Utopie; Heilige, a Dominante, rose from the ranks of the people to demand a legal election. At his side was a female from the Nascente, named Apostel. Together, they would restore justice to Utopie, but Hass would not concede defeat.  He gathered his forces at the foot of the Capitol housing the planet's leaders and bellowed to a small number of enraged Dominante that he had been dethroned unjustly and that their rights, culture, and way of life would vanish under Heilige and Apostel. Carrying weapons and chanting "Death to Nascente and Lebensmittel," they stormed into what was once a seat of justice and attempted insurrection until a combined force of enlightened Dominante, Nascente, and Lebensmittl warriors subdued them.  Alas, the steps made toward justice and equality would be forever s

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Land of No Dissent

The Land of No Dissent:

Many years ago, a planet existed that boasted great diversity among its creatures.  Creatures of every type existed, and the planet was divided into units.  One unit, Tiarnai, gained supremacy over all others because of its diversity and existed as a planet leader.  Though it was diverse, the wealth of this unit was unequally shared among its creatures.  For many years, the Geal held the best positions, obtained the best education, and controlled the most resources.  These creatures were orange with green veins running through their skin and believed that their beauty was unequaled.  The other creatures in this diverse population were the Ruaim and boasted many rainbow-like colors, but they all shared the same green veins as the Geals.  All of the creatures walked upright, and their hair was like the mane of unicorns. Ruaim creatures often worked more than Geal creatures but did not share equally in the wealth of the unit.  This unit prized itself on a document that protected all its citizens, and this sacred document guaranteed all creatures the right to free speech and peaceful protest.  

Because of these guarantees, Ruaim achieved a measure of equality with the Geals, but some Geals resented sharing the wealth with the Ruaims and passed repressive laws to keep the Ruaim in their place.  Both sides argued their position with passion within courts and within documents that would become law, and the Ruaim eventually stood equal to the Geals within the unit. Sadly, distrust still remained within some individuals and groups. However, as technological advances grew and as each group blossomed through education, the walls of injustice crumbled.  Some ignorant Geals held onto their regressive views and committed violent acts against Ruaims—who were now neighbors and equals under the law.  Many Geals and Ruaims socialized, married, and held the same jobs in the highly skilled Tiarnai work force.  

However, at times, some ignorant creature abused this peaceful co-existence and committed an act of brutality seen by masses of people all over the planet and in other units.  Such an act disturbed the peace of Tiarnai one day when the unit was already in a state of turmoil because of a plague that had swept the land. A few years earlier Geal leader rose to the seat of leadership and wanted to advance his political power by inciting disaffected Geals resentful of the gains of the Ruaim.  This leader, Leathcheann, convinced his followers that the plague that killed millions of the creatures all over the planet was merely a plot to discredit him. He stamped his feet and cried like an infant of the tribe when crossed or contradicted.  He told his followers not to worry as the plague took its toll on millions of creatures in the unit. Any creature of intelligence and science that contradicted the Supreme Dictator’s view received a sentence of banishment. 

Tensions were high when a confrontation erupted between a Geal in authority and a regular Ruaim.  In the dramatic conflict between the two, the Ruaim died.  Millions of Ruaims and many fair-minded Geals took to the streets.  They demanded justice and even more reform.  Many of their demands were met, but a faction of disaffected creatures from both the Geal and the Ruaim clan decided that they wanted to end Tiarnai society and the damage brought by Leathcheann.  The dictatorial leader justifiably repulsed these reformers, but in protesting against the dictator, they wanted to erase the history of the planet and the past that had brought both pain and enlightenment.  In doing so, they denied their youngsters the education brought by past mistakes and triumphs. They labeled anyone with an unpopular opinion as unjust or unfair and called for boycotts of their work.  Factions developed within the Ruaims and within the Geals.  Factions within each group burned books and films that could educate but instead were lost for all time. 

Tiarnai split into factions that drifted to other units within the planet. The great ideal of diversity within the unit collapsed as creatures labeled each other as traitors when anyone said anything against a popular movement.  Any creature uttering an unpopular opinion was cast out from the group after being rolled in smoldering ash and pelted with rocks. The outcasts joined the ranks of those who had offended the Supreme Ruler.  The Supreme Ruler eventually fumed at dissenters and supporters alike, stamped his feet, and wailed like an infant. During one tirade, steam erupted from the top of his head, sending the false violet hair he wore to the ceiling and revealing the pointed horns jutting from his skull. His skin took on the color of cigarette smoke as he dissolved into the mist; however, his narcissistic, divisive reign had inflicted lasting harm on the unit. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Very Grim Fairy Tale

A Very Grim Fairy Tale:

Once upon a time in a faraway planet named Orwell lived creatures who were similar to humans in many ways.  They were male and female but each being boasted multi-colored hair and high cheekbones that added to their aesthetic beauty. A tall, regal male creature with orange hair wearing a black robe dominated over the beings and governed with what he termed justice; however, his justice was unequal.  He administered stringent rules and harsh justice to female beings while sparing males from suffering few or any consequences.  

Male and female children received separate and different educations.  They attended separate schools and had separate roles.  Even though the females were expected to work for the communal good, their standard of living was inferior to that of the males.  They also were expected to reproduce with approved partners, appointed by ministers to the Robed One.  Females were sent to the School of Reproductive Certainty while males attended the School of Arts, Language and Science. Fraternization among beings other than those approved by the Robed One and his associates was forbidden.  

Though the school could not teach the females what the males learned, the School for Reproductive Certainty attempted to nurture the spirit and intellect of its females charges.  Many of the female teachers included some instruction limited to males and lobbied for the students to have more advantages.  The Robed One did not appreciate any challenge to his authority.  He bribed several of the compliant female teachers to spy on others, informing him that some of the adult females had grown to love each other too much.  

The Robed One then sent or outsiders from the planet Ifreann to preside over the School for Reproductive Certainty. These beings hailed from the planet Luzifer. The creature appointed as head master was named Schikarieren. He wore a long tail which he rolled into baggy trousers so as conceal his true identity from the female beings.  Before taking the position, he sawed the antlers on his head to make himself look like an Orwellian male. Unlike the hair of the Orwell residents, his was a dull white streaked with gray.  With him came a female from Luzifer named Hundin. She also had a tail, which she concealed in a knot within a loosely fitting skirt.  She’d dyed her hair a pale blue, similar to many of the females in the school, and she’d styled it in waves that concealed the small horns jutting from her head. 

Schikarieren boasted a booming voice even though he was small of stature, unlike the Orwellians. He demanded adoration of himself, Hundin, and the Robed One, holding long diatribes on video about how the Robed One did not receive the proper respect from a planet that showed no gratitude.  Hundin, who was very skinny, brought giggles to the females when she appeared in the video. Her voice squeaked, and the students often pointed at the bulge in her backside, so unlike them.  Sometimes, her hair fell, revealing her horns. The two Luziferians then began to harass the female Orwellian teachers who loved too much.  They found fault with their teaching methods, their ideology, and the way they worshipped the god supported by the Robed One.  

The two outsiders banished the females who loved too much to isolated planets, but then, the empire they hoped to construct fell apart.  Schikarieren and Hundin fought for control of the school, and too many beings had complained to the Robed One of the pair’s cruelty.  The Robed One sent a spy to work in the school, his sister,  Faisneiseoir. Schikarieren disliked her and thought she was one who loved too much.  He complained about her role as head of religious studies and verbally assaulted her when he didn’t think the students showed proper piety. She reported her treatment to her brother, and both Luziferians were banished.  

The school soon withered, destroyed by oppression and hypocrisy. Some females vanished to neighboring planets. Others simply drifted around Orwell without any focus, refusing to reproduce with those approved by the Robed One or reproducing with those who were unsuitable.  Of the banished women, some died while others raised an insurrection, toppling the Robed One and his oppressive regime.  

Saturday, May 16, 2020

COVID-19 and Our Way of Life

COVID-19 and Our Way of Life: 

I’ve heard too many people say, “I want this quarantine over because I’m sick of being in this house.” I’ve also heard that “they” are making “too much of a big deal about this. People die of other things.” Well, yes, people die of other things, but arguing that people die of other things is ignoring the fact that COVID-19 is highly contagious and people who may be carriers are often asymptomatic. Too many people in this country see this as a “Leftist conspiracy” designed to “persecute” the saint in the White House.  

When will COVID-19 be eradicated from our midst?  We don’t know, and a vaccine seems to be somewhere in the distant future.  This disease has taken its toll on our way of life.  This spring in Louisiana brought none of the festivals we so love.  St. Patrick’s Day festivities were non-existent. French Quarter Fest, Jazz Fest, and Greek Fest all were cancelled in the wake of this pandemic. I totally understand the frustration many people feel.  Our anger and frustration does not alone derive from our love of partying and frivolity and our role as the nation’s hedonists (our more judgmental countrymen sometimes label us residents of Louisiana as decadent hedonists). These events and all of our private parties (crawfish boils, church fairs, etc.) reflect our love of life and our communal spirit.  We see friends at these events.  We shake hands, hug, and kiss. We lock hands and sing together.  When Springsteen sang “We Shall Overcome” at Jazz Fest in 2006, we wept together, shared tissues, and hugged.  We share communal meals at church celebrations, and we celebrate events like Mother’s Day with a crawfish boil. We mourn out community; we miss the family and friends we cannot see. Even when we see each other, we do so from safe distances.  We mourn those hugs and lost caresses. 

We mourn for those who have lost their jobs and revenue. Too many of our friends and neighbors no longer have income.  Many of the people who could ill afford to lose jobs have done so.  Economies across the globe are reeling, and we don’t know if even a loosening of restrictions will help in the long run.  The corona cases could spike again.  The hospitals could fill in record time.  We again could face lockdown. 

We also mourn those lost to this virus.  Many of our loved ones have succumbed to this illness.  Many of our loved ones are healthcare professionals who risk their lives daily.  Friends and neighbors work in hospitals, grocery stores, and essential businesses.  They deliver groceries and other goods.  The mail carrier wears gloves and a mask; the nurses and other healthcare professionals have daily temperature checks. 

Will there be a vaccine or a cure? Maybe a vaccine, but no one knows when.  What will happen is that this virus will weave itself into our lives, into our psyches.  We will accept its insidious presence as we did polio, measles, and other debilitating diseases.  We will watch as people sicken and sometimes die.  Living with COVID-19 will become part of our daily lives, as polio was part of our culture in another generation.   We will mourn those who die and celebrate those who recover.  We will learn to adjust—no more hand shakes at church, no more casual kiss when greeting friends.

What will we learn? We have learned the value of people and of all we took for granted.  We have explored our neighborhoods while we exercised, talk to our friends from a safe distance, and taken pleasure in simple things.  A shared movie in the den is a treat.  Eventually, we will have gatherings even with the threat of COVID-19. Our gatherings will be on our outdoor patios.  Each guest will pour wine with sanitary wipes.  We will adapt to handshakes being a thing of the past. Hopefully, we will see the wisdom in the masks as a means of keeping each other safe and look beyond our own convenience. We may pour into the Superdome to see our Saints while we wear masks. I will start the school year wearing a mask and making sure kids are seated far apart.  

This is life in the era of COVID-19. Other eras have lived through plague, polio, and other devastating illnesses.  Eventually, life settled into a rhythm for our ancestors.  It will do so again.  We will adapt to the rhythm.  Hopefully, we can adjust with grace and courtesy for others.  


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Modern Plague: COVID19

A Modern Plague:

In previous years, I'd only thought of a disease that could shut down a global economy and take millions of lives as a phenomenon occurring in far distant times, not one afflicting us in a more modern age.  After all, the Great Influenza was my grandmother's generation; tuberculosis also afflicted family members of another generation. Images of priests dying over their congregation's prostrate bodies as they performed last rites were relegated to the medieval era of Chaucer. As a United States citizen, I'd heard of swine flu, Ebola, etc.; however, I'd known of few people actually afflicted with those illnesses.  As a resident of Louisiana, I'd heard of yellow fever killing many people, but I'd witnessed nothing that took so many lives or disrupted the global economy in such a destructive manner, as has COVID19. 

News headlines blare out the number of dead around the globe.  The U. S. president and his staff deflect, evade, and sometimes answer questions on the health of the economy as well as the dire shape of our health care system.  Foreign leaders field similar questions from their press. None of them know when we will awaken from a nightmare that has left the most vulnerable at risk and helpless to fight a sinister killer. Some will survive; some will die.  Ironically, your chances of conquering this killer depend upon the resiliency of your immune system and the strength of your DNA.  Scientists and health care workers do not know just what keeps some people healthy or asymptomatic; they don't know why some people are afflicted but recover while others die. It's the proverbial luck of the draw. Yes, we have statistics.  Most who die are older or have pre-existing health problems. Some people, however, are young and die. Some were healthy and die.  There is still so much we don't know.  Will we ever?

My husband and I went to our local grocery last night, wearing masks.  I thought of so many of the doctors and nurses I personally know who are fighting this killer on the front lines.  They are running out of supplies; they are watching helplessly as people die.  Governors plead with the government for more ventilators. My young cousin faces this daily in his job as a nurse.  Another young friend is pregnant, nursing ill people while she carries the new life inside her.  Then, there are the many people who are silent and often not acknowledged in this battle. My mail carrier comes to our front door wearing a mask and gloves. God bless him as he goes about his job!  The garbage collectors pick up the trash placed at the edge of our lawns wearing gloves and masks. The young woman who checked us out last night at the grocery did so behind Plexiglas.  She wore a mask and gloves, and I wondered at her resolve.  With her long braids and smile behind the mask, she looked no older than the kids I teach.  I'm sure she works for minimum wage. I sincerely hope no one ever puts down these people who work minimum wage jobs. These are the people dying and fighting the good fight (along with the health care professionals) so that we still have essential services.  

When will our lives be "normal"? I live in New Orleans, in south Louisiana. We are a people who love to hug. We have festivals, many of which have been cancelled until the fall. We host crawfish boils and wine parties; our friends and family gather for New Orleans Saints games. We bury our dead in ceremony and then gather to celebrate those lives.  Several friends and relatives of friends have passed since this pandemic invaded our existence; all burials were private--only immediate family could attend.  More than anything, we in Louisiana (and I'm sure the rest of the country and the world) want the fabric of our lives to return to what we call normal. I'm sure all of us want to enjoy our lives again, but the fragile fabric of our lives will have been altered; the people who comprised part of its pattern may no longer be within the intricate needlework of our lives.  Some of us will no longer have jobs and may miss the people we once knew so intimately. Many of us will mourn those swallowed by this tidal wave of death.  COVID19, you are an assassin. Conquer you we will. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Sweet Trudy: 

August would have been my cousin Trudy's birthday.  She was two years older than I and possessed a smile that won hearts and spread love. This description may sound corny, but it's accurate. Trudy was the type of person who was always thinking of other people, displaying her love for her family and friends on a daily basis. 

Trudy was a nurse, a very fitting profession for her. She genuinely cared for other people, especially the family she cherished and the friends she'd known her whole life.  When my mother was very ill, she would visit often, advising me how to handle a very ill woman. She sometimes sat with Mama so I could have a break from the sometimes-grueling task of nursing my poor mother or when my work duties took me away for an evening.  She and Mama would watch television together as she clipped Mama's toenails, trading gossip and chocolate candy.  When my mother lay on her deathbed, Trudy and my aunt sat with me. Trudy took her pulse and monitored her breathing until she drew her last.  She also comforted me when I mourned my mother's passing, assuring me I couldn't have done more for her. 

Her generous spirit knew no bounds.  She hosted her friend Peggy's bridal shower.  She nursed her patients with care. She was a loving aunt to her siblings' children, a loyal wife to John, and a devoted mother to her only daughter Jennifer. Trudy's husband, a native of Guyana, recounted her visit to his homeland. A young relative was hesitant to greet this lady with long blond hair and hid behind his mother's skirts. Trudy spread her arms wide and said, "Come give me a big kiss!" At her funeral, John read an email from that young man, now a successful adult, who remembered Trudy's kindness. 

When she developed a horrible blood cancer, Trudy approached it with the optimism so typical of her.  Determined to enjoy life, she dove into treatment and looked beautiful at her daughter's wedding; however, within a year, the cancer was back.  Her brother David donated blood cells, but the cancer had spread. She died before the birth of her first grandchild Mason.

Recently, we celebrated the first birthday of Trudy's second grandchild, little Madelyn Trudy. Her daughter and grandchildren have thrived, but I wish our sweet Trudy had lived to see her gorgeous grandchildren. I truly hate cancer.  It robbed Trudy of life and tortured her in her last months.  

Monday, June 27, 2016

Deirdre on the Bayou--Short story

Deirdre on the Bayou

Deirdre cast a cynical glance at her friend Kayley.  “Why should I do something so silly?”
            “It’s not silly. You need some cheering up. I can tell how down you are.”  Kayley looked at her over a sugar-coated beignet and smiled encouragingly. 
            “It’s nothing I can’t handle.” Deirdre wondered if she believed her own words. Would she be able to handle this? Losing Lance? Losing the baby?
            “Well, come with me tonight to the bayou.” Kayley smiled broadly and took a sip of coffee. 
           “What’s happening at the bayou?” Deirdre clutched her own coffee, somehow hoping that she could hold onto her sanity through the cup. Her knuckles were growing white. 
            The two young women sat at a coffee house in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans.  They had met while studying at Loyola in New Orleans, and despite their different backgrounds, had become fast friends.  Kayley came from a local Creole family who had readily embraced Deirdre with all the welcome the city could offer.  It was from Kayley’s family that Deirdre learned about red beans and rice, Creole gumbo, and boiled crawfish. She was invited to most family functions, and Mama Anita had taken Deirdre under her wing upon learning that Deirdre’s mother had died when she was a young child.  To Deirdre, a product of the very quaint area of Boston known as Beacon Hill, the family held all the fascination of exotic birds. Her father was a self-made man, the product of Irish immigrants, but after her mother’s death, he’d buried his grief in what Deirdre had long believed was an import/export business.  Now, even her father was out of reach, in jail for his business activities.  He wasn’t simply importing but smuggling, and smuggling guns for the local Irish mob.  How could she have been so blind? Still, the money had paid for her college education.  She’d met Kayley’s family and then Lance, handsome Lance. .   .
            “It’s about you and Lance, isn’t it? You can tell me.” Kayley gazed at her with wide, dark eyes.  “Did the jerk break up with you?” Her voice rose.  “Does he hit you?”
            Shush, Kay!”  Deirdre looked around at the other patrons.  Some customers had glanced their way and quickly turned when noticed.  “No, of course not, but he’s just—just distant since I lost the baby.”
            “What kind of a man is he? That’s not your fault, and who is he to neglect you? He could sure as hell lose a few pounds, and his complexion could use some work.  There you are with that red hair and those green eyes.” Kayley shook her head, obviously mystified at the ways of men. 
            This time Deirdre almost laughed and choked on her coffee. Kayley with her café au lait colored skin and Barbie figure epitomized perfection. Yes, Lance was a big guy but muscular, not fat, and a dark beard hid any skin problems.  How inferior most people must seem to Kayley! “You still haven’t said what’s happening at the Bayou.” 
            “Summer solstice, girl. St. John’s Day, cher!”  Kayley almost squealed.  “The voodoo priestess is going to baptize.”
            Deirdre felt a shiver snake up her spine.  “I’m Catholic, Kayley.  This seems too weird.”
           “Hell, I’m Catholic, too.  It’s not anti-Catholic, my Northern friend.  Marie Laveau was a very good Catholic.” She took the last bite of beignet.  “And a hairdresser by night. You can even bring doughboy Lance with you.” Kayley gave an evil smile.
            “He’s in Houston visiting his family.” Deirdre suddenly felt lonely.  When she’d met Lance her junior year, the attraction had been instant.  By senior year, he had proposed, and with graduation, they saw no reason to avoid pregnancy—even if it happened before the wedding.  After all, they both had jobs—she working in a marketing firm and he positioned at a law firm.  They would be wed before the child came, and what a blissful way to begin their lives together.  After her mother’s death, Deirdre had loved acting as surrogate mother to her younger brother; she’d wished God had granted her more siblings. 
            “Perfect that he’s gone.  You come tonight with me.  You don’t even live far from Bayou St. John.  I’ll get you at seven. Bring some offering for the altar.”
            Deirdre took a bite of the last beignet.  Until now, she’s resisted.  Staring at Kayley, she asked, “Like what?”
            “Something to represent Our Lady of Prompt Succor.  She’s important since Katrina.  A picture of Marie. If you want to hex Lance, a bear image.”  Kayley shrugged. “Wine, too, of course, any food.  It’s a celebration.”
            “You mean a bear as in the animal?” Deirdre couldn’t help but laugh.
            “That’s the one.”

            “I don’t believe in such stuff.  Why am I going?” Deirdre muttered under her breath as she and Kayley made their way from the double shotgun she shared with Lance to the bayou.  She wore a flowing white dress.  Kayley had insisted upon white for the occasion—and a white head scarf in case Deirdre chose baptism.  It was after seven when they first saw the celebrating voodoo practitioners.  The sun had begun to set, and the drumming grew louder as they approached.  A picnic bench had been erected on the grass surrounding the bayou. Candles held by the gathered congregants flickered in the dying light. Nearly all were in white—the women in white dresses, the men in white jeans. Some of the women wore scarves around their hair.  The young man drumming was shirtless—his brown skin and wavy black hair glistening with perspiration as he pounded conga drums strapped around his shoulders.   A second bench rested under the shade of a live oak.  Participants had spread treats onto it: pastry cakes, fried chicken, bread, onion rings, and rice covered in red beans. Apparently, there would be a communal feast after the ceremony.  Deirdre and Kayley placed their offerings of wine and block cheese on the table. 
            “Wow! This is wild.” Deirdre squeezed Kayley’s arm and giggled.  She had to admit that the atmosphere was exciting and the people not what she had anticipated.  She chided herself:  Did you think they would all look as if they came from Haiti? This crowd was a mélange of college students, professionals, bohemians, and older people.  Some merely seemed curious; they laughed among themselves as the candles shook in their hands.  Others seemed very serious—intently looking at the far end of the bayou.  They were a multi-ethnic assortment of old, middle-aged, and young. Deirdre looked in the direction indicated by the serious practitioners.  Suddenly, she gasped, “What the hell?”
            Kayley gave her a wry smile, lit her own candle, and then used it to light Deirdre’s.  “That raft is for the priestess.  She’s coming for the ceremony.”  She cast a sideways glance at Deirdre and let out a laugh more like a cough.  “What did you think? That everyone here would be wearing bone earrings?”
            Deirdre put her tongue out at her friend.  “Honestly, I didn’t know what this would be like.” She scanned the crowd. “Do these same people come all the time?”
            “Some, I guess.  Hell, I don’t come all the time, but you get your just curious people.” She indicated a tall woman with ebony skin who swayed to the drumming.  “She’s always here.  Some say she’s praying for the soul of the baby she lost.  Others say she’s praying for the destruction of the baby’s daddy, the man who raped her.”  She pointed to a young man in a white shirt and slacks. “He’s an anthropology professor. He’s just curious. Pisses me off, looks at us like a bunch of animals to study.”
            This priestess was the biggest surprise of all.  Deirdre stared, wondering if her eyes had literally protruded from her skull when she gazed at the woman.  A raft floated up the river.  One muscular, formidable Asian man who couldn’t have been more than twenty guided it to the banks of the bayou. From there descended the priestess.  Unlike her congregation, she was in purple with elaborate gold jewelry and gold silk head scarf; however, this was no practitioner from Haiti. Rather, this woman had skin as white as parchment and eyes that contained gold specks in the midst of deep blue.  In contrast, the few strands of hair visible under her scarf were jet black, too black to be natural, Deirdre thought. She was ethereal, seemingly not of this earth.  The oarsman helped her from the raft.  The crowd clapped.  The experienced practitioners began chanting in French, Kayley among them.
            “What are you saying to her?” Deirdre spoke to Kayley but observed the crowd. 
            “They’re telling her to turn up the heat and feel the power.” Kayley’s gaze was fastened on the priestess.  Deirdre could tell she was a true believer.  Her eyes never left the pale woman who descended from the raft with the help of her oarsman.
            It was then that Deirdre saw him, a young man bare to the waist wearing a skull mask. He and some other men pushed a large cauldron beside the bench that would serve as an altar for the night.  He helped the other men secure the cauldron and then turned his attention to the woman. Deirdre noted how his muscles vibrated when he folded his arms and how his jeans appeared painted on his thighs.  The vestiges of a light beard or goatee graced what little she could see of his face. The eyes staring at her from behind the mask were blue with flecks of brown, just like the woman. A relative? Her brother? Her son? The woman seemed ageless.  The man could be either relative. Deirdre momentarily felt his gaze on her, but when she glanced in his direction, his stare was on the woman in purple. 
            “What’s her name?” Deirdre thought her whisper in Kayley’s ear sounded unnaturally low. 
            “Dominique, but who knows?” Kayley shrugged.  “She may want her privacy.”
Upon alighting from the raft, the conjure woman concentrated on the bench, spreading a white cloth over it handed to her by the handsome Asian man.  Members of the assembly handed the voodoo woman objects to be placed on the altar: tapered candles, a statue of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a crucifix, and then an image of St. John.  It was then that the woman said, “Here was a man who always did right.” 
The drumming had subsided to a light tapping but rose as members of the congregation brought offerings to the altar.  Kayley removed another bottle of wine from the satchel she carried and brought it forth.  Others brought vases filled with roses or carnations.  Still others brought bread.
The voodooeine commanded as she clapped her hands.  “Build a fire.”
The men assigned to the task immediately lit sticks around the cauldron and then stepped away.  Again Deirdre felt the man stare at her from behind his mask.  He, with other congregants, filled the cauldron with water.  Then, with cries sounding like a combination of keening and primal possession, others produced their more base offerings.  Someone tossed a snake into the fire.  The creature writhed as it somersaulted through the air and into the pot.  Still another offered what looked like a dead possum. It, too, went into the pot. The drumming intensified as participants added salt, peppers, and other ingredients Deirdre knew from her grandmother’s kitchen. 
            The voodooeine began dancing, an undulating motion as her skirts circled around her.  Deirdre felt the drum beat move through her senses.  She, too, began to dance with Kayley.  Suddenly, the man in the skull mask was at her side, offering her wine.  She took it—something she would never do in any other social situation.  Kayley drew her into the circle of people surrounding the cauldron.  The stars now present in the sky lit her friend’s face, making her even more beautiful.  The masked man was beside her suddenly, holding his own wine as he circled Deirdre and Kayley.  With one quick motion, he drew Deirdre to him, his muscular arms encircling her as his hardening member caressed her womanhood through the folds of her flowing dress.
The voodoo woman returned to the raft.  She cried out, “It’s time for the water.”
Women removed their scarves.  Men let out war whoops before diving in. The conjure woman slipped an arm around the first baptismal candidate and removed the scarf covering the woman’s hair.  She pushed the girl to her knees and pressed her hair into the water. The girl then joined the voodoo woman in a dance, the priestess moving as if in a rapture. 
Deirdre was in a rapture of her own.  Death Mask swirled around her; had she wanted to rid herself of his attention, she could not.  The transfixing eyes that stared at her from behind the mask held her as if by magic.  There was something familiar about him, something she couldn’t quite verbalize, but he was mesmerizing. No way could she fight his advances or the surreal feeling overwhelming her as he lifted her off her feet and made his way to the water.  He moved slowly into the water and then released her until she was at his side.  The man with the conga drums moved closer, circling around them as he beat a rhythm that invaded Deirdre’s soul and every quivering fiber of her body.  His member burned near her skin as her skirts fanned over the water’s surface.  Removing the mask, he quickly buried his face in the crescendo of her rising and falling breast before letting his lips move to her neck, her arms, and then her lips.  She barely saw his face, but somehow, her dress was floating away, apart from her, and she could see his rising member near her womanhood in the dark water. His tongue in her mouth was sweet.  His body invading hers quickened her pulse.  She took deep breaths as waves of pleasure cascaded through her body.  Suddenly, the scene swam—the practitioners, the rising moon, and the swaying bodies of the dancers.  Then, only blackness.
“If you loved me so much, you wouldn’t have been such a dick about leaving me.” Deirdre met Lance in the same coffee shop where she and Kayley had discussed going to the voodoo ceremony. She took a sip of coffee, trying to resist the urge to hurl it at him. 
“I only wanted to clear my head, see my parents.” Lance stared at her over his cup. 
“So you told your little Texas mama about the baby.”  Deirdre knew her mockery irritated him and experienced a sadistic jolt of pleasure.  “Did she think I was a disgrace and should be flogged for my sins? I’m sure, though, she’d spare you.  Men are always spared.”
“Well, she didn’t lock me out of the house or put my clothes outside!” Lance had raised his voice, and several other customers as well as the barista turned to stare.  He lowered his voice.  “What the fuck was that about? We didn’t talk, Deirdre.  You just threw me over.”
“What was I supposed to think or do when you just left town, whimpering about needing to think things over?” Deirdre put her cup down and crossed her arms.  “You’re a piece of work, Lance.”
Lance reached over, clutching her hand.  “Look, I was upset after the baby.  I worried we were rushing it, but a few days away helped me see that all I wanted was you.” He turned an ingratiating smile on her.  “Let’s do it soon, get married, I mean.”
Deirdre looked away, studying the bustling Uptown street.  A group of college students waited for a streetcar.  An elderly man walked his dog.  A young woman jogged on the neutral ground, an IPod to her ear. The gorgeous oaks shaded the coffee shop where they sat.  Still, a chill ran through her body.  Swallowing, she said, “Are you sure your mother wants to be tied to such a scarlet woman?”
“My mother likes you.  Besides, she’d love grandchildren.”  He drew her clenched hand to his lips and kissed her palm.  He looked suddenly sad.  “I hope one day we can give our parents that.”
What should she say? Deirdre had missed her monthly course, and such a phenomena had never happened before.  She looked down and then met his gaze. She saw love there. “Your mother might have a chance at grandchildren. You know I’m never late.”
Lance let out a whoop that again made people stare, but this time, he sprang from his chair, clasped her to him, and smothered her with a burning kiss.  “We always wanted this. We were talking to Fr. McGraw about marrying us.  He’ll do it fast now.” 
Deirdre wanted to tell him the whole truth, about the bayou, about the mysterious woman, and about her indiscretion with the unknown man.  But why? She remembered little of that night—only waking in Kayley’s house the next day.  Had she really drunk so much? She didn’t think so, only a glass of wine, but she did remember the intoxicating effect of the man’s kisses on her lips. No one had ever made love to her as he had.  That she remembered and then shedding her clothes.  She’d appreciated his advances. Lance’s rejection had stung; she needed soothing that night. 
“Besides, this will prove them wrong.” Lance’s voice echoed from what sounded like a tunnel. 
Deirdre looked at him.  “What do you mean?”
Lance indicated the other customers, who all seemed interested in their conversation.  Two little gray-haired ladies watched with undisguised interest.   One adjusted her hearing aide. Slipping an arm around her waist, he guided her into the street.  “When I was back home, I was tested. The doctors said the baby possibly didn’t survive because my sperm count is weak, but here we are, having another baby.” The shade of an oak cast a shadow over his face. “See, my sperm can’t be too weak.” 
Deirdre said nothing but kissed him.  She couldn’t tell him, no, not ever.  All her hurt vanished, and her love was ignited anew. She returned his smoldering kisses.
One week later, Deirdre followed the nurse into the doctor’s office.  She now was experiencing definite signs of pregnancy.  Her previous doctor had retired, and Kayley had recommended a new doctor.  Deirdre stripped of her clothing and covered herself with a white sheet. As she sat on the examining table of the pristine office not far from Oschner Baptist, Deirdre noted a small painting on the wall.  It showed a scene very much like the one on the bayou—a woman on a raft, floating up the bayou. Stepping down from the table and drawing closer, she studied the face of the woman. Surely she looked just like the conjure woman who had so fascinated Deirdre, but this scene evoked images of a long-ago New Orleans, one similar to the time of Marie Laveau.  The door swung open; a tall woman with jet-black hair and porcelain skin advanced toward her, holding out a hand.  “I’m Dr. Baptiste. You must be Deirdre.”
Deirdre could do nothing but stare.  “Do I know you?”
The doctor looked at her chart, at Deirdre, and then smiled slightly.  “I don’t think so.  You are a new patient, right?”
“Ye--yes, that’s right.” Deirdre stammered slightly and looked around, confused.  The woman’s eyes were the same cornflower blue with wisps of grain that defined the as the conjure woman, but if she recognized Deirdre, she didn’t let on.  Deirdre found her voice, forcing herself to keep her emotions in check.  Well, she didn’t know what her feelings were, anyway.  Should she be afraid? Feel used? Violated? She indicated the painting.  “That’s a really lovely painting.”  Was it lovely, she wondered?
“Some say that’s Marie.” The doctor shrugged.  “I just liked the way it looked in the neighborhood flea market.”
Deirdre looked at her quickly.  “Do you think it’s Marie?”
“Some say she lives on in descendents.” Then, the doctor became very business-like, ordering her onto the table and beginning the examination. 
Deirdre emerged less than a half hour later with a prescription for neo-natal vitamins.  As she opened the door, she almost ran into a man in a white doctor’s coat, obviously one of the doctor’s partners.  She hurriedly excused herself and brushed past him, but something told her to look back.  She briefly caught his stare.  The eyes were the same blue/golden of her lover at the bayou. No, it’s my imagination, she thought as she headed to her car.
Eight months later, Deirdre’s daughter was born.  Dr. Baptiste, smiling benevolently, waited for Lance to cut the cord before placing the baby, bloody and wailing, on Deirdre’s chest.  The child was tiny but perfect, and when the child opened her eyes, they were blue with golden flecks.