A SOFT ELECTUARY
For the sake of device, let us retreat in time. We will return to the story of the three dead footballers in due course.
In my prior incarnation I was seated on the sofa in the living room of my home, or that which can be called my domicile, born into it as I was. Suffering to me then meant not idle ruminations but blood becoming coarser, itching within me like the potential of a plague. Travelling its course would lead me to its wellspring, a locus at once infinitesimally minute and vast, for it contained the stuff of dreams, and could be snuffed out with a whimper. Pale harbor, thy name is sister, I bring thee not myself.
Perhaps there were hidden allusions in the holy Vodou text which at first eluded me. I sought it out. Possession. As if anything was ours to possess. Within the tome were the archetypal fascinations with origins, but little in the realm of consequence. I did find a relevant account, in the prologue of all places, where it functioned as a tantalizer, appealing to base instincts. In the early Haitian twentieth-century lived a gentleman named Phillipe Rousselot, who had errantly fallen in love with a young prostitute called Odette. His love was requited, and marriage was designed, which was on the whole quite unusual, for Monsieur Rousselot risked no small degree of ostracism from the genteel class should he stoop so low as to marry a woman, née a girl, of such ignoble means. But this would prove the least of his concerns, when the news of the coming union travelled to Odette’s protector, known more commonly as the local whoremonger. Marriage for a working girl of course meant retirement from the trade, which in turn would reduce the whoremonger’s earnings, substantial in this case, such was Odette’s beauty and renown. So a bokor was contracted to murder the young Odette, and revive her in servitude to the whoremonger’s will, via the vessel of the bokor, in an ongoing partnership of pious evil.
It was done and went according to script. Slain Odette arose, a shard of her former self, bearing no memory of her former lover, as Rousselot was merely commanded out of existence. But Monsieur was persistent. Though Odette had migrated to another district, and proved difficult to find, Rousselot did indeed locate her, months later, performing the same deeds as before, but of course, her mind a tabula rasa where the past had never occurred. No amount of impassioned persuasion or nostalgia from Rousselot could rouse Odette into recognition of her former betrothed.
Fortunately, Monsieur’s supplications were overheard by an elderly woman in said village, a former lady of ill-repute herself, who as well had suffered a similar plight as Odette, and recognized in her common behaviors immediately. She pulled Rousselot aside, and in confidence explained how the bokors had been employed for generations to enslave wayward working girls, so as to maintain their trade, as it were. Monsieur beseeched the woman for any riposte to his own current woes, any feat that should be undertaken to redeem his lover to her rightful state. Opportunity revealed itself to the old woman, as she suspected (correctly) that Rousselot came from no insufficient means. She offered a solution for a price, which the gentleman was only too eager to pay. Murder the bokor, she told him, and his spell upon the girl would broken.
Rousselot was in disbelief. Could it be that simple? He wondered aloud to her, why weren’t the streets then lined with the corpses of these foul mercenaries, slain by the victims’ families, friends and lovers? The woman, deep in her ruse, explained. In the first instance, the bokors maintained very secret lives, went by multiple identities, kept no records of their actions, and in essence were nearly impossible to confirm. Secondly, she claimed, and most importantly, the bokor must be slain in full witness of the enslaved, lest the zombis travail the earth till death, soulless and mute.
What Rousselot didn’t know at the time of course was that the woman had invented a fiction. There was nothing in the holy annals or otherwise that could support the woman’s claim of severing a bokor’s ties via death. But this mattered not to Monsieur. He paid the woman and left, his resolve wedded to his core. But he soon discovered that the woman was indeed correct in her depiction of the bokors’ veiled existence. It was many months before Rousselot’s persistence would finally pay off, and he would, through bribery, suspicion and luck, find Odette’s master.
In matters of pragmatism unimportant to this tale (and unmentioned by the book which held it in any case), I suffice to say that Rousselot kidnapped Odette, and was able to confront her bokor in his home one spectral evening. And there, according to scheme, he slit the criminal’s throat, and with his beloved, he watched him die. Then, with utmost anticipation as he had ever felt, after all that travel and toil and waking and longing beyond the seams of his bursting heart, Rousselot turned to Odette, and looked into her eyes anew, and beheld her, and spoke of his love, and awaited reply.
Tears flowed from Odette’s gentle eyes, as she recovered her soul intact, and with it her love for Monsieur, and they fled from that place of horror, to a life deferred, a place which knew not the pestilence of the dead, always merely at rest.
I too was surprised by the conclusion of this strange account, for wasn’t it made plain that Odette’s second resurrection held no truth? The elderly woman was a fabricator, spurred by base monetary reward! But I read on. Yes, the subsequent words pronounced, the woman knew nothing of what she spoke, but this wasn’t the nub. Vodou is a living religion, and as such it is governed by one tenet and only one tenet.
Rousselot believed. He believed with all his heart and soul. It was his faith which brought Odette back to him, for only faith allows love to breathe at all.
Conversely, only faith gives a bokor his power, for faith knows no shades of lightness or dark. That’s for us to answer to, under the watchful eyes of Vodou.
I nearly wanted to throw the book across the room.
First of all, what a sappy ending! I was reading a story full of dark power, and then they pull a sentimental fast one on me? Suddenly from the pages wafted the soddenly moldy unmistakable stench of cheese!
Secondly, I had read enough in my brief time to know that “faith” is the realm of the charlatan and holy-man hucksters. Worshippers shrink in painted corners, until that time they have no other recourse, and then they scream as if from mountaintop, “but I have faith!” and suddenly all fears fall to false ashes. And here was this particular author, of my own recent religious handbook of sorts, getting lazy and resting on this fallacy of “faith.” I had expected more from Vodou. Now it was just another stalker of the weak, promising the universe for an empty gesture, delivering dust.
I can offer you proof of the canard that is faith, for I had none when I entered my Vodou pact. Remember my episode with the dead frog under the bleachers? I held no hope for any resurrection to occur. And when it did, it was by pure chance, an accident of such dumbfounded luck that I believe it never to have transpired in the annals of human experience to date. I was an infant stumbling upon a new element as I walked blind through the wood. Only my own frailty could ascribe any recognition of my own hand in this, when in truth there was none, and deep within me I knew it, though I succumbed to the pride like anyone.
Accompanied by this comfort I set aside the deceitful book, and went about my duties as a teenage eremite. I cleaned up James’ breakfast mess in the kitchen. He had total disregard for decorum, the evidence was plain to see, milk and cereal and slobber in pools everywhere. I laughed at my own vilification of the boy, for its motive was transparent even to its architect. How long would I attempt to reduce James to the status of mere mortality, when truth loomed otherwise? I mean, I assume his zombi cretinship, to coin a phrase, would pass as it was passing for Chloe, though I knew I had certainly assisted my self/other on her journey of self-discovery. O to let the waves of guilt wash over yet again. Shall I retreat to the shower as I did that fateful day? Or merely lie on my bed with my arm tucked under me? I could dig up my crumpled picture of James, and the vision would come less hindered, for hadn’t I already seen him pure and unclothed? Suffice to say, I would not participate in the lower arts today, for I had bore witness to its previous calamitous effects, hastening Chloe’s second coming to womanhood, pardon the pun. Besides, I always felt ill afterwards.
I discerned to check again on the duo in the basement. They were a fresh pair, and I needed to know that their gags and restraints were holding firm, and I must admit I had some inquisitiveness as to their dynamic together, not in the sense that I wished any fruition in it, but that it was unchartered, and its chronicling was up to me.
It was a quiet day outside, as I stepped out the front door, the breeze and birds unspoilt by interrupting vehicles, or any guttural guffaws. Perhaps the children were behaving themselves, I thought as I circled the house to the basement door.
Indeed, upon entering, there were neither desperate lunges for freedom nor banshee wails for blood. The two new souls sat, albeit hog-tied and gagged, in their respective spaces, honoring the boundaries of the chains, eyeing each other with curious, quiet gazes and the occasional jerk of the head. Their mutual demeanor was not unlike rival chimpanzees reaching a muted truce, or so my imagination told myself. I was surprised by their silence, for I expected muffled grunts, their nature-call of sorts. It also struck me that this reciprocal gazing activity had lingered already for quite some time, and it seemed like it could endure likewise. There was a trace of fascination in each of their eyes that betrayed their zombi actualities — it was the only thing making them truly human. Though Mr. Spellman was newer, “younger” in that sense than Doris, they both functioned as equals, and after a few minutes of observation, I noticed a pattern developing. As one participant would motion with the aforementioned head jerk, several seconds later the other one would respond in kind. I have no idea who started this exchange, so it was impossible to ascertain if one was leading and the other was mimicking, and perhaps the transference of “power” was precisely the point — it was like a tennis match, the head jerks volleying back and forth, one person gaining a brief advantage before the other grabbed it back. I grew fond of my game analogy as I watched — it seemed very apt. It appeared to be a fun activity for them, in the realm of the freshly lobotomized, anyway. But the most astonishing thing was (and this didn’t hit me for a few minutes, itself a shock), the two defectives behaved as if I wasn’t there. I was a complete non-presence, invisible, inaudible, a phantom. I, their one and only true master, their bokor, the chosen High Priestess herself — I had nothing to do with their interactions, it was entirely of their own invent, and I felt as if I dared not test it. What could I command to them? They were being extraordinarily well-behaved, causing no harm to themselves, each other, my confidences, or the neighborhood’s sensibilities. No, I reasoned to back my way out of there, saying nothing, lest I upset the new norm. All around me, my children were finding new means to keep themselves occupied. I locked the basement door and dragged myself dreary back up to the house.
I sat back down on the living room sofa, where I had been previously. I tried to remind myself — I never wanted this responsibility. I didn’t want to be held accountable for what Chloe did. The original plan was simply for her to supplant me at school. In my mind’s future eye, this would mean she would be me in perpetuum, and no one would be the wiser. That’s when the Hammer hit me again — the only reason events unfurled as they did is because I am Chloe and she is me and we are together forever as the fucking self/other. How was I to know we were that inexorably linked? That Chloe, in her new state as Anna’s perfecto zombi Sponge-Girl, would soak up my ethereal thoughts and turn them into something as tangible as Death itself? I begat Chloe, who begat Doris, Coach, Paolo, James, Mr. Spellman — all laid at my feet, my perfectly trembling feet. It was punishment, sure — that was easy enough to see, whether Chloe herself knew it or not. I mean, I killed Chloe and I begat Chloe, and the Gods would never let that one rest. No, They said, your actions will bring you the opposite of what you want. You want peace? You get a body count. You want solitude? You get a houseful. You want to read? Words will betray you. You want your sister?
You got her.
I wanted to sleep, so I did. At least I could do that.
Until I heard Chloe scream my name and it echoed through the house.