I will amaze you with the story of how things progressed with Del, from a point one year ago when he didn't know my name, to Monday afternoon when we're walking hand in hand on the beach at Virginia Key.
One day, not a week after Celestina made me her proposition and took me for the first time to see Mambo Theoline, Del turned around in Chemistry and asked me if I had an extra pencil because he had broken his. I had made a point of sitting behind him, so I could admire his strong neck, the nape and the round knobs that appear under it whenever he leans his head forward, the ones I always want to press for luck. Sometimes I would lean close, especially on very warm days when he was sweaty, to catch his lovely scent, which is a mixture of the detergent his mama washes his clothes in and his own special sweaty smell, which is kind of like cookies.
I did not have an extra pencil, but I gladly gave him the one I was using. If he'd asked for my left hand I think I would have gnawed it off for him. Later he thanked me for the pencil, and in the days afterward kept looking at me during class. He moved from his seat in front of me to sit next to me, and I'd get this wonderful feeling in the middle of a lecture on ketones and not know what it was coming from till I turned my head a little and caught him looking at me. I was astounded by the power of the loa. When I told Celestina, she said, "I and the loa, we keep our promises." Who knows what bizarre rituals she was conducting with her box and her stone and my Barbie house. Who cares.
All that matters is that eventually he asked me out, ostensibly to study chemistry, which is the only class we have together, but really we just talked, and though I longed to touch him I never did because I was too afraid. And when I was so afraid I couldn't think of anything to talk about, I would talk about voodoo, which was good because it seemed to intrigue him. I marvel at the fact that voodoo brought him to me when the loa broke his pencil, and then voodoo brought him closer to me because he thinks it's all so interesting and can sit for hours listening to me talk. Celestina does not like this, says there are secrets that are not to be revealed, but I don't think I know any of those. Most of the things I tell him are made up, anyway.
We kept going out, and everyone wondered what Mr. Wonderful was doing with Miss Fatty, the misfit girl whose sister and brother were famous freaks. Bets were made predicting which day he'd reveal that it was all a cruel joke, that his friends put him up to it. But everyone waited in vain for that day. And one day he kissed me.
"Voodoo quiz!" I tell him, there on the beach, and pull him with me toward the water until our sneakers are wet. "Who lives in the water?" I ask him.
"Ogoué," he says.
"Correct!" I say. "And what do those remind you of?" I point at the tireless waves rolling around our ankles.
"Bondye," he says, "the force that drives the universe, and that which drives my blood through my heart."
I give him a kiss to let him know what a good pupil he is. Every time I kiss him I can't believe I just kissed him.
"When are you going to take me to a voodoo ritual?" he asks. I give him a loving look right in his shocking blue eyes and touch his big nose.
"Never. They'd put you in a pot and eat you."
"Would not," he says, taking my hand.
"Then they'd make you into a zombi."
"You said there's no such thing as zombis."
"I only said that I had never seen one." Which isn't true, because there's a woman whom Mambo Theoline keeps in her house, whose name is Felice, who is the broken-down remnant of somebody's abandoned zombi. Her master died and she wandered aimlessly without anyone to command her, until Mambo Theoline found her and took her in. She feeds her and takes care of her, and Felice does the dusting and vacuuming, but never speaks or smiles or frowns.
"You can see a voodoo ritual when we have our voodoo wedding," I say.
"I like the way your lips look when you say voodoo," he says. We walk up the beach hand in hand. I look down at Del's bare stomach, at the tiny hairs that come together in a trail that vanishes into his pants. I want to put my hand on it, but I don't.
"I can't wait for Wednesday," I say.
"Me neither," he says. He thinks that in our rented room we will make out, passionately but chastely, smooch and then merely hold each other for a few hours until it's time to go home. That is all we have ever done, though I press for more because my terrible need cries, "More!" Del says he won't sleep with anybody until he is married. I keep telling this to Celestina but she only says, "Trust in the loa."
Tuesday I go shopping with Celestina for a wedding ring. I am getting married to Damballah, the snake god. Or not really getting married to him, so much as being consecrated into his service. When you do your lavé-tête, you have to pick your loa. Sometimes the loa picks you, like how Papa Guédé picked Celestina, but mostly you do the picking yourself, with the advice of wise counselors. Celestina and Mambo Theoline agree that Damballah is for me, or I for him. It doesn't particularly make a difference to me, so long as Mr. Snaky Hiss does not in any way disturb things between me and Del, which Celestina tells me he won't.
But I need, in addition to eggs and flour and white cornmeal and a pair of white chickens, a ring. I want to go to the jewelry counter at Neiman-Marcus because we have a charge account there, but Celestina insists on hitting a bunch of seedy-looking thrift shops in Hialeah. There are a lot of gaudy things that look like they've just slipped off the pinkie of some gold-toothed Cuban boy. Del does not wear rings, and is not Cuban, but looking at the wide men's rings makes me think fondly of his thick fingers and hairy knuckles, so I am spacing out when Celestina finds a ring she thinks is eminently suitable.
"Look," she says, "I knew it would be in here. I felt it pulling me all down the street." I expect her to be holding up one of those tacky ourobouros rings that you sometimes see on people with too much piercing, but she's holding something I actually like. It's a silver ring crafted in the likeness of a wide-blooming rose, with a tiny pearl set in the middle of the flower.
"I like it," I say.
"I knew you would," she says.
"But will he like it?"
"He will. You must be careful never to remove it, once we put it on."
"Of course," I say. It's kind of nice to be shopping with her. Formerly, when Simalo was around, she did not exactly ever have time for me. In fact, she never seemed particularly interested in me. Neither did Simalo, for that matter. When Mama and Papa chided them for not doing more things with their sister, they merely gave blank looks. Mama and Papa did not understand that all their energy and attention was reserved for each other. I can understand that sort of exclusivity now, feeling what I feel for Del.
In these post-Simalo days Celestina and I have been closer and closer. It's sweet to have the sort of big sister who takes you to lunch and takes you clothes shopping, even if she won't let me eat a damned thing at lunch, and only takes me shopping for voodoo clothes. After she buys the ring from the shriveled-up person at the counter, she takes me to Neiman-Marcus where we loiter among the lingerie, and I try on bustier after bustier until I find one that she thinks will please both Del and Damballah.
On Wednesday, in the early evening, Celestina has me standing naked in my room, and she's instructing me.
"The consummation," she says, "cannot possibly take place in bed. You should do it on the floor. Beds are for the lazy and the bored. When he walks into the room--and you must remember to send him out, so when he comes in he will see you and your image will devour him--when he comes in he must see you like this." She kneels down and leans back, further and further until only her shoulders and the soles of her feet are touching the carpet.
"Like this!" she says. "Like this, or you will not have him! Do you understand?"
"I understand," I say, wincing.
"Good. Now get in the tub."
I get in. She's filled it up with two parts hot water to one part milk and scattered herbs in it that look pretty much like a lot of parsley and basil, but smell warm and sweet, like I imagine sometimes the night must smell in Haiti, though I have never been there. Mama won't let us go any farther south in this hemisphere than Key West.
When I have steeped sufficiently, she takes me out of the water and stands me in the middle of my room again. Milky water is dripping from my hair, staining the rug, but she won't let me make a move to dry myself. She does it herself, dabbing me with about a dozen silk handkerchiefs stolen from Mama's underwear drawer. When I'm dry she gets out a little clay pot of oil, which she says has taken a whole year to ripen properly. She rubs it all over me, every bit of skin, and I think when Del hugs me I will shoot out from between his arms and fly across the room like a greasy watermelon. But when she rubs the oil in, it's sucked into my pores as if my whole body were hungry for it.
"Almost done," she says, and pulls out a big white feather from her skirt. For a moment a thrill of fear runs through me, because I have no idea what she plans to do with that feather. She warms it with her breath, then begins to flick it all over my body, up and down, every place she put the oil, and I get such a wonderfully warm and tingly feeling I think if she turned the lights out I'd see her face clearly in my glow.
By the time she's done with the feather I'm so eager to see Del that I dress in less than five minutes and cannot sit still while she does my hair up with little pearl pins and combs. I want to wear the ring but she won't let me. It's for later, she says, and Papa knocks at the door to say that Del has arrived and is waiting for me in the living room.
Prom is a bore and a torture. The music is dull compared to the Saturday night voodoo drums, and dancing is not precisely what I want to be doing with Del. I do not wait long to ask him if we can go upstairs because the heavy bass is making my head hurt, and when we get up to the room I send him back down right away for some aspirin. As soon as he is out the door I get out of my dress and into the position, and then I am waiting for him, my back aching, my whole body aching, my whole person aching.
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