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Vol. 2, No. 3

Horse and Horseman
by Chris Adrian

~

Later, as I kneel before Mambo Theoline and she braids and parts my hair while Celestina looks on proudly, I can only think about how wonderful and awful it was with Del. It all went beautifully, don't think it did not. I got everything that was coming to me, everything Celestina promised. He saw me on the floor. My need snared him and drew him to me. The aspirin rolled out of his hand and in the silence while he was walking toward me I thought I could hear them bouncing on the carpet.
      Certainly I should have known what would happen. When I put my mouth on his nipple I felt like a vampire, like I was drawing something vital from him, but it was good. When I rolled him on his back and pushed his arms up over his head and ran my cheek along the glorious swell of his biceps, that was good, too, and when I put my face under his arm and smelled the cookie smell I was utterly at peace, and all I could think of was how rare and good it is to get what you want.
      It was all the most wonderful thing in the world until it was over, because after Del brought me ever higher and higher on some crazy ziggurat, up and up forever until together we fell off the top, after I had the glorious crisis I had been working so hard for all year long, I slipped away and I had a vision of my sister. We stood on a bridge lit fantastically by thousands of candles. Our Secte Rouge brothers and sisters cavorted across the whole span, their bodies casting weird shadows down the gorge. Celestina threw a struggling package down in the middle of the crowd. It was a boy stolen from his village while he slept. Celestina choked him with a cord made of human intestines, then pronounced him to be a pig and thus to be eaten. We fell on him and I bit his thigh.
      I did not scream when I opened my eyes, though I made a funny noise in my throat, halfway between a sob and a burp. My eyes began immediately to sting because Del was dripping tears into them. Apparently he'd fallen into a postcoital abyss of his own. He was weeping and clutching at me.
      "What did I do?" he asked me, his whole body shaking, his lovely face all twisted up.
      I didn't answer, but at the sound of his weeping I felt such remorse I thought my body would turn to ash. I kept thinking, stupid boy!
      "I have to go," I said. "I'm late for my thing."
      "What?" he said. "You can't go. You can't leave. What did I do? What did we do?"
      "I've got to go," I said.
      "I'll go with you."
      "You can't come," I said. "They'll eat you."
      "Please!" he said. He caught my leg as I was getting up, and wouldn't let go. In the end I said he could come but that he had to stay in the car. All the way over he kept asking why I wouldn't talk to him, and the closer we got to Mambo Theoline's, the closer I got to tears. As we pulled up he said he was sorry, as if what we had done was his idea. He said he loved me and didn't want me to be angry with him. It was too much.
      "You don't really love me!" I said, just before I slammed the door. "You're just my voodoo love slave!"
      Now, as Mambo Theoline breaks a pure white egg over my head for Damballah Arc en Ciel, and as she sprinkles flour over that, there are all these little voices in my mind going guilty, guilty, and evil, evil. The fact that Del's sweetness and desirability have not been lessened by my horrible use of him only makes me feel worse. When Mambo Theoline is done with the flour, I sing the song Celestina taught me:
      Fiole por Damballah,
  Damballah we do Fiole, oh!
  Damballah we do Fiole por Damballah,
  Damballah we do Fiole por Damballah!
      I'm thinking, Damballah, just a few hours ago I was only going to do this for show. I was only going to pretend to marry you, but now I want to become your faithful nun-wife and never be evil to another human being again. Give me the ring, I will never take it off! But even as I think this a picture hangs in my mind of Del's face, flushed and sculpted by his breaking crisis. His face like that is precisely what I wanted. I wanted it to be mine to look at. I wanted his guttural articulations to be mine to hear, his weight to be mine to bear up. And I still want these things.
      Mambo Theoline shouts a prayer to Damballah, and the drums start, and she steps up and kills a chicken on my head. Yes, she kills a chicken right on my head, and the blood runs down all over my hair and face until I look like Carrie White on her own ill-fated prom night. Now it's almost done, all that's left is for me to put on the ring and get possessed by Damballah. It's Celestina who brings up the ring and puts it on my finger, after which Mambo Theoline begins to shake her asson furiously and ask Damballah to come into me. When the drums start, I begin to dance. I can't help myself, though I stay in place and try to keep a solemn expression. The others are dancing, too, dancing by me where I'm standing and touching me gently in welcome and congratulation. There's blood in my eye, so I can't exactly see what Celestina is doing when she suddenly leaps in front of me and holds something up to my face. I have to wipe my eyes to see that it's the little box from under her bed. When Mambo Theoline sees it, she screams like she's just seen the most horrible thing in the world. Celestina opens the box.
      "Child!" screams Mambo Theoline. "Do not look inside!"
      Of course I do look, it's already too late when she warns me, but all I see is a creamy sort of brightness. Mambo Theoline is screaming "No, no," and she rushes at Celestina and tries to hit her over the head with the rattle. But it breaks before it touches her. A snake bone flies along my left cheek, giving me a shallow cut. Celestina pushes tottery old Mambo Theoline down, then kicks her in the head. She turns back to me and shuts the box. I fall flat on my back.
      It was my plan to pretend to be possessed, to make a good show for my sister. I was going to slither all around on my belly, risking Astroturf burns, and lap up a raw egg, risking nausea if not salmonella, all to show her my heart was in the enterprise, but I never actually expected it to happen. When she opened the box, I felt everything I considered to be my mind draw up into a peach-pit-sized space in my head, and something else rushed in to fill it. At first I did not know what that something was, I did not feel snaky or all-powerful, so it could not be Damballah. I did not want to speak rudely or drink or smoke, so it was not Papa Guédé. I did not know who it was until I realized the familiar smell I smelled all around me was my brother's smell. From the back of my mind I watch as he opens my eyes and works my legs to stand me up.
      "Is it you?" Celestina asks. When they saw the box the others had fled, even Georges with the sword he ought to have used to protect his Mambo. In their haste they have bent the poteau-mitan and overturned the altar. All the little pictures of the gods and saints are catching fire.
      "What have you done?" asks Simalo. It is my voice, but somehow it sounds just like he did. In the little peach-pit room in my head I start to cry. Celestina comes forward and embraces me.
      "I've got you back," she says.
      "You have polluted this houngfort with sorcery." He looks down at Mambo Theoline and frowns. "It is not right," he says. From where I am, I can see everything he knows, and as he realizes how our sister brought him back, I realize it, too, though the knowledge is his, not mine. I understand that all this time the box that I thought held tiny voodoo monsters actually held our brother's soul, and that all she needed was somebody to put it in. Best would be someone who shared his blood, and since she could not put it in herself she put it in me. She had only to wait a year and a day, catch me at the very moment before I was consecrated to the loa, open the box in my face, then keep the box forever from harm.
      "Now we are together again," she says. She steps back and puts her hand on the bloody cheek I'm sharing with our brother. He raises my hand to take hers, and though I can plainly feel his revulsion at what Celestina has done, I can also feel a palpable desire to remain with her, to live out a long natural life in my body at our sister's side. I can feel what he feels for her, and I realize that what I always felt for Celestina and considered love is quite pathetic and small compared to what he feels for her. It's a lot like what I feel for Del.
      They stand there like that for quite a while, while the fire spreads around the living room. I begin to get a little cramped inside the peach pit, and I'm thinking, You bitch! How could you do this to me? And yet I understand. The good thing about being as hideously evil as I am, as I must be, considering what I've done to Del, is that nothing, no matter how decrepit, is strange to you, and therefore you can love and understand anybody, no matter how low and decrepit their deeds. It is no less than I deserve, certainly, after possessing poor sweet innocent Del, to be forever possessed myself, and rendered mute witness to my siblings' uncanny and powerful love.
      When Simalo kisses Celestina and whispers to her, "Tell my horse I love my sister," I give up and resign myself to an eternity in the peach pit, but then he snatches the box from our sister's hands and throws it onto the altar, where it cracks open a pot of clairin and causes a small but impressive explosion of fire. Celestina screams, "No, no, no!" and throws herself after it, trying to pat out the fire with her hands, but she only succeeds in setting fire to her thin cotton-sleeved arms. With the explosion I am once again the sole proprietress of my head, but suddenly I'm very tired, and when I fall back on the floor I just want to stay there and sleep.
      I think, I will just stay here and burn up with Mambo Theoline and my sister. But even as I turn to look at her, I see that Mambo Theoline is being dragged away by Zombi Felice, who gives me an empty look as she drags her mistress toward the door. And before I know what's going on someone's dragging me by one breast and one shoulder across the smoldering indoor-outdoor carpet, and I think it's Celestina until I realize it's Del. When he gets me outside and lets go, I start crawling back in.
      "What are you doing?" he asks me. What does he think I'm doing?
      "My sister!" I say.
      "I'll get her," he says, but as he starts toward the door the red tile roof falls into the house, and a shower of sparks and flame rises towards the sky like an illustration of my scream. Poor Del gets blown back into me by the blast of heat. I gather him in my arms, like next to me Zombi Felice has gathered Mambo Theoline in her arms, and I stroke his head just like she's stroking hers. Like Mambo Theoline, he is as still as a big floppy doll.
      I think about how my parents love my sister, and yet they will not miss her. I think how I will miss my sister, and yet I do not love her. I think of how I miss my brother, and of how I loved him, but did not really know him, how I was not very important to him when he was alive, and how he gave me back my body. I think of how I love Del in a fashion both pure and evil, and I wonder if maybe I confused voodoo with the operation of miraculous grace in my life, because whatever Celestina was doing to get me Del, it wasn't voodoo, not according to Simalo's knowledge. It was just a bunch of mumbo jumbo.
      "You really do love me," I say. "You're not my voodoo love slave." I give him a squeeze and he moans but does not stir. Right then his love seems like the one thing in the world that is not complicated by evil, and certainly it is a good thing to hold on to while the house burns down, while I wait for whatever is going to happen next.

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