Authors: Curtis Hox
© 2012 Curtis Hox
All characters in this compilation are fictitious.
Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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JOSIE BRAN DESCENDS CARPETED STEPS into a recessed living room to find her sister’s charming husband, Shawn, snoring on the sofa. Shawn hasn’t just messed up the well-designed space; it looks like he’s invited his buddies over for a wrestling match. Arabesque-patterned silk throw pillows litter the floor. Two
magazines lie open under the teak coffee table. A standing cast-iron lamp leans off kilter against a bookcase of beveled glass and stained hickory. There’s even three empty beer bottles on the coffee table—without coasters.
Josie’s older sister, Geri, has asked Shawn to clean up before she gets home. It usually only takes him a half hour. Josie has even helped a few times since she’s been back. However, today is the third time this week that he’s forgotten.
That’s it. The nap and the beer bottles are too much …
She rushes into the hallway powder room and shuts the door.
The prized four-bedroom, two-story house in Merrell, Georgia isn’t much compared to the mansions that dominate this getaway region north of Atlanta. Geri, though, takes pride in an organized home so that when friends come over visiting’s a pleasure. Besides, Geri is doing Josie a big favor by letting her stay. Josie spent the last six months in a van with her ex-boyfriend—lead singer of the band Prawn Broker, and big-time jerk for thinking blow-jobs from groupies is allowed.
Josie stares at herself in the mirror, trying not to feel angry that she fell for a cheater. She looks like hell today, she hates to admit. She’s an attractive young woman with straight, blonde hair. Her speckled hazel eyes are her best feature. She has that all-American look that suggests she should be playing softball somewhere with the boys. When she dresses up, though, she stops traffic.
Josie nods, as if convincing the young woman in the mirror to act. Geri is going to flip if she comes home now, she thinks. I know what I need to do. Just a simple little spell. Not like it’ll hurt him, or anyone. I’m so good at it. I’m tired of not using it. The other witches are so distracted by everyday life, no one will notice. Besides, they should wake up to our potential, to my potential. I’m so over pretending that we’re the same as everyone else. We’re not. We’re …
She has kept a special spell in the back of her mind, ever since Geri started complaining about Shawn finding his inner slob. They’ve been married five years, good years, according to Geri, before he began to work at home and to wreck it on a daily basis. Geri has asked him, implored him, begged him to clean up before she gets home. Geri has even cried. An orderly house calms her after a hectic day at work.
Other than that, they’re perfect (at least they look perfect from the outside). Not a single real problem compared to randy lead singers with fidelity issues.
Josie rushes from the bathroom, Shawn still snoring happily on the couch. She enters her bedroom and opens a drawer, withdraws the tiny pouch she made of panty hose bound by a rubber band, and walks into the living room.
Josie prepared the spell a few weeks ago after Geri came home and the house was a wreck and Shawn was out with a buddy watching Monday Night Football. At the time, she sat at the desk in her room, thumbing through the grimoire her grandmother had given her before she died. The ingredients for such a spell were easy to find. Household items for a household cure. Since Josie can easily finds these, like a strong odor in the air, she put them together into a nice poultice and hid it away for such a day as today.
Without another thought, she spills the contents over his face. Small flecks of flickering material float down like fairy dust. Shawn breathes in the coruscating cloud. It doesn’t bother him a single bit. He continues to snore.
“Okay, Shawn. Time to clean up before your wife gets home. You can thank me later.”
Josie wanders to the kitchen. She notices that he’s even forgotten to take out the chicken that Geri asked him to defrost.
One thing at a time, Josie tells herself.
When she looks across the island counter, she sees Shawn sitting ramrod straight. The living room is a low, wide space dominated by a couch and an entertainment center against a far wall. Shawn scans the room, spotting all the misplaced items.
He stands, mumbling to himself, and begins to tidy up.
Josie tries to hear what he’s saying, but she can’t decipher the sounds. She wants to walk up to him and listen, but she shouldn’t disturb him.
I hope he’s telling himself how much he hates a mess, she thinks. I hope he’s angry with himself for letting it get so out of control. I hope …
Her jaw drops as Shawn moves at such a rapid pace that he looks like a drug addict with a cleaning fetish. She fears she may have gone overboard as he lifts the couch to check underneath. By the time he moves to the kitchen to scrub the floor, a man of focus and determination, she feels confident he’ll be alright.
He keeps mumbling to himself. “Damn, damn, damn … hate when the house is a mess can’t let that happen got to keep it clean …”
“I know,” Josie says, but he doesn’t hear. “Geri too.”
Josie steps out of Shawn’s way as he retrieves the chicken from the freezer, an idea forming in her head for a new business, one that could help women with loving but lazy husbands:
* * *
Josie stares at her bare fingernails instead of chewing them as she waits for her Aunt Emma. Josie opened the shop a half hour ago, ever since Aunt Emma gave her a job as a retail clerk.
The Mandolin is sweet, quaint, and homey. It’s wall-to-wall of sentimental fluff that Josie ran away from when she dropped out of grad-school at the University of Georgia to go “live life,” as she put it. Small town USA was the last place she wanted to be, but here she is. Her plan was to come home for a few weeks, regroup, let her broken heart heal and maybe save up enough money to meet friends visiting Prague for the summer. All that might change now if she can convince Aunt Emma that Husband Rehab is viable.
Josie wanders to the front of the shop and peers out the window, hoping to spot Aunt Emma driving up. The Mandolin’s store-front windows are full of fancy, azure candles made by a local artist. They’re knee high and peppered with bright, green, plastic stones. No Aunt Emma in sight. Main Street is always empty at this early hour. It’s a straight shot through town, both sides lined with local stores built of red brick, or dark wood planks, or even covered in field stones. An abandoned train track runs parallel to the street. It’s been turned into a park with long stretches of green sward on each side of the tracks. Later, people will eat lunch at white-painted benches or in gazebos covered in ivy. A line of august hickories stands guard over the area, as if they were planted for that very reason. The station now sells kitsch Americana, and ice cream.
There you are.
Aunt Emma pulls up in her Honda SUV packed with two baby seats and enough toys to keep her three kids entertained. She’s a large woman who nearly makes the car tilt.
Josie waves back, smiling, the first sliver of fear inching its way in.
Aunt Emma’s wearing an American flag button down, every inch of it covered in red, white, and blue stars and stripes, etc. Her hair is a dyed silver bob that looks like a helmet. She’s so big around the middle she has to wear a girdle. Ever since Josie’s mother died, her aunt has found solace in Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, Entenmann’s pastries, and M&Ms. Her husband, Uncle Darryl and their three children love her dearly. Each of them is concerned about her weight--except Uncle Darryl, who has his own problems that Josie thinks may be easy fixin’.
“Howdy,” Aunt Emma says as she opens the front door, a bell affixed to the top jingling. “Ready for a big day? A bus load of high-schoolers are going down river. They’ll be in town for lunch. I’m sure they’ll come in to browse.” She pauses. She probably doesn’t like Josie’s outfit. Today, it’s a pair of flared, low-cut jeans, and a tight tee she’s tucked in. “This ain’t New Orleans, Josie. Can’t you look more …
Josie spins on her heel and walks back to the counter. “I pulled money from the safe. There’s enough in there to start the day.” She pretends to be looking for something underneath. “I look just fine.”
Aunt Emma drops a bag nearby. “I mean, if you want to find a reliable man, you need to stop dressing less like a—”
“And more like a—”
“You know what I mean.”
Josie grabs a pen and inspects it. “How’s Uncle Darryl?”
She waits, hoping to hear if he got loaded last night and maybe fell asleep in the backyard, like he did a few days ago. Aunt Emma turns away, head down. Josie realizes something must have happened.
“What is it?”
“He put a doozie on,” Aunt Emma says. This morning her wide face is perfectly made up in blush and burgundy lipstick. Josie guesses she’s done all the crying she is going to do. “He got drunk and called the cops again. Said Bigfoot was in the back yard. Oh, Josie, I don’t know how to stop it.”
Josie bites her tongue to avoid revealing her idea. She knows exactly what should be done, she thinks to herself. I have the perfect idea how to help Uncle Darryl. I helped Shawn yesterday. I have a special skill, and you know what it is, even if you think it’s silly, and you’re just too scared to let me do anything about it. My grandmother and your mother had the same skill. I have it now. I’m tired of pretending it’s not useful.
She opens her mouth to begin a carefully constructed argument but blurts out:
“Husband Rehab. That’s what we should do: Husband Rehab.”
Aunt Emma starts as if Josie’s just twisted her arm. Josie expects to be chided for suggesting she use her skills. Aunt Emma is gifted as well, unlike Josie’s mother and sister, but Aunt Emma’s talent is so latent and weak she barely uses it. She once read the future in a bowl of beans that helped a friend avoid getting in a Cessna that crashed. High Priestess Lady Birchall, who always encouraged everyone to use their skills, no matter how mundane, no longer leads the coven. The current grand dame and high priestess, Lady Dooley, hasn’t even acknowledged Josie’s existence, much less invited her into the coven. Worse, Aunt Emma has suffered under Lady Dooley leadership to the point she’s stopped
“Lady Dooley wont’ like that,” Aunt Emma says, her bottom lip trembling.
All Josie remembers of the current high Priestess was an incident from her childhood. Her grandmother, Blessed Lady of the Woods Ellie Treadwell, had the most splendid garden Josie has ever seen. It surrounded a clapboard cabin beyond the west pasture on Birchall Estate. Lady Treadwell used to spend her mornings with Lady Birchall, followed by afternoons cultivating, mixing her brews, and helping whoever came calling.