Responses To Signs Of Being An INFP At Heart

1. You spend most of the time day dreaming rather than being in the reality. Hell Yeah! My inner life is my own private D&D fest at Dragon Con. And I’m rocking the cosplay. 
2. You have a special artist that speaks to your soul. Chagall has had my heart since I saw his exhibition on a field trip to the Dixon when I was 10.
3. You have a weird taste in choosing a song that you really love. Swish Swish, Bish! So what?
4. You listen more than you speak. Yes.
5. You’re a hopeless romantic. In a “when I look at my husband, he takes my breath away” kinda way, but don’t give me a teddy bear holding a heart or take me to see a Disney movie. Infantilism doesn’t turn me on. It makes me want to punch throats.
6. You are fond of literature. F***Yeah! If you’re not, look at your life, look at your choices. For real, yo.
7. You have a talent for storytelling. Believe that, son! I am my Uncle Benny’s niece. God rest that silver tongued devil’s soul.
8. Your new friends don’t expect that you can be the silliest and funniest person. This is where I take the greatest delight. I look like a sweet, middle-aged housewife, but I’m a bad influence on the Devil. 
9. You’re kind to a fault. Criticism hits you hard and makes your vulnerable heart feel betrayed. A) Yes. B) Only if I find you to be a person of integrity. If not, I don’t give a shit what you think. That’s some righteous truth right there, gentle readers. 
10. If you’re an INFP guy, your feminine side is always in touch. As an INFP gal, my masculine side loves to hit things until I can’t feel feelings anymore.
11. You have great metaphors in your head for explaining what life is. I have them on paper, too.
12. You change your perspective from time to time about life. Yeah, it’s called growth. Muhammad Ali nailed this one on the head.
13. Whatever happens, your loyalty to a friend is limitless. You bring the shovel; I’ll bring the quicklime.
14. Your ideals in life become helpful in giving inspirational speeches and pep talks. And sometimes they turn into paying gigs. 4/10 at the Brooks, yo.
15. You have a certain personality that differs when you’re going out in public versus being at home. If personality equates to brushing my hair and wearing a bra, then sure, whatever.
16. Even when depressed you still can be that one optimistic person everyone sees. No, I’m a swirling vortex of negativity when I’m depressed, and sometimes psychotic, so no. Hard no.
17. You wish to travel the world someday to make you grow as a person and learn a meaningful lesson about life. I have traveled the world, and the most meaningful lesson I learned is never venture into the Amazon without a can of petrol and a box of matches, because you might, literally, have to burn that motherfather down. I also learned never to disclose that you know the signs of heat in male iguanas to your tour guide, because he will take it as a come on. So play dumb…unless he looks like Idris Elba. Then by all means rock your knowledge. All tour guides should look like Idris Elba. Sadly, they don’t.
18. You love watching movies that are deeply moving and inspirational. Nope. I like anything clothing optional with Chris Hemsworth and Jason Momoa. Wait, perhaps I do like deeply moving and inspirational movies. Icky Thump, y’all. 
19. You love feelings, but “dramatic” people, are just not for you. I don’t mind dramatic people as long as they don’t interfere in my life or my relationships. I don’t need a three of cups coupled with a three of swords, reversed queen of swords, and the devil. Repair your own damn Tower. Feel me? 
20. You are clumsy and often time you stub your toes, break something, and forgot your belongings. Broke a plate yesterday. Knocked a toe out of joint on Labor Day. But, I know where my stuff is.
21. You believe that being in a relationship a person should be physically, mentally, and emotionally ready. That’s why you prefer to be in a relationship during 20s and 30s. Securing your family first, then yourself. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO. Always secure yourself first. The oxygen mask goes on you, then the baby. I listened to the nice flight attendant on the KLM flight to Amsterdam that time, before the Ativan/Temazepam cocktail kicked in. She had one of those fancy European accents that made her sound like she knew her shit, so. 
22. You have an inner wisdom you channel when facing life decisions. My third eye is wide open. God help you when it connects to my throat.
23. You act on your emotions. No, I act on my intuition, unapologetically. 
24. You see the good in everyone. No. I do not presuppose everyone has good intentions, because not all people do have good intentions.
25. You really love animals. Truly, Madly, Deeply! I am lucky to have my own personal household goddess, The Muse. 
26. You don’t worry about trends or what’s “in” you just do what you like. Truth. Keep your fugly Uggs and your stupid Michael Kors trash bags.
27. You are a sentimental person. No. This Is Us is not me. At all.
28. There is a bird flying in the sky. Other MBTI personalities don’t even care. What you actually see is freedom, peace, and serenity. You see things with a certain meaning. All signs point to my being a condor in a past life. 
29. Your family knows your eccentric side, and they love your quirks. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the weirdest of them all?
30. If you’re dedicated to something nothing can stop you. Elder Scrolls is a dangerous drug.
31. Watching your favorite TV series is everything to you. WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS? Is it 2019 yet?
32. You never lose hope when facing struggles. Positivity will always be by your side. Sometimes positivity involves cutting ties and walking away. We are no one’s whipping girl. That’s a very positive thing.
33. You always ask your friends about their lives but only 1 out of 5 asks how about yours. Not true at all. My friendships are reciprocal.
34. You look for things that help you express yourself. Hey, hey, hey. See what I did there?
35. You love having your hard work acknowledged. Stroke me, Stroke me. Say I’m a winner, but man, I’m just a sinner.  Jesus God, make me stop.
36. Being an INFP is beautiful yet can be stressful. Sometimes you question your identity/purpose. Constantly, but I’m lucky in that I have friends who remind me who I am, when I’m feeling lost.
37. The Perks of Being a Wallflower speaks to your soul. No, Out of Africa and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid do.
38. You wish that you had been born in a different time. In a time of Mist and Myth.
39. Ed Sheeran is your emotional support. No, that would be Dave Grohl and Bernadette Peters.
40. Anxiety is super familiar to you, but you don’t think it’s the end of the world. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it can be harnessed as energy, if you’re an alchemist. I’m an accidental alchemist.
41. You also really relate to Amelie. I relate more to Chocolat. Once again, alchemy.
42. You’d rather have some incredibly close friends than feel like you need the label of “best” friend on someone. I’m blessed with a tribe of BFFs. Every single one of them is an ass-kicker too.
43. You are one of those people who can pick up right where you left off with people. Yes! And it always surprises me in the happiest way. 
44. Logical people always challenge your virtues and ideals. Logical people THINK they challenge my virtues and ideals. I defy logic. Hear that? LOGIC, I DEFY YOU! I AM THE HIGH PRIESTESS, TRICK!!!
45. You know how unique you are in this universe. Yes, but not in an arrogant way. We are all born of stardust, and nothing would make me happier than helping you recognise that within yourself.

H/t 45 Signs That You Are Truly An INFP At Heart
By James Jayme, which provided the inspiration.

Strangelove Bagatelle

Now, then, Dmitry, you know we have always talked about the possibility of retirement. I think we’re getting there. You’ve had a good run.

-I agree. A great run.

—Yes, yes of course, you’re still the greatest, but you’ve dropped Natasha two times in a row.

—Ok. She slipped the first time.

—Natasha Lukashova has not gained an ounce, sir!

—She most certainly can count to eight. Don’t put that off on her.

—Dmitry, aging is a fact of life. Hell, I wear trifocals now. There’s no shame in it. The feeling, here, is maybe you’ve lost some muscle strength.

—Muscle Strength.

—MUSCLE STRENGTH. And, maybe you can’t hear the music so well.

—I’m not sure training harder is the answer, Dmitry. The fact is Natasha doesn’t trust you anymore.

—No, it’s not about the hookers, but that didn’t help your case.

—Natasha is not jealous. She doesn’t even think of you that way and hasn’t for quite some time.

—You do know she came out?

—Came Out.

—CAME OUT.

—Dmitry, Natasha is a lesbian.

—I don’t know for how long, but at least for 30 years.

—That’s not appropriate. Please, don’t say that to her. Don’t say that to anyone. Just don’t.

—Trust me, telling her you always knew she was born to play a pants part will not endear you to her or to anyone.  

—I would’ve hoped you’d want to leave with some dignity, but clearly that’s not the case.

—Really? Perhaps, Dmitry, it’s best if you don’t say good-bye to Natasha or anyone.

—No! There is no party, no open bar, no gold watch, and certainly no hide the pickle with Yvonne. She’s Natasha’s wife.

—Natasha’s Wife.

—NATASHA’S WIFE.

—Don’t worry, Dmitry, we’ll forward your pension and your things by courier, as soon as you have an address sorted. Good day.  

From Conjure Moon: St. John the Conqueror

Magnolia tore around the kitchen cooking up red beans and rice, and cornbread, her mind churning. Myron entered through the back door and went into the restroom to wash up for lunch. When he returned, Magnolia had the most astonished look on her face.
“You know, it might work.”
“What?”
Magnolia looked at him as if he were touched in the head. “The farmers’ market in Memphis. What else would I be talking about?”
“You could be talking about the price of dates in Jordan for all I know. I brought that up over a week ago.”
“I’m nothing if not deliberate in my decision making.”
“Madame, you are glacial.”
“Now who’s snaky?”
“The student has become the master.”
“Oh, shut up and fix your plate. I’ll tell you the plan, while you eat. It’s a little different than what you suggested. I had a reading with Fantasia this morning, and she gave me an idea.”
Myron heaped red beans and rice into a bowl, cut a hearty wedge of cornbread, slathered it in butter and slid it into the bowl. “Fantasia’s a stripper.”
“So? I don’t give a shit.”
“Ok, then, lay it on me.”
***
John Mark Fisher watched the man hawk like a carnival barker to a small group of onlookers, outside the Spiritual Supplies and Consultations stall. Lilah tugged at his hand. “What’s so funny, Daddy?”
“Don’t worry about it. Shh. Daddy’s trying to listen.”
John Mark returned his attention to the man, amazed by his aplomb with the marriage of his pitch to the exchange of cash and goods. The man never stopped hawking and never stopped raking it in.
“St. John the Conqueror! Get your St. John the Conqueror, right here. Step right up! Boy, ain’t nothing wrong with you that a little St. John the Conqueror root won’t cure. Mojo frail? Rub your root. Won’t fail. Can’t make bail, rub that root. All you need to do is rub your root. Rub it. No seriously, don’t be shy, go on and rub it. How’s that feel to ya? It’s good, huh. Tole you so.
What about you, Boy? Peach fuzz on your face, better take two to rub. Rub those roots, rub them long, rub them hard. That mojo be banging fore long. Get you all the girls you want. The pretty ones and the ugly ones. Don’t forget the ugly one need your root, too.
You, Young Man with the colors. You know you be accused of murder in the first degree. This is Memphis, you know. Rub this root, and the lady jurors will holler, ‘Set that man free!’ Rub that root!
What about you, Man? You look like a man who likes to get in the game. You need a root to rub, ah yes, you do, but you need that rabbit foot, too. You know you do. This is the finest rabbit foot around. Went to the grave yard myself, found the grave of the renowned Ernest T. Foley, legendary gambler. Waited out all night. Waitin’ with the dearly departed until almost dawn until this little rabbit ran over his grave. Trapped it, snapped it, cut it, and buried the feet in the grave for 7 days and 7 nights. Lucky number 7. Take this here foot, and it will be nuthin’ but chicken dinner for you. Rub that root, and you’ll have the honey on the side. Know you like the honey. Know I do, too. Got more than I know to do with, cause I rub my root.”
John Mark laughed so loudly that it drew the man’s attention. Deep maroon eyes looked him over and landed on Lilah. John Mark tugged Lilah. “It’s time to go. Mom’ll be wondering where we are.”
“She always wonders where we are.” John Mark and Lilah walked past the man.
“What about you, young lady? Want to have your fortune told by a true Delta Gypsy Queen?”
John Mark kept walking. “No thank you, sir.”
Lilah stopped dead in her tracks. “Daddy, I want to know my fortune.”
“No, sweetheart, that’s not something we do. Come along.”
“No, I want my fortune told.”
“Lilah.”
“I never get to do anything I want.”
The man with maroon eyes looked at John Mark and smiled. “Oh, come on, Mister. Let the little Lady have some fun.”
“Yeah, Daddy, let me have some fun!”
John Mark knew when he was beat. “How much is this going to set me back?”
“$20 for ten minutes, $40 for 20 minutes.”
“Is there a $10 for five minutes option?”
“Oh no, you can’t give a good reading in five minutes. But, I do think 10 minutes would be appropriate, given her age.”
John Mark pulled out his wallet and handed the man a twenty. “Come right this way, and I will take you to Miss Magnolia.
An old but familiar ball formed in the pit of John Mark’s stomach. “Would Miss Magnolia happen to be Magnolia White from down round Hernando way?”
“The one and same. You know of Miss Magnolia?”
“We went to high school together.”
“Small world.”
“Indeed.”
The man pulled back the drape that separated the stall from the crowd revealing a woman whose back was turned to the crowd, wild blond hair blowing in the breeze of a fan. “Miss Magnolia, you have—”
Without turning, the woman with the wild mane called out, “John Mark Fisher, come around to this table and bring your daughter with you.”
Lilah froze and squeezed her father’s hand hard.
“Now I’m truly disappointed. I thought you’d be as much of a cowgirl as your daddy was a cowboy. If you are afraid, child, be on your way.”
John Mark squeezed Lilah’s hand, urging her forward. He burst out in rich laughter. “Well, I must say your bedside manner has not improved one iota.”
He rounded the scarf covered card table. “Lilah meet Miss Magnolia. She’s an old friend of Daddy.”
“Old? Friend? I take exception to both. Lucky for you you’re a paying customer.”
John Mark flushed hot.
“You have so many freckles. I’ve never seen so many freckles, Daddy! Are you bi-racial?”
“Lilah, stop being rude!”
“I’m not being rude. Randy is bi-racial.”
“You’re right, but still we don’t make comments like that to people we’ve just met.”
“We haven’t just met, and she’s making the same observations everyone has always done, so, have a seat, child.” Magnolia nodded to the man and he went back behind the drape and started hawking again.
Lilah watched Magnolia pick up a deck of cards, fan through it deftly, placing various ones to the side, face down into four different piles. “What are you doing?”
“I’m a gypsy queen. I’m about to give you some royal advice. Take each pile and shuffle it, then draw one from the top of each pile.”
Lilah did as she was told. She studied the cards with great interest.
Magnolia took note. “See this kid here. He’s a page, and he’s bringing you a message. There is something you should start learning about.”
“I like to learn.”
“I know. This Page of Wands tells me that. It also tells me you are prone to boredom. There is no reason for you to ever be bored, child. Your mind is limitless just like the stars in the night sky. If school is boring, go to the library and make friends with the librarian. She will help you pick out books that interest you. Librarians are renown for doing that.”
Lilah nodded. “Daddy, can we stop at the library on the way home?”
John Mark looked over Magnolia’s head and smiled. “Sure thing, kiddo.”
“Are you finished with your chit-chatting? I have other things to tell you, so try to keep up.”
“Yes, Ma’am.”
“See this guy on the horse. He’s the Knight of Swords. He’s telling me somebody is bullying you, and you need to stand up to him right now.”
John Mark’s and Lilah’s mouths fell open. Lilah shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “Who told you that? Nobody knows about that. Not even Mommy and Daddy.”
“The Knight of Swords told me. It’s as clear as day. This guy is pushing you around, and he’s going to keep doing it unless you put him in his place. How you do it is up to you. Your a smart girl. You’ll figure it out.”
“We’ll need to talk about this more at home, Lilah.”
Lilah rolled her eyes. “Ok, Daddy. Who’s this Lady? She looks like a princess.”
“That, child, is the Queen of Cups. She tells us what we need to nurture in ourselves. She’s telling you to nurture your intuition.”
“I don’t know what that means.”
“Intuition is that feeling you get when something is not quite right. Like maybe someone says something or does something that seems ok, but you get a yucky feeling in your tummy. That’s your body’s way of letting you know somethings wrong. When you feel it, beware. Don’t be afraid to walk away from people who make you feel this way. Does that make sense?”
“I think so.”
“Ok. Let’s move along to this big man. He’s the King of Swords, and he’s here to tell us what you need to master. He’s all about science, so—”
“I won the science fair!”
“Did you? All by yourself?”
Lilah blinked and looked away. “Well, Mom helped me.”
“Why did your Mom have to help you, child? You’re not stupid.”
Lilah looked over her should to John Mark. “Go ahead and tell Miss Magnolia.”
“I procrastinated.”
“That’s a big word for such a little girl. What does it mean?”
“I waited to the last minute and couldn’t get it done by myself.”
“Ah, so I know what this King of Swords is telling you to master. Your time. Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes, M’am.”
“Speaking of time. Time’s up. I think the Hernando Library closes at 2, so if y’all skedaddle, y’all should be able to get Lilah some books. Oh! And before I forget, let me give you one of these, child.” Magnolia rose from her chair and walked to a table covered in candles, stones and little pouches bound with leather. She chose a lavender one. “Carry this with you when you confront this bully. It will grant you victory. Now, this is my card. Text me to let me know how it goes.”
Lilah’s eyes grew round as she accepted the pouch and card in her hand. She looked at John Mark. “Go ahead. It’s ok. What do you say to Miss Magnolia?”
“Can I have another reading now?”
John Mark and Magnolia burst out laughing at the same time. In unison, they replied, “No.”
Magnolia touched Lilah’s cheek. “Readings last for 3-6 months. Get thee to the library!”
Lilah smiled. John Mark pulled out his wallet. “How much for the amulet and extra time?
Magnolia shook her head. “On the house. See you soon, John Mark.”
A puzzled look flashed across his face. “See you soon.”
****
John Mark and Lilah held hands on the walk back to his truck. “Now about this bully, it’s perfectly ok for you to hit back, if he puts his hands on you. Has he put his hands on you?”
“Yes.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”
“It is a big deal. If he touches you again, hit him back.”
“I’ll get suspended.”
“I don’t care. I’d be more than happy to come up to school and take care of it.”
“Then, you’d go to jail.”
“Doesn’t matter. You have my permission to do whatever you need to do.”
“Ok.”
“It’s perfectly fine for you to stand up for yourself when someone is pushing you around.”
“You don’t stand up for yourself when mom pushes you around.”
“That’s different.”
“Why?”
“That’s marriage.”
They reached the truck. John Mark felt the dread he always felt, when he headed home. While Lilah looked out the window at the train station, John Mark wondered what he was teaching his daughter about marriage. He cursed himself for being a rule follower.
Along with rules came another affliction—Complacency. Follow the rules and everything’s OK. Smooth sailing. Break the rules, and there’s Hell to pay: Venom, vitriol, spite and worst of all, the Silent Treatment.
John Mark should have never married her, but he did, so stubbornly, even after his father, on the morning of the wedding asked his son, “You sure you want to do this? No one will think less of you if you call it off.”
Well, one person would have, so he followed the rules and married her.
John Mark was a good husband, a hard worker, a satisfactory provider. He took out the trash, mowed the lawn, checked in throughout the day, came home right after work, often times turning down invitations for post-shift breakfasts out. He had long given up on the idea of Double Dates. Well, I don’t know those people, so it wouldn’t be any fun for me. The unspoken High Commandant: Don’t leave me alone, not even for an evening. John Mark was a keeper of commandants.
If he did break a rule, like go to trivia night with the boys, there was a high price to pay: Disapproval, frostiness, moping. Well, I guess you don’t want to spend time with me. When his daughter was born, it became Well, I guess you don’t want to spend time with us. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy. John Mark didn’t want to spend any time with her and the guilt was eating him alive. So, he stuffed it way down deep, He turned his focus to Lilah—her friends, her interests, her activities. He followed the rules to a T. He kept the peace and became complacent, afflicted.

From Protocols: What are Friends for? Pt. 1

Apologies in advance. Paragraph formatting is erratic for reasons I can’t figure out. I’ve putsing around with it for an hour. It’s driving me batty, so I’m letting go. Please forgive. ~Robin
“Gigi, why didn’t you call me sooner?”  Yael heard her roommate, Nekkoda, ask.  Then, she heard a long pause. “I’m going to kill him, Gigi! First I’m going to find him, and then I’m going to kill him. Don’t worry. I’ll be home as soon as possible.”
Nekkoda snapped her phone shut. “Stupid. Mother. Fucker. I’m going to kill him.”
“Nekki, what’s wrong?”
“Mind your own business, white girl. I’m tired of you listening to my conversations.”
“Whatever. We live in a dorm room, bitch. Try as I might, I’ve yet to find away to completely tune you out.”
“You saying I’m loud?”
“I wouldn’t call you quiet, but that’s not the point. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Nothing you would understand, Barbie.”
“Because I’m white?”
“Something like that.”
“You know, for an African-American literary theorist, you sure do delight in universalizing other groups of people.”
Nekki burst out laughing.  “So you do listen to my conversations.”
Then, she burst into tears. Yael guided Nekkoda to her bed and sat down beside her.  “You’ve heard me talk about Darius, right?”
“Sure, your brother, the baseball star.”
“He used to be such a good kid, but when Mom left, something in him changed. Died.  He should be in college right now on a scholarship. He’s supposed to be smarter than I am. The ink was dry. The deal was done. All he had to do was coast. But he got caught up with a gang and started dealing a little weed. Nothing too bad. But nothing good either. This summer he got in deep. Smoking more than he’s selling and who knows what else he’s gotten a taste for. He even stole from me. Now he’s disappeared with Gigi’s car. She says he’s been gone for three days. No telling what kinda trouble he’s in. Gigi’s sick with worry. I gotta go find him.”
“Go find him? You should call the police. It’s been 48 hours. He’s a missing person.”
Nekkoda smiled the saddest of smiles. “It’s very hard to not universalize you, Yael. If a little blond rich girl like you disappeared, the police and media would be all over it. But no one will give a shit that a 19 year-old gang banger has gone missing.”
“I see.”  A familiar fire grew in the pit of her stomach, as she watched Nekki walk out the door.  She picked up her iPhone and hit number one on her speed dial.
“Hi Gorgeous. Coming to see me soon?”
“Right now, if you’ll send Ivan to pick me up.” Yael left her dorm and discreetly walked the opposite  direction from Nekkoda.
“You got over taking the bus quickly.”
Yael entered the stairwell. “Don’t be a shit, Mori. Just send him now. I also need to get into my toolbox.”
“Really?”
“Yes, really.”
“I’d hate to be on the receiving end of whatever you’ve got planned. Does this mean you are back in? I haven’t heard anything come down the chain.”
Yael wound her way down to the bottom of the stairwell and exited the building. “No. No. I’m doing a blind favor for a friend. Also, we have anyone dealing petty weed out of the kitchen, maybe gang affiliated?”
“Sure, take your pick.”
Yael waited at the curb. “Get me a meeting with the one who has the most to lose. Cut the rest loose. I’m sure there are some refugees who would kill for a job with us, and I’m over gangbangers right now. Ah, Ivan just pulled up. See you in a few.”
——-
It was one of the coldest nights on record in Pittsburgh, but Kendrick Jacocks sat swimming in sweat.  The hotel’s security detail had swept the kitchen lockers. Most of his shift mates had been escorted from the building. He, on the other hand, had been escorted to the security office.  His locker contents, including his coat and his stash, were spread out on the table. He didn’t understand why he was being detained. Why wouldn’t they just fire him? He also didn’t understand how he could even be detained. But he was too afraid of the security staff to ask, two of which were in the room with him, ignoring him, talking in their strange language.
The door opened and Yael Goldblum walked in.  He had heard from the other guys that she was fine. But “fine” didn’t do her justice. Kendrick couldn’t think of a word that did.  And he couldn’t understand why she was here. All he could do was stare at her dumbly.
“That will be all, gentlemen.” The security goons nodded and left.
Yael walked to the table and picked up his stash of baggies. She opened one and inhaled deeply. “This isn’t even any good. How stupid can you be, Kendrick? The other guys we let go; they’re just young. This is just a job for them. They can’t comprehend the importance of benefits. But you? I don’t get this. Your son is in our daycare. You’ve got another baby on the way. You need a paycheck. You need health insurance.You need the credit union. You deserve to be fired, but how can I fire you knowing all of this?”
“Miss Goldblum, if you will give me a chance, I promise I’ll never do anything like this ever again.”
Yael spoke over his pathetic plea. “I mean , are you in a gang? I can’t have gang members working here. Our guests pay a premium to stay here.  Their safety and peace of mind is our number one priority.”
Kendrick shook his head. “No. No. I’m no banger. I was affiliated when I was younger. But I was never a banger. Where I live I have to be affiliated to keep my family safe. It’s just protection.”
“Then, what’s the story with this?” She waved his stash in front of his face.
“The new baby, I just needed some extra cash. You know how it is. A guest asks you if you know where to get any, and why should I point them to one of those other fools? I just wanted to get paid, Miss Goldblum.”
“I believe you.”

Kendrick relaxed.

“Kendrick, I want things to work out for you here. And, I can make that happen if you help me. There are two types of employment. One is where I pay you for your time. The other is where I pay you for what you know.  Do you follow?

“No.”
Yael sighed. “I want to pay you for information. What I’m about to tell you does not leave this room, understand?”
“Yes, Mam.”
Yael opened her bag and pulled out a picture and a DMV report. “I need you to keep an eye out for a this guy and this car in Wilkinsburg. You see him or this car with this tag number, you call me at this number.” Yael slid a card across the desk. “Simple as that. Can you do that for me?”
“I think so.”
“Good. Take the rest of the night off with pay.”
****
Yael spotted Gigi’s car easily. It was parked under the only light in the lot. She felt the 808s bumping from across the way. She checked the door. No bouncers kept watch. Must be rounding up for last call.  She might have five minutes or an hour.  Silently, she wove in between cars, making her way to Gigi’s and shot out the light. No sound was to be heard. If need be, she would use the silencer again a little while later.  She slim-jim’d her way in on the passenger side.  Eased the door open, shut it, locked it, and climbed into the back seat to wait.  The worn vinyl seat was cold and hard against her body.  The car smelled like reefer.  No surprise there. She itched to search the front for a joint, but she stopped herself cold. She was on a mission. She needed to stay sharp.
A Mission.
She felt the darkness churning in the pit of her stomach. She could have more easily bought Nekkoda’s grandmother a new car. She could easily hot wire and drive this old heap back to Gigi, and let the whole thing go. But someone needed to find Darius, she rationalized. She knew it was a rationalization. Yael itched wanted to hurt someone. So she waited. The club cleared out. She crouched lower. Two youths approached the car. Not who she expected. She readied herself. The boys got into the car, laughing and bumping fists. Before the driver could start the car. She raised her pistol to the driver’s ear.  “Going to Sunday school, boys?”
“Shit!”
“Fuck!”
“Calm down. Ladies, before I waste one of you on principal, and by one of you, I mean the one who is not driving.  Hands on the dashboard!”
The boys complied immediately. She tapped the gun to the passenger’s head. “Now I want you to show me the rabbit ears. Easy now. Hands off the dash.”
The boy turned his pockets inside out. He only had a cell phone, a pack of cigarettes, and twenty dollars plus change. “Put your hands back on the dash.”
She tapped the driver on the ear. He sniffled. “Your turn, cup cake.”
He had a cell phone, a wallet with one lonely condom, twelve dollars and a Wilkinsburg school ID. Yael plucked the ID from the wallet. “Tavius Simmons. Let me guess. No driver’s license, because you’re not old enough to drive. What are you? About 15?”
“Yes”.
“You steal this car?”
“No.”
Yael tapped him hard on the head with the pistol. Tavius winced and began crying in earnest. “Wrong answer. I know this is not your car. I know the owner. I’ve come to have a conversation with the person who stole the car.”
“Girl, ain’t nobody stole this car! We borrowed it.” The passenger turned his head to talk to her. Yael cracked him hard on the skull with the pistol.
“You got a name, idiot?”
The boy cowered in the front seat.  “Darnell Mitchell.”
“Darnell, move again without my permission, and I’ll kill you.” Yael pointed the pistol back at Tavius.
“Where did you get this car?”
“Don’t say anything, Tavius”.
Yael cracked Darnell on his ear.“That’s strike two, Darnell.”

“Shut up, Darnell. I ain’t about to get shot over a piece of shit car.”

“You appear to be the smart one, Tavius. You know who this car belongs to?”
“C Note.”
Yael pressed the silencer against his temple. “Try again.”
“Darius. Darius Flemming.”
“No. But you’re close. It belongs to his grandmother. I’m going to return it to her, but you’re going to take me to Darius first”.
“Look Girl, take the car if you want, but trust me, where Darius is. Well, that’s a place you don’t want to go. Less you got a death wish.”
“Funny you should mention it. Drive.”
Tavius took his hands from the dash, picked up the keys, fumbled to find the right one. He started the ignition and shifted the car into drive.
 “Shit. If you gonna roll up on C Notes’s crib, I’m out.”  Darnell grabbed the door, flung it open, tucked and rolled onto the pavement, then broke into a dead run.
“Do I keep driving, or stop and close the door?”
“Keep driving.  I’ll get the door myself. Don’t get any bright ideas.” Yael climbed over the seat and shut the door. “So tell me about this C Note.”
“Like I was telling you, he’s bad news. He’s a Crip, but he’s a Taliban Crip. He owns Wilkinsburg and South Swissvale. Even the Rossi family doesn’t enforce on him.  He enforces for them. You don’t need to be anywhere near him.  No one does. He’s crazy.”
“ Mafia subcontracting out with a gang. Not unheard of. What’s your connection to him? I mean, you don’t seem to be the gang type.”
“I can handle myself.”
“Is crying like a little girl the way you ‘handle yourself’?  Like you did two minutes ago?”
Tavius rolled his eyes. “My sister, Tavia, is one of his babys’ mommas.”
“So he’s family. And he’s crazy and no one needs to be anywhere near him. How’s that working out?”
“Bout as well as you’d expect.”
“Hmm, Sometimes misfortune brings good fortune.”
“What’s that mean?”
“You’ll see.”

from Conjure Moon – A Lesson To Be Learned

Moon napped surrounded by the coolness of his mint patch. His eyes fluttered as he chased a rabbit in his dream. Moon’s ears pricked. A Lesson To Be Learned sheepishly wound her way up the dirt drive. Moon rose and barked at his She in her garden.

“Shh, hound, I know. Best go get this clay off my hands.” Moon followed his She through the back door and ran to the front to wait for the Seeker.

Lesson To Be Learned appeared at the screen door. She held a creased business card in her hand. “Hello? Anybody home? I was hoping to get a reading today.”

Magnolia strode in from the kitchen and went to the door. “Card says by appointment only. You don’t have no appointment.”

Lesson To Be Learned smiled impishly, bobbing her head to the side. “I’ve got cash.”

“Not yours.”

Lesson To Be Learned’s eyes widened and gooseflesh raised on her arms. Magnolia smiled, but not out of warmth. “Good enough for me though. Come on in. Your hands are cleaner than mine right now, so I’ll need you to open that first drawer and choose a deck. Just whichever one catches your eye.”

Lesson To Be Learned went to over to the scarred secretary that Magnolia had cocked her head toward. She pulled open the top drawer. Inside must have been at least 25 decks, ancient to new-in-the-box. There were decks that looked like playing cards, decks with goddesses, bejeweled decks with script she didn’t understand. Decks with runes, trees, animals, angels. She couldn’t take them all in, so Lesson To Be Learned chose the beautiful bejeweled deck. She presented the deck cards to Magnolia, who was still wiping her hands clean.

“Common ravens always go for the shiny objects, don’t they? Have a seat.”

Lesson To Be Learned frowned as she seated herself in a faded floral wingback chair. Magnolia situated herself on a threadbare red sofa. She placed the bejeweled deck on the simple cherry coffee table between them. Lesson To Be Learned opened her mouth to speak.

“Don’t tell me your name. I don’t care to know you. Don’t tell me why you’re here. Shuffle the cards and draw one, and we’ll go from there.”

Lesson To Be Learned shuffled the deck three times and drew a card.

“Ah, the Knight of Pentacles. There’s a man. Young. Younger than your usual type, I see. Dark hair. Loves his job, maybe little too much for your liking. He’s a good man. He keeps his word. And, for some strange reason he thinks the world of you. Most people underestimate him. But, don’t you! Hmm, but you do. You worry if he’s good enough for you. Question is are you good enough for him? My guide says no.”

Lesson To Be Learned stood up in a huff. “I didn’t come here to be insulted.”

Magnolia’s eyes never left the card. “You dragged me out of my garden to seek my counsel, and you shall have it. Sit down, and choose again!”

Lesson To Be Learned’s legs buckled under her, and she sank into the seat. She felt glued to her chair. She drew again.

“The Devil, reversed. You won’t like this answer either. But, the answers we don’t like give us most opportunity for growth, you see? You have an inability to make decisions. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? You wish to know if this man’s the one. He’s not, unless you work on *your character*. You’re as superficial as they come. You cover it up well enough, but you’re trapped by your materialism. All you care about is your appearance and your things. You feel empty, you buy things. The shiny goes away, you feel even emptier, so you buy more things. You have debt. You think this man will be a good provider, and he will be. That’s what a Knight of Pentacles does. Prospers. Provides. Don’t be underhanded with this man. Don’t be a gold digger. Your money trouble’s just that: Your. Money. Trouble. It’s possible for you to correct your debt on your own. It’ll take effort, but the satisfaction will be all yours. Perhaps then, you’ll be worthy of the Knight. You’re at a fork in the road. Let’s see where it leads. Choose a left and a right.”

Lesson To Be Learned drew two more cards. Her palms were clammy, and her hands trembled as she turned the cards over.

“Yes. The Three of Swords in the sinister confirms my warning. If you’re less than forthcoming with this Knight, if you manipulate his heart, if you use him for your gain and offer nothing in return, both of you’ll experience sorrow and loss. If you marry him, your shadiness will soon come to light, and he’ll divorce you. The amount of hurt you inflict will revisit you as 20 fold as bad fortune. Heed my warning!”

Lesson To Be Learned’s hair raised at the back of her neck.

“Let’s see what will happen, if you choose the right path. The honest path. Hmm. King of Swords, reversed. Someone’s giving you bad advice, and it’s not me. The honest path requires you to sever ties with this person. This person who’s advising you to manipulate the Knight. You must be free of this person. Think on what this person would gain from you scamming this Knight. You don’t think of this as a scam? One partner marries for love, the other for money. What would you call it other than a scam? I see this King, and it’s a woman! Like you, but older. Hmm. Girl, tell your mother to stay the Hell out of your business. She’s no good for you.”

Lesson To Be Learned turned green. Waves of nausea washed over her. “Could I have a glass of water? I’m not feeling too good.”

“It’s good you feel sick. Shows there’s still hope for you. You need a cure to help you reconnect with your soul. I know just the thing.” Magnolia rose and went to the scarred secretary. She opened a lower drawer. She held her hand out to Lesson To Be Learned. In it was a blue marble. “Take this and suck on it.”

Repulsed, Lesson To Be Learned shook her head no.

“Wipe that stupid look off your face. I’m trying to help you. Put this in your mouth and suck on it. Should come naturally to one such as yourself.”

Lesson To Be Learned opened her mouth and placed the marble on her tongue. It tasted briny, like an olive. She gagged.

“Don’t you dare upchuck on my clean floor. Get a hold of yourself.”

Lesson To Be Learned’s eyes filled with tears. Magnolia ignored them.

“Focus on the way this feels to give you the resolve to do the right thing, to sever ties with your no good mother, and to give you the resolve to fix your own problems, so you may be worthy of the Knight. He’s the real deal, your best shot at happiness, if you receive him with an open heart and clean conscience. If and only if.”

Magnolia sat in silence while the long hand of her grandmother’s clock clicked ten times. She rose and returned to the scarred secretary. This time, she reached for a shoe box up top. She pulled out a little cloth pouch strung on a shoe string. “Spit it in here and wear it around your neck.”

Lesson To Be Learned spat the marble into the pouch and tied it around her neck. “How long do I have to wear it?”

“That’s entirely up to you. You can take it off, when you get your shit together. How fast can you do that?”

Lesson To Be Learned flushed hot. She opened her purse and looked at Magnolia expectantly.

“Reading, plus guidance, plus cure. That’ll be $65. For an extra $15, I’ll throw in four packs of my Cast Off Evil bath crystals. They will rid you of bad habits, wicked influences, and evil companions. You have those in spades. Normally they run $5 per pack, but you’ll need at least three to get rid of your mother. Maybe four. She’s a piece of work, so I’m giving you a break. What about it?”

“OK, I guess. Whatever.”

Magnolia went to a brown, engraved Bombay trunk beside the secretary. She opened it and rifled around for a second. She walked back and handed Lesson To Be Learned four envelopes. “Follow the directions on the back of the packet, exactly. That’ll be $80.”

Lesson To Be Learned dug out her billfold, threw the cash on the table, jammed her billfold and the envelopes into her purse, and fled.

Moon whined to his She.

“Don’t get crotchety with me, old man. She learned a valuable lesson here. Next time, she’ll make an appointment.”

from Conjure Moon–Raising Change

Greens kissed by the first frost of November, ribbed and washed, then frozen, now simmered on the stove. Cold gray dimmed, dipped and descended into pure darkness. Moon slept, Moon woke, Moon rose. Moon sought out his She. He heard his She humming. His She had the voice of an angel. He knew it to be so. Moon knew many angels. He had walked among them before the fall. Moon was well into his winter now. Moon went to his She, skimming his head under her hand, announcing his presence. Lazy hound sleep the day away, his She sang. The lyrics chiding, the melody adoration. Moon accepted his She’s Eucharist. A ham bone the body, her sweat the blood. Marrow and salt nourished his soul. Moon went to the door, his She opening it to the darkness for him. Go on with your bad self, then. Fell that buck. Moon embraced the night, made whole again. Moon illuminated the sky, eclipsing the stars. He threw back and howled to his maker. His message echoed across the heavens. A bargain struck. Death was not to take him. His work remained unfinished. Moon, old as time, would guard his She for the year to come.

****

Myron rose early, dressed, and went to kitchen to make breakfast. When he opened up the refrigerator to pull out the eggs, he saw that his two-liter of Mountain Dew was nowhere to be seen. Well I’ll be double damned. He pulled out the eggs anyway and made a fried egg sandwich for breakfast, which he washed down with a cup of instant coffee. He walked out of Paxton House at 7:50 a.m. He stood on the sidewalk and waited. True to her word, Magnolia arrived at 8:00 a.m. Myron opened the door and got in the truck.

“Good Morning. Where’s your wolf?”

“Feckless hound decided to sleep in. He took off last night. Always gets wanderlust around the vernal equinox. Didn’t come back until I was leaving to get you. I imagine he’ll make an appearance when we get back. Shoot, he’s probably going to tell you your first order of business is to throw his ball for him, which it is not. He’ll pester you though.” Magnolia turned the truck around in the next drive way and headed back through town.

“What is our first order of business?”

“I thought about that a long time last night. I need you to see if my granddaddy’s tractor is operational. It’s been a while since I’ve cranked it. It’s ancient.”

“Tractor, check. What else?”

“Get the fields in order. There a mess. When granddaddy died, my grandma got sick and needed care, so I just let ‘em go. When she died, I wasn’t in any hurry to pick it back up.”

“That’s understandable. So, turn the fields, check. What are you thinking about planting?”

“I’m not sure we’re going to plant this year, other than a little patch garden. You’ll see what I mean when we get out there. It’s a lot of work. And the barn needs work and so does the house.” Magnolia pulled into the parking lot of BancorpSouth. “I’m going to run in here and pull out some operating money.”

“Ok.” Magnolia left the truck running and slammed the door. Myron closed his eyes, enjoying cool of the air conditioning while he could. Something buzzed. Magnolia’s phone had fallen on the seat. It buzzed again. Then again. Magnolia exited the bank and opened the truck door. “Someone is blowing up your phone.”

Magnolia picked up her phone and read the screen. She punched a button and put the phone to her ear. “Hey, Heather…no, I’m still in town…yeah, I can do that…anything else…girl, you crazy…ok…I’ll be over directly…Bye.”

Magnolia backed out of the parking space. “We need to make two more stops. Then we’ll head on home.”

“No worries.”

“You have the nicest manners for a felon.”

“Thank you, I think.”

“You’re welcome.” Magnolia headed east on West Commerce, driving in silence. They passed Hwy 51 and I-55 then she turned left into the Walgreen’s parking lot at McIngvale Road. “I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll come in with you. I want to pick up some Mountain Dew.”

Magnolia made a face. “Water’s better for you in this heat.”

“I just spent five years in prison. I want a Mountain Dew.”

“Suit yourself. Come on.”

“If you’re waiting on me, you’re backing up.”

Magnolia led the way into Walgreen’s. She walked so quickly that Myron didn’t have a chance to open the door for her. Myron didn’t know whether to follow her or go about his way. When Magnolia turned up the feminine hygiene aisle, Myron decided to ease on over to the drink cooler. He called over his shoulder, “Catch up with you up front.”

Magnolia didn’t reply.

Myron located the Mountain Dew and grabbed several bottles out of the cooler. Man wants a Mountain Dew, then he should have a Mountain Dew. Period. Myron walked to the front of the Walgreen’s and got in line. Magnolia appeared behind him, carrying a box of tampons, a box of Midol, and a bag of Dove Promises milk chocolate. Myron stared a second too long at her purchases. Magnolia raised an eyebrow. “What? Some days just call for Midol and chocolate.”

“I guess I can’t argue with that.” Myron turned back around and stared ahead.

****

Magnolia sees the scam unfold. Awkward cow-eyed girl at the cash register. Movie Star looking man purchases a pack of gum. Movie Star smiles at Cow-Eyes. Cow-Eyes smiles back, covering her mouth with her hand. Movie Star reaches over and pulls Cow-Eyes hand away from her mouth. Says never hide a smile that pretty. Cow-Eyes blushes. Movie Star asks when Cow-Eyes will get her braces off. Two months. Impatient Man stands behind Movie Star in line. Impatient Man pounds his beer on the counter. Huffs. Puffs. Hurry up. Hurry up. I gotta go. Movie Star, slow as molasses and just as sweet, hands Cow-Eyes a twenty-dollar bill, brushing her finger in the exchange. Now smitten, Cow-Eyes opens her register and hands Movie Star back his change. Clean as a whistle, sharp as a thistle, before Cow-Eyes can close her register, Movie Star says I don’t need all this change, beautiful. Offers Cow-Eyes twenty one-dollar bills. Cow-Eyes pulls a twenty from her register and lays it on the counter. Impatient Man pounds his beer. Hurry up. Hurry up. I gotta go. Cow-Eyes glances at Impatient Man and sees a line trailing behind him. She flushes. Movie Star winks. She flushes hotter. Now count behind me to make sure that’s right. Movie Star pockets the twenty on the counter as Cow-Eyes counts to nineteen. You’re short a dollar. I’m sorry. Movie Star pulls out another dollar and hands it to Cow-Eyes. Impatient man pounds his beer. Hurryuphurryuphurryup! Movie Star flashes his Movie Star smile. Now I just need that twenty and I’ll be out of your hair. Cow-Eyes takes out another twenty. Movie Star is almost to home base. Magnolia sees. She knows exactly how short Cow-Eyes register will be at the end of the shift, and she also knows it will be Cow-Eyes and not Walgreen’s who will be out the money. Pisses Magnolia off.

“Little girl, put that twenty back in your register and call your manager right now!”

Four heads snapped back to look at her, one of them Myron’s. Magnolia side-stepped around him. Magnolia only made eye-contact with Cow-Eyes. “Little girl, call your manager. Them two’s raising change on you!”

“You need to mind your own business, lady.” Impatient Man flashed Magnolia the evil eye.

“You need to stay the Hell outta my town, Costello. You raise change around here again and I’ll raise Cain on you!” Magnolia thrust the ring finger and middle finger of her left hand skyward. Without another word, Impatient Man left his beer and high-tailed it out of the store. Movie Star smiled weakly and handed the original twenty on the counter along with the gum. He left the store quickly, along with the other customers, all casting suspicious glances at Magnolia. She didn’t give a shit. She marched to the front of the now empty check out lane and place the tampons, Midol and chocolate on the counter. She motioned for Myron to bring her his Mountain Dew. He complied. “Don’t they teach you anything about loss prevention? Like only performing one transaction at a time?”

Cow-Eyes looked confused.

“I know, I know. The mysteries of the universe are easier to fathom than the workings of a gypsy scam. Call your manager.”

Cow-Eyes called the Manger on Duty over the intercom.

“You can go ahead and ring me up. I don’t have all day.” Cow-Eyes teared up. Magnolia rolled her eyes. “Jesus, be a fence, don’t start that.”

A tall, slender woman in a white jacket approached the counter. “How can I help, Amy?”

“Dr. Nguyen, two men just tried to scam me. This lady stopped them.”

Cynthia turned to face the woman at the counter. She was covered in freckles. She had an unruly mane of blond curls and the greenest eyes Cynthia had ever seen. “Pardon me, you don’t happen to be Magnolia White, do you?”

“Yes.”

“Interesting. So what happened?”

“Two men tried to change raise on her. One of them asked her for a larger bill in exchange for ones, but purposely gave her the wrong amount so he could pocket what’s on the counter, while the other one distracted her. It’s a common scam.”

“I’m familiar with it. People used to try to run it in my father’s restaurant in Memphis. Not that they ever got over on him. Thank you so much for helping. Amy, let’s comp this purchase today.”

“No need for that. I don’t need a good citizen reward or nothing. It just makes me lose my shit, when I see someone being taken advantage of.”

Cynthia covered her mouth with her hand and laughed delicately. “You are exactly as described, Ms. White. It’s a coincidence you’re in the store today. A mutual acquaintance was telling me about you this morning.”

“I don’t believe in coincidences.”

“Neither do I. There is a particular matter I would like to discuss with you. Do you happen to have a card?”

“Yes, I do.” Magnolia reached into her purse and pulled out a card holder. She slipped one out of the case and handed it to Dr. Nguyen.

Cynthia took it from her had studied it intently. “Interesting. I’ll be in touch. Thank you again.”

Magnolia nodded. Cynthia took the items that Amy had bagged and handed them to Magnolia. Myron took the bag from Magnolia. Magnolia glared at him.

“I am on the clock, you know.”

“So you are. Let’s get about it, then.”

“Once again, if you’re waiting on me, you’re backing up.”

Magnolia stiffened and marched out of the store. Myron trailed at a respectful pace behind.

King Ben and the Delta Supper Club

Coffee, black. Coffee, black. Coffee, black. A round robin of morning sullen voices greeted Blue-Eyes with the enthusiasm of a funeral procession.

“Just stop right there, y’all. I know how y’all take your coffee. Anyone want anything else?” She paused waiting for an answer she knew would not come. “Ok, see it’s a day like all other days.” Shitty. Blue-Eyes turned her back to stomp away.

“Hold on there,” The King’s voice rang out as massive and alive as the man himself. “I’ll take a sausage biscuit.”

“Thanks, Mr. Ben.” Of the old geezers who perched at the Huddle House’s only six-top every morning and afternoon, Mr. Ben was her favorite. Without fail, he left her a two-dollar tip at each convening of the Round Table, as they called it. Blue-Eyes turned away again, her step a bit more buoyant.

King Ben caught her by the arm. “I need to tell you something, Blue-Eyes.”

“What?”

“I got a problem.”

“What kind of problem?”

“With my laundry.”

“I’m not gonna do your laundry for you.”

“No, no, it’s not that kind of problem.”

“Well, what kind of problem is it, Mr. Ben?”

“The elastic in my skivvies wore out. They’ve slid down over my ass, and the only thing that’s keeping them from being around my ankles is the crotch of my pants.”

“Let me go, you crazy bastard, or I’m calling your wife, again.”

“Don’t be all like that, Blue-Eyes. I’m a man in need, and I do so value your opinion. Tell me, what should I do?”

“Go to the damn Wal-Mart and buy some new ones, you cheap son-of-a-bitch!”

Blue-Eyes stomped off with renewed surliness while the Knights of the Round Table laughed. “Gentlemen, she loves me. And she does have the most beautiful blue-eyes. Who cares if they’re crossed?” The morning was off to a fine start King Ben surmised. “Well, well, look who’s pulling up.”

All the Knights turned to stare at the cherry-red Fire Bird convertible that had pulled into the parking lot. When the door opened, a bell jingled, heralding the arrival of Jeanne Cain, Batesville’s best-maintained, 55-year-old divorcee, and only Jazzercise instructor. Always the keen observer, King Ben noted that her class must have just let out, although her brassy blonde pony-tail, sprayed into submission with Aquanet, had lost none of its poof. Today she sported his favorite workout ensemble: indecently short white shorts, suntan control-top panty hose, white ankle socks, and white Reeboks. She topped it all off with a skin-tight orange t-shirt that her granddaughter had given her for Christmas. It read: “Objects *are* as large as they appear—Hooters”.

Simultaneously, King Ben and his Knights sat up straighter in their chairs. Weathered faces flushed warmer and more youthful with each step of her approach. Never a shrinking violet, King Ben smiled. “Jeanne, I must be getting senile ‘cause I don’t recall seeing your beautiful self at church yesterday.”

Jeanne blushed as girlishly as her heavy make-up would allow. “Oh, Mr. Ben, I went to a dance at the V. F. W. down in Water Valley. Didn’t get home ‘til real late. Guess you could say I’m backsliding.”

“Dancing? Now there’s a sight I wish I could see.”

“You should come down and dance with me. There’s always more women than men.”

“Jeanne, Ben’s the last person you’d want to take to a dance,” said the crusty old man sitting next to the King.

“Why would you say that, Boolie?” Jeanne Cain’s attention shifted away from King Ben.

“Brother Ben here don’t know how to act right at a club. Been kicked out of near every one he’s been to.”

A battle line had been drawn. “Boolie, that was damn near 30-years ago. Pay him no mind, Jeanne. I’ve matured a lot since then.”

“Like hell you have.”

“You’re a fine one to talk having been married eight times to seven different women.”

Jeanne made her escape when Blue-Eyes reappeared with the six coffees and solitary sausage biscuit. Acutely aware his object of desire had departed, King Ben took the Pretender, Burns Lee “B. L.” Reed, to task. “Why do you insist upon cock-blocking me? She’d as good as asked me out there, Boolie.”

“Brother Ben, you gonna sit there and pretend you weren’t barred from all the Delta Supper Clubs for fighting?”

“There you go exaggerating again, Boolie. There are many Delta Supper Clubs. I was barred from the one in Phillips County, and that was for one night only.” When Blue-Eyes sat his biscuit down in front of him, he grabbed her arm again. “Do you hear him rewriting history, Blue-Eyes? My niece, the one with blue eyes almost as pretty as yours, would call him a revisionist.”

“I don’t know what that means, Mr. Ben.”

“Don’t worry about it, Blue-Eyes. Neither does he.” The Pretender B. L. attempted to usurp the throne. The Knights of the Round Table, no good jackals that they were, had the audacity to laugh at their King. The fate of his Kingdom hung in the balance. It was time to draw blood.

“It means you’re a lying motherfucker, Boolie. Blue-Eyes, I’m much maligned. Pull up a chair, and let me set the record straight.”

Blue-Eyes scrambled to get a chair, grinning wide enough to show her missing teeth. She pulled a chair in between Mr. Ben and B.L. She had never been invited to sit with them before. No woman had.

“Let me give you a little back ground, Blue-Eyes. If you think West Helena’s small now, you shoulda seen it 30 years ago. So believe me when I tell you there was nothing to do after work but drink and fight and whore. But I’m going to keep this R-rated on account of your being a fragile flower of femininity.” King Ben cleared his throat and glared at B.L. with hard black eyes. “Boolie, you agree with my assessment of West Helena so far? Cause I’d sure hate to get this started wrong.

B. L. nodded “yes.” King Ben took a swig of coffee before continuing. “So we’re all working for Mohawk. We only had so much production to do in a day. We’d get done in four hours and leave the plant for the rest of the shift. Didn’t matter, we got paid. More often than not we’d head over to the Delta Supper Club ‘cause there was no where else to go. It was an institution in Philips County. Well known all over Arkansas. They called it a supper club, but all they served was pickled sausage, pickled eggs, and pickled pig’s feet. No one went there to eat. It was all drinking, dancing, and grab-assing. Nothing to look at. The front door opened to the dining room. It was narrow room. Really more like a wide hall with 4-tops and mismatched furniture. I’m talking barstools, barrel-top tables, aluminum pipe and Naugahyde chairs, wagon wheel hanging lights. Called them chandeliers ‘cause we didn’t know no better.”

Blue-Eyes laughed. “Sounds like a juke joint!”

“Just like a juke joint, ‘cept this wasn’t owned by the blacks. Or what do they call themselves now? African–Americans? Who can keep up with that P. C. crap?”

B. L. chimed in, “Preaching to the choir, preaching to the choir, Brother Ben.”

“Shut-up, Boolie. No one wants to listen to your ignorant ass. Anyways, Blue-Eyes, up the stairs was the dance hall, where there was a small bandstand and two restrooms. Men on the right, women on the left, both equally filthy. Kinda like the ones here. You might wanna attend to that when you finish your break.”

Blue-Eyes rolled her eyes. King Ben did not notice. “Now, it was a jumping little joint Monday through Thursday. But Friday night was the biggest night by far. We called it ‘Friday Night Fights’ ‘cause some time on Friday night, someone was going to get into it. Truth be told, I was usually up there in that mix. I was a complex and angry young man, Blue-Eyes.”

“There you go putting on airs again.” B. L. got up to pour himself another cup of coffee. He topped off every cup at the table except for King Ben’s. “You was just a dumb SOB like all us other dumb SOBs.”

“Boolie, I can’t believe I’ve put up with your shit for over thirty years. Now pour me some of that coffee before I come up out of this chair and whip your ass all around this Huddle House.” There was a reason that King Ben was King. At seventy-four he was as behemoth as he had ever been and could still get his bluff in on anybody.

“This is exactly the type of shit that got you kicked out of the Supper Club.” B. L. complied with the King’s request before sitting back down. Blue-Eyes laughed like she was having the time of her life.

“Once again, Boolie, you’re being revisionist. And Blue-Eyes, since revisionist is now your word of the day, will you please remind Boolie what it means?”

“Means he’s a lying motherfucker!”

The Knights roared with laughter.

“Blue-Eyes, you show such promise. But I digress. Let’s get back on track. The house band at the club was Clyde Hawkins and the Hawks. But we called them the Red Shirts or the Red Shirt Wearing Sons of Bitches, ‘cause back when we were coming up, bands dressed alike. It was part of the gimmick. They might’ve all been degenerates, but no one ever looked like one, because people took pride in their appearance. Not like today. These days, everybody’s a degenerate and looks the part. Now, look at that going there.” King Ben cocked his head at a teenaged boy walking past the Huddle House window. “Don’t you know his parents are proud! Baggy jeans belted under his ass-cheeks with the boxers out for God and everyone to see. There’s no way that could ever be comfortable. I should know given the present state of my laundry.”

The boy stopped to readjust his jeans, which were dangerously close to sliding down to his knees. All of the Knights’ heads shook with disapproval.

“So the Red Shirts. I guess they were all pretty good guys, and the music was okay. My real point of contention was not with the band, per se, but with the bass-player, Red. He was a C.P.A. who played with them for the hell of it. Blue-Eyes, know anything about C.P.A.s?”

“No, Mr. Ben, can’t say I do.”

“Well, they’re accountants, and they’re supposed to help you with money. Do your taxes, that sort of stuff. When they’re good, they’re great, but when they’re bad, they’re lower than whale shit, and that’s at the bottom of the ocean!” King Ben’s face turned serious. “Now, ol’ Red thought he’s real clever since he’d been to college. Not saying there’s anything wrong with a higher education, but sometimes educated folk forget others have brains too. Boolie, you remember that boxer who came to work at Mohawk?”

“What’s his name?” B. L. scratched at his scruffy beard while he pondered. “It’ll come to me in a minute. Real sweet and gentle fellow for a boxer.”

“This happens when you get old, Blue-Eyes,” said King Ben. “I can see his face plain as day. Gonna drive me crazy. So this boxer had won a little bit of money fighting before he came to work at the plant. He must’ve done something in his past to cause him to not want to use a bank. It was rumored he’d been in the big house for manslaughter. Or maybe he just didn’t trust banks. Many people back then didn’t. It’s getting to be like that again given our current economic crisis. Well, this boxer had given Red some money to hold. People do that sort of thing when they have a hard time managing money on their own. You know boxers and blows to the head. So the boxer comes to work one day, and I can tell he’s not his usual self. Being the caring, compassionate conservative I am, I asked what was wrong. He’d gone to get some money from the C.P.A., and the shiftless son of a bitch wouldn’t give it to him. It was all off the books, you see. Now, the boxer had been knocked goofy in the head more than once, but he knew enough about the world to know no one was gonna believe a transient, felon boxer over a fine upstanding citizen of West Helena. And if he went after Red, he’d likely wind up back in the pen. Can you imagine how that man felt? Made my blood boil. You can mess with a man’s wife, you can mess with a man’s daughter, but you don’t mess with his money. That’s women’s work.”

Blue-Eyes shook her head in agreement. “I hate it when parties of six or more don’t leave me a tip. That’s messing with my money.”

“Exactly, Blue-Eyes. Next time that happens let me know, and I’ll intercede on your behalf. Which is exactly what I did for this boxer fellow.”

“Now who’s being a damn ‘revisionist’ ‘cause that’s not how I remember this shit going down at all, Brother Ben. You was just a mean-assed drunk spoiling for a fight. You always were back then. You heckled Ol’ Red and led him to believe you were on more than friendly terms with his wife.” Gesturing wildly, B. L. sloshed his coffee all over the table. Blue-Eyes mopped it up with a dingy rag she carried in the tie of her Huddle House apron.

“That’s what I wanted everyone to think! God Damn, Boolie, are you, or are you not a veteran of the Korean War? This was a subversive op.”

“Oh hell. Here we go.” B. L. yanked off his grimy baby-blue trucker hat and ran his hands through what little hair he had left.

“Hush Boolie,” said Blue-Eyes. “I want to hear the rest of this story before the lunch crowd arrives.”

“That’s right, Boolie, shut up. You’re being most inconsiderate to our young friend.” King Ben patted Blue-Eyes on the arm. She flushed with pride. It made her happy to be thought of as young and as a friend.

“So yeah, I made Red think I had something going with his wife, which wasn’t hard to do. She was pretty, in a trashy-round-the-edges way, and she was known to have loose morals. Kinda like I hope Ms. Jeanne Cain does.”

The Knights spewed coffee and hooted with laughter. All heads in the Huddle House turned to see what the commotion was at the Round Table. King Ben caught Jeanne Cain’s eye. He winked at her and raised his coffee cup in a toast.

Blue-Eyes pulled on the sleeve of the King’s MembersOnly jacket. “Go on, Mr. Ben. Finish the story.”

“Well, we got to dancing, and I pushed up real hard on her, and she pushed up hard on me. I could tell Red was getting mad ‘cause his playing got worse and worse. Finally he lost it. Just stopped playing in the middle of a song. He hollered out to me, ‘Take your Goddamned hands off my wife, Ben Marberry’ and I hollered, ‘Why don’t you come down off the stage and make me, you non-bass playing son of a bitch.’ Well, that pissed him off. Red came down off that stage, and we started scuffling. I hit him a good lick or two, so the rest of the band jumped off the stage and separated us. I kept saying ‘Come on, let’s finish this outside.’ I wanted to get him outside, so I could get him over to Turk’s Junk Yard out back and really let loose on him and perhaps take his wallet. But they pushed me and Boolie outside and told us not to come back. Ol’ Red was somewhat of a puss. Kept hollering at me through the screen door, ‘I’m gonna kick your ass! I’m gonna kick your ass!’ And I said, ‘Come on out from behind that screen door, you red shirt wearing son of a bitch and kick my ass!’ He never did. Finally we got tired and went home. But let us be clear I was right back there on Saturday night, as were you, Boolie. Barred for one night and one night alone. By that time all was forgot. We never did hold grudges for long back in those days. Had the same thing happened today, someone would’ve been shot dead.”

“So did the boxer get his money back?”

“Well not right then. But I’ll have to tell you about that later, Blue-Eyes. Gentlemen, I need to take my leave. Queen Maxine needs me to stop at the Wal-Mart to exchange the pillow shams I got her for her birthday. Apparently plaids and florals don’t mix and the thought doesn’t count for shit.”

Everyone got up to leave. The Knights pulled out their wallets and tossed some token change on the table and mumbled nice-talking-to-yous to Blue-Eyes. King Ben saw her smile fade, making her look tired and older than her years. King Ben took out a five dollar bill from his wallet and placed it on the table. Then he stared the Knights down until each one took out a dollar bill from his wallet and laid it on the table. King Ben patted her on her hand. “We’ll see you this afternoon, Blue-Eyes.”

“Thank you, Mr. Ben.” Blue-Eyes gathered the empty mugs from the table and hummed along with a Toby Keith song on the radio. For the first time in a long while, she looked forward to the afternoon.

from Conjure Moon–I’m one of those fools

The Rev. Dr. Donald Ellis enjoyed getting an early start on Wednesdays. He’d already stopped at ChikFilA for a chicken biscuit and coffee. Now he stood in line at the 24 hour Walgreen’s, waiting to pick up his blood pressure medicine. Next, he would head over to his church, the Delta AME Zion Chapel, where he would rehearse tonight’s sermon, in solitude. Although he stood at a polite distance behind the young family at the pharmacy check out, Rev. Don could not help but overhear the conversation between the pharmacist and the young father.

“The Keppra didn’t work?”

“No Mam. She seized again real bad last night for over five minutes.”  The young father nodded his head in the direction of the little girl asleep in her mother’s arms. “The ambulance man got it under control with Ativan. We’ve been at the ER all night. Now the doctor wants to try this.”

The father handed the pharmacist a prescription. The pharmacist scanned it and frowned. “Does the doctor know your situation, Mr. Porterfield? This prescription is going to run you $257 a month.”

“Is there a generic?”

“That is the generic.”

“Oh. I don’t have that.” The father’s voice wavered. He looked to the mother and the sleeping child. Tears streamed down the mother’s face.

“What are we going to do, Gregory? She has to have it.”

Rev. Don recognized the young mother’s profile. She used to come to vacation bible school at his church. She’d had a sweet singing voice. What was her name? Cassie? Kelly? Nope, it was something unique. K..Kel.. Kelvia! Rev. Don felt Jesus’ hand on his back, pushing him forward. “Excuse me, Dr. Nguyen, I couldn’t help but overhearing. Go ahead and fill that child’s prescription. I’m going to cover it.”

Dr. Nguyen smiled and headed toward the back. “Give me about 15 minutes.”

The young family turned to Rev. Don. He looked at Kelvia. “Kelvia, do you remember me?”

“No, sir.” Kelvia passed off the sleeping child to the father.

“I remember you very well. You had the voice of an angel. Perhaps you remember my wife, Nay? She’s the choir director at our church, the Delta Chapel.”

“Ms. Nay Nay, of course I remember now.”

Rev. Don gazed at the little girl sleeping in her father’s arms. “And who is this beautiful angel?”

“Breanna. And this is my boyfriend Gregory Porterfield.”

“Gregory, I’m Rev. Donald Ellis. Everyone calls me, Rev. Don.”

“Thank you, Rev. Don. Thank you for helping my little girl. She’d die without that medicine.”

“I’m glad to help, son. I don’t want to pry too much, but what exactly is her ailment.”

“They think it’s Dravet’s Syndrome. She has really bad seizures, but the regular medicines don’t work.”

Kelvia’s shoulders slumped. “Nothing is working, really.”

“I see. Forgive me, but I’m going to pry again. What did Dr. Nguyen mean about your situation, Gregory?”

“Breanna needs constant supervision, so Kelvia can’t work, and I just got fired for not being dependable. I’d missed work a lot because Breanna has been so sick. Now I don’t have insurance. I can’t pay for COBRA and pay for rent. I’m trying to find a job, but no one is hiring.”

“I understand. If you come by the chapel this afternoon, we’ll pull you some groceries from the food pantry. Bring me a copy of your resume, and I’ll put the word out. We’ll get you a job, son.”

“Thank you, Rev. I don’t know what to say.” Gregory’s voice cracked.

“No worries, son.”

Dr. Nguyen reappeared at the register. “I have y’all ready.” She passed a bag to Gregory. “Go home and get some rest.”

Breanna’s parents nodded and left. Dr. Nguyen turned to the “E” bin and pulled out a bag and scanned it. “You just did something really good there, Rev. They’ve got a hard road ahead of them.”

“Sounds like it. What is Dravet’s Syndrome?”

“It’s a spectrum of seizure disorders. Sometimes medicines work. Sometimes they don’t, so there is no real protocol for it. Unfortunately, little Breanna is running out of options quickly. Some folks use cannabis oil, and it helps where nothing else has. But as you know, Mississippi is not progressive about legalizing medical marijuana.”

“Cannabis oil…ever come across a woman named Magnolia White?”

“No, name doesn’t sound familiar. Why?”

“Yeah, she’s probably not a pharmacy patient. You’d probably recognize her if you saw her. Small, round, bi-racial—I think that what’s they call folks these days, more polite than mixed or high yellow. She’s covered in freckles and has a lot of blond, curly hair. She’s a prickly pear. Normally has a big shepherd with her.”

“Oh, the dog lady! I see her all the time at the Velvet Creme. She’s a pistol. She thought one of the kids who works there was rude to her, and she ripped him a new one. Made him cry.”

“That’s Magnolia alright. Doesn’t suffer a fool for nothing. Anyway, her grandfather was a great root man. He was the real deal.”

“A root man?”

“Yeah, a Hoo Doo practitioner, a conjurer.”

“Like a witch doctor?”

“Not quite. He practiced African-American folk medicine. Sometimes when white doctors couldn’t get a handle on a thing, he could come up with a cure. Magnolia, she’s an herbalist, too–in addition to being other things. Poor, rural blacks will go to her for treatment, because they can’t afford medical care. Her grandfather helped my brother with epilepsy, when no one else could. I remember he mixed an oil, and Momma would put under Ron’s tongue, before he ate. I bet Magnolia has that recipe, if Breanna runs out options.”

“Interesting. She sounds like someone I should meet. Could you introduce us?”

“Oh, no. Not me.”

“Why not?

“Remember how I said she doesn’t suffer a fool for nothing?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m one of those fools.”

“Ah.” A couple of customers drifted in and stood in line behind Rev. Don. “I bet that’s a good story. You’ll have to tell it to me at another time. Your total is $267.”

Rev. Don swiped his card. “Always a pleasure, Dr. Nguyen. Have a blessed day.”

****

from Conjure Moon–The Whites

Myron entered the half-way house and poked his head into Shawn Apple’s office. “I gotta job, boss.”

Shawn’s eyes never left his computer screen. “Well, it’s about time. What’s the job?”

“I met a lady who needs a handy man. $10 per hour, plus meals.”

“That’s a good rate. Who’s the lady?”

“Magnolia White.”

Shawn’s head snapped up from the screen. “You’re shitting me! Magnolia White?”

“She said and I quote that you could tell me all I needed to about her and then some.”

“Have a seat, Myron.” Myron sat in the chair where Shawn had gestured. “Magnolia White is a curious woman.”

“That she is, boss.”

“The Whites were a curious family. Their history is shrouded in, shall we say, odd and bloody occurrences. White was their slave name, of course. The legend goes that Master White bought a slave he named Moses, who was supposedly the son of an African witch doctor. Moses served three generations of Master Whites. He started as a field slave, but when he got older, he became a house slave. The White children called him Gran Moses. Shortly before the civil war broke out, one night, Gran Moses beheaded all the Whites in their beds with a machete. All of them—Master, Mistress, sons and daughters, grandchildren. He spared no one. Then he went to the overseers quarters and beheaded them too. After that, he lead the White slaves into the forest that borders the Delta. And there they lived in that marshy, tangled jungle. The story goes Moses White had never converted to Christianity. He had always worshiped his tribal god, and his god gave him great power and protection. On more than one occasion, Confederate troops tried to hunt down the Whites of the woods. But every time, those that ventured in never returned. After the war, the Whites reemerged and took over the land. They were prosperous farmers. At various times, the KKK tried to run them out. The Whites would retreat to the woods, and those who followed vanished. That land gained the reputation of being haunted. No one sets foot in those woods. No one.”

“That’s a pretty good yarn, boss. But what about Ms. Magnolia?”

“She’s the last one. Just her and that big ass dog. No telling how old he is. Everyone else has died off. You know, her grandfather was quite a country healer. Saved my dad’s life, as a matter of fact. My family’s land was closer to the White’s than to town. Dad got snake bit, when he was a boy. My grandmother carried him over to Magnolia’s grandfather, against my grandfather’s wishes. Didn’t want a black man touching his son–such was the time, you understand. Magnolia’s grandfather cured him with a psalm. I don’t remember which one. Magnolia, she went to school here. She’s just a little older than me. She’s pretty reclusive and rather cantankerous. Doesn’t really fit in with anyone, and I don’t think she really cares. I know she reads cards, and when a child goes missing, the sheriff calls her to help. What are you going to be doing for her again?”

“She wanted to know if I knew anything about fixing a tractor and such.”

“Maybe she’s going back into farming? Shoot, that’s hard work in this heat. But whatever. It’s a job. She’ll need to sign your work form every day.”

“Shouldn’t be a problem, boss.”

“I’d say out of those woods if I were you.”

“I reckon you’re right about that, boss.”

from Conjure Moon–what’s the harm with a little felony

Candy Covington, office manager and first soprano chair at First Methodist, sang “Happy Birthday” at a dirge’s tempo to the March birthdays, while the rest of the employees stood listlessly, listening. As soon as Candy stopped her caterwauling, Heather, Alex, and Kevin blew out the candles. Candy proceeded to cut the cake. She passed the first and largest piece to Marshal Sutherland. The bitch knew he was juicing, but Marshal took it anyway. He couldn’t talk, if he was chewing, and he certainly didn’t need to waste time bull shitting with his sheeple. He needed to think. As he slowly ate forkful after forkful of the dreadful Kroger cake, with its greasy, gritty buttercream frosting, Marshal mulled over his predicament.

On his desk lay a certified letter from the state insurance commissioner, revoking Trip Piper’s life and health license. Marshal was going to have to let Trip go—as well as the pending $1.2 million in first year weighted premium, a loss that would crush Sutherland Financial and himself, as well. Marshal had been hanging on by a thread for the last three years.

Marshal had known Trip was trouble, when he had hired him, but people loved him, adored him. Marshal had never seen anything like it. Trip was a felon. The ATF had come after him hard for trading in “grey market” tobacco. Trip’s brother and business partner, Randy had hired a hit man to go after Trip, when Trip turned state’s witness against him, in order to plea down his sentence. The hit man had fatally underestimated the Glynco training of Trip’s protective custody detail. Shortly thereafter, Randy had conveniently died in a plane crash, due to mechanical failure, in a plane that he and Trip owned jointly. In the end, Trip was convicted of tax evasion and did time in Montgomery, with Jeff Skilling of Enron infamy. A logical person would have thought that Trip would have been a pariah, once he was released. But no, he was welcomed home with open arms.

Marshal had been reluctant to interview Trip, but he recognized potential, when he saw it. Charisma and contacts were star qualities in insurance and investment sales, and Trip possessed these qualities in spades. Marshal saw him as a short, portly but elegantly turned out Mick Jagger, in a Haspel seersucker suit, linen tie, surcingle belt, and spectators.

The conditions of his release prohibited Trip from working with securities, but whole life insurance, well that was a whole different animal. When Trip passed the state insurance exam and obtained his license, he attacked his new business with the fervor akin to which Sherman had burned Atlanta. Indeed, Marshal wished he had ten motivated felons, rather than the ten entitled, millennial, Ole Miss frat boys he was currently training. But, he was going to have to let Trip go. That boy scout, Jay Waycaster, the insurance commissioner had stated so in no uncertain terms. Marshal’s stomach churned on cake. He felt sick about the prospect of losing his cash cow. There has to be away around this. I just need to figure it out. Come on, think, Marshal think!

Outside the training room window, Marshal saw the landscape service pull up. The whine of the mowers and blowers intruded on the birthday celebration. Marshal’s sheeple slowly made their way back to their offices and cubes. Marshal stood at the window looking at the name on the landscaping truck. Paulson Landscaping. He motioned for Trip to join him. “Say, didn’t Randy own a landscaping business, before he died?”

“Yeah. Times get hard, you can always cut grass.”

“Come to my office. We need to talk.”

Trip followed Marshal down the hall. Marshal stopped by reception. “Heather, cancel my appointments for the rest of the day, and hold my calls. I’m not in the office to anyone. Anyone. Understand?”

“Gotcha covered, sir!” She smiled. Marshal had hired Heather for her smile. It was a thing of great beauty. He winked in reply. Then, Trip and he walked into his office and shut out the rest of the world.