Pungent odors of musty wood and spicy incense wafted through the air, redirecting my moroseness back to my mission. Her cabin must be near. Reaching the clearing by the banks of the Ogeechee’s swirling black water, I reined my horse to a standstill.
There it stood.
Kali Despierre’s shanty was not an inviting one. Its walls leaned precariously. Smoke rose from its unevenly stacked stone chimney. A faint cackle of chickens sounded nearby. Hoodoo rumors rushed into my mind, of black hens being sacrificed to get blood for spells. Of other living things being sacrificed, too. Black cats. Babies.
My body quivered, not just from the cold.
Glass bottle trees stood on either side of the cabin. The bottles were lodged onto the bare limbs of the myrtles, and the cold wind made the branches dance, clanking the glass. Mama had made such trees for us when our menfolk rode off to war. She believed the bottles would catch the spirits of evil that come in the night. When Daddy returned, he’d smashed the bottles off, yelling condemnations of Mama’s superstitious ways while the broken shards flew through the air.
Daddy must never know of my visit here, never know of what Mama believed that sent me.
Nudging Zullie’s flanks with my knees, we made our way to a clump of skinny pines by the cabin where I dismounted. Tying the reins around a thin trunk, I forced a brave voice. “Be patient, y’hear? It shouldn’t take Kali long to conjure what Mama thinks she needs.” She nuzzled against me, as if to reassure me I had been right to come.
I found in my saddlebag the precious indigo blue woolen baby coverlet. The heirloom somewhat softened my resentment over this errand. Mama had once been swaddled in it. She had swaddled my brother and me in it. When we learned of William’s death in battle, she wept into it.
For my mission to Kali, Mama had wrapped in the coverlet the items the conjurer's hoodoo would need. Mama's instructions rang through my head. Carry this bundle carefully, Leah. Go quickly to Kali while your daddy’s resting. She had pressed her lips close to my ear, her warm breath smelling sugary from the laudanum mix she took to calm her nerves. Splotches of red marked her pale, sunken cheeks. Her black eyes burned brightly—too brightly. They warned me against refusing her request. If I did, she could slip away even further from us. Some days she barely recognized Daddy or me.
What choice did I have but to sneak away to this conjurer and hope Daddy will never find out? It was up to me. It was always up to me.
The dutiful spinster daughter.
I tucked the coverlet under my arm, careful not to lose any of the items bundled within, and trudged to the cabin’s door.
I could not turn back now.