Gogo Knows Best

Boots’s Pick
Shannon Schuren

Voodoo Doll Dotees
Photo Credit: April/elasticcamel

Your maman is so good with needle and thread, her Gogo Ezrulie used to say, she could even mend a broken heart.

As Marie stitched the doll, she prayed fervently that she’d inherited that gift. Because something was broken between her and Manny, something hard to name and even harder to fix. If it hadn’t been for the baby, she might not have tried.

Manny was big and dark and wild, a bull in her fragile china world. And though at first she’d found this exciting, the cracks were starting to show. Where he had once been chivalrous, he was now overbearing. Once accommodating, he was now demanding.

It all began with the tea.

At first, it was just a niggling thought in the back of her head. An old recipe from her Gogo, her maternal grandmother, a tea that pregnant women drink to promise a successful delivery. But Gogo had been gone a long time. Surely those remedies had died with her.

But it wouldn’t let go. It gained voice, then momentum. Soon the very idea was a constant drumbeat in her soul, drowning out all other thoughts. The only way to quiet it was to drive down to the swamp, gather the moss, and brew the tea.

She shouldn’t have told Manny. She thought he’d laugh; the crazy cravings of a mother-to-be. Instead, the argument had opened a gulf between them that was littered with the memories of the foul names he’d called her and the accusations he’d thrown. It was up to her to close that gulf, and the old ways were the only ones she knew.

As she stopped to admire the doll’s shiny black eyes and primitive yarn smile, the phone rang. She started and drove the needle through the cloth body and into the palm of her hand. Blood welled up, droplets already soaking the fabric of the tiny dress.

It was Manny, sounding as if he’d been on a two-day bender. Had she cursed him? Given him some sort of hex potion? If not, did she know of some way to get rid of his terrible headache? Something that wouldn’t bring the wrath of God down upon them both?

As she hung up the phone, she glanced at his portrait, hanging upside down on her mantel. It would be a simple matter to turn it, to reverse the headache. But Marie had another idea.

She dressed in one of Manny’s shirts and a pair of old jeans, then drove to the cemetery. As she crouched in the dirt to fill her cup, she saw one of the doctors from her pharmaceutical route kneeling beside a nearby grave. What must he think of her now? But without her black bag of samples and her practiced smile, she was merely a spirit in oversized flannel, and he looked right through her.

Back at home, she burned the rest of the Spanish moss, the cloying odor heavy and thick in her closed-in apartment. She longed to stand at the balcony, to feel the breeze from the bayou on her face, but she resisted. Her neighbors were staid professionals, more likely to consult their therapists than a voodoo priestess on matters of the heart. If they came to her door, she didn’t know how she’d explain the pools of candle wax and grains of salt scattered across the kitchen floor.

She was surprised that she still remembered the recipe for a gris-gris, but she shouldn’t have been. Like her Gogo always said, the memories of childhood are fast forged and last forgotten. She mixed the ingredients along with red pepper and herbs, and some old, dried mistletoe berries she dug out of her Christmas decorations. These she ground with a pestle on the altar of her Corian countertop before pouring it all into a little drawstring bag.

Before she left, she poured hot coffee into a Thermos, then opened the wound on her palm to let several drops of her own blood fall into the rich, dark brew. For binding, in case the doll didn’t work. She stirred it, screwed on the cover, and gathered it up along with her other gifts.

Manny met her on his front porch, his bloodshot eyes wide and accusing.

She took in his rumpled clothing, his messy hair, his swollen lips. The lipstick stain on his T-shirt. The smell of perfume clinging to him like a five-dollar whore.

“I need whatever goddamn concoction you’ve brewed up,” he demanded by way of greeting.

Wordlessly, she handed him the coffee. She felt their baby squirm in happiness as he gulped it.

“I’ve made you something else,” she said, offering him the doll.

He pushed it aside and pointed at the little sack in her hand. “What’s that?”

“It’s a gris-gris,” she began.

He ignored her and snatched the bag, emptying the contents into the Thermos and then mixing it with his finger.

Marie thought about telling him that the gris-gris was for keeping, not for eating. That the graveyard dirt was for protection, and that the mistletoe berries, though highly poisonous, promised fidelity.

And then she thought about the lipstick on his shirt. And the love bites on his neck.

And said nothing.

She smiled sadly as he downed the coffee, the blood-flecked doll still clutched in her hand.

Her Gogo had another saying: A quick death is a snake’s only friend.


Shannon Schuren lives in Sheboygan Falls, WI with her husband and three children. She finds writing both emotionally rewarding and the best way to quiet the voices in her head. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as Big Pulp, Concisely Magazine, Howls and Pushycats, and Toasted Cheese Literary Journal. Email: schurshan[at]gmail.com

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