(NOTE: Copied from the PDF; Odd spacing)
Near Old Ruddock, Louisiana
Flo’s piercing screech cuts the air like a sharp axe.
“Simon-man, pull up on those mules for gawd’s
sake!” she cries.
“Whoa there, Gabriel. Easy now, Michael.
Su-su-su, boys,” utters the man called Uncle Simon by four of
the six kids in the buckboard. He pulls the lead reins tight,
resting them across his lap. He turns to gaze at Flo sitting in
the seat beside him and swipes a hand with neatly trimmed
fingernails over the beads of perspiration on his dark forehead.
“My soul, you scared me, woman. I thought Doctor John
himself was come back to life.” He chuckles in uneasy relief.
“Or, for a minute, I was thinking, maybe, well… you know who
had figured out some things, and—”
“Shush now. It’s gettin’ dark time, but I knows I seen a
woman over to there by those trees.”
Simon rises to his feet, his neck stuck out like a gander
eyeing a snake. His eyes canvas the trees slouched over the
narrow trail before them. “Zeke, hand me that lantern up here,
won’t you, sir?”
Zeke, thirteen but growing fast out of his britches and
shirts and appearing mostly to be grown, hands the lantern he
fired up minutes before around the side of the buck seat to
Simon. Simon’s nerves are already taut from driving the
buckboard wagon over the checkerboard ground greedily
hoarding space between the swamps, marshes, and Lake
Pontchartrain. Everybody knows that kind of ground isn’t
wholly stable, but Flo asked for a little drive-about for the kids
before he left tomorrow morning on the train back to
Flo, with her exotic eyes and shapely form, gets about
everything she asks for, and then some, and Simon finds that
to be a pride unto himself.
Water mosquitoes ramp up their hungry search for blood
as Simon strains to see through the humid tar of dusk slurping
up the wagon and its occupants like a hungry towel. Five other
kids besides Zeke jumble around in the back of the small
buckboard to see what’s causing the excitement. Curious eyes
stare into the gloom spreading across the watery cypress as a
pale moon rises over moss-swathed oaks on the shore. Hands
slap at the carnivorous insects diving toward their skin for
“There she is, Mama, by the black water!” Zeke shouts.
He and Flo jump from the wagon to the ground. Zeke
takes the proffered lantern from Simon while Flo directs a
silent finger at the small horde of squirming youngsters,
warning them to stay put. As soon as her back is turned, they
scale the wooden sides to the ground—delirious mice
abandoning a ship long at sea.
Simon’s gentle reprimands never make it past the toe
board at his feet. He patiently climbs from the wagon and
trudges toward the stranger standing in the lush St. Augustine
grass spreading like a carpet from the banks of the water. An
ancient crape myrtle burdened with fuchsia blossoms frames
the unmoving figure standing before them. Zeke’s high-held
lantern casts a ghostly light over a brown-skinned woman of
great beauty. She is swaddled in a pale-lilac shawl from her
neck to below her knees. Her arms hold a rolled blanket about
equal in size to a small log. Her hair is arranged high on her
head and fastened in place with pins of creamy ivory. Red
ribbons loop through her locks.
A surge of sickness invades Simon’s belly as buried
reminiscences dance on the edge of his mind. The woman
mumbles incoherently in soothing tones to the blanket,
sporadically covering it in tender kisses. Flo frowns at Simon,
then looks back at the stranger. “Honey-girl, you be all right?”
she asks softly.
The woman ignores her spectators, smiles at the blanket,
crushes it flat to her breast. She commences a slow rotation,
lifting her eyes to fall long seconds upon each person as she
turns. She traps Simon in her gaze the longest, coagulating the
air in his lungs. Long-forgotten memories creep from a deep
pit in his subconscious. He swabs the rolling sweat from his
face with a sleeve.
“Fl-Flo, we best be getting on-on back to R-Ruddock. It’s
g-g-getting late out here, and these young’uns n-n-need to be
tucked in their beds.” Simon coughs in his hand. “We’re l-leaving
now, ch-children.” He turns toward the buckboard.
The woman strikes up a humming rhythm replicating the
cadence of a drum. Simon stops, turns back around.
Flo, confused about her Simon-man’s stuttering, shoots
him a questioning look he doesn’t see. She steps nearer the
woman. “Come on, chile, let us bring you to town. Us
womens’ll help you with whatever’s ailing yer purty self. We
gots our medicines to heal yer heart and yer body, as well.
Let’s go now, honey. We understands how it feels to lose a
little baby not barely in this world yet.”
The woman seems not to hear Flo. Her feet move
rhythmically, slowly—mesmerizing the onlookers. She gazes
into the sky. Undulating. Singing.
Danse Calinda, boudoum, boudoum.
Danse Calinda, boudoum, boudoum.
Molten terror blossoms inside Simon, spreading hot into
his arms and legs. The children sneak closer to gaze at the
spectacle before them. Simon visualizes grabbing hold of his
two children and the other four who call him Uncle Simon as
an eagle hooks a fish to safely wing into the heavens, but he
The woman sways side to side. She flicks her hand across
her left shoulder. The swaddling shawl falls to the ground. She
stands before them wearing a flimsy strip of material tied to
her waist and dropping barely past her buttocks. Layers of
gold chains hang from her neck and spread over her naked
bosom. Her eyes gleam as she writhes and sings.
Eh! Eh! Bomba, ben! Ben!
Canga bafio, te,
Canga mou ne de le,
Canga do ki la,
Trapped by the gossamer web spun by the woman’s
beauty and peculiarities, the captive audience stares as she
stops moving. For a few frozen moments, she deliberately
gazes at each one. She tilts her face upward and shrieks, a
strange animal sound. She tosses aside the empty blanket,
bends to scoop up five-year-old Willy as though he is
weightless, and dashes toward the brackish water of the
estuary. She makes a sharp turn toward the swamp waters.
“My baby! Give me back my baby!” Flo shrieks, the heavy
darkness quickly gobbling up her cries. Her screams shock the
troupe from their trance-like stupor. One by one, they take to
“Mama! Mama! Mama!” Willy shouts.
The woman vanishes behind the curtains of Spanish moss
draping the trees along the water bank. Her feet splash into
the water. Willy screams.
In moments, the agonizing quiet surrounding the band of
confused people is filled with a cacophony of frog croaks and
cricket chirps. A black-crowned night heron emits a barking squawk
complaint from a nearby tree.
Simon, running fast, reaches the water’s edge and strains
to see through the darkness. He cups his hands. “William!
Willy-Boy! Where are you, son?”
An insect ensemble begins strumming nocturnal melodies
across the calm waters before him, rendering his soul bloodied
and bare. He sinks to his knees, lost in an agony for which
there are no words. Flo witnesses his collapse. She falls beside
him onto the damp earth.
The wails of her other five children rise like a pillar to the
cold moon eyeing the scene below.