Dark Ladies

*The following is a work of fiction inspired by one of my favorite Cher songs. 

My mother was a witch. Witchy woman. Witchy mom. One of my first memories is of my little body burning from the inside out with chicken pocked fever; she is standing over me while I thrash in an oatmeal bath my father had run. She waves a peacock feather and mumbles her new age prayer, then lifts me from the bath, wraps me in a Egyptian towel, dresses me in my Underoos and lays me down on my Hello Kitty bed sheets. I stop burning in an hour. I’m playing with the neighbor’s dog in two. I stopped trusting her shortly after that. Dark lady. Weird lady. Witchy Mom.  

I was Daddy’s little girl.  I longed for his hugs. His kisses. His lifting me      way-uppy-high to spin round and round like the ceiling fan.  I loved to smell his flannel shirts rich with the smell of wood from construction sites. My dad built houses. My dad fixed cars on the weekends. My dad ate hamburgers cooked rare and Macaroni from boxes. My dad’s only flaw was loving the wrong woman. He was nothing like her. She was glitter, feathers, raw food diets, yoga, tea, Stevie Nicks, and lies. He was wood, mechanics, roast chicken, college football, beer, Van Halen, and trust. 

I can figure why he fell in love with her; her smooth skin, long dark wavy hair, silk dresses, vintage boots, deep confident voice, the full-lipped smile. She was beautiful and the only thing I love about her deceptive beauty is that I inherited none of it. She would have wondered if I were her child if she didn’t remember every second of the thirty-hour labor.  Beyond that, I can figure she probably did something to make him love her. Witchy Mom. She didn’t figure they’d be too different. Her appetite was insatiable and he wouldn’t be enough. She wouldn’t be able to reverse whatever magic it was that made him come to her, and he would never leave. She couldn’t magic away a child he couldn’t walk away from, nor take from its mother. 

I stopped trusting her for two reasons. She couldn’t love my father the way he deserved, and there was no magic she could say that would stop cancer. It was after the chicken pox time. I had walked home from my second grade class in my cowboy boots and pink dress. My mother had forgotten school was a half-day that day. I came home and she was drinking herbal tea in her silk bathrobe with a shirtless man; the living room smelled like incense and musk, and even though I was only seven I knew it was all wrong. She hustled me to my bedroom where I kicked the walls and ripped the feathers from my hair and cried until my father came home and all of the evidence of her tryst was erased. Six months later my father’s cancer was so bad he couldn’t walk. He couldn’t lift me in the air anymore. He couldn’t shoot his guns, fix his cars, or sing along to his favorite Bruce Springsteen tapes. He died after my eighth birthday. I have always blamed her and her lack of love. Witchy Mom. Bad Wife. Dark lady. 

If I was daddy’s little girl before, I became my father afterwards. I learned how to shoot his guns. I ate my steak while it still bled.  I spent the weekends underneath cars learning how to take them apart, how to steal them for joyrides and park them like they had never been moved. I dressed in jeans, heavy black boots, and leather jackets. I listened to the hardest of rock about death and disease and sex. And I fell in love with the wrong person. I eschewed anything pretty and bright and anything my mother would approve of. I didn’t let her braid my hair or magic away my colds or anything. When her boyfriends came over I spit in their faces and told them to fuck off. I was a problem child, a rebellious teen, and an ungrateful adult. After my architecture degree was complete and early-onset Alzheimer’s started to ravage her brain, I had her sent to a home where the rooms were so small she couldn’t take her cards, her crystals, her dream catchers, or her recipe books. 

My boyfriend didn’t understand why he had never met my mother, though I had taken him to my father’s gravesite. He didn’t understand why I always visited her alone, and only once every few months. He never understood why I looked at him out the side of my eye when he said he wanted to stay home while I was getting dressed for the bar. He didn’t understand why I hated tea, Coldplay, and nice dresses. But, he was kind, and tall, and had a good sense of humor, and smelled like freshly cut wood and concrete.  He was the first person I had loved since my father had died. It had been seventeen years since I had loved anyone; of course I was blinded by it. 

The only thing I had taken from my mother was her intuition. I had felt it was all wrong the day I came home early from school so many years ago. I could feel when my boyfriend started to pull away. Something about the way his brown hair was falling into his eyes was all wrong those days and I couldn’t shake it. I went to visit my mother. I had no desire to see her, but the doctor had called me and told she was unresponsive. It would only be a matter of time. I sat with her and didn’t say anything. The light in her eyes made me know she knew who I was. Witchy Mom. I sat there, rubbing my sweaty palms on my jeans. I was about to leave when she opened her lips and spoke. I almost couldn’t make out what she was trying to tell me. It was an address. I shook my head and left her room. 

The address was only slightly out of my way. I don’t know why I wanted to see what it was. I don’t know why I cared about anything that woman had to say. Dark Lady. Witchy Mom. I drove my motorcycle down the street and slowed in front of the right numbered storefront. It was a magic store. Psychic shop. Witch haven. Of course. I should have known. The gust of wind that blew the door open was the only thing that made me go inside. I sat at a low table. The scent in the room was familiar, intoxicating, and spooky as fuck. The woman entered from behind a curtain of beads, like the kind that used to hang our kitchen when I was a kid. She was beautiful, like my mother. Dark lady. Witch lady. She sat down and asked who I was, asked why I was there. I told her I didn’t know. She lit her candles. She pulled out her cards and turned them over; a king and a three.  Witch woman. She mumbled her witchy words, the way my mother used to. She turned up a black two-eyed jack. My vision went red and tears welled in my eyes. She spoke again and told me my boyfriend’s name. I stood up and walked out of the room before she could continue. 

I got back on my motorcycle and drove down the high way, then up the high way. Up and down again. I couldn’t shake the all-wrong feeling, the way my mother had looked at me that afternoon, the memory of my father’s crippled body in his last days, the way my mother’s boyfriend has smiled at her in my father’s home, my boyfriend’s brown hair, that witch woman my mother had sent me to, and most of all that fucking smell. That smell I had smelled before. That incense and musk and dishonest smell. I went home and lay in my bed without getting undressed. I tossed and turned in my big black boots and turned up The Black Keys on my iPod trying to get the images out of my head, and they disappeared, but the smell remained. I thought I had remembered it only from that afternoon so many years ago. But lying in my bed, in my jeans, reminded me of weeks ago. One night when I had gone to the bar and he had stayed in. I came in, took off my boots, my jacket, and my sweater, and lay in bed drunk in my bra and jeans tossing and turning and smelling that scent all over my bed sheets.

I leapt from my bed and stood in the middle of the floor of my bedroom. I couldn’t magic this away, I wasn’t my mother. Witch woman. I couldn’t let it kill me, the way my father had. If I wasn’t my mother or father, who would I be? Dark lady. I could be a dark lady. I could be the best and worst of both of my parents. I got back on my motorcycle and drove back to the Witch’s haven. The front door was locked, but the side door was not. I crept through the room with the low table and the candles, and took the gun out of the waistband on my jeans. I parted the beaded curtains as quietly as I could and saw them there in the back room. That witch woman and my boyfriend. They were laughing and kissing and drinking herbal tea with wine. And then they weren’t laughing or kissing or drinking because they were both dead on the floor, lying in a pile of feathers and glitter and cards that would never be turned up anymore.