Friday, January 10, 2020

Little Light by Jessica McGlyn

Maddie starts volunteering for a Christian aid organisation working with disadvantaged inner-city kids, but hers is a much older religion; by Jessica McGlyn.

It didn't have to end like this. I should have seen it coming. After all, I'd been a young girl once too.

There goes little Bernaya writhing on the linoleum floor, her arms and legs a mass of oozing boils. There go the children of Little Lights, mocking and pointing at her. There go my fellow tutors, staring like fools, waiting on the Lord to intervene, I guess. There goes Ms LeMara, rushing in to help her.

But I know it's useless, there's nothing to be done. And all over that stupid kid, Tyrone.



Three months earlier, as I was telling my neighbor Jan about my plans, I could not have predicted Bernaya's tragedy.

"You're volunteering inside Potomac Gardens? PG? The public housing with all those drive-by shootings?" she asks.

"Jeez, it's not that bad," I say. "PG's just a few blocks from here. We should do more to help our neighbors."

We're sitting on my front porch, watching the kids play soccer across the street on Watkins Field. We often do this after work, now that spring has finally arrived.

"PG? With the Bloods and the Crips?" she pushes her glasses on top of her head.

"The families in PG live on less than $10,000 a year," I snap. I won't let her talk me out volunteering. "It's not the kids' fault they're stuck there. Little Lights helps them have a better life."

"Since when do you care about social justice?" she leans towards me, one eyebrow raised.

"Since I decided to apply to the Georgetown School of Foreign Service," I say. "I'm not getting in on my GREs alone. Tutoring poor, project kids is a sure bet."

She sighs and leans back. "But Maddie, isn't Little Lights a church organization? Not exactly your people."

Yeah, yeah, I know. Georgetown, here I come.



She looks like a Megan, but her name is Elizabeth. Not a Beth, not a Libby, and definitely not a Liz.

"And why are you volunteering?" Ms LeMara asks her, as she's asked all of us at this orientation.

We're sitting in a small fluorescent-lit classroom, crushed into rows of metal folding chairs. Posters line the walls: a kitten dangling from a rope, "Hang in there"; a box of crayons, "It's ok to color outside the lines"; a large hand holding the earth, "He's got the whole world in his hands". On the back wall looms a laminated sign containing the Little Light regulations.

"These kids really need our help," Elizabeth says.

I'm surrounded by Megans and Caitlins and one Elizabeth, wispy, affluent women dressed in Ann Taylor pastels, pearl necklaces and matching earrings. I recognize folks from the neighborhood sitting here too. But these women, who drive all the way from places like McClean, Virginia to serve in the "inner city", stand out. These are the kind of ladies I imagine I'd have met in St. Catherine's Lutheran Church when I was little, had Grandma Madelaine allowed me to attend.

"God has blessed us with so much, it's our duty to help those who are less fortunate," Elizabeth finishes.

Once done with intros, Ms LeMara articulates the Little Light regulations with a surgeon's precision. After each rule, she pauses, peering above her glasses at us tutors. She is younger than me, probably right out of college, but I feel like a fifth grader caught chewing gum in class.

"As this tutoring program is government-funded, we are technically not permitted to promote religion," she says. "But Little Lights is a faith-based organization. The kids here come from Christian homes. Please be mindful of that."

I touch the amulet around my neck. I hope this is not going to be a problem.



Next Tuesday, we're back at Little Lights. It's not so much a school as a few adjacent apartments stitched together on the first floor of a larger apartment building, walls torn down to create one long corridor lined with what were once bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, that now serve as classrooms. A gift from the city of DC: pallid walls, fluorescent lights, stucco ceilings, a computer room cluttered with donated screens and printers.

Ms LeMara ushers us into the room where we had orientation. The rows of chairs have been replaced by long rectangular tables. On the tables are plates of chocolate chip cookies, bowls of chips, and jugs of juice. We'll have snacks with the kids here every week before heading to our classrooms. Today we'll stay put, as Ms LeMara says, to "fellowship".

I am at the McLean Ladies table, not by choice, but because it's the only seat left. They huddle into each other, chitchatting, though I cannot quite make out the words. They make no attempt to bring me in. My Goddess Kali tattoo spills out from the sleeve of my red Resist tee. A silver hoop dangles from my left nostril. I wear my dark hair in an edgy bob with shaved sides. We're not in the same tribe.

I hear them before I see them, a tidal wave rushing into the room, drowning us in hollering laughter. Ms LeMara directs each kid to their tutor. A chubby girl dressed from head to toe in lavender drops her fuchsia bookbag on the floor next to me. Her hair is held back by a pink polka-dotted headband. "I'm Treasure," she says and pops a cookie in her mouth.

My table is packed with babbling tutors and kids. I'm trying to engage Treasure in a "get-to-know-you dialogue" but am unpracticed in the art of conversation with an 11-year-old. The questions drop from my mouth like 45-pound dumbbells.

"So, do you have brothers and sisters?" I ask, bored by my own question.

Yes, she is the middle child and has two brothers and two sisters.

"And what do you do for fun?"

She likes to dance and step. She likes to watch TV. She likes to hang out with her friends. She likes fashion, style, makeup. She likes to bake.

"What's this made of?" she asks, touching my amulet.

"Lapis lazuli," I take the stone into my hand. It was a gift from Grandma Madelaine, too powerful for a young girl to handle.

We continue chatting. She reminds me of my little sister Rachel, affable and confident in her opinions. I think we will become friends. I ask her about her favorite classes.

"Mostly math and..." she stops mid-sentence. She has turned from me, now glaring at the girl sitting next to Elizabeth. The girl with the long smooth braids and the translucent caramel eyes. The girl glares back.

"What happened?" I ask.

"Nothing," she says, eyes locked with the girl.

"Who's that?"

"Bernaya."

"Did you have a fight or something?"

"We was fam, but she try to steal my bae."

Oh man, pre-teen girls. I'd forgotten.



Next Tuesday, I'm back in PG. Ms LeMara sends me and Treasure to the "blue room". I see we'll have no peace: everyone passes through the "blue room" to get to the bathroom and other classrooms.

This is how I discover Treasure's love interest, Tyrone. Taller than the average 7th-grader, broad shouldered and handsome, he strides through our room with an air of surety rare even in men my age. Treasure perks up.

"Hey fool, you look ratchet in them glasses," she shouts.

He stops and turns to us, tilting his head. "What up salty?"

She rolls her eyes.

"You walking me after class?" she asks.

"Yeah, I be there," he says, pivoting and exiting.

"Is that your boyfriend?" I ask. She covers her mouth with her hand, a giggle squeaking through.

We finish an hour's worth of work in 20 minutes. The work is way too easy for her, which baffles me, since I know she's failing English. Ms LeMara said she doesn't do her homework and fails a lot of her tests.

"How's English class going?" I ask.

"Terrible. Ms Deander, she have an attitude problem."

"What do you mean?"

"She always yelling at me, telling me I'm not on task, getting up in my face."

I ask her why she hasn't been doing her homework. She says it's boring. I ask her about the tests.

"I can't sit there with all those questions. Guess I just stupid." She is balling her hand into fists, looking down at the table.

And now I am transported back to 8th grade, struggling through algebra, slamming my book against the wall. No matter how many equations I try and try, I just cannot not get it through my skull. If it weren't for Grandma Madelaine, I would have failed. She'd sit there with me for hours until I got it.

"Well, what are you gonna do about it?" I ask. She kicks at the table leg, avoiding my gaze. I don't say anything. She breaks the silence.

"I'm just gonna pray on it. Pastor Alexander say to have faith in the Lord."

The bell rings and the kids are now streaming through, shouting hello to us. There's Tyrone again, swaggering down the hall. He's walking with some girl. She has her hand on his arm. Bernaya.

Treasure, eyes narrowing, sees them coming too. She yanks up her bookbag and sprints after them, calling Tyrone's name.



It's been over a month and every Tuesday's the same. Tyrone finds some reason to saunter through the "blue room" to flirt with Treasure. Treasure flirts back. Bernaya finds some angle to wedge herself between them.

Today, Bernaya and Tyrone stand in line for the bathroom. He tugs her braids and she play-punches him in the arm. Treasure saw it go down and now the girls are having words.

"Keep moving, we working here," Treasure tells them.

Tyrone stands there with that "who me?" expression, like he's just some innocent bystander.

"We wasn't talking to you, mind yo business," Bernaya crosses her arms.

"You all in here carrying on. I got work to do," Treasure's holding the edge of her chair, half out of her seat. Tyrone leans against the wall, standing behind Bernaya.

"Alright Treasure, that's enough," I say, guiding her back into her seat.

"You heard the lady, that's enough," Bernaya chimes in.

Tyrone's eyes widen and he covers his mouth. I sense this is going in a bad direction.

"OK you two, move it." I command, hoping they're still young enough to listen. They start walking, but Bernaya throws one last glance back, chin too high, eyebrows too arched.

Treasure is heated, and to be honest, so am I. But we need to get through this lesson. We take deep breaths and re-focus, finishing up way before the bell just like every time before. It's too easy for Treasure and I don't understand how she's having so much trouble in school.

"Treasure, you read books two grades ahead and you write like an angel. How are you failing English?"

"I don't know, Ms Maddie, I been praying on it."

I clench my teeth. Maybe it's that tired magical thinking, or maybe I see a little of myself in her. I've got to do more to help her. Things have got to change.

"Treasure, do you know how powerful you are?" I look directly into her eyes.

She looks down at her notebook. I'll make her a powerful woman in the world. She and I will change PG, lift these families out of poverty, make the world a better place.

"Treasure, do you believe in magic?"



That same evening, Jan and I sit on my porch. I tell her my plans for Treasure.

"Do they know about your... beliefs?" she asks, eyeing my amulet.

"Nah, I'm not trying to stir up trouble"

"And you don't think this will stir up trouble?" she eyeballs me.

"It's criminal, how they brainwash those kids. Baby Jesus isn't gonna rescue them."

"And you think its ethical, 'mentoring' this girl without her parents' permission?"

"It's for a good cause," I snap. "Treasure's wasting her life. I've gotta save her."

"Save her, huh?" she shakes her head. "You hardly know the girl. It doesn't seem right, meddling like this."

"You're entitled to your opinion," I get up, brushing the dirt off the seat of my jeans. She won't talk me out of this one.

"OK, ok, I'm sorry," she looks up at me, touching my elbow. "But what if something goes wrong?"

Jan's a dear friend but she's watched one too many horror flicks. You can't believe everything you see in the movies.

"What could possibly go wrong?" I laugh and shake my head.



Next Tuesday, after the kids go home, Ms LeMara calls me into her office.

"So, Ms Maddie, Treasure tells me you would like to be her mentor," she leans over, sorting manila files in the folder box on her desk.

"Yes, I would. She has a lot of potential."

"Yes, indeed," she says, pausing for a moment. "And she has certainly taken to you."

She leans back in her seat and picks up a blue binder from her lap.

"Now, Ms Maddie, I noticed on your volunteer application, that you left your religious affiliation blank." Her fingers move through the binder, touching each color-coded, paper clipped page with French-tip manicured nails.

"Oh, I must have missed it," I sense I may be required to bend the truth a bit.

Ms LeMara Pettway takes a deep breath through her mouth and lets it out slowly through her nose. She folds her hands, clasping them to her forehead as though in silent prayer. She lifts her head again and proceeds.

"Ms Maddie, please understand, the mentorship program is different from tutoring. In the mentoring program, we are not just helping children to develop their minds but their very souls."

"Oh, I see," I nod. She squints and tilts her head.

"Ms Maddie, I'm just going to cut to the chase," she sighs and folds her arms. "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Personal Savior?"

Why, of course I have, Ms LeMara. What a silly question.



The waxing moon looms bright over Pennsylvania Ave, a three-quarter sphere beaming through my bedroom window. I sit by my low wooden table that serves as an altar. I strike a match, lighting the green candle on the left. I use the green candle to light the red candle on the right and the incense at the center. I re-balance the bowl of oranges, bright large lobes stacked in a perfect pyramid. I turn out the bedroom lights and kneel on the pillow before the altar. I chant:

I hail the gods and goddesses,
Moon and sun
Sky and sea, all the wild things
In the heavens and below
All of nature, trees and plants
I bow before thee,
I honor gods, goddesses and all life
Through this offering
I am that I am
So be it and so it is

I contemplate Diana, Hecate, and Demeter. I should think on the gods too, but I'm feeling feisty. I feel the goddesses coursing through every nerve. I breathe the lavender incense in deep, letting it flow through my body like a cool river. All is still.

After a time, I extinguish each candle with the blade of an old silver knife.

I perform this ritual as I have done every night for as long as I can remember. At times the prayers and offerings change, but the ritual remains the same. I perform it just as Grandma Madelaine taught me: with devotion, mindfulness, and pure intention. And I will teach Treasure to do the same.



On Saturday morning, I drive us over to the Arboretum, where we have plenty of privacy and acres of nature.

"Under no circumstance do you tell anyone what we're doing," I command, imagining what would happen were here parents to find out.

"Yes Ms Maddie, I promise."

"Not your mom, not Pastor Alexander, not Tyrone, no one. What are we doing here if they ask?"

"Nature walks," she says.

We start with foundational principles. We read the Wiccan Rede, and 'An' it harm none, do what ye will'. She likes the sound of the old English but does not understand.

"Do what you want but do no harm," I explain.

We discuss energy, tapping into nature, the divine and earth powers. I show her how to link with the gods and goddesses to manifest her intentions. I teach her how to ask the stones and plants to reveal their powers and how to infuse her magic with love. I warn her to never use her magic destructively or to manipulate.

The next Saturday, we meet again at the Arboretum and jam through the Deities. She chooses Diana as her divinity. I approve of her choice. We sail through the magic tools and I help her fashion a wand out of oak twigs and branches. She's a "natural born" as Grandma Madelaine would say, picking it up very quickly.

On our third Saturday meeting in the woods, I feel that she is ready.

"Treasure, this was passed down from my grandmother."

She rips my black leather-bound spell book out of my hand and tears it open.

"Be careful," I say, worried the pages will disintegrate in her fingers. "It's irreplaceable."

"I'm sorry Ms Maddie, I be careful."

I explain some of the rituals and how to set up an altar. I teach her how to switch her heart light on, how to use the magic. We practice some of the incantations.

"These, you can do on your own, when you're by yourself," I tell her, pointing to the first chapter of the Book. "Say them inside your head, like when you pray to Jesus."

I remind her to only use the words for good. Then I walk her through the preparations, the visualization and symbols required for a spell. I demonstrate how to raise energy with dancing, singing, and chanting. I show her how to stomp and break things to release energy. I teach her how to ground the spell with a final seal.

"Can we try one now Ms Maddie, please, please, please," she's hopping up and down.

I feel a sudden fit of nausea, swirling in the pit of my stomach. My head throbs. Where is this coming from? She has the basics down and she has strong abilities. Who am I to hold her back? She's ready.

"OK, what shall we manifest?"

"Money, I need new kicks," she points to her scuffed up keds.

This is a good place to start. Shoes today, tomorrow we break the poverty cycle. Small steps. I lead her through the money spell. When we're done, I remind her to create the channels to receive the request. I tell her to look for signs, the evidence of her spell working.

"Be patient Treasure, it can take time."

It is nearing noon, so we wrap up and stroll back together to the parking lot, a lightness in our steps.

As I unlock my car door, she bends down by the passenger's side, out of my line of sight. And then I hear her shriek "What?"

She jumps up and down, waving something in the air.

"Show me," I say. She runs around to my side of the car, waving it in the air. A crumpled $20 bill. Not enough for sneakers, but a start.



"I don't know what you're doing Ms Maddie but, by all means, keep at it," says Ms LeMara one Tuesday in mid-May. She hands me a slip of blue paper. It's Treasure's report card and she'd received an A in English.

As with her reading, Treasure is progressing in the craft. She has manifested healing for her sister's cold; her mom losing weight; and the safe return of her escaped cat, Winston. Maybe this is beginner's luck, I think. Or maybe this is her destiny.

She's even performed a love spell on Tyrone. Though technically this is forbidden, I allow her to perform it anyway. I think it might build her confidence and self-esteem. Isn't that something most girls lack? I don't see the harm in it. And it's kind of cute, how he's treating her like a goddess.

"Treasure, you're gonna change the world," I say, holding her report card. I know she's done all the work, but I can't help feeling proud of the part I'm playing. I think Grandma Madelaine would be pleased with me. As a reward for her progress, I let her borrow my spell book. She is eager to learn it all and fast.



"What's that sound?" Jan asks. We both worked from home today and are now sitting on my porch, drinking wine.

A funnel cloud of schoolchildren rumbles down the next block. Jan stamps her foot and fidgets with her keys. While we continue gossiping about the neighbors, she sneaks glances behind her at the sound of the children approaching. She's only half-listening to me. As the children near, she sits up a little straighter, her shoulders tensed. She holds on tight to the porch step, as though bracing for an actual tornado.

As the parade of children comes by my house, I hear "Hey Ms Maddie" from somewhere inside the epicenter. It's Treasure, grinning and waving my spell book in the air above the mob. I wave back at her as they pass. She couldn't stop even if she wanted to, so great is the force of this child wave. They continue down the block and out of sight.

"Who the hell was that?" Jan exhales and softens.

"Treasure! And that's my spell book. She must be studying hard." I'm proud of my protégé's dedication and commitment. But Jan crosses her arms. She's looking down at the ground. Then she looks up, sighing, shaking her head.

"Maddie, my friend, you're playing with fire."



We are now in hot and humid June. Treasure and I are in the "blue room" discussing The Great Gatsby. She waxes on like a professor about the disintegration of the American Dream in the context of an era of material excess and great prosperity of cynicism, greed, and misguided ambition.

The heat doesn't seem to bother her. Unlike the other kids milling about us, cranky and restless. It seems they've had enough of school and the summer break can't come quickly enough.

The other tutors are just as miserable. Helping the poor is a fine way to pass time in dreary winter, but now they're missing prime grilling-on-the patio time back in McLean. Ms Elizabeth is nearby, watching over several children in line for the bathroom. She's complaining to another tutor about a pedicure gone awry.

We still have 15 minutes of class left. I don't love being here either, but we've got work to do and I can't hear myself think. And she's starting to piss me off.

"Do you mind? We're still working," I call over to her.

"You can ask more nicely, don't you think?" she says, barely looking at me. "And your kid looks like she could use a break anyway." She's back to talking with her friend.

Oh really? She's going to tell me how to teach now? Her tutoree Bernaya is barely making Cs and Ds. Who does Ms Elizabeth think she is anyway?

"Don't you think you should mind your business?" I say, my heart beating harder.

"Mind my business? You drive that kid too hard, everyone sees it," she steps towards us, waving her finger at me.

I don't know what possesses me, but it feels like my body is on fire. I am never supposed to use this power in anger, Grandma Madelaine made that clear. But I'm losing control as I push the War and Peace off the shelf with my intent and slide it along the floor. With my mind, I shove it in front of her feet. She doesn't see it. As she takes another step, she trips and falls hard on her knees and hands.

The kids have been watching. And now they're pointing at her. "Ah, Ms Elizabeth, she fall on her face, you see that?" they holler, laughing.

Her friend helps her back on her feet. Don't worry, Ms Elizabeth is fine. Embarrassed, but fine. I sit in silence as my anger subsides. I feel satisfied. Treasure is also quiet, almost too quiet. It strikes me that something's off, her staying on the sidelines. Now worried, I turn to face her and see she's not paying one bit of attention to the shamed Ms Elizabeth or the mocking kids. No, in fact, her attention is focused entirely on me.



She takes the bus to the Arboretum this morning. She says she wants extra time to practice. She tells me to meet at our spot off Eagle's Nest Lane at 10am. She wants to surprise me.

I should be excited. But I can't stop this sick, shaky feeling in the pit of my stomach. I don't know where it's coming from. On such a sunny summer day, I should be happy. But I'm not. So, I head to the Arboretum well before 9am.

I park my car at the far lot and ramble down Eagle's Nest Lane. Our spot is a secluded meadow, surrounded by azalea bushes and carpeted by lush grass and filled with singing birds, brilliant flowers and butterflies. An old Magnolia tree stands at its center. I hide inside one of the bushes and wait. Even at this early hour it's hot here, and I wipe away the beads of sweat running down my forehead.

Treasure soon arrives and sets up the altar near the tree. She sits on the ground and lights the candles and incense. She closes her eyes, mumbling and swaying in a trance. As she does so, the air stills. The birds that had been chattering are now silent and the butterflies have disappeared. Even the bright red, blue and yellow flowers appear dim and grey, as though they're trying to hide.

She rises from the ground. She begins to skip and dance in a circle, raising her arms to the sky. She chants:

Thunder my anger,
Lightning my might,
Bring to me clouds,
Black as night
So be it and do it is

She sings, stomping and twirling around the altar. My chest is a stone lowering itself onto my heart. I feel an invisible boot on my head. The air thickens and I can barely breathe. I bury my head in my arms, rocking back and forth, begging the gods to make it stop.

And now the earth shakes beneath me. My ears explode. What is happening? I can't hear a thing; my ears are buzzing. It smells like fireworks have just exploded. I tighten myself into a little ball and shut my eyes. It feels like rocks hitting my back. Cold hail falls from the sky in the middle of June. I cover my head, trying to make myself small, invisible.

After a few minutes, the shaking earth stops. The hail subsides. I hear nothing, not one sound. I lift my head and peer through the leaves of the bush. Through grey wisps of smoke, I see the magnolia, a jagged incision now running along its trunk. She's standing in front the tree, looking up to the sky.

After some time, the sun reappears. The birds and butterflies return. I stay hidden underneath the bush. I don't want her to think I was spying. Or did she know I was here all along, I wonder. Was this just a show? Has the student become the teacher?



We're gathered in the "fellowship hall" eating snacks. "Tyrone, get me juice," she commands. He rises at once on his quest, and as soon as he leaves, she shows me his love letters. It's our penultimate Tuesday session, and the air is tight with pent-up energy. Things feels a bit off. Or maybe I'm just ready for summer.

Treasure is all smiles as she spreads his letters out on the table. But she keeps one eye on Tyrone, as do I. I know he's been spelled, but I still don't trust a pre-teen boy. I watch him approach Ms Elizabeth and Bernaya's table in search of juice.

Bernaya, bless her heart, has not given up on love. As he reaches over her to pick up the carafe, she clutches his arm. She winks, saying something to him. He jerks his arm away. She tilts her head and bats her eyes. I hope Treasure is not watching and turn around to distract her. At that very second, the lights go off. And then go on and off again several more times, as though someone were playing with the switch.

"Stop messing around," Ms LeMara demands. And then the windowless room goes completely dark. The wooden door leading out of the "fellowship hall" slams shut, shaking everything around us. We sit in silence, as though on a metro stopped between stations, waiting for the conductor to make an announcement.

And then I hear what sound like glass smashing against the wall. Kids and tutors alike are shrieking now, up out of their seats, stumbling over each other, trying to get out. I can feel and hear bodies, breathing heavy, running all around me. I crouch low to avoid what I guess is food, books, silverware, flying by in the dark.

"Treasure, are you ok?" I yell, reaching out for her hand. But there's no one there. From the utility closet, I hear pounding from the inside, rising above screams. Pound, pound, pound.

And then the lights come back on. The "fellowship hall" is littered with food and broken glass. Kids and tutors are jumbled together crying, bleeding. Ms LeMara Pettway smooths her hair and re-adjusts her glasses as the pounding from the closet continues. Treasure stand next to me. She is neither weeping nor bleeding. Not one hair on her head is out of place.

Ms LeMara walks to the closet and opens the door. Bernaya falls out, a broken heap sprawled out on the floor.



"I warned you a million times, do no harm. It's our foundation."

I am trying to maintain my composure, but she's not making it easy. We're sitting under the magnolia tree, my spell book between us. She stares straight ahead, her lips pressed tight together. I've been talking to her for over an hour but she's not listening. I've had it.

"Well, if you can't follow the rules, we're done." I take the book, place it into my backpack.

"No!" she tugs at my arm. In zero seconds flat, she's gone from a know-it-all pre-teen to a little girl begging for her dolly. "I'm sorry Ms Maddie!"

She says she thought Bernaya was flirting with her man and she got angry. She says she didn't mean to do it, it happened by accident.

"By accident, huh? Don't play with me Treasure. You knew exactly what you were doing."

Her face shifts again from sweet, sorry little girl to imperious queen. Her eyebrows are arched, her nostrils flared. She is made of stone and steel.

"Hmmm," she says, her mouth set tight.

"Hmmm?" I'm not sure I like the sound of that.

"But it's fine for you to mess with Ms Elizabeth like that?" she's shaking her head. "I seen you. You broke."



We end our Little Lights semester with a party - pizza, cake, and games.

Treasure and I have not patched it up since we left each other in the Arboretum last Saturday. I hope with a few days to cool off, she'll see the error of her ways. I roam the rooms in search of her, but she's not among the kids and tutors scattered about playing cards and board games.

Bernaya is taking full advantage of Treasure's absence. She and Tyrone are playing Twister, a game I'm surprised has escaped Ms LeMara's ever-watchful Christian eyes. But there they are with their friends, playing at foreplay right there in the middle of Little Light's "living room". A few of the tutors sit by chatting, paying no attention to the children. I guess their work here is done. I find a chair in the corner and scroll through my phone, biding time until Treasure arrives.

I'm looking at Pinterest, absorbed in the thousands of variations of mermaid tattoos., when a blast of cold air blows through me. I cannot stop shivering. I look up from my phone. Treasure's here, standing by the Twister board, watching Tyrone hovering over Bernaya. She stretches her arms out in a wide V. I whistle to get her attention, but she won't look my way. She grins, close-mouthed, and nods her head as though assenting to an invisible force whispering in her ear. I'm frozen in my seat.

"Girl, I warned you," she says, low and steady.

The children collapse onto the plastic board beneath them. They all see Treasure, everyone but Bernaya, and step away, backing up against the wall. Tyrone, the tallest among them, falls behind them, crouching. Now Treasure and Bernaya are face to face in the center of the room.

Bernaya, sweet baby Jesus, she just cannot help herself, not even now. She rises, kicking the plastic board away, hand on hips. With her chin jutted out, she squares up to Treasure.

"Why you flashing your eyes?" she spits.

I want to jump in, but I'm frozen to this metal chair. I can hear the hands of the clock, tick by tick, slowing. And I feel it again, in the pit of my stomach, that wave of nausea.

"I told you," says Treasure, stepping forward. "But ya didn't want to hear, girl."

A sound like a pop goes off, as though Treasure's finger were a 45 magnum. Now Bernaya's howling, pulling at the skin on her arms. It's like she's being swarmed by a thousand bees, swatting face, legs, chest. She crumbles to the floor, writhing on the cheap linoleum. Her body is a mass of purple boils, pus oozing from every pore.

There go the children of Little Lights, mocking and pointing at her. There go my fellow tutors, staring like fools, waiting on the Lord to intervene, I guess. There goes Ms LeMara, rushing in to help her.

I know it is too late, there is nothing to be done. I warned her about 'do no harm' a million times, but she's stubborn. I wonder what Grandma Madelaine would do. I hope the gods have mercy upon her soul, that they see she's just a little girl still navigating her powers.

And now we wait and see. So be it and so it is.

4 comments:

  1. Dont trust a hormonal teen with special powers... remember Carrie? A cautionary tale for would be witches.

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  2. Enjoyed the patient development of the Wiccan powers and spells, and how they juxtapose Christianity's benign tomes and vernacular. So credible that, for a while, I'd have guessed this in the "real life stories" genre. I'm left curious to know where Treasure's powers end. Strong 1st person narrative. Saw only one typo:

    variations of mermaid tattoos., when
    tatoos,

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  3. Enjoyable tale of power, emotion, and responsibility. Made me think of Star Wars and light vs. dark side of the Force. Not sure Maddie was fully ready to handle taking on a pupil at all, let alone one as powerful as Treasure.

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  4. Interesting characters whose personalities are well rendered. You know early on that Maddie is "playing with fire," as her friend Jan suggests. The dialogue is by far the best component of this story--very realistic, authentic to the cultural mores of the students. I'm not sure I like Maddie as a character, but perhaps this was intentional--a commentary on her arrogance and naivete, her feeling that her Wiccan/Pagan beliefs are superior to Christianity. Jan, though a minor character, appeals most to me--her pragmatism and wisdom. The personalities of the school children are realistic, with their adolescent conflicts and drama. The story works well as a commentary on religion, hubris, and an impoverished educational system. The tale is both realistic and surreal; horrifying at the end. The narrative flows with a accomplished balance of dialogue, description, and conflict. Echoes of the writer, Shirley Jackson. At times I also found myself thinking of Arthur Miller's cabal of young girls in "The Crucible." An enjoyable read. Thank you. James.

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