The section below is from the fourth chapter of the book. Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you enjoy it!
VOODOO QUEEN, Chapter 4
Catherine and Marie walked several city blocks before they approached a two-story house in the wealthy part of town. Catherine barely knocked on the door before it was flung open by a slim white woman. She was in a surprisingly formal green dress with a ruffled skirt and off-the-shoulder sleeves. Her hair was in perfect ringlets, but her face was tear-streaked. The woman quivered and wrung her hands. She made Marie think of a wounded butterfly: so delicate, so tragic, so in need of help.
“Merci mille fois – thank you so much for coming,” she said to Marie, ignoring Catherine completely. This didn’t surprise either of them. People quite often treated Marie like she was in charge regardless of the circumstances. She had a magnetic presence that drew others to her.
“We were going to leave today,” she explained to Marie as she guided them through the rooms. “We have a home in Buluxy that we stay in during the summer. But then last night, he got sick. Why didn’t I leave sooner?” She held her face in her hands. Marie knew that if they couldn’t save the boy, those words – “we were going to leave today, why didn’t I leave sooner?” – would echo in her mind for the rest of her life.
Marie had never been in a house so fine, though she supposed Catherine had been in many during her days as a slave and a nurse. It was unfortunates she couldn’t see it in the daylight. The candlelight barely teased the leg of a pricey piece of furniture, the edge of a richly embroidered rug, the outline of a fine painting, the ledge above the courtyard, before it ran away and cast the images back into darkness.
“I heard colored women could work miracles with yellow fever,” said the mother, breathless with nervousness. “We need a miracle. I know it.” She guided them into a bedroom and pointed. “Just look at him.”
Marie could smell that this was a sickroom the moment she walked in. It had an unnatural stuffy heat and the acidic odor of sick. The orange light from the fireplace shone on a little boy shivering under a pile of blankets. She could only see his face, which was bright red with fever. The boy had long, dark eyelashes that touched his cheek. His abnormally long lashes were so sweet that Marie’s heart pulled toward him. She wanted to wrap her arms around him and absorb the sickness into her chest until he was clean and whole.
Catherine approached the bed and put an expert hand on the child’s forehead. The mother hovered over her, intent on her every move. His shivering was so strong, the pile of blankets shook and his black eyelashes quivered.
“Why is he so cold?” asked Marie. She tried not to sound alarmed for the mother’s sake.
“The fever steals all his warmth and makes him cold. That’s why it’s so hard to get him to sweat, even though it feels like he’s on fire. Here.” She took Marie’s hand and put it on the boy’s forehead. Marie was shocked that a human could produce such heat. Catherine kneeled by the bed and whispered to the child. “Open your eyes, mawn shou. Come on.” His eye lashes lifted slowly. “There you go.” Catherine gently pulled his eye lid up and peered at him, then motioned for Marie to come do the same. Her eyes met with the child’s for a long moment. He was so innocent, so trusting.
Catherine leaned toward Marie and spoke softly so the mother couldn’t hear. “Do you see how his eyes are yellow? That’s one of the advanced stages of the disease. Only half of the people who reach this point survive. We have to act quickly.”
The mother was racked with sobs. She pleaded with Marie, “How bad is he? Will he be alright?”
Catherine, who was used to being overlooked whenever she was with Marie, asked her, “When was the last time he urinated?” The mother seemed confused, so she asked again, “When was the last time he urinated?”
“I don’t know. Today. Yes, today.”
Catherine looked relieved. The mother asked Marie, “Is that important?”
“Have you seen any blood?” Catherine continued. “From his vomit, nose, mouth, or eyes?”
The mention of such bleeding made the mother physically ill and she swayed as if she were about to faint. Catherine stood and calmly took the white woman’s hands. The mother was surprised by the sudden contact, but she didn’t flinch away. “I have treated many people before,” said Catherine. “We’ll do everything we can to heal him.”
The mother’s lips whimpered. Marie had never seen anyone so vulnerable and she wanted to soothe her like she would a child.
The mother looked back to Marie, still viewing her as the person in charge. “Do whatever it takes. I don’t care. Just heal him.” The words “whatever it takes” obviously meant “even if you have to use voodoo.”
“Sit down there and we’ll get to work.” The mother sat in a chair obediently, her eyes never leaving her boy. Catherine motioned for Marie to stand and they both crossed themselves and started to pray.
Marie suddenly felt a sense of dread and her eyes impulsively flashed to the door. Catherine asked, “What’s wrong? Is someone coming?”
Heavy footsteps thundered up the stairs. The sound itself was hostile and Marie braced herself to run, though there was nowhere to go. The door flung open and two men entered, one of them carrying a doctor’s briefcase. The other took in the two colored women and demanded, “What is this?”
The mother leaped from her chair and pleaded. “I know you wanted him to see a doctor, but everyone says colored women are better at nursing than doctors. I thought we could let them try.”
The doctor pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. The husband scoffed. “That’s superstitious nonsense. He is trained in medicine. These women are only going to chant incantations and charge you a fortune for it.” He waved Marie and Catherine away like two pesky flies.
The doctor was already unloading his case and rolling up his sleeves. Marie looked back to the boy with the burning face and the long lashes and planted her feet. Unless they let her treat the boy, they would have to carry her out.
Catherine gently placed her aging hand on Marie’s shoulder. “We need to go.”
Marie’s resolve crumbled. Her eyes begged Catherine to let her stay, but her grandmere very firmly guided her out of the room. Marie took one last look at the bed – the shivering boy, the mother holding his hand while the doctor examined him – before the father slammed the door closed.
From inside, they could hear the mother ask, “What are you going to do?”
“First, we must bathe him in cold water. Then we’ll purge him with a laxative and use leeches to draw out the bad blood.”
“No!” cried Marie. She spun around to run back into the room, but Catherine stood in her way. “Didn’t you hear what they’re going to do?” Marie asked incredulously. Blood was life giving; that’s why the spirits required blood sacrifices. Loss of blood brought death.
“I heard,” said Catherine calmly. “And the shock from the cold water will probably kill him.” Most people would have mistaken Catherine’s lack of passion for flippancy. Marie recognized it as resignation.
Catherine made for the stairway, assuming Marie would follow. In a back room, buckets of water were dumped into a tub. Marie saw in her mind the boy being lifted into the tub, his body covered in leeches, and she shut off the rest of the image because she didn’t want to see what it would put him through. Instead, her mind’s eye went to heads stuck on spikes, too high for her to reach.
Catherine realized Marie wasn’t coming with her and she turned around.
“I can’t move,” Marie explained. It was literally the truth. She couldn’t go into the room again because it would do more harm than good, and she couldn’t leave the boy when it meant allowing him to die. Her feet wouldn’t move one way or the other.
Catherine seemed to understand because she didn’t get angry and she didn’t ask any questions. She drew near to Marie and said, “A weaker person could be ripped apart by all that’s wrong in this world. But you and I are strong. We can walk out that door and not be destroyed by things we can’t change.”
Can’t change. There it was again. She was a poor little colored girl who couldn’t stop a white doctor from killing a boy. The only thing she could do was survive it. Marie realized something about herself that night; Catherine was a survivor, but she wasn’t. She was a fighter.
Marie might have stood there indefinitely if she hadn’t heard the slosh of water followed by the ear-piercing scream of the little boy. Within the screams were the mother’s comforting whispers telling the boy she was sorry, she knew it was cold, but it was to make him better and it would be over soon. Marie flew out of that house so quickly, she wasn’t even conscious of her feet. She stopped at the sidewalk, heaving heavy breaths. Part of her remained in that house with that boy, though. Marie wondered if she would ever have that part of herself back or if it would always be with him.
Catherine handed Marie the healing kit – it was her turn to carry it, Marie supposed – and guided her to their next house call.
Thanks for reading! Only one more day before the launch!