Chasing Lois Lowry.

In 1st grade, I got a zero on a math test. A ZERO.

We were doing these things:

3 > 1    6<7   10>8 

and I got every answer wrong.  All 25 questions. Wrong.

My teacher circled a big, red F at the top of the page and never readdressed it with me, which really, was her fail. <1 minute of her time would’ve corrected this situation and saved me the stigma of an F.

I mean, of course I bloody knew 10 was greater than 8. So I’m grateful to the substitute teacher who later recognized my mixup and explained it another way.

“See that duck’s open mouth?” She pointed to the  <  . “It always wants to eat the larger number.”

And *poof* I got it.

But most of school was like that for me. I often needed things explained another way. Except for reading. Words and characters and plots, those made sense to me. So when a student teacher arrived one morning with a copy of Charlotte’s Web, I was all smiles.

“Y’all be quiet, now. Pay attention!” our teacher warned everyone, looking at me.

She opened the book, pulling us into early morning on the farm. Songbirds warbled on darkened branches against the purple sky while Mrs. Arable cooked pancakes. Papa was up earlier than usual, and Fern and I realized at the exact same time where he was going with that axe.

Oh god. No, no.

I shifted on the cold floor.

What if he felt pain? What if Papa didn’t kill him with the first blow? Save him, Fern! Save him! We ran into the barn, halting that downward CHOP! Crying and pleading until Papa relented and Wilbur was saved. . . and let me tell you, all 7 years of me was emotionally invested in this pig.

She closed the book and promised to return for chapter 2, but never did. Which, that day, was the second most horrible case of injustice I ever heard of.

I procured a copy of Charlotte’s Web and swam in its pages.

And a hungry reader was born.


When a child likes to read, we say thank goodness. We subconsciously assign academic prowess to this trait, but for me that wasn’t the case.

Unless a teacher delivered dynamic, interactive visuals, my mild bolted like a pinball. I stared out windows, wondering what classrooms looked like across the world. If I’d ever meet Paul McCartney. How many days til my birthday. Chewed pencils and prayed my mom would give me money for the Scholastic Book Fair readers can I get an amen.

2nd grade. 3rd grade. 4th grade.


I studied classmates’ heads. Wished I was in England. Counted right-handed people. Left-handed people. Bit my nails. Wiggled my legs. Tried out new handwritings. Fantasized about George Michael in the Careless Whisper video. Wondered if Alyssa Milano was popular at school. Made up lives for the people in my Social Studies textbook. Talked to my neighbors Jennifer come put your name on the board.


In hindsight, one recognizes the ADHD infant writer, but parents didn’t rush for diagnoses like they do now. Back then I was just a giant pain in my teachers’ asses. I talked too much. I couldn’t sit still. Year after year, parent teacher conferences were predictable joy.

Jennifer’s smart, but she doesn’t apply herself, they slid my grades across the desk with varying levels of compassion. She excels at reading, but she’s a disruption to other students.


In class, Reading meant sentence formation and synonyms. At home it meant secret gardens and peaches and James and Meg and tesseracts and the quiet refuge of someone else’s story.


But this isn’t a sob story. I had a magically delicious childhood with pink hearts, yellow moons, green clovers, loving family, lots of friends, birthday parties, vacations, Cabbage Patch dolls, doting grandparents, and blue diamonds.

I’m just trying to convey I always felt slightly . . . askew.


But God was about to nudge me.

One day in fifth grade, our teacher sat before us with a chapter book. Being read to was a luxury at this late stage in my elementary education and I remember feeling very fortunate to have front row advantage where they could keep an eye on me. But anyway she started reading. I put my head down and closed my eyes, all UP in that story when she finished the chapter.


“We’ll read more later.” She closed the book, and the classroom swirled back. But I wasn’t falling for it.

“Can we see the cover?” I raised my hand. Because here was another book I’d have to find and finish my damn self. She waved the cover slowly back and forth, then told us the author sometimes volunteered at the public library.

Wait. What?

I froze in pleasant paralysis.

God Winks are when your soul remembers something from a long time ago. It is (momentary) pure awareness with a dash of well-being, sometimes accompanied by an idiot expression.

It is rare.

It is a gift.

It is the Almighty saying PAY ATTENTION.

I didn’t know I’d grow up to be a writer. But in that exact moment, my 11-year-old body bristled with an all-consuming, solitary thought.

She writes children’s books AND gets to work in a library?! 

This was my pure, crystalline, body-wide reaction. I could imagine no better life. Why, besides Linda McCartney, she was the luckiest woman in the entire universe ever! And forget paying attention the rest of class. I had to get to the library. I had to meet this lady and get my hands on her book.

“Which library?” My grandfather picked me up that Saturday, sipping a cup of McDonald’s coffee.


We drove to the nearest branch.

“Which author?” the librarian asked, amused.

“Something Lowery,” I answered, peering around her. Was she behind the desk? In the back offices? I couldn’t wait to talk to her about books!

“Lois Lowry?”

Mmhm,” I nodded, looking around. It occurred to me I had no idea what this woman looked like. But I did assume she’d have a special desk with a golden nameplate or something.

Oh, the unspoken eye language between adults.

“She’s not here,” she winked at my grandfather. “But we do have her books.”

“Why don’t you grab some while we’re here?” Grandpa suggested, so I did.

And maybe a chef feels the same in a fully stocked kitchen in the south of France. But peace oozed over me, there in stacks. Like a tranquil overtaking. I sank to the floor between shelves and perused titles, commanded to happy, reverent silence.


I feel the exact same in old forests these days. No coincidence since books are made of trees, but I digress. This wasn’t (and isn’t) about ‘liking’ books. It’s my visceral connection to words and paper and imagination and all those other left-brain attributes that cradled my burgeoning, um . . .  sensitivities.

It was connection to PURPOSE.

I just didn’t know it yet.

But I knew running my fingers along those smooth plastic spines felt delicious. I slid titles from tightly packed neighbors, enjoying that gentle croak of binding, turning to page one. A relief sigh for being opened, perhaps. ❤

I pushed my books to the librarian.

“We’ll try another branch next time,” Grandpa promised, getting me my first library card.

And so we continued, chasing Lois Lowry around the Houston Public Library System. I never found her, obviously. Because she was up north somewhere churning out literary awesomeness, unaware of her accidental role in this young reader’s life.

But I did check out 7 books every 2 weeks for years and years, enjoying precious time with my grandfather, never once considering any librarian at any time could’ve stopped this ritual with an easily researched fact.

Thank God they didn’t.


31 year later (or 4 year ago, whichever you prefer) I obeyed a loud intuitive nudge to apply at my local library. I wanted to reference the Lowry chase in my cover letter, but were my facts straight? Had she actually worked at the library or did I somehow invent this scenario?

I called the Houston Public Library (central branch) to triple-check my memories and got transferred to the reference librarian, to whom I apologized and repeated my story, not realizing librarians absolutely delight in such queries.

She cheerfully agreed to research and called back the very next day, laughing that multiple branches got involved as they located the few remaining 30 year veterans and asked Did anyone recall a children’s author volunteering at one of the Houston branches in the 80s?

Why yes, someone did.

Joan Lowery Nixon volunteered at the very same library Grandpa took me to that VERY FIRST time. Why that initial librarian didn’t connect the dots I don’t know. Or maybe she did and didn’t want to crush a little girl’s hopes.

It really doesn’t matter.


Today, against all odds, I find myself a children’s author who gets to work at the library.


And the lady who hired me?

Her name is Lois, a ‘coincidence’ I didn’t realize until writing this entry.

And this I know for sure:

God’s promises lie dormant in protected silvery place until passion wakes them up.

We know very early on what feels RIGHT, and adversely what grates against the soul. Our weirdo gifts and proclivities are blueprints for joyful purpose, so trust your invisible compass. Fear and other people’s expectations may complicate things, but you do YOU because Happily Ever After looks different for everyone.

Now go read a banned book.

love, Jennifer







V-Day: What Happened at a Vagina Steaming Party.

“I got invited to a vagina steaming party.”

“A what?”

My husband looked over from A Catcher in the Rye.

“A vagina steaming party,” I repeated all nonchalant, turning the page of my novel.

He blinked, his eyes magnified by reading glasses.

“What on earth is that?”

“I really don’t know.”

He rest his book against his belly.

“Are you going?”

“I don’t know.”

I stared at the words of my own book, undecided.

“You should go.”

He commenced reading.

“Why?” I looked over, surprised.

“Sounds . . . fun,” he giggled, lips wrapped around his teeth.

We read awhile longer then turned out the lights. And I was right there teetering on sleep when he snort laughed in his pillow.


“Can you make rice at the same time?”

“You’re an idiot.”

I secret smiled in my pillow.

“You’re lovely,” he replied.

And I fell asleep, undecided.

How does one get invited to a vagina steaming party?

Well. I learned about it on Facebook, from a small local women’s group I’m privy to. The gatherings are earthy in nature —full moon celebrations, henna parties and the like— but I’d never attended anything.

“I think you should go,” Christopher handed me tea the next morning.

“Why are you so anxious for me to steam my vagina?”

Our son entered the kitchen at this time. Looked at us long enough to die inside, then backed away slowly.

“Because it sounds like a laugh and I think you’d have a good time.”

“But I don’t know these people.”

“Since when do you have a problem making friends?”


But still.

“It just sounds really personal.”

For all the guts I spill on this blog, I’m actually quite private about a few things, my nether bits being one. And the idea of sitting in a steamy circle of exposed labia held very little appeal.

Still curious, I monitored the thread. My friend Kelly RSVP’d (yay) so then I started googling — with delicacy, of course. You can end up with a screenful of porn asking the wrong question. But what I learned is, ‘vagina rejuvenation’ is a thing right now, with a giant list of procedures.

They’re not going to insert anything, are they? 

I sent Kelly an urgent text, and she called me right away.

“Girl, no,” she laughed. “And Sam knows what she’s doing. She’s a board certified midwife.”

She is?”

“She delivered my babies!”


I didn’t know the midwife part.

And that changed things entirely.

“See you there,” I replied.


Kelly and I walked along the river to Sam’s house, arriving at the rustic outdoor space in her backyard, purpose built for such gatherings. As we approached this building — dubbed the SHE SHACK — I had very good feelings.


Inside, Sam bustled around readying pots while another girl sorted baggies of herbs. With introductions made and wine poured, I was instantly comfortable.

For some reason I thought this’d be a group activity, but a sheet hung in the corner concealing a birthing stool and I realized it was a one-person-at-a-time thing.

“Sam?” I sipped my small jar of white wine. She had apples, cheese, cucumbers, hummus, charcuterie and crackers out too, so this was awesome already. “Do you mind if I write about this?”

“Go for it, girl.” She bent over a giant tub of herbs, sorting. “The more educated people are, the better.”

Amen to that. 

I pulled out my phone.


The 4th girl besides Kelly, Sam, and myself, was Ashley, a master herbalist. And she brought a LOT of ingredients.


They stuck their noses in bags discussing properties. Measurements. And I watched like a curious anthropologist. This wasn’t some trendy slumber party ritual suddenly popular because Gwyneth Paltrow said so. This was a serious, ancient practice. And these ladies knew their stuff.

I learned a few years ago not to poo-poo herbal medicine anyway. I’m allergic to anything stronger than ibuprofen, and one day after suffering a toothache, a library colleague pressed a small brown dropper bottle in my hand.

“Tastes like ass,” she warned. “But it should help with your pain.”

What is it? I winced, hardly caring.

“Mostly yarrow root,” she said. “And keep it. You don’t look right.”

It tasted like twelve asses let alone one, but dang if my pain didn’t go away.


“You can go first, Jenn.” Sam snapped twigs off a scraggly dried bush — mugwort, I learned, then asked questions about my period.

Ashley handed her baggies according to my answers, which I assumed uneventful. But cycle length and cramp severity seemed to compute and I loved watching their deliberate decisions regarding my care.  And that’s exactly what it felt like.




A spoonful of this, a handful of that. I heard the words ‘astringent’ and ‘tonality’ and watched the pretty herbs pile in the bowl, my heart full of trust.

“It that just for Kabay?” Kelly slid blue cheese on an apple slice, crosslegged on the floor.

“Yes, this is the Kabay blend.” Sam crunched herbs in her fist.

And I felt all special.


Maybe the wine was taking affect.

But I couldn’t wait to get on that stool.

“I really don’t need the curtain,” Ashley said.

“Me neither,” I agreed. So Sam pulled it down, then poured boiling water over my herbs filling the room an earthy, wooden fragrance.


“Ready?” she slid the steaming bowl under the stool.

I pulled the back of my long skirt up and sat down, its front length hanging to floor. Sam wrapped two thick blankets around my waist, draping my lower half, then tucked them around my feet. “You good?” She checked for gaps so no steam could escape. Her bedside manner was excellent, proving my earlier privacy fears a complete waste of energy, like most fears.

“You look all Victorian, sitting on that throne,” Kelly observed, offering more wine.

“I feel all Victorian,” I smiled, accepting a refill.


Lights were lowered so only candlelight flickered.

And I waited.

For what I wasn’t sure.

Would it tingle?


Burn, as someone warned?

“Is it too warm?” Sam asked.

“Not at all.” I was a good foot above the herbs. “It could probably could be warmer.”

“Do you feel anything?”

I wiggled a bit, considering.

“You know? I think I do?”

I sat there a good 15 minutes, trying to conjure adjectives.


So I succumbed to relaxation. To swirling incense and soft, thumping music. To the beautiful, maternal, communal way women can be, their conversation low and soothing like a background ohm.

And then I felt it.

A sort of . . . I dunno. Tingle is not the right word.

Reaction maybe?

Like a dimmer switch sliding off to on?

Oop. I think I feel something.”

“Good!” Sam started prepping another bowl. “Is it too hot?” She crushed dried rose petals in her fingers.

My tiny dancer suddenly gave me jazz hands.

I sat up straight, roses blooming in my cheeks.

“I think it could be hotter.”

Here.” Kelly dropped to her knees before me with a pillow footrest ottoman thingy. “Promise I won’t look.”

She reaching under the blankets, extracted the bowl, placed it on top of the ottoman and slid it back under.

“Better?” She retucked the blanket around my feet.

Yes, I nodded. Thank you.

Something was happening down there.

I just wasn’t sure what.

Nothing about it was sexual. Not even a tiny bit.

So if you’re reading this for a cheap thrill, resume your vagina searches elsewhere, perv. 

It was more like high-level relaxation.

A lower-body awakening, of sorts.


If you have to steam clean it, you’re doing something wrong, someone wrote on Facebook.


Did it whistle? another friend asked.


Waca. Waca.

— this wasn’t about hygiene.

It was me wondering why more people didn’t know about this and what giant percentage the world’s women would never ever experience it because why on earth would you do such a thing. 

It’s indecent!

That’s hippie quackery!

Is it?

The sparkly magic swirling under that blanket was not my imagination.

And I wondered if it was mental, the well-being I felt. Like the elevated way one feels after a good sermon, a long talk with a dear friend, or a leisurely stroll in the dappled woods.

And the answer is no. My physical reaction was real.

Consider what herbs can do to the mind. It’d be foolish and somewhat ignorant to dismiss their affect on other parts, too.

” ‘Ello, steamy!” Christopher called when I walked in the door. “How was it?”

I plopped on the couch.

“Feel better?”

Better wasn’t the right word.

More like . . . different.

Hard to articulate, but yes. I felt different.

Especially the next day.

There was a certifiable spring in my step. A clarity downstairs, like my lady bits —if likened to the mind— had a deep, restorative night’s sleep. Bright-eyed and bu—

. . .never mind.

Yeah. I felt better.

Lovely in fact.

Physically, I’d compare it to the clear, open way your skin feels after a facial.

Even days later.

I felt like one of Boticelli’s Graces.


I can’t believe you wrote about this. Have you no shame?

Oh, be quiet.

Women’s health is the nucleus of debate this days. And the (awful) word ‘pussy’ is actually mainstream news thanks to you-know-who.

I had to unpack some issues while writing this, tiptoeing around propriety wondering whom I might offend and why.

We’re conditioned to defining vaginas either sexually or clinically, but this experience was neither.

It was intellectual.


Beautiful. Magical.

(*High five* if that conjures Supertramp.)

Anyway. That’s why I wrote this.

Because fear, misogyny, and misinformation swirl like noxious gas out there, making young girls and grown ass women strangers to their own bodies.

And this isn’t some feminist manifesto, either. I’m just saying there’s a big world out there beyond soap and water and I’m really glad I went. So are my bits.

Now back to my regularly scheduled program of books and Beatles and things that go bump in the night.


Peace, love and mugwort,

My fancy Harrods afternoon, darling.

Don’t get me wrong. I like fancy. And my pinkie involuntarily drifts North with the right teacup. But Harrods kinda freaks me out. Ironic since our entire trip evolved from a single, ho-hum text.

Me: Don’t you wish we were at Harrods right now? Drinking champagne and eavesdropping?

(I’d probably just mopped up cat puke, and sent this strategically, of course.)

My husband (for example) would rather scoop out his corneas with a grapefruit spoon than sit in Harrods doing anything let alone eavesdropping.

—But not my friend Tecla!

Her: Um . . . yes? When?

Careful what you wish for and all that.

Because there we were six month later on a sparkly escalator. Gliding through British opulence. Lost between floors. Darting between diamonds and runway couture looking for The Champagne Bar.

No easy feat, I assure you.

Harrods is like a casino. Glittery. Expensive. Designed for distraction. A chandeliered labyrinth of escalators and corridors and pretty staff trained to sell you a better life.

We eventually found The Champagne Barwrapped L-shaped around a small corner in Ladies Wear. I mean, it sounded good. But all that glass and white lacquer conjured A Clockwork Orange and I wanted something a little more . . . Absolutely Fabulous. And not to worry, sweetie darling.

‘Spoiled for choice’ is an understatement.

Harrods deals eateries like golden aces with world class chefs at every helm. The trouble was finding them.

We actually got hungry looking for a place to drink.


So we started withtabbouleh and lamb charred medium-rare at Mezzah Lounge overlooking Knightsbridge.


The rose tea was almost too pretty to drink.

And the tahini was so creamy I drank it too, because I’m ghetto like that.


Also delicious was the people watching. No bootie-digging, lice-scratching kids up in the Mezzah Lounge, ya’ll. Large families with well-behaved children dotted the place. Next to us, three young Arabs watched YouTube on someone’s new iPhone X, plucking fresh fruit from a gutted watermelon with toothpicks.

Exotic women in bright pink saris glided through clutching designer handbags while another two in black burkas sat still and silent with a bearded man on a very long phone call. A Richard Gere-y Frenchman beckoned our waiter with a pressed cotton Rolexed arm s’il vous plaît andI breathed it all in. My happy meter wiggling at MAX.

God, I love London.

Even the bathrooms sparked joy.

Not for the attendant providing make-up and perfume for après-dining touchups — nah.

All that white porcelain reminded me of Titanic. 


IMG_7152 2.JPG


I wanted to perch in one of them water closets and WRITE. But perfume makes me nauseous and Tecla was waiting. And anyway . . . champagne.

We headed downstairs past


and furs

and hankies

and bowler hats.

Everything fancy.


and pretty


and perfect


and — oh!

Your Majesty!



At last . . .

we passed through a magic portal on the ground floor where time and monetary discretion d i s a p p e a r.

Where greek gods lie naked in pools of crème fraîche, whispering naughty things.

J e n n i f e r . . . they beckoned, sleepy-eyed and sensuous.  C o m e.

(Foodies, hide your boners.)


How can I possibly convey the Harrods Food Hall except to say it’s a culinary WONDERLAND. An epicurean cornucopia where caviar dreams and champagne wishes do come true.


We floated on an icy sea of lobster, oysters, and crab past an open kitchen grilling Wagyu fillets and $40 hamburgers.

The Sirens purred, their wanton whispers curling around my conscience. You are special, Jennifer, and your cellulite is minimal. You deserve that burger with sautéed onions, oyster mushrooms, smoked applewood cheese, and lollo rosso lettuce served with the side of your choice. We don’t know what lollo rosso lettuce is either. But you deserve it, girl. Go on. Get the mac and cheese for your side.

Jenn.” Tecla pulled my arm and I snapped-to.

Ribeyes. Sushi. Charcuterie. Champagne. Internationals slid forks and chopsticks and fingers in their mouths. Licking. Swallowing. Their mid-day decadence the pictures of privilege. And there we were among them. Jet-lagged and lamb-bellied. Smiling like idiots. Drifting past sashimi. Caviar. Sake. Shrimp. Corks POP! ping


whoops, excuse me!


—and vintage merlot spilling into sparkling crystal.

I seriously considered eating again. But wood-fired sourdoughs and baguettes lured us to the next room where buttery pies and jelly-tiered cakes gave way to a wall of stinky cheese. (Down boy, DOWN.)  And we saw it together. The pick-your-pleasure pastries shingled in decadent display near an art deco coffee bar.

THERE,” we agreed, claiming two stools circling the copper behemoth.


Tecla ordered tea. But not just any tea.

The No.16 Ceylon Afternoon Special Blend with a Victoria Sponge, darling. I ordered coffee and pain au chocolat and we launched into my very favorite game.


Guy next to me,” Tecla whispered sideways. “What’s he do?”

I pretended to stare past him, stirring my latte.

Thin. Tall. Hitler-y haircut. Straight nose. Straight posture.

I licked buttery flakes off my lips, considering his brand new clothes.

Black on black. Every blonde hair in place. Guarding his mouth with a coffee cup. Swedish, I concluded. Maybe German.

Architect.” I whispered back.

And we went around the circle, writing people’s lives.

It’s a voyeur’s heaven and I could’ve stayed all day. But it was time for champagne! And what the hell time was it? Casino, I tell you! Did we want a crisp Italian vibe at Canti Prosecco Bar upstairs? Or vintage Paris at Ladurée ? Maybe neither?

Feeling all que sera sera, we wandered past fresh roses and the Salon De Parfums to a new set of elevators, letting button-pushing strangers determine our fate. And the best thing happened.

The doors opened.

Not to retail.

But to quiet Victorian elegance.

–Ironed white table clothes. A vaulted atrium ceiling and a tuxedoed gentleman making love to Beethoven. Pianissimo.



After a crisp flute of brut rosé and enough how may I assist you, madams I actually considered the $1100 Moschino My Little Pony Lunchbox Purse

(Just kidding —I’d never.)

And really, I’d had enough.

We passed two stunning women on our way out.

Magazine-perfect, I tell you. Deer-legged and precariously balanced in Christian Louboutins, struggling to fold a stroller. They barked at each other in raspy Italian, their movements comically limited by matching fur coats and long, curved nails clacking against metal. Next to them a regally dressed toddler –all buttons and brown curls — stood still. A silver pacifier in her rosebud mouth. Waiting.

I cannot articulate why.

But this summed it up entirely, why I was done.

I like fancy.

I really do.

But I prefer fireplaces and cracked teapots in dusty old pubs.

—and so does Tecla.

We ran home to change for our hot date with a Potter exhibit at the British Library.

Dear God — I unclasped my pearls and pulled out my wand.

Thank you for today.

Tecla yanked off her boots and busted out her Hufflepuff scarf. I adjusted my Ravenclaw collar and double-checked my glitter.

Thank you for everything, really. Especially kindred spirits.

“Ready?” she asked.


And rocking on the underground, I thought of the chauffeur outside Harrods, standing next to a Rolls Royce pulled haphazardly on the curb, its back window cluttered with bags. He looked every shade of OVER IT, and I wondered if he belonged to the stroller ladies.

Hi, I nodded, and he tipped his cap, silent.

But his weary eyes said plenty.

Accio beer.

. . . . . . .

Me too, mister.


How The Beatles Saved Me.

I once had a boy. 

Or should I say, he once had me.

.    .    .    .    .

Damn, girl. You really put yourself out there,” someone said when I first started this blog.

It wasn’t a compliment. 

The idea was to document the ghost and spirit phenomena known my entire life. And I stared him, hurt. How would I make people understand if I didn’t share exactly what happened? Exactly how I felt?

I can’t just write: So, hey. I heard from God yesterday. It was super cool! He’s real and prayer works. Trust me! 


You need to know I heard Him with my head in the toilet on the bathroom floor. Then later, screaming at the ceiling for help. Because then (maybe) you understand why the angels came. 

Like now, for this entry, I could write:

I was dangerously sad once. But then some magic happened and I got saved.

But that conveys nothing.

Better to explain it was 1999, and I was circling the drain.  

That I craved cigarettes more than food. That I woke up hungover most days and weighed 113 pounds. That I lost the boy I loved AND my longtime best friend at the exact same time. — I did get straight As my last semester. But I also got arrested. And sometimes, despair twisted my stomach SO hard, I vomited. Not bulimia. Stress. 

See? Now you have a picture. 

That’s why I splash my guts on paper. 

So you understand what I mean when I say dangerously sad.

But don’t get me wrong. 

Mine wasn’t an Amy Winehouse situation. I never adopted hard drugs or slept in puke. And I never slept around. But my glass heart was absolutely shattered and I did everything possible to forget.

Including running away.


Things I had:

  1. a diploma
  2. a pack of cigarettes.
  3. a ticket to London
  4. a dear friend angel coming with me.

Things I didn’t have:

  1. a job.
  2. a place to live.
  3. a plan.
  4. a clue.

But the fates were kind.

We scored jobs AND a tiny flat in Hackney within days. Our flatmate was a nutty Turk who cooked breakfast — I’m talking eggs, bread, hot tea and some kinda meat — every single day. And truth be told, it was pretty freaking great. Waiting tables in Covent Garden was crazy fun and I made friends easily.


But demons live in England, too. 

They just have nicer accents.


And here’s the thing about grief.

Beer won’t drown it.  

And it doesn’t evaporate in smoke. 

No, pain delights in avoidance, gaining strength the longer it’s buried. 


And in the wee hours, mine was a scratching nocturnal rodent.




I flipped on my side.




Mine also had this *awesome* soundtrack.

Side A:

  1. You selfish bitch.
  2. They’re probably having sex right now.
  3. Drink some more.
  4. He never really loved you.


Side B:

  1. You fuck everything up.
  2. Your body is gross.
  3. They’re laughing at you.
  4. Cum laude for WHAT, WAITRESS.

My record flipped and started again.

God, please make it stop.






I threw off the covers and lit a cigarette, throwing my lighter on the coffee table, staring at the clock. Texas was 6 hours behind. What were they doing right now? What if I called? Who would pick up? What would I say?

Mystery tracks:

5. Please forgive me.

6. I can’t breathe I miss you so much. 

7. I need help.

I made tea and got ready for work, determined to have a good day. She looked like me, that girl in the mirror. Sort of. But nicotine dulled her bright green eyes and her lips were thin clouds of regret. What did I do to make them hate me?

8. No. Fuck them.

I glossed my lips and stepped into the living room where Ivan could see I’d had another bad night.

“You make yourself crazy,” he laughed, rolling papers across his pink tongue.

Ivan was a political refugee and thought my problems were hilarious

He passed me the joint.

“At least my country likes me.”  I took a long drag.

“Then why you live here?” 

“Because you make good breakfast.” I blew smoke his way, and he swatted me with his paper on my way out.

Whatever misery I suffered, at least I was in London and loved my commute. Train time was quiet time. 


And walking alongside Dickensian buildings under grey skies soothed me somehow. My favorite was a shuttered, war-time bakery with Hot Cross Buns 4p! faded in the cracked glass. 

So I worked and slept and smoked and drank and played my nasty record.

And that was my life. 

My friends were pink-cheeked internationals, well-acquainted with the glitter-faced party girl. 


But only a few knew the one who hid in pub corners, scribbling pain in a worn journal, crying if the wrong song came on.

And one of them was Christopher.


We met two years prior when I moved to London for a work abroad program. Our initial meeting is a straight-up testament to fate, but I’ll tell that story another time. We kept in touch when I went home to graduate and were mutually happy upon my return. Trust for now our friendship was solid. He was easy, pleasant company, and I made him laugh.

“What are you doing this weekend?” he asked.


“Would you like to do something?”

“OK.” I fished around my cavernous purse, ciggie in mouth. We also had an uncanny ability to stretch a coffee date into 8 hours, which made me nervous.

You don’t want me, I warned when his gazes got a little long. Not like that.I’m difficult.

“Pick you up at noon?” He pulled a Zippo from his pocket, and I leaned in.

We were new then. So new we were barely a we. And overly cautious. Coffees, lunches, museums and safe stuff. Momma didn’t raise a ho.

“Fancy going to Liverpool?” he asked, when I opened the door that Saturday.


  . . . Liverpool?

“It’s only a few hours by train,” he said in the doorway. “Jenny?”


I stood there gobsmacked, as they say in Britain.

Liverpool was like Atlantis to a little Texan Beatle fan.

Mythical, magic, and far, far away.

But I was older now. 

Living in England.

Why had I never —


“Fancy it?”

I nodded dumbly, then there we were hours later,

clacking to the great English North.


Buildings, then suburbs sped into bright green fields, and I gazed past my reflection to my childhood. To the first time I saw A Hard Day’s NightMy soul like G when Paul McCartney came onscreen. 

No, seriously.The Beatles split my personal atom and you must accept that as fact before reading further.

Music and lyrics.

I pondered.

Books and words.

Oh God. And that short story I wrote for 6th grade English where Paul gets a flat tire and rings my doorbell needing to use the phone. Open the door and let ’em in  I wrote in my big ol’ 12-year-old handwriting, marveling my genius. But— “Isn’t he a bit old for you?” was all my teacher said. Clearly unfit to protect and serve young imaginations.

I smiled against the cold window, my brain quiet for the first time in weeks then looked around the train. 


Books and Beatles.

Music and Words.

My lifelong medicines shelved and neglected for so very long.

W H Y ?


Christopher sat opposite, reading the paper. Everything about him gentlemanly and quiet. But clearly a masochtic lunatic. Because I’m gonna hurt you, Christopher. Just like—-

Hush. He pressed warm tea in my hands. We’re here.

The doors slid open to whistles and squealing breaks and I froze on the steps, transported to my middle school bedroom. Wham! posters on the wall. The Babysitters Club dog-eared on my twin bed. And there I was on my belly. Watching Help!  Squirming with the *delightful*new nether-tinglies discovered during The Night Before scene.


” . . . excuse me, Miss.”

Hmm? What?

“Please step aside to allow people off the train.”


I moved and people rushed past. My old-me memories playing in 4-D, commanding my attention. I’d forgotten that in-tact, happy girl. She was precious and rare. An endangered species.  “Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound here,” I blurted like some automaton, remembering high school and early college. Happy on my bed alone. Candles and incense. Acoustic harmonies separating my guts into quarters, braiding me into minor folds.

Simon & Garfunkel.

Crosby, Stills, & Nash.

Fleetwood Mac and Billy Joel, who wrote Vienna for me, I swear.

That chick only needed books, music, pen and paper.

Where did she go?

I looked up and around like an awestruck toddler.


Disney fans probably feel the same their first time in the Magic Kingdom. But this was better because it felt like walking through an album cover

“Where d’you want to go first?”

The Cavern, my mouth formed and the movie reel melted, the dark thing in me stirring. The monster I housed, threatening.

“Jenny, you alright?”

No. I wasn’t alright at all.

For so long I harbored lies. Jagged-edged insecurites too awful to say out loud. So I swallowed them whole, choking on self-destruction when things threatened to improve. Like now.

We turned the corner onto Mathew Street, the birthplace of the Beatles, and I teetered on some precipice. My feelings unfolding. Packed too tight for too long.

Take these broken wings and learn to fly.


I dropped Christopher’s hand.

My purse.

My overnight bag.


And gravitated





more stairs

into the womb

of the

r i t i h   v s i on.

Oh god.

Were they actually playing —


The deeper I descended the louder it got.

Something in me rising, too.

My mouth opened.

I’d been sad for so long.


Invisible fingers reached down my throat, 

grabbing the hairy, 



black mass

that told me

bad things




s  l  o  w.

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see.

I’d forgotten.

I’d forgotten!


Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you, the band played as my feet hit the Cavern Floor. 

And in that moment

I remembered.

I remembered!










The soul God created.


And I wept.

Stood there like a damn fool and cried.

And cried.

And cuh-ried.


Lord, I cried.

I couldn’t help it.

It was either that or puke.

An angel rushed over with light-blue eye shadow and frosty pink lips. Giant hoops and a silver bob framed her weathered face and I imagine she’d spent every weekend down there since 1964.

“You alright, love?”

It sounded like yooawdight, loov?

No I wasn’t bloody alright. I just sampled every human emotion in 2 minutes plus I think I heard from God so maybe I was gonna die.

She ushered me to a chair and motioned the barman to pour me a drink.

Snot bubbled from my nostrils while she grabbed for napkins. “We understand,” she soothed, patting my arm. And I believed her. Liverpudlians saw my type everyday. Fans making pilgrimages, squealing when they reached The Cavern.

But the other thing — the part I couldn’t articulate —was the old, sparkly me running headlong into the broken me. Combusting upon impact in the most sacred place a Beatle fan can tread.

Tears gushed down my cheeks faster than she could mop them up.

“Who you here with, loov?”

Oh God Christopher! I left him on the street!  

I looked around wildly but there he was. Ordering a pint. Shaking his head and smiling at me the way one does at a dumb puppy, barking at himself in the mirror.

Hold your head up you silly girl.

I hugged that angel lady hard, apologized to the band for scaring them, and emerged from The Cavern spit-shined. My despair scooped clean. 


From the sanctity of adulthood I know health, happiness, and self-worth are my responsibility. 

But back then, it was a revelation.

Grace isn’t reserved for the holy. And God doesn’t always send miracles. Sometimes He sends people with an opportunity to get it right.

And if magic exists, it was in me that day. Next to my future husband. Surrounded by charismatic locals with the very best accents in the entire world.

God laid it out from the start, my bliss. What plugged me into Him.  

And if you’re reading this like:


We get it. You like the Beatles.

  . . . then I’ve failed here, and please go on about your business.

But there’s a reason art transcends. Why people sniff books and cry at the opera. Why we run our fingers over statues and pay so much for concert tickets. Because art reaches in our guts and makes us FEEL. That power is real.

And I heard the loving, male voice I hadn’t heard in so long. 

Follow your bliss and drop the self-torture, girl. 

No one’s listening to that record but you.


People say the Ganges has healing powers, but I dunno. I vote Mersey.  Because I was restored that day.  Just like that. My old-self uncurling in a fetal sort of way.

So what good is to write: I was dangerously sad once. But then some magic happened and I got saved.


Better to tell a full story.

And how I got by with a little help from my friends. 

John, Paul, George, Ringo.

And Christopher.


This bird had flown.




BOOK LAB: Back to High School.

I got in trouble in junior high for making a ‘slam book.’

The offending questions included: What’s your favorite tv show? and How many siblings do you have? and Who’s your celebrity crush?

My classmates passed it round and round until I had long lovely lists of people’s answers. And it made me very happy.

But then a teacher found it.

“I know these aren’t mean-spirited questions.” She held me after class, holding the folder front of me. “But these sorts of things aren’t allowed.”

“Why?” I dared, staring at my meticulously decorated folder. There was puffy paint on there and everything.

I wanted it back.

“Because someone’s feelings could get hurt.”


I felt the weight of unfairness then.

The crushing despair of CENSORSHIP.

How dare she. Those answers didn’t belong to HER.

They belonged to US.

I died a little when she put MY property in her top drawer and shuffled to my next class defeated. How was a list of t.v. shows gonna hurt anyone’s feelings?? —I still remember The Cosby Show was the most popular answer. — I just wanted everyone’s thoughts!

And I still want people’s thoughts.

See, adults do the same thing . But they call them quizzes and questionnaires. Hell. Nowadays, teachers pass similar questions to students as a ‘getting to know ya.’


I’m not bitter.

I just keep on keeping’ on.

But I never (ever) forget, Ms. Williamson6thgradesocialstudiesJohnstonJuniorHigh.

And with that, a new Book Lab was born. AND I made a new questionnaire, thank you very much.

Here’s a list of our favorite words:
















Are you offended? Anyone’s feelings hurt?

Didn’t think so. 

(I also must give Nedra props for knowing how to spell ‘onomatopoeia’.)

Anyway,  Book Lab isn’t always academic. I thought it’d be fun to revisit our teenage selves. Regress a little.

So a new assignment was born:

Pick a book that would’ve appealed to your 16-Year-Old Self.


Easy right?

We hit the Young Adult section at the library.



And this would be interesting.

After all, we were:

  1. An academic.
  2. A punk-rocker.
  3. An introvert.
  4. A cheerleader.
  5. A social activist.
  6. And a debutante.

(at least in high school).

For reals.

But before I go on, would you like another offensive list to read?

Here are our favorite cheeses:

  1. goat cheese
  2. manchego
  3. Farmer’s cheese
  4. goat cheese
  5. parmasean
  6. brie

(Chèvre for the win!)

On that note, we headed to Blue Dahlia, ordered wine and nibbles and revealed our picks!


Book Lab’s celebrity guest this round is Monica. Monica’s favorite colors are yellow and red, and says the closest thing to real magic is déjà vu.


Monica also has fun nails.



This is Nedra.

Nedra likes pink and green and would name her yacht “Boat Hair, Don’t Care.”


Nedra also has an impressive ability to pick books that inspire weiner jokes.



This is Petra.

Petra likes blue and purple and says Physics was the worst class she ever took.


Petra also grew up in Amsterdam, so her high school years were probably way funner than ours.



This is Anna.

Anna’s favorite colors are red and black and says she’d pick ‘Marisol’ if she had to choose another name for herself.


Anna’s favorite bands in high school were The Cure, Bauhaus, and Joy Division.



This is Emily.

Emily likes various shades of blue. She also likes to pet kitties and write poetry in her spare time.


She also wins the rare I-Look-Like-My-Book-Cover Award.


And then there’s me.


My favorite colors are orange and magenta and the worst class I ever took was 10th grade geometry because the teacher was a SADIST.


(Guess who was the cheerleader.)


It was time to give our books the Page 69 test.


For those of you not in the know, we always read snippets from page 69. If the passage is decent, then the rest of the book probably won’t suck.

(Only one of us was dubious after this exercise.)

In a few weeks, we’ll reconvene and discuss our picks.


But FIRST some more lists:


*You leave tonight for an all expenses paid week ANYWHERE. Where you going?*

  1. Iceland
  2. PARIS!!!
  3. Fiji
  4. Walt Disney World. I’d stay at the Grand Floridian with the Deluxe Dining Plan.
  5. Bombay
  6. Greece

*What’s the closest thing to real magic?*

  1. Answered prayer & instant karma
  2. Real time answered prayer & good poetry
  3. Finding true love
  4. Serendipity
  5. Déjà vu
  6. Going to the beach with a boyfriend

And lastly,

*Where’s the strangest place you’ve peed?*

  1. In a cup in the H-E-B parking lot
  2. In a friend’s backyard. It went down my leg and scarred me for life.
  3. In an olive grove in Spain.
  4. Any toilet in Venice. They’re all nasty.
  5. A hole in the ground in the south of France.
  6. Behind a London bus stop.


And now I’ll leave YOU with the question that stumped all of us.

If YOU were transported 400 years into the past with NO clothes or objects, how would you prove you were from the future? Hmm?

Let me know.

Keepin’ it classy until next time,















Green Dot Mystery: What REALLY happened at the Myrtles.

Is Myrtles Plantation really haunted?

I found THIS in a library book a few days before we left.


By we I mean me and Emily. Friend, fellow writer, and the only other chick I know with a selection of kaftans.


I find stuff in books all the time. And though June 23rd was already behind us, I felt it was some kind of message. I showed it to Emily who lived in New Orleans and knows about this stuff.

“June 23rd is St. John’s Eve,” she explained.  “It’s the Voodoo High Holy Day.”

I also learned (according to voodoo practitioners) the spirit world comes closest to the living on St. John’s Eve.

So Emily and I drove to Louisiana with high hopes and fun outfits. Real-life hauntings are fairly rare, but the Myrtles is generally agreed (among paranormal professionals) to be legitimately haunted.

Are we the kind of dorks that prance around plantations in kaftans?

YES.  Yes, we are.

IMG_2562We chose the Fannie Williams ( A.K.A Doll) Room because it looked the creepiest online. I mean, who doesn’t want to sleep next to a frozen porcelain child?


I expected to be blasted with feelings upon entering the property, but that wasn’t the case. I will say the grounds and surrounding wooded area felt charged in that static-y way prevalent in ‘haunted’ places. But if I feel that in open air, it probably has more to do with the land than the house.


If a house is built ON that land, then certain rooms will be susceptible to that same crackly energy, spatially consistent with whatever’s happening outside. Does that make sense?


We wanted to explore the property before it got too dark. I don’t know what Emily felt on that initial walk (we separated for objectivity) but I couldn’t block out the past.  It must be the same at Auschwitz or Ground Zero or any other place where history hides its face in shame. And it has nothing to do with ‘ghosts.’

I can’t walk on an old plantation and not think of slaves. Especially the children. And it made me feel gross and consumer-y seeing their old quarters spit-shined into little cabins. Porches lined with rocking chairs overlooking a pond full of screaming frogs.


But was it HAUNTED?

I did some research before we left.

Whereas the Myrtles sustains its reputation on a VERY compelling photo of “Chloe” and her illicit relationship with owner Clarke Woodruff, there’s no actual record of Chloe having existed. —At least no written proof.

The story goes that Clarke Woodruff forced young slave Chloe to be his concubine; and that one day he caught her eavesdropping, so he cut off her ear. Chloe took revenge by mixing deadly oleander into a birthday cake, killing Mrs. Woodruff and her children and BOOM! the place is haunted.

But here’s the deal.

Sara Woodruff (fact) and her adult children (fact) died of yellow fever in 1823 and 1824. So the “Chloe” story, whereas super fun to tell around a campfire and on tours at 15 bucks a pop —-is false.


So who is this ghost in the famous photo?


Is it really a ghost?

I believe it is.

And what about this pic?


If these photos are legit —and I think they are— then something’s wandering this property.

But what? Who? 

Emily and I walked beneath mossy oaks, quiet and thoughtful because old trees have seen a lot and deserve respect. But also because that feeling I described earlier. Like the house and grounds are living, breathing entities and you wanna tread lightly so as not to disturb.


So we took photos. Slapped mosquitos.

Emily collected moss.

I found a penny and put it in my pocket.

And then it got dark.

So now about the room.


Pretty, right?

Apart from a mutual feeling we needed to keep it tidy, there were no overt signs of spirit. Still, we took showers, prayed, and meditated to get our minds right, then headed to the patio for our own private happy hour.


And let me tell you.

Sitting under a bright moon with a dear friend drinking bubbly on sacred ground is a special feeling indeed.


Isn’t it lovely?

I felt super-privileged holding a room key while drive-by ghost hunters milled around whispering, their camera flashes perforating the night. Particularly busy was the corridor where ‘Chloe’ was captured.


Between the crowds and prosecco, I couldn’t tap into the house.

So we talked.

We talked about books, ghosts, angels, poetry, history, travel, intuition, Louisiana heat, and wondered how our night would go. Finally it was just us, the moon, and a thousand frogs challenging the cicadas to we got spirit, yes we do!

Emily stared at the house.

“I want to go on the porch,” she said, emptying her wine.

The porch was an extremely long wooden wrap-around, and dark as hell.

“Let’s go.” I drained mine, too.

We grabbed our cameras and ducked under the chains separating the porch from the public.


We walked up and down.

Back and forth.



Trying to feel.

Then Emily called me over.

“I feel nothing until I walk by this window,” she said. “This one feels different.”

I met her at the tall window.


It was one of those concentrated energy spots. Nothing major. But she was right. We put our hands on thick glass, smeared with condensation — and both felt a low-level vibration. Maybe like a refrigerator humming but way less than that. And as we stood there acknowledging, I’ll admit the feeling deepened.

We peered inside.

Dark furniture outlined a pretty room. If it were a movie, it’d been the perfect time for a face to appear and scare the crap out of us.

“Let’s take pictures,” I said, backing away.

I own no fancy ghost-detector equipment. Just intuition, pen and paper.

(and iPhone).

Please find the two greendots in the following photos.


These anomalies are definitely worth a closer look.

What’s interesting is:

  1. They move in tandem along the porch. Sometimes close, then further apart. But together.
  2. Look at their shape. In the last photo (if you zoom) they almost look like shoes.
  3. There are tiny tracers behind them in each photo.
  4. They’re green.

Is it reflection from a porch light?

Don’t think so.

There are dim lights all along the porch. Plus, reflections don’t move.

Is it green light reflecting from the hanging fern?

(Probably not.)

Is it light catching the bugs?

Mmm . . . maybe?

But I don’t think so.

Please see the ‘orb’ in the left side of this photo.


That’s a bug.

So is this evidence of a ‘ghost’?

I’m sticking with MAYBE and I want to go back.

Anyway, it was time for bed.

I’m happy to report no dolls moved while we were sleeping. The only disturbance was our drunk-ass foyer neighbors coming in late.

The next morning we took the house tour, where a VERY impressive guide took us room to room, relaying house history and a whole lotta lore.

Here, she emulated Chloe eavesdropping on her master.


And I gotta tell you. I started to feel a little bad for the late Clarke Woodruff. Like, obviously I didn’t know the guy. And maybe he did have his way with a slave.

But maybe he didn’t.

Yet this is his legacy. A child-raping, ear-lobbing philanderer.

I found myself wondering what really happened in those bedrooms. Staring at flaking wallpaper and imported chandeliers, I could almost imagine.

And imagine I did.

Knowing Chloe’s story was mostly made-up, I started adding my own details.

We weren’t allowed to take photos in the main house. But finally we got to the hot spot, the room we peered into last night. And our guide confirmed something:

“Every psychic, every medium who’s ever come to Myrtles says this is the spiritual center of the house.” She opened doors to Mrs. Woodruff’s pretty antique parlor.

We oohed and ahhed at the paintings.  The sewing box. The little writing desk. The petit-point settees.

“ . . . a vortex, if you will.”

(I won’t.)

I hate the word vortex.

But it affirmed our feeling that something was UP with that room.

In summary, I think it’s kind of shitty that Mr. Clarke Woodruff goes down in history as a slave-rapist. I mean, what if he was a super nice guy? What if his wife was the asshole?

Coupled with that note I found at the library, a little voodoo history, and our own Myrtles experience, my story was born.

I finished my first draft of Rosie & June a few weeks later, and insecurity crept in while editing, like maybe I took it a little far and shouldn’t publish. But minutes later (literally), a friend texted me from Half-Price books, where she found a signed copy of MINDER.


With that little sign, I published.

I hope you enjoyed Rosie & June Get a Room.

If anyone has theories about the green dots, I’d love to hear them.

As for the Myrtles, I wanna go back and stay in a different room. (You in, Emily?)

Thank you as always for reading.



Rosie & June Get a Room.

Rosie & June

“It’s hotter’n Satan’s nutsack.” Rosie shoved a lollipop in her mouth.

“Satan’s nutsack?” June glanced over from the driver seat. “Really?”

Rosie shrugged, staring between tall pines, blending as they sped past. Louisiana was a convection oven, especially in summer. And they’d spent ample time unsticking thighs from leather seats since crossing state lines. June cranked the a/c HIGH and Rosie tucked her lollipop in an empty can of Big Red. 

“D’you suppose Satan even has testicles?” She examined a cuticle while June checked her phone for directions. 

“I can honestly say,” —she squinted at a passing sign— “I never thought about it.”

“Well, think about it.”

“Should be up here on the left.”  She checked her phone again. 

“Do you think there will be ghosts?”


Should be, anyway. Their trip was conceived during last night’s episode of America’s Haunted Hotels and spontaneously executed. Rosie and June huddled on their grandmother’s old couch, knee to knee, full of Chardonnay and M&Ms, mesmerized. 

Let’s go,” Rosie whispered, her pretty face blue with nighttime tv. The creaky stairs. The upside down keyholes. (The slave girl caught on camera!) And more they aired, the faster they chewed (though separating some because blue dye gave you cancer). “ . . . I feel strongly we should go, Junebug. I’ll pay for gas.”

June looked at her cousin.

“For reals. Let’s book it.” Rosie shook her knee for emphasis. “That room with the dolls. If it’s meant to be, it’ll be available.” She reached for the laptop.

“Okay.” June drained her glass. “But—”  She peered down the dark hallway.

“But what?”

“Come pee with me first.”

* * * * * * * *

Rosie and June were born 6 months apart, to sisters currently not speaking. 

Rosie’s mom called June’s a Bernie-Loving Socialist Retard on Facebook, so that was that. But the girls had been inseparable since birth. June was called ‘June’ because all her life her momma wanted a gemini, then Fate delivered. You coulda called her May, her sister muttered, lighting a Kamel. (Rosie was named after Rosanne Cash).

Diapers to sippy cups, Blue’s Clues to backpacks, the girls were inseperable despite their mothers, and pinkie swore Best Friends Forever in 1st grade. 

Rosie accepted asparagus under the table so June wouldn’t have to choke it down. June slapped Melanie whats-her-face when she called Rosie fat in 4th. They playacted Grease together (Rosie let June be Sandy) and swapped bracelets. Stickers. Sun-In’d each other’s hair. Always went easy on each other in Truth or DareTraded clothes. Secrets. Quizzed each other for the spelling bee (Rosie won with Halcyon).  Grew boobs at the same time. Started periods 4 months apart. 

While their mothers argued, blamed, and reunited year after year, the girls remained tight. June stood guard when Rosie french-kissed Jonathan behind the Sac-n-Pac in 9th, and Rosie forgave June when she slept with him in 11th. They tried pot together, traded essays, attended the same college, though majoring separately (June: Political Science) (Rosie: Jewelry Design).  

. . . but their lives continued in tandem. 

Twin Flames, June’s Mom smiled.

Liberal bullshit, Rosie’s mom lit another Kamel.

The only thing their mothers shared was premature grey and the loud absence of husbands. Which meant the girls also shared a lack of fathers (never discussed) and they stayed out of trouble, mostly. There was that time they carved ❤ DiCaprio ❤ in their wrists with safety pins and June’s got infected but—

Omigod.” Rosie clicked the website. “The Doll Room.” She looked at her cousin. “It’s available.” 

June drained her Chardonnay, popping a blue M&M because she suddenly felt brave.

Do it.”

* * * * * * * *

The sign was old, in need of paint.

~Welcome to Myrtles~ 

Home of Mystery and Intrigue!

They slowed over gravel, siding up to the old white house, majestic and secretive like antebellums often were.


“It’s smaller than I thought.”

Turn around.

Hmm?” June popped the trunk and opened her door, hoping for a breeze.

“I didn’t say anything.” Rosie checked her teeth in the mirror. “Ready?”

They walked toward the house, everything mossy, green and white.

“Christ, it’s hot.” 

“You should drink water instead of Big Red.”

“Imma be drinking beer in a minute.” 

June eyed the long, wooden wrap-around porch and clean sash windows, imagining a bevy of Belles fanning themselves, snapping for iced tea, when movement diverted her gaze to the second floor.

A dark hand released the lace curtain. 



She squeezed her keys and Rosie grabbed her elbow, pointing to the famous spot. “Look, Junie! The breezeway!” 

Their sandals slapped up steps to guest reception where an older woman stood behind the counter, counting change.  “Ya’ll made it!” she declared.

They dropped their bags. “Barely.” June grabbed a pamphlet to fan herself. “We almost melted on I-10.” 

“Well, you’re here now.” She pushed a large brown book forward. “You all just sign here.” She looked at her watch and smiled, watching June sign her name in cursive.  “I’ll show you girls your room.” She walked from behind the counter skirts swishing, leading them back to the porch.

“Just up these stairs.”

“Why is the key hole upside down?”


“To confuse the spirits,” the woman smiled, pushing the green door open. “Ya’ll be careful on these stairs now.”

Rosie elbowed June, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. The very steps they watched on tv last night!


 . . .which meant those creep-o portraits would be at the top of the stairs.


“That’s General Bradley,” the woman nodded. “Our original owner.”


“Why so glum, Mister?” June smiled. He looked like a founding father, except . . .  miserable. The lady hanging next to him was even worse. 

No a/c,” Rosie whispered. 

Or queso,” June whispered back. And the girls squeezed hands. They were actually HERE. They looked around the foyer. America’s Haunted Hotels accurately captured the house, its clean lines and sparse period decor. But it couldn’t convey the stillness.


“So quiet,” June observed.

“You have the place to yourselves,” the woman said over her shoulder, slipping a long key in the far right door. It croaked open to spacious room, dim with natural light.


“Ohh cool.” Rosie rushed in, making a B-line for the dolls.

“We’re the only ones here?” June followed her in. The room was old-fashioned and airy, washed in creams and pale blues. It might’ve been a nursery, once upon a time.

“It happens sometimes. Towels are in the washroom and extra blankets here, though I doubt you’ll need them.”

Rosie rushed around, twisting knobs and checking drawers. “Is this a closet?” She opened a petite door opposite the bed, crouching to peer inside.

“Storage.” The woman shrugged. “Nanny quarters. Who knows.”

“I saw someone up here earlier.” June eyed the lace curtains. “At the window.”

“No. Just me here.” She nudged a frame straight. “But I’m on my way out. If you need something, call the owner. His number’s in the manual. Breakfast starts at 7.”

Rosie’s head emerged from the closet. 

“Wait. We’re literally here alone?”

“Honey, this isn’t the Hilton. You’re big girls. Bathroom’s down the hall and don’t leave the key if you go roaming,” she warned with a finger. “That downstairs door locks every time it closes and you don’t want to be stuck outside.”

“Because of ghosts?” Rosie grinned.

“No, baby. The heat.” She dropped a key in June’s palm. “Anything else ya’ll need?”

“Don’t think so, thanks.” June stared at the curtain. She definitely saw a hand. A dark one, at that.

“You girls have fun.” She closed the door behind her. They heard her walk downstairs then high-fived.

“Meant to be,” June smiled. 

“For reals.” Rosie lazed on the edge of the bed, falling to her side. “This room’s creepy as fuck.” She stared at the mantle. “D’you suppose they put the dolls in here for affect?”

“Probably.” June approached the two porcelain dolls, staring vacantly, one trapped mid-sentence. She reached out to touch her, but thought better of it. 


“Why dolls gotta be so creepy.” Rosie asked.

“Because you don’t know what they’re thinking.” June turned, eyes frozen, mouth pursed in her best creepy doll impression. “Except I know what you’re thinking.”

Rosie rolled on her belly. 

“What am I thinking.”

“You want a cold beer.”

“Cor-rect.” Rosie slid off the bed, dislodging her wedgie. “But let’s explore before we lose daylight.” 

They patted pockets for keys and phones and left the room. Smile, dude. June blew a kiss to creepy portrait guy on her way downstairs and held the bannister tight. One beer too many and these steps would be suicide. “How is this place empty in summer?”

“Because it’s a thousand degrees.” Rosie bumped the door open with her hip. “Smart people are swimming right now.”  

They paused on the porch, scanning the empty grounds.


“Slave quarters, first?”

Mmm.” June nodded, then — “Actually — you go on ahead,” she paused. “I’ll meet you in a sec.” 

“K.” Rosie walked off, scratching her shoulder. And June breathed deep, fighting the twist in her belly. Only takes 2 minutes to reset your mind, her mom always said. 120 Seconds. Just step away and breathe. And where better to do that than nature. She i n h a l e d  long and deep, watching Rosie make distance thru moss-flanked trees.

True, her imagination was robust. But curtains didn’t push to the side by themselves.  E x h a l e. She stepped on the grounds, following a thin footpath through the trees. Maybe it was that lady getting the room ready. Except the lady was white and that hand wasn’t.  

I n h a l e. And that impulse to leave the moment they arrived? That was weird. She stepped over an anthill. Though ‘leave’ wasn’t the right word. GO, she’d felt. RUN. Getthefuckoutofhere.

The trees grew dense further out where a pond separated the main house from the old slave quarters. Where Rosie was. I n h a l e. She reached the gravel road, exhaling to the trees. She did feel better, though damn she should’ve changed. She yanked her shorts down. Denim had a way of chafing in high heat. And there was Rosie up there, sitting cross-legged on the ground, reclining on her elbows. Eyes closed to the sky in her mauve cotton sundress, flecked with white. All she needed were dragonflies fluttering around her head to make her look like a still from some anime.


Rosie startled.

Hey.” She extended an arm and June helped her up. 

“We shoulda brought water.” June peeled her Mom’s old concert tee (Steely Dan ’76)  from her belly. 

“How do people even live here.” Rosie blew hair off her forehead then reached in her sundress, unlatching her bra. 

Great idea, actually. 

Sweaty boobs were one thing. Sweaty boobs smothered in cotton, constricted by wire was entirely another. June reached under and did the same. 

The frogs offered sympathetic percussion. 

It was Rosie’s mom who took them first-bra shopping in 5th. They ended up with thick white A-cups from JCPenneys while years later, June’s mom snuck them to Victoria’s Secret for some — what she called — real underwear. They held their bras and walked in silence, finally reaching the slave-quarters-now-guest-houses with rocking chairs adorning each porch. 

The cicadas buzzed their rapture.

Seemed kinda wrong to convert slave homes to comfy cottages, June thought, but didn’t say. Tourism aside, these were sacred grounds. And complaining about heat suddenly felt trite as History pulled a dark, hushing finger to its lips.


“People had to work in this,” Rosie said, softly.  “Like, all day.”

A twig snapped behind them.

The girls turned.


“Let’s go.” June touched Rosie’s wrist with a pinkie.

“ . . .  share beds with five other people and no a/c. Can you imagine?” She slapped her ankle. “Damn mosquitos.

They circled the pond.

A large family of ducks watched them pass, their feathered necks synchronized.

“ . . . worked like dogs.”

(Slaves, actually).

But June let her talk.

“ . . . then worked some more.”

They entered the thicket of trees again. The frogs croaked louder.

“ . . . treated like shit then had to wake up and do it all over again.” Rosie reached up and snapped a branch overhead.

A man coughed.

They whirled toward the noise.

To an empty forest, dappled with dying daylight.

“Did you hear that?” Rosie froze. Hello?” She charged forward holding her branch like a wand. “I heard it, June,” she said over her shoulder.

“I did, too.” June looked around, her knots twisting tight. “Maybe it’s the owner,” she said. But no one was there. Only a small clearing with a crumbling bench and aging statue. 

“Then why isn’t he answering?” Rosie called again, this time to the treetops. “HELLO?” 

June glanced back to the house. To the curtains on the second floor.

A branch snapped and June grabbed Rosie’s wrist. —an involuntary response.

“Get your phone,” Rosie whispered. “Something’s here.”


June plopped on the bench, wishing she had a tree to lean against. It was easier to endure feeling watched with your back against something. This is why you came. She pulled out her phone, tapping Instagram with her thumb. To be scared. So quit being a baby. She jabbed the icon a few more times. Ghosts or no ghosts, The Myrtles would provide some pretty pictures. Open, dammit. 

She watched Rosie, circling the statue, running her hand over its folds, head tilted contemplatively.  She tried to open Facebook. A $600 phone needed to freaking work when she pushed the damn button. She tossed the phone aside, bending to pinch an ant off her ankle. Maybe the trees inhibited wifi. I n h a l e. It wasn’t quite as hot now. But air still glommed to her like a wet blanket. E x h a l e. And that cold beer was gonna taste GOOD. She resisted the urge to turn. Maybe it was dusk settling. Or distance from the main road. Or the grand house making her feel like a diminutive in some model, waiting for a giant hand to pluck her into the air — legs dangling — and place her elsewhere.  (A bar would be nice).


She stood behind the statue, head tilted sideways, humming.


June stood, wishing there were other guests. I mean, it was cool and all being there alone. But certain situations were meant for shared experience. Fine Dining. Roller Coasters. Haunted Hotels. Because isolation did weird things to people.

Rosie,” she said louder, blocking images of The Shining family— Wendy, Jack, and Danny (and Tony) from her mind.

Long corridors.

Bloody elevators.

Those twins dressed like dolls.


Rosie stood frozen, facing away. Her stick dangling low. 

“Imagine being raped by the man who bought you.” She loosened her fingers, dropping it to the moss.




She was talking about Chloe. The pretty young house slave made concubine by her owner, the married Clarke Woodruff.

“ . . . taken from Momma. Made a whore. No one to cry to cos everybody gone. But still you gotta work. Harder in front of Missus because she know. And only thirteen. Can you imagine?”

June slapped a mosquito on her arm. No, she couldn’t imagine that.

Rosie straightened, looking all the way up. 

Into the branches.

The show said Clarke Woodruff pulled Chloe indoors to serve his needs, but later severed her ear when he caught her eavesdropping. So out she went again, this time an outcast. Jealous and superstitious, her own people hung her. 

“I can’t imagine keeping that secret.”

“Like when you fucked Jonathan?” Rosie rounded.

Insects buzzed between them.

Dude,” June said, cautiously. “What is wrong with you.”

Rosie yanked out her ponytail and bent down, clawing fingers through damp hair. “Ugh, let’s go inside.” She whipped up again. “I’m hot.” She twisted her hair into a bun.

But June didn’t move. 

In their 27 year history, Rosie only snapped at her once. Once. And that was for leaving her makeup in the car where $300 worth of Clinique melted into a non-refundable peach-rose sludge. “What’s that?” she asked instead.

“What’s what.”

“That thing in your second hole.”

Rosie pinched her right lobe. “I found it by the pond.” She spit on her fingers, rubbing the dainty green earring, crusted with mud. “It’s pretty, right?”

“Gross! And you put it in your ear? It probably belonged to some fat racist with hep C.”

Rosie giggled and they walked toward the house. The lamps had come on; their steps drowned by a crescendo of cicadas.

“What happened back there?” June linked her right arm through Rosie’s left —an involuntary habit since 2nd grade. “Why’d you freak out on me?”

Rosie rest her head on June’s left shoulder (also their habit). “I’m sorry, Junebug. Let’s get in our pajamas and drink beer.” She wiggled her fingertips. “Maybe the ghosties will come.”

The girls crunched along gravel to the porch. 

They did not see the lamps flickering behind them.

Nor the little black girl.

Following silently behind.

* * * * * * * *



I try not to think of dat day, dat day I loss Momma. We was standin’ together a bunch a us outside. There was flies and a man hollerin’ out numbers and white ladies fannin’ theyselves watchin’. The white mens came up and poked on Momma, my sister, then me, squeezing our arms and legs like we was pigs. Talkin’ bout our light skin.

“This one!” 

Some ole man grab my sister and pull her so fass she trip. So he slap her head and tole her to keep up. Momma din’t look as they carted her away. 

Den dey took my brother, talkin’ bout small fingers is good for cotton. He jus turn three. Which leave my big brother swallowin’ deep. Whisperin’ hard to Momma that he love her. And he continue sayin’ it til a tall man push him out the line den chain him to six other mens.  Kickin’ the lass one in the ass so they start walkin’. Momma start shakin’ so I grab her hand.

Den Judge approach. Brown hat. Shiny boots. Black and silver mustache. Walkin’ round the rest of us. Lookin’ up and down up and down like we was bacon. Den he stop in front of me and Momma start whimperin’. Talkin’ to the dirt. Askin’ God to please jus kill her. I squeeze her finger.

* * * * * * * *

We live together yesterday. Me, Momma, brothers, and sister in a big white house with nine other slaves. In all us black faces we’s the only ones coffee colored. Master was nice to Momma, real nice. But things change after Momma deliver my baby brother. I saw his Missus standing by the window, lookin’ in. Lips all tight like a asshole. Den we heard lots of hollerin’ in the big house and next thing I know we standin’ there for sale. Momma jigglin’ the baby.

Judge pull me out the line. 

Look at me, he say.

I look.

He stuck his finger under my lip, liftin’ to look at my teeth. Den he reach up my dress and squeeze a top of my leg, right next to my privates. I felt Momma stiffen.

“This one!” he hollered, cuppin’ my chin. 

Eveything happen fast after dat. We ‘pose to be quiet. But Momma cryin’ as Judge lift me in his wagon, raisin’ an arm to the sky, askin’ God what did she do. Den a white lady took my brother from her arms and I seen her run after dat lady and the auctioneer punch her to the dirt. 

Momma cryin’. 

Baby cryin’.

The whole world cryin’. 

I watch til she was a speck that disappear and Judge looked down. Say if I did what I was tole he’d never hurt me. 

Den he whip his horse to run faster.

* * * * * * * *

The Myrtles


The new house smaller den my old one. 


We’s about ten sleepin’ in three rooms behind the kitchen. Judge tole an ol’ slave name Pearlie take care of me. Pearlie skinny and quiet like a ol’ momma dog whose pups all died. But Pearlie don’t have to tell me much. 

White folk’s mostly the same, even if they pretend they not. What they promise God on Sunday ain’t what happens on Monday. But I learn the nicer you is to they kids, the nicer they is to you. And the more you let the mens touch, the less likely they is to hit. 

One day Judge press hisself against me while I was scraping coal.

Missus din’t see. 

But Pearlie did.

You be careful wit dat she say, rubbing fish oil on my lips, cracked from the sun. Pearlie skin like tar, with grey eyes that cut you sideways. Mines green, like Master before. Missus find out, she’ll whip you raw den rub pepper in the holes, she warn. But Judge’s attention got us extra. Fish on Friday. Biscuits on Sunday. Pearlie stop warnin’ after dat.

Den one day Judge say, You come with me, Chloe. Missus need you in the house. 

But Missus wadn’t in the house. Wadn’t nobody in the house.

Judge led me upstairs, den tole me to get in da tub.

I stare at the same water Pearlie boil hours ago for Missus who like smellin’ like roses. They still petals in there.

I ain’t never took a bath, suh.

Well, Chloe.He loosen his belt.You start by taking off your clothes.”

He rub his finger between my bress and I know I’s in trouble. But slaves got no business being shy. My dress fell to my ankles and I sunk myself in Missus’ cole water while he walk to her dressin table, openin’ her jewry box with one hand, fiddlin’ hisself with the other.

You know why I picked you, Chloe? He say, pullin’ out some earrings.

No suh.

The water was so cole my skin prick against it. 

Because green’s my favorite color, he say, kneelin’ beside the tub, danglin’ Missus’  emeralds in front of my eyes. Den he stick dem earrings in my ear and back away.

Wash yourself, Chloe.

So I did and he watch me. Eyes full of words he don’t tell God.

Den he help me out. Tell me to lay on the bed. I stare at the ceilin while he lick me.

Den the door open 

and Missus walk in.

 * * * * * * * *

Rosie & June 

“What’s today?” 

Rosie sat in the velveteen wingback with an unopened beer.

“23rd, why.” 

June took a long slug, handing the opener to Rosie.

“I feel funny.” She opened her bottle with a fizzy sigh then lifted her chin for a drink, tossing the opener in her suitcase. “We don’t start for another week, right?”


“Funny how.”

Rosie slumped back. 

“I dunno. Hot. Closed in.” She stroked the armrest with a pinkie. “Like I need to be outside.”

“Well, go outside. I’m gonna take a shower because I stink.” June raised an arm, gesturing an invitation.

“I believe you.” Rosie swigged her beer. 

“You look for an EVP app on your phone.” June rifled through her bag for toiletries. “And I’ll meet you outside, k?” 

Rosie thumbed her earlobe, staring at the wall. 

“ . . . Rosie.”

She turned slowly, her eyes vacant.

“Dude.” June’s neck pricked. “What’s your deal.”

Rosie stood abruptly.

“I’m going outside.”

“Please do. You’re acting like a freak. I’ll meet you downstairs.”

June stepped into the foyer clutching soap, shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, lotion, witch hazel and a small pouch of cotton balls and Q-Tips — irritated the facilities were separate. They could’ve given them an en suite since no one else was there. Girls needed nearby toilets for middle-of-the-night peeing.

Her bare footsteps echoed deep within the floor and she imagined owning the place, just for a second. Walking around in fancy taffeta bossing everyone around. Ringing bells for mint juleps. Now they were inside with the lights on, it was kinda fun being alone. Now that she’d gotten over herself.

Years ago, they only watched scary movies at June’s house. Rosie’s mom said horror films incited the devil. But June’s mom said Kubrick was a ground-breaker, popping The Shining in the VCR. So they sat on their grandmother’s couch, knee to knee, eating gummy bears. Rosie sticking fingers in her ears during the scary parts. Then they’d lie awake all night admitting fears: (Rosie: sad clowns) (June: sinkholes) reliving the woman in 237. Rotting in the tub. Chasing Jack down the hall, arms extended. Skin slopping to the floor.


June dropped a shampoo bottle, bent to retrieve it, and stood to the cheerless woman, staring from her portrait.


You don’t help, she muttered, hugging her bottles tight. Whatever else you could say about the Myrtles, there was a genuine feeling of being watched.


June paused, her hand on the shower room door.

The word came loudly. 

Like a thought that maybe wasn’t her own.


Yes, a bath would be nice. But their room didn’t come with a bath. Only a shower. Anyway, she just needed hot water and soap — she whiffed herself — like, nowShe managed to push the handle with her elbow when the adjacent door clicked.

June stared, backing away slightly.

Are you fucking kidding me?

But the door wasn’t kidding.

It opened slightly.

Inviting her in.


* * * * * * * *


Rosie stared at the wall, neck sideways. Braiding and unbraiding the same lock of hair. Humming mindlessly.

Pipes squeaked a few walls away. 

Maybe she needed a shower, too.  Louisiana had a very special way of closing in. She popped her neck left. Then right.

Then her knuckles.  One at a time.

Searching the floor. 

Braiding her hair.

What was she doing, again? What had June asked her do?

Her breath was stale and dry. Like old paper. And her joints ached. 

EVPs. She was supposed to find an EVP app so they could ask Spirit questions. She bent to the floor for her phone.


She sat up.

Back straight.

Eyes opening wide.

Yes, she agreed. Get out.


The small door unlatched, the one in the wall. And Rosie turned slow, lips parting slightly. Ju—” she started, but the word ballooned in her mouth. 

The door swung open.

And she dropped to her knees. 

Crawling forward.

Humming a tune from long, long ago.

The door latched behind her.

* * * * * * * *


June stuck her head in the John Leake room (but only her head).  “Hello?” she called to no one in particular. Because that’s what you did in such situations, right? Just to be sure?She pushed the door open to a dark room dominated by sturdy furniture and felt the wall for a light switch (success) smiling to see an en suite and eureka! — a clawfoot tub. 

She slipped inside, leaving the door ajar in case Rosie needed her. She lined her toiletries and bent over the taps, twisting until steam filled the long, Victorian-style bathroom. Now this was a bath tub. None of that flimsy plastic bullshit their apartment called a tub. This — the water steamed and swirled in enameled cast iron— this was a tub. She peeled Steely Dan over her shoulders then sat on the edge, unstrapping her sandals. God, she stank.

The bedroom door creaked.

“Rosie?” She leaned forward, peering into the room.


June grinned sideways then stood, wriggling her shorts to the floor. This was the experience people wanted. To be freaked out over nothing. Still, asking questions would be fun. She’d seen enough paranormal investigation shows and knew enough Myrtles history to ask the right questions. She made a mental list: 

Is anyone here?

She stepped in the tub — shit! — and hopped out again, cranking the COLD full blast. 

Chloe? Are you haunting the Myrtles? 

She waited a minute then stepped under the cold downpour, marching in place though surely, Chloe wasn’t the only ghost. She sat on the edge, swirling the water with her foot.

If so, why are you still here?

Satisfied, she eased herself in. Surely God’s oppressed people went straight to heaven? She splashed her face, then shoulders then slid under, letting hot water cover everything but her nose, lips, and eyes. 


She considered the Woodruff children —supposedly poisoned by Chloe. The famous picture showed two small figures perched on the roof above the slave apparition. Not quite as compelling as Chloe, but certainly worth asking. 


Are there any children here? She sat up, squirting a pearly mound of shampoo in her wet palm. Legend said Chloe did it on accident. But really, she could’ve done it on purpose. Scorned women did some crazy shit.

She rubbed her hair in circles.

The floor groaned in the bedroom. LOUD.

— and June stopped lathering.



  — then the slow, deliberate creak of another floorboard. 


June’s breath shallowed, her chest hammering. The way it did when fear was real

Hello?” she managed, lowering her hands, white lather forming an island over her crotch. The Myrtles lost it’s hospitable charm right then. And her nudity felt wrong

When the boogey man jumped out in the movies, it was fun. That fear you felt — was thrilling. You gripped the person next to you, heart thumping, and laughed because you were safe. There in the theatre. Or on the couch. Together.

But this . . . 

Her mouth formed to call Rosie. But she knew it wasn’t Rosie. 

Rosie didn’t sneak.

Rosie bounced. 

Rosie had slightly less chill than Tigger.

The bathroom door creaked open an inch and she watched it unblinking, her bathwater a warm sheet of glass. 

You’re being ridiculous, she watched the doorway, too scared to blink. Just get clean and get out. She took a deep breath and bubbled under with the same fuckitness employed when bungee jumping or enduring that air-puff thing at the eye doctor. Just get on with it. She reached up to rinse when a shadow passed over.

A hand shot underwater, holding her down.

She opened her eyes.

And she clutched the wrist, screaming.

Warm water filling her mouth.

A (woman?) loomed over. Distorted by liquid.

Pressing her down.


Cold fingers circling her throat.

June arched and kicked, clawing the arm. Inches from breathable air. 

And the woman laughed at the naked girl.

Thrashing like a rabid dog.

So pretty in the tub.

* * * * * * * *

Mrs. Sara Woodruff.

Don’t talk to me about sin. 

Could I have whipped her? Sold her? HUNG her?  Why, yes . . . take your pick. I could’ve done any of them — with clear conscience, too. But my husband’s reputation precluded such action. Woodruffs were kind folk. Generous folk. Christian folk. Woodruffs didn’t use the word nigger. Why, we barely called them slaves. Help, my husband suggested, his mustache freshly waxed, stuffing tobacco in his ivory pipe. Sipping cognac delivered on a silver tray by a Congolese bought for $246.00. Help, he repeated, waving a manicured hand. Sounded more dignified. 

That twig-legged pickaninny scrambled up from under him fast as lightning but my back was already turned. Skirts held. Chin high. Poison rising. My stairway is chiseled walnut with mahogany inlay. My chandelier Baccarat crystal. And I took the steps slow, gripping the banister tight. I like pretty things, see. Imported things. Just like my husband. I walked thru my parlor. Past my portrait, glove box and writing desk. Blinking back fury. Propelled by anger so foul I was no longer me.

We keep our chins down, women. 

We read. We peel. We pray. We sew.  

Our lips are closed but by God our ears are open.  And I’d heard enough whispers to know there are ways to fix this sort of problem. 

My husband chased me downstairs. 

Onto the porch. 

Across the gardens. 

Onto the dirt toward the slave rooms.

But he stopped when I walked into the kitchens, which I knew he would. 

Men didn’t go in kitchens. 

I shut the door behind me.

Pearlie looked up from a dead chicken, a bunch of feathers in her fist, then stood from the table. 

Leave, I told the others. 

She lowered down, pushing a cleaver aside and folded her hands, gnarled like tree roots. Staring at me with knowing eyes.

Pearlie was old.

Pearlie was wise.

Pearlie was Haitian.

I calmly told her what happened. Then what I needed.

Look at me Pearlie, I ordered when her grey eyes dropped to the floor.

* * * * * * * *

She led me to forest that night. To the place they met in secret. She handed me herbs then cut my ear and ring finger with a kitchen knife, telling me what to say.

You best say it out loud so he know you mean it. She pressed a small glass of rum in my hand. Now you drink one sip den leave him da other.

I left it under a tree.  

And that night dreamt of a tall black man with a top hat and skeleton face, beckoning me in the forest with a crooked finger. I followed until he stopped and pointed to an oak branch twisting thick above my head. Where Chloe hung herself four days later, before breakfast.

I smiled in my teacup.

You work. Pray. Keep a nice house. Tithe. Host the parties and write the goddamn thank you notes. Make sure your name means something and for what

—hahahhaha ahhhh. NO.

You catch your husband face deep in the help then talk to me about sin.

* * * * * * * *


Black magic come back on you. Pearlie din’t tell Missus dat part. Evil love to attack. Voodoo pay no mind to rules or who it hit. It jus work and keep workin til spirit be satisfied. Thas why bad happen to good people.

Missus tole Pearlie I need to suffer. So Pearlie took Missus to the forest, made her pick the herbs, mix the blood and the right words to say. Missus axe her to do it but Pearlie refuse. Say it would change the outcome. I don’t know if Missus saw her earrings on me. But I know they was on me when the magic found me. Plantin’ itself in my belly, spreadin’ like spilled ink. I seen what black magic do, so I climbed up a tree and hung myself to make it stop. But voodoo don’t work like dat. It stop when it want to. I been dead twelve days when my eyes opened again. Still swayin’. Flies swarmin’. No one bothered to cut me down. 

Fate gave Missus yellow fever fourteen years later. 

But voodoo woke her up again.

Pearlie din’t tell her dat part neither.

* * * * * * * *


Water sloshed to the floor as June emerged, holding her throat. 

Legs unsteady as a fawn’s, she fell to the carpet, backing away like a crab. The hands . . .  the fingers . . . she could still feel them.

Holding her down. 

And that woman . . .  laughing.

She grabbed a towel and screamed into it hard. A door slammed nearby. She scrambled across the floor, knees scraping wet carpet. Reached for the smooth white knob and burst into the foyer, meeting the gaze of a woman stepping from The Ruffin Stirling room.

The woman startled, holding a pamphlet to her chest. 

June pulled the towel around her front and a trembling hand over her mouth.

“Are you alright?” the woman asked, but didn’t move forward. 

Daylight cut patterns in the sunny foyer. A man stepped behind the woman she halted him at the elbow.

I—,” June started, but it presented as sobs. 

She backed against the wall, sliding right. Looking around wildly.

Low chatter sounded downstairs. Outside, car alarms beeped and shoes clomped behind a nearby door.

“Do you need help?” the woman asked again, her body-language suggesting anything but aid.

June shook her head, wet hair dropping water down her shoulders as the couple shuffled past, eying her sideways. The man with a protective hand on his wife’s back.

June bolted bare-assed for their room.

“Rosie!” She threw open the door and looked around, simultaneously clawing through her suitcase. She yanked a dress over her head, inside out, then rushed to the window, warm with daylight. HOW was it daytime? She pushed the curtain aside. There were people down there, milling around the property. Slamming trunks and carrying luggage.

“Rosie?” she called again, acknowledging a faint pine smell and another she couldn’t place. A half-drunk beer sat on the floor beside the closet door. “Rosie?” She opened the door, ducking to peer inside. The pine smell was stronger. More acidic. But the closet was empty. And Rosie never left beers half-full.

She spun on her heels, grabbed her phone and clomped through the foyer down the steep carpeted stairs leading outside where sun hit her hard, melting reason on her hysteria.

Rosie said she was going downstairs. 

She could’ve hooked up and spent the night out. 

Was it feasible she met someone in the 30 minutes June was gone? 

Yes. Yes, it was. 

Except — June had (very) clearly lost track of time. And besides, the lady said, they were there alone. She rushed past a woman in period costume readying for her first tour of the day and into reception.

* * * * * * * *

Mrs. Sara Woodruff

Quit with your buts and and your hows — Death isn’t what you think.

Minutes. Hours. Days.

Those are linear constructs for mortal comfort. There’s no such rules where we are, so quit trying to reason.  I was dead what you’d call sixteen years before I opened my eyes again. Still in my bed, sweating with fever. And Chloe, standing in the corner, watching. Some unsatisfying form of the house around us. 

Lord, I could’ve drained the Mississippi my tongue was so dry. And my skin begged for oil. But in death there is no function. Only want and a pitiful desire to make it go away. Chloe saw me reaching and tried to bring water. And then I learned Hate crosses over, too. Her milk and two sugar skin, those twinkling green eyes. I knew the magic worked when she hung herself and celebrated quietly, daring my husband to grieve. 

And now here she was some empty version of herself, still trying to work. 

Me and Chloe. 

Chloe and Me.

We could open doors, but couldn’t feel breeze. Smell biscuits and bacon and roast and cobbler but never take a bite. Close our eyes and wake up what you’d call weeks later, still tired. Always tired. Always wanting. Never satisfied. Watching people come and go. Their sameness and dull noise. Their bigotry and deceit. Watching people sleep, especially the men. Remembering.

Because that part of me wants satisfying, too.  

* * * * * * * *


One night a white lady stay alone, drinkin’ wine. Cryin’ in her pillow cos her man don’t love her no more. Missus was drawn to dat lady, strokin’ her head while she sleep, whisperin’ hate and revenge. And when dat lady woke with a white streak down the side of her dark head, Missus learn she could touch the livin’. 

Dat lady tore out so fass I doubt she pay the bill. 

But Missus felt a little less thirsty.

And now it go like dat. 

Spirit like offerins.  

And Spirit the only one can undo what been done. I leave pennies and trinkets by the hangin’ tree, hoping he’ll let me go. But he say not yet. Not til Papa satisfied. 

So I wait. 

But a rich white lady? Naw

She desperate. 

And Missus learn Papa eat fear like a child eat cake.

Now who the slave.

* * * * * * * *


“Honey, you alright?” An older woman pulled glasses off her nose.

 The girl was sopping wet.

“Is there anyway to page my cousin?” June white-knuckled the counter. “I haven’t seen her since last night. I just— ” She looked around the gift shoppe, bright and airy, a few people (suddenly quiet) doing their damndest not to stare.  “ —her name is Rosie. Maybe she spent the night with another guest, I don’t know, but something happened—” She started crying again. Remembering the fingers. 

“Honey —” She glanced at the other guests, lowering her voice. “We weren’t open yesterday.”

June straightened, angry but tempered.

“We spent the night in the Fannie Williams room. We booked online. We signed the guest book.” She scanned the counter for the large brown ledger. “The lady watched me sign it and gave me keys.”

“Which lady?” 

The phone rang and she answered, holding a finger to June. Yes. Yes. Would you mind holding?

June looked around as people’s eyes darted back to their breakfasts, spotting the ledger behind the counter in a glass front cabinet. The woman cradled the receiver then leaned in. “Honey. I appreciate what you’re doing but it’s not necessary.” She lowered her voice. “We aren’t open June 23rd. We never open June 23rd.”

“Ma’am,” she said, pointedly. “If you could please just come upstairs. Our suitcases are there and I still have the key. I’ll show you . . . please.”

The woman made eyes with a man sorting postcards that didn’t need sorting. “Be right back,” she told him, stepping from behind the counter.

They walked upstairs, across the empty foyer to the far right room.

“I left the key in there, I’m sorry. I’ll show you the reservation on my phone.”

The woman pulled a key from her pocket and opened the door.

And June rushed inside.

The bed was made.

Their suitcases . . .  


“We signed in,” she whispered, legs draining strength. 

She stared the mantle.

“Those ledgers are antiques, honey. We never open St. John’s Eve or Christmas Day. Just tradition, really . . .  honey? Are you alright?”

June walked to the fireplace.

Insides folding.

To the mantle.

To the dolls.

Reaching for the new one, lips parted.

Mauve dress flecked with white.


The End.  

(Cue this song.)



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