This story is by Terence Reynolds and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Violent winds tore through Louis Armstrong Park. Ominous rain clouds hung overhead. It wouldn’t be long before the storm arrived. I’d hoped to be back to Marie by now. Deciding not to take her to the hospital the moment her water broke, didn’t sit right with me. Neither did coming out in a storm to pick up a midwife; I hadn’t met. I wanted to push back, put my foot down and demand Marie go to the hospital, but how could I?
She’d been through hell the last few months. The preeclampsia had left her exhausted, swollen, and bedridden. Her body had become a time bomb slowly ticking towards an uncertain future. Oshun, my mother in law, moved in shortly after we got the news that the pregnancy would be high risk. Calling upon the midwife had been her idea. She assured me that it was safe, that her family had used midwives to birth their children for generations. It did nothing to ease my concern.
A light drizzle started to fall as I paced back and forth in the area of the park known as Congo Square. What type of midwife didn’t have an office or a cell phone? How did Oshun get in contact with her? The whole arrangement was absurd to me. Lightning struck, setting ablaze the New Orlean’s night.Then everything went black. The full moon was providing the only light.
A woman appeared in the moonlight. The streetlights flickered back on, giving me a better look at her. She walked with confidence. Every stride had its purpose. Caramel freckles danced around her button nose. Her eyes were mesmerizing, one was an ominous gray, the other the purest shade of blue. She was stunning. Her resemblance to Marie was uncanny. I couldn’t help but stare.
“Close your mouth son. We wouldn’t want anything flying in there. C’mon, Marie is on borrowed time.” She stated in a thick Creole accent.
“Borrowed time? I thought home births were safe. ” I started to hyperventilate.
I didn’t see the slap coming. It rattled my teeth and jolted me out of my panic.
I nodded. Rubbing my jaw as we walked to the truck.
I offered to help with the suitcase size bag she was carrying. She declined. I rush ahead to open her door and extended my hand to help her inside.
“Such a polite young man. Marie did well.” She smiled.
“Thanks, I guess.”
“Do you have a cigar.” She asked as we settled into the truck.
“No, I don’t smoke.”
“Well, you’re going to have to get one. Papa won’t show unless I have his cigar.”
She ignored me. I didn’t dare ask again. There was something about her that scared the shit out of me. The rain picked up. It sounded like tribal drumming against the roof of my truck. The midwife bobbed her head along as if she was listening to her favorite song.
I took out my phone, calling to check on Marie. Oshun picked up on the first ring. I could hear Marie swearing like a sailor in the background. The midwife snatched the phone from my ear before I could say a word.
“Taurean we don’t have time for such foolishness. Marie is fine. If you want her to stay that way, get me a cigar.” She demanded, hanging up the phone.
My first instinct was to ask her what the hell was wrong with her, but I needed to get back to Marie before she gave birth. An argument with the midwife would only prolong things. I found the nearest wine and spirits store and rushed in.
“Do you sell cigars? I screamed at the clerk.
“Sure, what kind would you like?” He asked.
“The best you have please.” My breathing was picking up again.
The clerk went to the back and returned with a sixty-five dollar cohiba. It smelled like chocolate. I paid him, grabbed the cigar, and rushed back to the truck.
“Here.” I handed the cigar over to the midwife.
She took it, slid it under her nose, and took a deep breath.
“Yes, yes. Papa will love it.” She declared.
“Who the hell is Papa, and why do you need him to come?”
“That’s my business. You shut up and drive. We’re running out of time.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but she glared at me with those mesmerizing eyes, rendering me speechless. I floored it, cutting the time back to the townhouse in half. I jumped out of the truck, rushed to the other side to help the midwife out. This time she handed me the bag, and we scurried inside. Marie’s swearing greeted us in the corridor.
“That’s my girl.” The Midwife stated proudly
“Marie is in the guest room. It’s right this way.” I said
“You’ll see Marie soon enough. I need your help in the kitchen.”
“But aren’t you going to help deliver the twins.”
“Don’t be silly. Oshun is the best midwife in New Orleans. I’m here to deal with other matters.” She said walking toward the kitchen liked she’d been there a thousand times.
I followed, placing the bag on the kitchen table. The midwife dug in quickly, pulling out the cigar, a bottle of rum, several sweet cakes, and a black candle. She lit the candle and started to chant in Haitian. Lightning struck, the lights flickered, and Marie screamed out in anguish. I wanted to run to her, but my legs didn’t work.
The smoke from the candle started to take human form near the edge of the table. It was an older gentleman in a black and red suit. A top hat sat on a nest of dreadlocks. His eyes were black voids. He downed the rum and sweet cakes in seconds. Saving the cigar for last, lighting it, and taking a long drag. He smiled, revealing a row of yellow teeth.
“What can I do for you Madame Creole?” He asked.
“I need you to send Marie and her girls back from the crossroads.” She stated.
“Are you willing to pay my price. Are you finally ready to die Madame Creole?” The gentleman’s smile grew sinister.
“Yes.” The midwife didn’t hesitate.
“Then it’s done. A life for a life and the female children must take up the mantle of Queens of New Orleans when they reach eighteen, and serve the loa and me.” He stated.
“No, that wasn’t part of the deal.” The midwife shouted.
“The deal is what I say it is. Death has touched the children. Serving the Loa is the only way they can exist amongst the living. Do we have a deal or shall I let them die?” He stated.
“Deal!” The midwife said a hint of fear in her cadence.
A haunting laugh filled the room, and then he was gone. The only evidence he had been there was the empty rum bottle and sweet cake wrappers. Movement returned to my limbs. I sprinted to the guest room. Marie lay motionless. Her mocha skin was cold to the touch. The twins were still at her side. Oshun was kneeling next to the bed chanting in Haitian. We were too late.
Tears burned my eyes and anguish consumed my heart. The sobs grew ugly and loud as they erupted from my mouth. The Midwife walked in gingerly. She had aged a great deal in the moments since I’d left the kitchen. Oshun rose to greet her, wrapping her in a soft embrace. They stood like that for a long moment. The midwife’s bones were becoming more brittle with each second that passed.
“Taurean, take care of my girls.” She warned me, breaking away from Oshun.
“I’m ready.” She exclaimed looking towards the heavens.
Lightning struck once more. Everything went black. The sound of babies crying sliced through the darkness. Followed by a deep inhale that seemed to suck the air out of the room. The lights flickered on. Marie cradled one twin. Oshun held the other. They were beautiful. A head full of white hair, caramel freckles that danced around their button noses, and one ominous gray eye, the other the purest shade of blue. I looked on in awe. Joy was filling every inch of my being. It didn’t last.
The smell of chocolate smoke attacked my nose. The gentleman was back. He stood in the corner of the room cigar in hand. Anger consumed me as I stepped into his line of sight. His grin grew large as we came nose to nose.
“We have a beautiful family. Don’t you think?” He mocked blowing smoke in my face.
“Leave now” I demanded.
“Papa will leave, but Papa will be back to collect in due time. In due time, yes indeed.” He laughed before disappearing into the ether.
“I’ll be waiting!” I uttered before returning to the girls.