The Curse

Posted: November 16, 2009 in Braak
Tags: ,

“You’ll have to excuse me,” she said, “but you don’t look very much like a witch doctor.”  Olivia Austen Mortimer (Livvy to her friends and the women that ran the $3,000 a month infant-to-preschool daycare, “Miss Livvy” to the maid) said this with a certain tentativeness, equally concerned with her guest’s feelings as she was with his credentials.

And, in fact, the man did not look at all like a witch doctor–or rather, did not look at all the way Livvy expected a witch doctor to look, which was something that she felt she was right to be concerned about.  Certainly, if a man advertises in the phone book as a witch doctor, he might be reasonablyexpected to make more than a token effort to look the part.  This man wore a neatly-tailored grey suit and Buddy Holly  glasses.  His only concession to the rustic authenticity of his profession was that he did not wear shoes, but instead a pair of alligator-leather sandals.  He did not have with him a mask, painted to resembles the spirits of his ancestors, nor did he have some manner of staff that he might have claimed contained spirits and devils bound to do his bidding.  He did carry a snakeskin bag that looked very much like a doctor’s bag, but he did not open it, nor did he offer an clue as to its contents.

He was, moreover, white.

“I mean,” Livvy went on, “aren’t witch doctors from Africa?”

The man nodded.  “Yes.  I am from Ghana, actually.”

Here followed an awkward silence, in which Livvy considered and discarded numerous variations on the phrase, “But you’re white.”  The man waited patiently while she did this, and Livvy finally settled on, “I see.”  She wrung her hands fretfully, and took deep breaths to prevent her nerves from causing an involuntary furrowing of her brow, which she had been told would lead to unsightly wrinkles later in life.  “Would you like to see him?”  She asked, finally.

The man nodded, and Livvy took him to meet her son:  Jared William Brentwood Mortimer, Jared to his father, Jay-Jay to his mother when they were in public, Jeejee when it was just the two of them.  The boy, less than a year old, lay on his back in a crib made of stained teak, wriggling atop cashmere blankets, bundled in his little Baby Bjorn jumper.  Mozart played constantly on a nearby mp3 player–opera, cantata, and concerto following one after the other, with no regard for their relations or context.  The nursery had a beautiful view of Central Park, and was stocked with hypo-allergenic stuffed toys representing some of history’s noteworthy thinkers, including Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, and Soren Kierkegaard.

“He seems very healthy,” the witch doctor said.

Livvy nodded enthusiastically, explaining at length the difficulties she had acquiring baby formula fortified with fish oil and glucosamine.  Another awkward silence followed; the witch doctor was accustomed to such lulls, as he found that parents were hesitant to discuss the subject matter in which he was expert.  He chose never to push, as he found even the most mild forms of coercion unseemly.

“So,” said Livvy.  “I was hoping that.  You could do something.  You know?  For him.”

The witch doctor nodded.  “I mostly work with curses.  Removal of and emplacement.  Is he cursed?”

Livvy shook her head.  “No.  I mean, I don’t think so.  How would I know?  Is there a test or something?”

“Do you know any witches?”

“There’s a woman on the fourteenth floor that practices Wicca, I think.  But they don’t curse people, do they?”

“No,” said the witch doctor.  “Probably no curse, then.  I do not really do blessings.”

“Couldn’t you…I mean, isn’t lifting a curse like doing a blessing?  Couldn’t you just double lift a curse, and then it would be like a blessing?”

The witch doctor shook his head.  “No.  There are some things to be done, but you may find them uninteresting.  For instance, I could curse him that he should only die in a very unusual manner–to be eaten by ferrets, say, or that he would drown while driving a bus.  But this would not guarantee him a long or safe life; only that it would be a life remarkable by virtue of a peculiar abundance of ferrets.”

“Oh,” said Livvy, disappointed.  She had hoped, though not in such clear terms, for precisely that sort of pronouncement–a specific fate that could be avoided fairly easily, relieving some of the stress that she felt contemplating the many ways in which little Jeejee might shuffle off his mortal coil.  “Could you…I mean, my husband is very successful, you know?  And people are always jealous of him.  That’s like a curse, right?  Could you curse him to be successful?”

“Not the way that you are thinking.”  The witch doctor shrugged.  “Being wealthy is not a curse, however much the wealthy may think so.  There is one thing that can be done, but…it is often unappealing to parents.”

“What is it?”

“The Curse of Filial Impiety.  It is a curse that, in many ways, functions as a blessing.  Your son will grow up to be handsome, yes.  Wise, successful, wealthy, strong.  Clever.  He will live long, have a faithful wife, and many children.”

“That sounds good,” said Livvy, eagerly.  “How is it cursing him?”

“It is not,” replied the witch doctor.  “It is cursing you.  This is what you must understand:  the curse is one of perverted intentions.  Everything good you do for him will be bad.  Every time you try to protect him, it will hurt him.  Every time you try to provide for him, you will deprive him.  Every choice you make for him will be the wrong one, you see?  He will discover he is poisoned by fish oil, allergic to cashmere.  His private school will be revealed as a front for a cocaine-smuggling operation.  There will be no thing you can do for him that will not harm him.  Also, as a child, he will be very ugly.  It is in the face of these depredations that he will grow wise and clever and strong. When he becomes a man, women will find his self-mastery irresistibly charming, so he will be handsome.”

“Won’t he hate me?  If he finds out I did this?”

“Oh, my yes,” said the witch doctor.  “Very much.  And he will find out, because it is a curse, you see?  Yes, he will hate you all the days of his life.  He will never bring his beautiful wife to meet you.  He will never show you your grandchildren.  You will have nothing from him, no joy at all, except the knowledge that–apart from his hatred of you–he will be peerless as a man and admired by all.  This is the greatest future.”

Livvy said nothing.

“Please, consider it,” the witch doctor told her.  “You do not want to make a decision like this in a hasty manner.  A curse like this, once done, can never be undone.”

Later that day, the witch doctor sat at an outdoor cafe, sipping green tea, lightly tapping his snakeskin bag with his alligator-skin sandal, and ruminating on the peculiar way he made his living.  Livvy Mortimer had paid his generous consulting fee, of course, and he had, gratis, splashed water from the holy Oti River throughout the nursery to protect it from jealous ghosts.

Livvy had not accepted the curse.

No one ever did.

  1. wench says:

    wicked. I like.

  2. Hsiang says:

    Very well done, Braak.

  3. deb says:

    Like this a lot.

  4. Erin says:

    I just got around to reading this (busy week). And, yeah: it’s pretty much the definition of kick ass.

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