Earthquake Weather – Snippet 04

Kootie led the three of them out of the kitchen into Pete’s long dim office.

“It was one of your clients on the phone,” Pete told Angelica, “Mrs. Perez. She says her grandparents’ ghosts are gone from the iron pots you put them in; the pots aren’t even magnetic anymore, she says. Oh, and I noticed that your voodoo whosis is gone from the cabinet by our front door–the little cement guy with cowrie shells for his eyes and mouth.”

“The Eleggua figure?” said Angelica, collapsing onto the couch. “He’s–what, he’s the Lord of the Crossroads, what can it mean that he’s gone? He must have weighed thirty pounds! Solid concrete! I didn’t forget to propitiate him last week–did I, Kootie?”

Kootie shook his head somberly: “You spit rum all over him, and I put the beef jerky and the Pez dispenser in his cabinet myself.”

Pete was sniffing the stale office air. “Why does everywhere smell like burning coffee this morning?”

“Kootie,” said Angelica, “what’s going on here today?”

Kootie had hiked himself up to sit on the desk next to the buzzing black-screened television set, and he pulled his shirt up out of his pants–the bandage taped to his side was blotted with red, and even as they looked at it a line of blood trickled down to his belt. “And my left hand’s numb,” he said, flexing his fingers, “and I had to rest twice, carrying the dead beasties, because I’ve got no strength in my legs.”

He looked up at his adopted mother. “We’re in the middle of winter,” he went on, in a tense but flat voice. “This is the season when I sometimes dream that I can . . . sense the American West Coast. This morning–” He paused to cock his head: “–still, in fact–I’ve got that sense while I’m awake. What I dreamed of was a crazy woman running through a vineyard, waving a bloody wand with ivy vines wrapped around it and a pinecone stuck on the end of it.” He pulled his shirt back down and tucked it in messily. “Some balance of power has shifted drastically somewhere–and somebody is paying attention to me; somebody’s going to be coming here. And I don’t think the Solville foxing measures are going to fool this person.”

“Nobody can see through them!” said Johanna loyally. Her late husband, Solomon “Sol” Shadroe, had bought the apartment building in 1974 because its architecture confused psychic tracking, and he had spent nearly twenty years adding rooms and wings onto the structure, and rerouting the water and electrical systems, and putting up dozens of extraneous old TV antennas with carob seedpods and false teeth and old radio parts hung from them, to intensify the effect; the result was an eccentric stack and scatter of buildings and sheds and garages and conduit, and even now, more than two years after the old man’s death, the tenants still called the rambling old compound Solville.

Pete Sullivan was the manager and handyman for the place now, and he had dutifully kept up the idiosyncratic construction and maintenance programs; now his lean, tanned face was twisted in a squinting smile of apprehension. “So what is it that you sense, son?”

“There’s a–” Kootie said uncertainly, his unfocused gaze moving across the ceiling. “I can almost see it–a chariot–or a . . . a gold cup? Maybe it’s a tarot card from the Cups suit, paired with the Chariot card from the Major Arcana?–coming here.” He gave Johanna a mirthless smile. “I think it could find me, even here, and somebody might be riding in it, or carrying it.”

Angelica was nodding angrily. “This is the thing, isn’t it, Kootie, that was all along going to happen? The reason why we never moved away from here?”

“Why we stopped running,” ventured Pete. “Why we’ve been . . . standing our little ground.”

“Why Kootie is an iyawo,” said Johanna, sighing and nodding in the kitchen doorway. “Why this place was first built, from the earthquake wreck of that ghost house. And the–”

“Kootie is not an iyawo,” Angelica interrupted, pronouncing the feminine Yoruba noun as if it were an obscenity. “He hasn’t undergone the kariocha initiation. Tell her, Pete.”

Kootie looked at his adopted father and smiled. “Yeah,” he said softly, “tell her, Dad.”

Pete Sullivan pulled a pack of Marlboros out of his shirt pocket and cleared his throat. “Uh, it’s not a river in Egypt,” he told his wife, quoting a bit of pop-psychology jargon that he knew she hated.

She laughed, though with obvious reluctance. “I know it’s not. The Nile, denial–I know the difference. How is this denial, what I’m saying? Kariocha is a very specific ritual–shave the head, cut the scalp, get three specially initiated drummers to play the consecrated bata drums!–and it just has not been done with Kootie.”

“Not to the letter of the law,” said Pete, shaking out a cigarette and flipping it over the backs of his fingers and then into his mouth; “but in the . . . spirit?” He snapped a wooden match and inhaled smoke, then squeezed the lit match in his fist, which was empty when he opened it again. “Come on, Angie! All the formalities aside, basically, a kariocha initiation is putting a thing like an alive-and-kicking ghost inside of somebody’s head, right? Call it a ‘ghost’ or call it an ‘orisha.’ It makes the person who hosts it . . . what, different. So–well, you tell me what state Kootie was in when we found him two years ago. I suppose he’s not still an omo, since the orisha left his head, voluntarily . . . but it did happen to the boy.”

“I saw him when he was montado” agreed Johanna, “possessed, in this very kitchen, with that yerba buena y tequila telephone. He had great ashe, the boy’s orisha did, great luck and power, to make a telephone out of mint and tequila and a pencil sharpener, and then call up dead people on it.” She looked across at the boy and smiled sadly. “You’re not a virgin in the head anymore, are you, Kootie?”

“More truth than poetry in that, Johanna,” Kootie agreed, hopping down from the desk. “Yeah, Mom, this does feel like it.” His voice was unsteady, but he managed to look confident as he waved his blood-spotted hand in a gesture that took in the whole building and grounds. “It’s why we’re here, why I’m what I am.” He smiled wanly and added, “It’s why your Mexican wizard made you give a nasty name to this witchery shop you run here. And this is the best place for us to be standing when it meets us. Solville can’t hide us, but it’s a fortified position. We can . . . receive them, whoever they might be, give them an audience.”

Angelica was sitting on the couch, flipping through the pages of her battered copy of Kardec’s Selected Prayers. Among the other books she had tossed onto the couch were Reichenbach’s Letters on Od and Magnetism, and a spiralbound notebook with a version of Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida hand copied into it, and a paperback copy of Guillermo Ceniza-Bendiga’s Cunjuro del Tobaco.

“How far away are they?” she snapped, without looking up. “Like, are they coming from Los Angeles? New York? Tibet? Mars?”

“The . . . thing is . . . on the coast,” said Kootie with a visible shiver. “Sssouth? Yes, south of here, and coming north, like up the 5 Freeway or Pacific Coast Highway.”