One Thing in Common
Judy never put much stock in rumors. Talk was one thing, but gossip was quite another, and she herself had been the focus of enough gossip as a younger woman to give her a gutful for a lifetime. She knew how people could be, so when she found them gossiping, she was usually the first to discount most of it and go about her business.
So when she found herself driving out to Hazel Moreau’s cabin, she had already sifted through and discarded much of what she’d heard about the brunette. They had never met in person, but she’d heard of her reputation and seen her around Honfleur a handful of times. This was only going to be a business call, so to speak, not a social visit. Another thing she didn’t believe in was imposing her presence on someone else, especially when they lived in an isolated area like this,. Some people liked their privacy more than others.
The bookseller parked near the little structure and shut off the engine. Today she was wearing sensible slacks and a bright green blouse, and she adjusted her glasses as she got out of the car. Hopefully one in the afternoon was a good time to drop by, even if she was unannounced. Fortunately she’d be able to keep her business here brief, and then be on her way. Judy walked through the long grass that led up to the walkway, then stepped up on the porch. She could practically feel the age of the place, but what she could see through the window looked homey. The knock on the weathered wooden door was loud in the stillness, and then she waited to see if Hazel would answer.
Hazel sat cross-legged on a woven rug, soaking up the ceiling fan's breeze and the cool blast from the window unit. In her lap was a length of silky headscarf in magenta. She had purchased a bundle of them at a discount store in New Orleans. Once home, she took a needle and thread to them and fastened beads and sequins, increasing their value. Items like these could be marked up and sold at Homespun for a profit. The scarf wouldn't be in season for a couple of months, but it broke up the boredom of her afternoon.
She heard a car in the driveway and set her things aside. As smooth and unhurried as a feline, Hazel stood up and crossed to a window. She recognized the woman on the porch. Judy, her memory supplied, from the bookstore.
Hazel opened the door in a crinkled-fabric tank top, loose pants and sandals. She was unfashionably pale but healthy looking. "Hello." She scanned the car for other occupants and saw it was empty, the ignition killed.
“Hi! Ah, hi,” Judy answered, lifting her hand in greeting once the door was opened. “Sorry to drop by in the middle of the day like this. I’d have called, but I didn’t have your number. Hope this is an okay time for visitors.”
Craning her neck a bit, the blonde saw that no one else seemed to be in the house, which made sense since as far as she knew Hazel lived alone. “Would it be all right if I came inside for a few minutes?” she asked politely. “I have something kind of private to ask you about and it shouldn’t be done while standing on your porch.”
Of course she didn't have the number, Hazel thought. It was unlisted, a protection against 2am prank calls made on dares. Hazel glanced over her shoulder. Aside from its humidity, the living room was benign. "Sure." She nodded and moved aside, allowing Judy to cross the threshold. The door squeaked as she closed it. Alongside it hung a hand-stitched icon of Agwe, a water spirit cherished by Hazel's grandmother. Because of personal items, she admitted few people into the cabin, conducting most of her personal and business discussions from the bait and tackle shop or her porch. But Judy was a practitioner and in Hazel's way of thinking, that meant something.
"Would you like something to drink? I have tea." She pointed at a pitcher, visible from its perch on the kitchen table. Three lemon wedges floated amongst the ice cubes. To avoid crowding her guest, Hazel walked to the kitchen and fetched two glasses from a cabinet. Tea and ice sloshed into the first; in such heat, even the sound was an enticement. "I think there's a Pepsi in the refrigerator." Hazel paused and looked at Judy. She's nervous, she thought.
“I’m off soda for the day, but I’d love some tea,” the bookseller said, looking around at the interior of the cabin. It was tiny, but it was also well-appointed, as if Hazel spent a lot of time arranging and re-arranging things to her exact liking. Most likely she spent a lot of her time here, if the feel of the place was anything to go by. She wasn’t sure if she should sit or stand, but as she hadn’t been invited she chose to stand near the living room door where it led to the kitchen.
“It’s the silliest thing, the reason that I’m here,” she began. “I usually don’t have to rely on others to give me supplies, but I apparently over-estimated my preparedness this week. I’ve been asked to make a good luck charm for Carmen Charbonneau, only I’m out of bloodroot for burning at the altar. Normally I’d just make the drive to New Orleans and find some there, but Carmen’s due in the hospital for some tests in the next couple of days so this is kind of an emergency. She wants to make sure someone’s watching out for her when the x rays come back.”
Would it be a breach of etiquette to chug that tea when she got it? Even with the air on she could feel the humidity threatening to press in on her. “I asked a couple of people in town who might be able to help me out and they gave me your name,” she finished by way of explanation. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be bothering you in the middle of the day.”
"It isn't a bother," Hazel said, handing the tall glass to Judy. "I didn't know Carmen was sick." It just went to show how out-of-the-loop she'd become. Supposing it was public news, Hazel knew she would've heard about it at the cemetery remembrance and picnic on Memorial Day. However, upon learning that Nicolette helped plan that event, she spent that day cleaning the cricket case in the tackle shop. It seemed like a favorable trade-off.
"Are you looking for the dried plant or an extract?" While Hazel inspected the baggies, boxes, and jars on her shelving, she wondered if Carmen had always been open to pagan ritual or if she was simply desperate. When people asked for help on those terms, Hazel had mixed emotions. There was a sense of victory followed by a used feeling. It always reminded her of youth, in particular a long-ago high school dance when her friend Asha was deemed fuckable by a quarterback after five drinks and repeated rejections by bouncy-haired blondes. And she fell for it.
Hazel had been cool on the surface. In private, she went on the spiritual warpath. It isn't worth the energy to remember that.
“The dried plant will do fine, it burns faster and leaves more of the essence behind,” Judy replied, making herself sip at the tea rather than gulp it. It was very good, the lemon blending in with the liquid to make the whole thing delicious. “And Carmen isn’t sure she’s sick yet. They don’t know if the lump they found is benign or not, but she’s looking for all the help she can get before the test results come back. Doctors, y’know, you can never be sure if they’re telling you everything.”
She spoke from experience on that one. When her aunt got sick the final time, the woman’s doctor made the mistake of trying to jolly the family along as she got more and more frail, while still running tests and giving her medication that did little more than dull the pain. The only reason it hadn’t ended up in a malpractice suit was that Judy herself eventually talked the man around to telling them the truth. Still, it had served to make her wary of the medical profession.
“This is a great place,” she remarked, gesturing with her glass. “I really like what you’ve done with the negative space.”
Hazel's hands stilled in a wooden box. She looked around, brows quirked, in search of this negative space, if finding it was even possible. "I don't know you what you mean, but I'll take the compliment," she said. Her fingers pulled a plastic bag from the box. The plant's leaves had crumbled and yellowed, but their effectiveness was unspoiled. She was relieved to hear that Judy planned to burn it and not process it into a poultice. Many an uneducated practitioner had doled out tissue damage because of that mistake. She placed the bag on her coffee table and had a seat in an armchair, gesturing to the sofa.
"It's good that you have business," she said. "I have to admit, I wasn't sure if you would, through no fault of your own. Honfleur has a long-standing habit of supporting its own while offering a boot to anyone else."
“To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure I would either,” the blonde admitted, taking a seat on the couch now that it had been offered. “I only came down here because my aunt left me the house, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with it. But it occurred to me that the world needed a new bookstore, and so I decided to just...pull up stakes and move down here to see if I could make a go of it. Thank the Goddess that it lasted after the novelty wore off.”
Judy had another sip of her tea, avoided picking at the cloth covering the sofa’s cushions. “You should come by sometime,” she told Hazel. “I’ve got some really interesting books on herbal medicine you might like to see.”
Ah, the connection to a local aunt. Hazel had forgotten that detail. Blood was blood; that made Judy as legitimate a citizen as any other.
As for Judy's mention of books, it was a good approach. Herbs could be used by any practitioner, so Hazel was likely to see it as useful to her. Much better than a new age shop hawking crystal balls and romance candles. "Have you tried to grow any yet?" she asked, folding a foot beneath her. "You should try. The soil's fertile and if you plant them in the shade, they won't be scorched. That is, if you don't have a cat," she said, referring to the battle-worn creature snoozing in a rocking chair outside. "I have to cover mine with chicken wire and even then..." She shook her head and sipped.
“No cats, I’m allergic.” And she had seen the cat, seen it and given it a wide berth. “But I haven’t tried growing my own yet. Haven’t had the time, but maybe this summer I can get around to it. As long as the soil’s good I have a semi-green thumb, so maybe I’ll start my own little herb patch.”
She paused long enough to take another look around the living room, then added, “You’ve lived here in Honfleur all your life, right? You sound like you’ve had some bad experiences with the place.”
"The place is just fine," she said, careful to keep her face plain. The mantle of victim wasn't one she wanted. "But what's the saying about people? Small town, small minds? They can be capable of selfless warmth and unbelievable cruelty, depending upon the circumstances." She looked at a lemon seed in her glass. "But I am still here and I don't have to be. At the end of the day, they look after their own." Hazel leaned forward and set her drink on the table. "You haven't anything to fear, if that's what you're wondering. They will tolerate eccentricities. One of the men who cooks at the Hound was caught in his wife's underwear."
The air conditioner behind the arm chair shuttered. Hazel reached back and hit it with a closed fist. It settled into a steady rhythm.
That left Judy blinking a bit, but after a moment she regained her composure. “Well, it’s a good thing they tolerate eccentrics,” she said lightly, deciding not to say that she put no stock in gossip because it would have sounded ridiculous. “I’m never sure if I qualify or not, since I am just a business owner, but I suppose the nature of the business comes into account in places like this. I’m sure they expected anything from circus people to midgets showing up in town when I first moved here. I’m sure some of them were disappointed.”
"I'm sure they had their fingers crossed for a drum circle in the nude." Hazel adjusted a pillow by her side. "Either way, it's good to have new faces, for the economy and progressive thinking." That got her reflecting on her conversation with the marine. One talk wasn't enough to figure him out, but he seemed like a friendly man. "There's a musician, a fiddle player. I'm not sure when he moved here, but not long ago."
“Oh, you must mean GW,” Judy said with a smile. “I’ve talked with him a couple of times, he’s a really nice guy. He’s practically a local since he’s from Louisiana, but I don’t know when he moved to Honfleur. Probably just after he got out of the service, though. Small world, huh?”
The ice cubes in her glass rattled together when she lifted it to her mouth again, and she just avoided spilling one of them down the front of her shirt. That would have made a nice impression, her futzing around trying to get it out. Then again, a little ice in her clothing would help cool her down when she went back outside. Still, in the moment she was glad to have avoided the pitfall of embarrassing herself.
“I swear it’s going to be over a hundred degrees before too long.”
As she processed the new information about the marine, Hazel didn’t mention the near-incident with the ice. “Probably within the week,” she agreed. “By August everyone will be crazy, especially if a storm cuts the power. I think there’s a correlation between heat exhaustion and 911 calls, and since we don’t have our own police force, it would be twenty minutes before a response.”
Hazel inspected her modest manicure. “I’ll share a secret with you. Mr. Dawes has a pool on his property. It’s the old two-story at the end of Pensacola Road. He’s about eighty years old and so long as you sneak him sweets and promise not to tell his family, he’ll let you swim.”
“Well, thanks for the information. I’ll probably be able to use it just as soon as the summer really closes in for the next couple of months,” Judy replied. “I get down Pensacola every couple of weeks, so I’ll make sure to have some kind of candy with me in case I see Mr. Dawes out in his yard.”
The blonde picked up the bag from the coffee table and inspected its contents briefly before putting it back down. “Listen, do you need me to pay for this? I’d be willing to give you fair market value, whatever that is, just so you know.” She wasn’t sure the offer of money was necessary, but she wanted Hazel to know that she wasn’t just planning to rely on charity here.They were both practitioners of the art and that counted for something, but she wanted things to be clear between them.
Hazel looked at the bag, tongue pressing against her cheek. She liked to think of herself as shrewd with money and an expert at making much of little, but after a moment she shook her head. “No. One day I may need a favor from you when I’m strapped for cash. Then you can repay me.” As an afterthought, she rose and went back to the shelves. There were packets of seeds and she sorted through them to find two that could be grown in a moist summer. “Basil and perilla,” she said, tossing the stapled envelopes. “For your kitchen or your magic.”
Her glass of tea was empty, and Judy set it aside to let the ice cubes finish melting as she said, “Well, whatever you think is fair. I hadn’t planned on showing up empty-handed, after all. And thanks for the seeds. I’m sure I’ll find a way to put them to good use, even if they just end up in a salad.” Picking up the other bag, she tucked it into her pocketbook, then rose from the sofa.
“And now I’ll let you get back to whatever it was you were doing before I knocked. I’m sure Carmen will be appreciative of the help you gave me this afternoon. Hope you enjoy the rest of your day, Hazel.”
“Thank you.” Hazel’s fingers dug into the back of her neck. She went to the door with Judy and let her out. The porch was poor shelter from the afternoon sun or the glare from the pagan’s windows, so she shielded her eyes. “Take care.”
There, that hadn’t been so bad. It just went to prove that people rarely knew what they were talking about when it came to rumors. Judy got in her car and started the engine, then carefully pulled out of the narrow driveway. She’d go home and do the ritual, then carry the newly made charm over to the Charbonneau house. All in a day’s work for a newly minted witch.