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Conjure Woman

by David C. Kopaska-Merkel

Mama made a leaf man the year Daddy ran off. She said a leaf man wouldn't hold up well, but he'd last long enough. I didn't want her to send anything after Daddy. Even though I was glad he was gone, and not just because Tom and I could get real private in his workshop. Mama didn't know about what Daddy did, and she would have been real mad. Madder than she was.

Mama was particular about the leaves. Oak for strength, willow for passion, cane for flexibility, pecan for the mind. It's important, she said, to get the right mix. Otherwise, leaf men won't mind hardly at all. No more than real-life ones.

She didn't let me watch, said I didn't have the conjure spirit. She was right. I could never do some of that stuff you had to do. Hard enough to do what Tom wanted when we were alone together.

When it was done she led the leaf man to Daddy's workshop. The creature wasn't big. It was late in the year and I'd had trouble finding enough good leaves. If you use spoiled leaves the leaf man will be spoiled, she said. He was shaggy, leaves sticking out everyplace, but he moved like he had a purpose and meant to get to it.

Mama whispered in his ear. He leaned to the door like he was getting a scent, then made off down the road. That's when I thought I should say something, even though Mama would find out about Tom and me. It was too late: the leaf man was gone, and I kept quiet.

When the Sheriff told us, I knew he suspected Mama, but he never charged her. I didn't tell, just like I didn't tell Mama about Tom. The way I screamed when the Sheriff told how Tom was found, and the look she gave me...she knew. Had sent her creation after Tom apurpose, never after Daddy. I hated her then, left home soon after. I had nightmares for years about how it must've been like, choking on leaves and them keeping on coming as the thing crawled down his throat. Tom pulling them out and out, but never fast enough.

Now she needs me; can't talk or hardly move since the stroke. I sit by the bed, and the look she gives me now, I think we're both wondering: do I still hate her?



I liked the use of dialect and the fact it wasn't overdone. It didn't detract from the story by making the reader try to decipher it, but gave enough of a rustic feel to get the point across. The hinted elements of the ritual, the way you only allude to most of the circumstances, really adds to building mystery. And poor Tom's fate...it was impossible not to imagine it and cringe. Best of all is the way you left the ending with a open-ended. Perhaps the line between the readers who believe she does still hate her mother and those who don't will be drawn evenly between the cynics and the optimists in the audience. I wonder.

Posted by: Lene | March 16, 2009 11:52 PM

Thank you. That's just what I was trying to do. And years in the deep south are slowly painting me w/ a knowledge of dialect.

Posted by: David | March 18, 2009 8:51 PM

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