The Ouija Board
A New Orleans summer feels like living in a sticky-hot crease of skin. It's a world of water pump failure floods and Biblical termite swarms. She and her lover scurried into the sweltering, insect-infested night, headed for Bon Philippe: witch doctor.
Witch doctors align themselves with the sun or the moon. Sun doctors can't function at night, moon doctors are allergic to day. The lover insisted that only moon doctors could purge wombs. He wove his arm into her's and walked fast.
They couldn't visit a clinic. The state had passed a pro-life law. The state wanted to press them under its stately thumb and keep them pinned until their clump of cells went full baby. The state could do whatever it wished.
That morning, she'd sat before her sketchbook and pondered her ultimate reason: she feared infants. She feared the fact that they'd recently emerged from the nothing-place that we return to in death. To care for a baby, you must cleanse the nothing from them. Nothing clings like the blood you wipe from their bodies at birth.
Her sketches from that morning looked like little punctured suns.
Bon Phillipe opened the door of his shotgun house and lied, "Wonderful to see you."
He resembled a Sasquatch. His beard unfurled down his chest like a silky arrow. He swept them in with one wide arm.
They sat on spindly wooden chairs. Bon Phillipe poured them glasses of lemonade with sheaths of honeycomb floating on the surface. They drank jittery, hummingbird-sized sips.
"All righty." he held up a black pill. "I put this in you. You don't have a baby."
She'd gone for gynecological visits before. She knew the business of strangers sticking objects into her. She nodded once, like, Fucking fine.
The lover handed Phillipe $600 that had been donated by friends over Paypal.
Bon Phillipe said, "Fire." The honeyed lemonade froze them in place.
She hoped the future would uncoil as normal. Summer would pummel them. She'd sketch and sculpt through it, as always.
But then: vomiting. Worst of all, she spewed on a sculpture she'd made, a periwinkle whirl of wire and silk.
"Maybe you've got an ulcer," her lover whispered limply. They sat before a developing pregnancy test. They both knew.
She had a doula, a birth plan. The lover stood outside the door and did not see the baby born. The lover did not see the clammy blue room flood with monstrous light.
Looking at the baby felt like looking into the sun. The baby looked like a white hot lightbulb. It had no eyes. But you could see its mouth: a shifty little sunspot near the center of its rough face.
"Congratulations," the doula murmured, and fainted.
The lover messed up on purpose.
Like, she asked him to wash the baby. The lover used soap instead of an esoteric oil. The soap crackled on the baby's shining skin. The baby howled for days. So the lover never had to wash the baby.
Or, she asked the lover to feed the baby a red sludge. The lover overheated the sludge. The baby glowed from the heat, so bright that the entire neighborhood suffered full sunlight for days. Everyone came complaining. So the lover never had to feed the baby.
She was feeding the baby when she heard the crackle. Like static on a radio. It came from the baby's sunspot.
"You okay?" she asked.
It went crackle crackle.
When her lover returned from adventures, she boasted, "This baby's talking."
The lover said, "I dunno if I like it."
She loved it. She hopped around the house to improve the baby's reception. She said you could hear mumbling under the waves of static.
The lover almost asked if she wanted time off from the baby. If she'd like to take a sculpture course or a vacation. Except he had a road trip planned. Except his life seemed exclusive from the baby, in a neat way that he didn't want to question.
Soon, a voice came through the crackle. It wailed, "youuuuuu."
She stood on top of the dresser to get better reception.
When the lover came home, she said the baby had spoken a whole damn sentence.
"What'd it say?" he asked.
"It said, 'You'll win.'" She grinned.
When the lover next lover came home, the baby made static noises slit with blips of guttural voices.
"I'm talking to a ghost!" she hollered.
She shouted to the ghosts about Bon Phillipe. She complained she couldn't see why he'd give her such a burden.
"Every burden is a gift," ghosts crackled back.
She began to picture a new sculpture. She envisioned a swooping metal arc. She sketched her idea onto a napkin.
"Are you drawing an antenna?" her lover asked.
She shrugged. The baby tugged on her hair and made the strands sizzle.
She built the antenna on top of their house.
The ghost noises reverberated through the house, they shook the wall. The baby made happy, cheeping noises. And the lover left.
Leaving was not nothing. They'd had a sort of child together, and a life.
But the lover said, "I can't sleep through ghost voices."
So she said, "Sleep somewhere else. You're useless."
It struck her suddenly: his uselessness was as tangible as a termite swarm.
After he left, she sat before the baby. She wasn't afraid of it anymore. Nor was she afraid of the nothing place. The nothing place held so many voices, voices lapping at her from across all corners of their house in scratchy waves that reminded her of warm socks.
Soon, people approached the house with questions. They handed her money. They shielded their eyes from the baby, stiffly, like they were saluting.
She worked during the light of day. He came at dusk, as close to night as possible. The sky was the color of flushed cheeks.
She frowned, spat, "Bon Phillipe."
He sighed, "You win."
She dragged him into the sunny shotgun with a sweep of her arm.
Diana Valenzuela is a New Orleans-based author who cares about Lifetime original movies, red eye shadow, and vacation. Her work has appeared in The Millions.