Banjos and Witch Burnings
Evangeline St. Martin worked miracles out of a ramshackle house on the edge of the bayou. She could do just about anything, from curing warts to mending hearts, from finding lost items to making sure some things stayed lost. Everything had its price, and if you were willing to pay then she was willing to make your miracle come true. She was there when most people came into the world, and when more than a few of them left it. She made the best gumbo and the best grits in four counties, and she played the fiddle at parties like the devil himself. Not a bad hand with a needle, either, and plenty of girls went to her when they had to let out their dresses—or when they didn’t want to. For most of the people in that bit of the world, Evangeline was Louisiana. She was the bayou and the harvest moon, the steady drone of the cicadas on sticky nights and the sigh of the wind through the weeping willows. And no one threw a shindig quite like Mrs. St. Martin, who would join in the dancing and kick her heels up with more energy than some of the girls a quarter of her age. And even though she was often off and about, traveling down dusty dirt roads on errands and personal calls, or pushing her leaky boat through the swamp with a sturdy oak pole, it always seemed like she would be sitting on her front porch in her cane-back rocking chair with a corncob pipe between her lips when you really, really needed something. You’d tell her what it was, and she might pluck the pipe from her mouth and tap out the bowl on the bottom of her old boot, repack it with fresh baccy and light it carefully with a match struck on one cracked thumbnail, and take a deep, long puff at it before telling you just what she would do, or what you had to do first. Or she might just nod, and reach for her patched carpetbag and pull out a few bits and bobs, tie everything together with a spare piece of twine, and shove it all into an old baccy pouch before handing it over, fixing your eyes with hers, and naming her price before she’d let you tug it from her fingers. There had been times in the past when one or two of the men would get angry, or drunk, and decide that their problems were due to Evangeline and her hoodoo. They’d stir up a few others, grab some rope, and tear off through the trees with torches and lanterns. Some would try to stop them, or dissuade them, but most would just lock their doors and latch their windows and stopper up their ears. But the thing was, those mobs never reached Evangeline St. Martin’s house. Some of the men would get inexplicably lost in the woods or blunder straight into a nest of gators. Some stepped on snakes, or stray rusty nails, or broken Mason jars. Some would bump into each other, and be so drunk or so angry they’d just start cussing up a storm and fighting one another. Only one or two of the mob would ever get to Evangeline’s doorstep. And when they did, they’d find her standing there on the porch, well-oiled shotgun balanced on her skinny shoulder, dark eyes piercing them straight through like a lance, steady finger pressed firmly against the trigger. There would be a reckoning on that weathered face, and the men would drop their rope and turn tail in fear of damnation. Evangeline St. Martin was a witch, but she was like no witch from a fairy tale. She cursed like a sailor and spat like a man, had a laugh like a donkey’s bray and smelled of tobacco and nutmeg year round. She wore gingham dresses so faded they were white, and a big straw hat when she was out in the sun. There were hard candies in her pockets for little ones, and she would braid girls’ hair while humming hymns. Went to church every Sunday and did plenty that would be considered charity. Smiled more than she frowned, and would listen silently to any story regardless of how meandering or tall or sad. And something about her just felt eternal. Evangeline St. Martin had always been there, in that ramshackle whitewashed house on the edge of the bayou. She’d always be there. She was probably there right now.