The four of us stand together at the edge of the firelight. My little sister, Victoria, is the youngest. She’s twelve years younger than me; a happy accident for my parents and, once we’d grown up, my best friend. She’s also the creator of the smooth, intoxicating shakes we’ve just used to toast the night.
The other two are my friends Mallory and Callie. Standing here, the variations in height and shape and coloring—our skin and hair ranging from pale to dusky—that mark us in daylight fade away, and we are simply shadows. These women are my clan. They are the ones I call when life has been very good or very bad or just because. Today has not been a good day.
Like I said, Victoria made the drinks. She brought the rum, ginger beer, and good vanilla ice cream and blended them together. She said she’d sprinkled something special in them as well. Best not to question her when she says things like that. Mal and Callie “borrowed” their neighbor’s copper fire pit and picked up some lighter fluid and kindling. Victoria told them what to bring.
It’s funny. Mal, Callie, and I are all about the same age. We met in college years ago. We’re all outspoken, take-charge women; but Victoria, the quiet one, tends to control our flux and flow. Mostly, this is subtle, and while I can’t tell you how she does it, we all feel it. Now she raises her glass and says, unexpectedly, “To Ray,” and drinks deeply. Over the edge of her glass her eyes admonish us to do the same, so we do. Weakly we repeat, “Ray,” and drink.
I also met Ray in college and married him. Three weeks ago we celebrated our twenty-fifth anniversary; not in Cabo San Luca as planned, though. He’d claimed to have a last minute emergency at work, so we postponed the trip and indulged in a weekend “staycation” at a resort here in town.
“So tell us?” Victoria says, in a softer tone this time.
“He cancelled the Mexico trip because she, Olivia, the man-eating bitch, didn’t want him to go. She said that it was okay to spend one last weekend with me, but—” and I have to stop because of the hiccuping tears. Mal and Callie step in closer, on either side of me. It’s enough.
“She said it would be leading me on to take me on a big trip. And I really hate that she was right. The bitch.”
“And then he left?” Victoria asks.
“And then he left.” I can see the scene so clearly. Ray leaving. Saying he’d be back for his things. Saying it was for the best. The best for whom?
Victoria nods almost like she can see my thoughts.
“You’ve got everything on the list?”
“Well let’s get this party started,” she says with a smile.
His sweaty gym clothes—including his Calvin’s—go in the fire first. The next item is one of his favorite ties, which I’d soaked in his cologne and then cut in half. I swear the smoke starts to smell like Ray. Then his Mont Blanc fountain pen. And, finally, his house key.
“That’s it,” I say, watching the fire.
“Almost.” Victoria tosses one last item into the flames; something that looks like a large gnarled rhizome and a wad of hair tied with a white ribbon.
“What was that?”
“A mandrake root, of course. With a little hair and blood.”
“Blood?” I ask, startled.
“My dear sister, these things always require blood.”
“But whose? How?”
“It’s not important. All you need to know is that no one was harmed. That makes a difference in the outcome, you know. Now, time for your wish. You’ve thought about what you want?”
She hands me a disturbingly large needle.
“Okay then. State it and then the blood goes into the fire. One drop for each wish.”
I could blame the rum shake, but really, my baby sister’s confidence in her own crazy suburban hoodoo is infectious, even stone-cold sober. I laugh as I poke my finger, like it’s some kind of joke and I might as well play along, right? But I’m not joking, and neither is Victoria. She grabs my hand and squeezes the pricked finger until my blood drips into the flames, while Mal and Callie lean in closer to count the drops. Then—to paraphrase Chekhov—an angel of silence flies over us. I sense nothing but the crackling of the fire and the heat on my face—the heat of the flames, the heat of the rum, the heat of my wild hope.
. . .
I had not wished for Ray to come back to me, so I have to say that his signing the bulk of our assets over to me, and our divorce going through without a hitch, made everything easier. Hearing that his business was not doing well didn’t make me feel as good as you might think. But opening the Sunday paper six months later and seeing that my cousin Olivia had married Ray’s now-former business partner and was honeymooning in Cabo? That was definitely an announcement worth toasting, with rum and fire and my three best friends.
Photo by Sandra Peterson Ramirez.