N. Renee Brown

Part-time Author, Full-time Book Junkie

Umami: The Trading Season, Part 5

The Purifying Shed (soundtrack – just computer keys, baby.)

 

What Bertrand led Lisette to wasn’t really a cottage. It was just a room with no windows, or at least it appeared to be. She strained to see into the shadows, but was foiled until he lit the oil lamp in the far corner of the room-nay cottage. Warm, yellow light filled the room and Lisette gasped.

It was filled with tools of the religious trade. Bundles of swamp grass hung from the ceiling, dull white candles wrapped in twine and flowers, and row upon row of jars filled with every color of the rainbow and then some. She recognized some. Swamp water, olive oil, and rum were easy to pick out, but the rest were mysteries she found herself gravitating toward. She reached out to touch a jar filled with a flat mud-colored liquid and Bertrand clicked his tongue.

“Touch nothing. Get undressed, and put this on.” He was holding out a white cotton robe, the uneven weave of the fiber made it look lopsided. She took it from him and waited, but he did not leave her presence.

“Um, pardon me?”

 

“Yes?” He kept his back to her. He was opening drawers on an apothecary chest, seemingly at random. He was pulling nothing out.

“Where am I supposed to change?” She glanced around one last time, to make sure she hadn’t missed a door or curtain. She had not.

“Here, of course.”

“But…” She looked from his stiff back to the open door and back again. Here? But there was a man in the room, and anyone could walk by. Her hands clutched at the robe. Without thinking she pulled it up to cover her. No one but her mother had seen her naked. Her curse made sure of that.

“Here.” Bertrand said in a voice that offered no mercy.

Lisette bit her lip, and retreated to the farthest corner of the room. She tried to make herself as small as possible, but no matter what she did the idea of changing in that open space was too much for her. She sank down into the corner, her knees pulled up to chest and the robe still in her lap.

She watched Bertrand go from surface to surface, pulling down powders, potions, and pots. She tried to identify what he lay his hands on, but most of it was beyond her. The Mambo of her town had always shooed her away when the ritual began, no matter how much she begged to be included. The Mambo had been afraid of her curse. The curse, always the curse.

He stepped over to a tall wardrobe, and after unlocking it, opened the doors wide. Lisette could not contain her gasp. Inside was a tall headdress, made mostly of feathers and beads and beneath it a matching wand. The most sacred Flock possessions, the vestments of the Loa.

Lisette had nearly convinced herself to go inspect them, when Mambo Brighette entered the room. Her eyes swept over Lisette and went directly to Bertrand.

“Is everything ready?”

“Yes, Mambo Brighette.”

“Everything?”

“Well, I-” The small man broke off, his eyes shifting between the Mambo and the corner in which Lisette cowered. She squirmed.

“Yes?” The Mambo said, the venom in her voice clear.

“No, Maman Brighette.” The little man hung his head, “She did not want to change with me in the room.”

The Mambo’s hand struck so fast, Lisette wondered if the crack of skin against skin had been her imagination. Then she saw Bertrand’s face, with a fresh red hand print across his cheek, and she knew it was not. Mambo Brighette turned then, and Lisette pulled the robe up under her eyes.

“We will get the men to help you change her.”

Lisette’s heart dropped. Men? Men to change her. Her eyes filled with tears, but she still couldn’t force herself to stand, to strip. The Mambo strode to the door.

“I need four men in the purifying shed, now.”

Outside, Lisette heard the rustling of feet over gravel and they were moving fast.

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