When I lived in New Orleans a long while ago, my dame de mois at the time, Simone, gave me a Ledbury dress shirt for my birthday. It was magenta with the inside collar and cuffs in a subtle eggshell hue. I was excited to try it on and model it for her.
The process of opening a new dress shirt is tedious. I have always been curious as to why they use so many straight pins in new shirts. I began pulling out the pins and putting them in a nearby empty beer can.
“Wait, don’t throw them away!” she screamed. “Give them to me, I save straight pins!”
“Why the hell would you want to save all these pins?” I inquired.
“I use them on my voodoo dolls,” she said, smiling in a scary sort of way.
“What the hell are you talking about? Are you telling me you’re a witch?”
“I don’t particularly care for ‘witch’. I’d prefer the term ‘wiccan’, as this would describe me much better. ‘Witch’ has had many connotations popularized by books, movies, and music. Most often we are portrayed as evil or wicked in some way, which is usually not the case.”
“So you practice magic, like casting spells and mixing up potions and stuff like that?”
“Well, yes, but it isn’t sinister like you’re making it sound. Are you familiar with the Wicca religion and its practices?”
“Somewhat, but I’m not as knowledgeable as I’d like to be.”
“We aren’t evil or Satan worshipers. I’m a good witch, not a bad witch, celebrating nature as well as the moon and planets.”
“I appreciate your attempt to comfort me, but the good witch / bad witch reference doesn’t really help. It only reminds me of The Wizard of Oz. That damn movie caused me a great amount of anguish as a child, I’ll have you know. Witches, those damn flying monkeys and all those dwarfs, midgets or little people, whatever is the politically correct name for them, they all really freaked me out. My mother made us watch it every Thanksgiving back home in Chicago, and that song “Over the Rainbow” still sends me into panics whenever I hear it being sung by Judy Temple.”
“No Santi, it’s Judy Garland who sang it, not Shirley Temple. You mixed them together.”
“See what I mean? A perfect example of how even just talking about it causes me distress.”
It was the first and only time I wore that shirt.
I don’t believe in witchcraft, God, ghosts, angels, astrology, ESP, tarot, numerology, palmistry or mediums, werewolves, vampires or any of that pseudo-science garbage. I haven’t made a decision on whether or not Bigfoot exists, however. If so, he is the hide-and-seek champion of the world. Still, I experienced some things in my time with Simone, for which I have no logical explanation.
I’d met her at a gathering to celebrate the movie premiere for Interview With The Vampire. I was excited at the opportunity to meet the famous novelist, Anne Rice. She even autographed my copy of the book, which of course I lost long ago. I’d been invited to the gala event by Richard DuBois, a an college roommate from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who was now a Professor of Philosophy at Loyola University. It was the perfect subject for him to be teaching, the reason being he was always so full of bullshit. And that’s exactly what I consider most philosophy to be.
I got drawn into a conversation with a group of people discussing vampires and other supernatural beings when the subject of witches and Marie Laveau, the most famous witch of New Orleans came up. New Orleans is known for its large population of practicing witches, with witchcraft as a registered religion in Louisiana.
I mentioned Nietzsche’s book, Beyond Good and Evil, and his quote in reference to witches: “Although the most acute judges of the witches and even the witches themselves, were convinced of the guilt of witchery, the guilt nevertheless was nonexistent. It is thus with all guilt.”
No sooner had I finished speaking, there she stood before me, as if materializing from the shadow of a nearby magnolia tree. She was an absolute vision of beauty in the moonlight, with facial features that were hauntingly familiar. She reminded me of someone I’d once knew, but I couldn’t recall who or from where.
“Good evening,” I said, introducing myself. “Have we met before? You look strikingly familiar to me.”
“Hello Santiago. I’m Simonetta, Simone for short. I don’t believe we’ve met but it’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“I apologize for being so forward, and this isn’t a pickup line, but I have a strong feeling as though we already know each other, and if we don’t, we should should do something to remedy that.”
“I hope it’s not a pickup line,” she laughed, “because it isn’t very clever and lacks originality. But I do enjoy making new friends.”
“Wonderful,” I said. “I don’t bite, well, not immediately anyway.”
We strolled about the garden in the moonlight, immersed in intimate conversation which felt strangely comfortable even though we had just met. Simone knew things about me I had rarely shared with anyone. I found the insightful knowledge she revealed about me astounding. My turbulent childhood, my failed marriage and incredible children, my work and the dangers involved. She even knew I was a musician and that I played both guitar and piano. It had felt as though she was reading my soul.
When we finally returned to the reception hall, we discovered most of the other guests had already left. Apparently our little stroll had consumed close to two full hours. Seeing as how there wasn’t anyone else left to mingle with, we took a moment to admire a few of the paintings which hung throughout the hall before parting company for the evening.
“Do you enjoy art, Santiago?” she asked.
“Yes, with a passion. I’ve gone to a many gallery openings and visited art museums in quite a few different countries. The Louvre in Paris, The National Gallery in London, and of course the Art Institute in Chicago, but my all-time favorite would have to be the Uffizi in Florence. Hey, wait a sec,” I continued, “I think I’ve finally got it! I know why you seem so familiar to me. Do you know anything about the artist Botticelli?”
“As a matter of fact, I know that he painted the “Birth of Venus” and he was Italian.”
“You’re exactly correct. Did you know he used the same model for most of his paintings? “The Primavera” and “The Birth of Venus” are among his most popular works of art. They both hang in the Uffizi, actually. And do you know what is incredibly strange? The model he used in both of those paintings was named Simonetta as well. It’s as though you were her twin. You’re absolutely a work of art, a true angel without wings.”
“Now that’s a great pickup line. You’re getting much better.”
“If I may ask, just exactly how old are you?”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m older than time itself…”
Simone possessed a celestial, angelic air about her, drawing me to her as though I were bewitched. There was a power in her eyes, and when I gazed into them, it was as though she had cast a spell over me. I’d drift off to a place where the night comes to rest and the stars go down to dream.
I should’ve had some idea of her association with witchcraft by then already, now that I think about it. There’d been numerous clues I just hadn’t picked up on at the time.
She’d been born on the Spring Equinox, celebrating both her birthday and the change of season. The practice of worshipping the cycles of the moon, the change of seasons, and basically all of nature is an important part of Wicca.
We visited Audubon Park together often, where I’d been impressed by her knowledge of all the plants. She knew the Latin name for every tree and flower. She had a large herb garden in her yard and worked part time at a local herb shop. She knew the healing power of each and every herb as well as what malady it cured. She prescribed licorice root for my asthma and heartburn, but I’m not sure if it actually helped, because I am a horrible patient. Never obeying orders, I’d usually opt for scotch, marijuana, or cocaine as my medicine, in addition to other recreational drugs as well.
Still, we did enjoy a wonderful relationship in general. The sex alone was fantastic, like a mystical experience, our souls wrapped together as one at many times.
There was this one time we’d attended a “handfast ceremony” with some of the people in her coven, which actually turned out to be a wedding ceremony. Not thinking much of it, I expressed my surprise to her later, but I seemed to have offended her in some way.
“Santi,” she said, “I thought you were aware of and accepted my practice and beliefs. You were always so willing to participate in celebrations and ceremonies, I just assumed you knew what was going on. You never questioned or commented and didn’t raise any objections. This doesn’t cause you to rethink us being together, does it?”
“Hang on,” I replied. “The reason why I never questioned anything was quite possibly because I didn’t want to know. I just felt like we were always having such a good time, sharing these experiences together. You just always seemed so happy, and so I went along with it.”
“Do you still love me?” she suddenly demanded to know. “Do you?”
To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t quite remember whether I’d ever actually said that I loved her before. Damn, I sure hoped we hadn’t exchanged the dreaded L word already… Everything always seems to deteriorate in a relationship after that.
“Simone,” I said, “you are everything and more than I ever experienced in a lover, and I have never felt the way I do about you with anyone else in my entire life. Often have I wondered if I were under some spell, or the influence of a potion of some kind. But the truth is, what I’m really trying to say, is that I just don’t believe in witchcraft.”
Things were never quite the same between us after that.
A month later, I received a call from my old business partner in Costa Rica, offering me an enormous sum of cash for assisting in a small drug smuggling expedition. It seemed like a bad idea, so naturally I accepted his invitation. Just one last job, I always told myself.
I decided to move from New Orleans to Costa Rica in a week’s time, and told Simone of my plans.
“A week!” she cried with excitement. “I’m not sure I can be ready in that short amount of time… There’s a lot I’ll need to take care of first.”
“It’s okay,” I said somewhat sheepishly. “I wasn’t planning on taking you with me.”
The look on her face told me everything I needed to know about her assumptions to the contrary.
“Santi, you insensitive bastard!”
She stomped out of my apartment, slamming the door behind her before opening and slamming it again.
“Fuck you, Santiago! FUCK YOU SO HARD. I hope you get Dengue or Malaria or some shit!”
Of course, my main reason for not taking her with me was simply the danger involved. If I were to get killed or busted, it would have been a tragic episode for her, after all. And maybe I didn’t love her, perhaps I never had, but I felt a great deal for her just the same.
Five years prior, I’d gotten busted in Colombia and served almost three years in prison as a result. I’d been in a relationship with another wonderful woman at the time, who’d said she would wait for me. But I wouldn’t have burdened anyone with that back then, and I certainly wouldn’t do it now.
I’d tried to explain to Simone why our relationship should be temporarily put on hold, but I was never even given the chance. She’d stopped taking my calls after the night we’d fought. And ever since then, I’ve always regretted my decision to leave my witchy Venus behind. It was clear I had broken her heart.
Anyway, I did wind up contracting Dengue about eight months later, spending a week in the hospital as a result. Now and then, I still feel sharp stabbing pains, especially in my groin area. Even a doctor’s exam couldn’t determine what was causing them, but I had my own suspicions as to their source.
Only trouble was, like I said, I just don’t believe in witchcraft.