Johnny Boy asked me to marry him. He had a ring and everything, a twisted piece of wire and a pretty pearl we found in a clam. Told me he loved me more than anyone in Louisiana. Johnny was the only one to really love me, my parents left a long time ago and I don’t really remember them.  Auntie June took me in, but I was rather lonely. Then I met Johnny Boy, he lived in town with his momma, didn’t have no pa. He bought a little plot of land on the edge of the bayou with a house a wood furnace. Said we were gonna have babies and live a happy life. I believed him. Auntie wouldn’t give me a blessing to marry him.  Said there was no way she could. 

“You can’t marry that man until you know who you are,” Auntie Junie’s bible friend called out as I served tea. 

“I know just who I am.  Don’t know what you’re talkin’ ‘bout.” Auntie doesn't like it when I talk back. 

“She knows full well that she ga’ swampy blood in ‘er,” Auntie Junie berated me again.  She loved my momma, her sister, but she never approved of Pa. Called him a good for nothing bayou man, he didn’t have any money. That didn’t matter because my parents were in love.  They never got married, but I just know they were. They must have been to have me. When they left Auntie June said she would never forgive Pa for taking her sister from her. She took me in because “that was what the Lord told her to do.” 

“Now that man won’t wanna be with you if you don't have any family.  No family tree, nothin’. No money connection. You best be lookin’ into that or he’s gonna find some other gal.”

“Oh Junie, I must tell you the darndest thing. There’s an old woman deep in the bayou who knows everything about the past.  And she can predict the future. You know what she told me? Tom and I are gonna have sixteen grandbabies. Isn’t that wonderful?”  It sure was.

I resolved to find this old woman on the bayou.  Maybe she could tell me where I come from. Then Johnny would marry me for sure.  I rode the old bike down the dirt road. It was night, but the moon was bright. Johnny and I used to lay on the grass and listen to the crickets and look at the moon when we were first going out.  The mud was thick under my bare feet, I couldn’t get my shoes dirty and risk Auntie finding out. There was a sudden pain in my foot. I looked down and realized I stepped in a snake’s nest. Man that hurt.  I ran away real quick and found a downed tree to sit on. The moonlight lit up the two small holes on my ankle. I stuck my head over the side of the log and threw up my dinner. I didn’t feel any better. The snake had poison in its teeth and now its poison was in me.  I got up to run back to town and found myself disorientated. In my blind run from the snake, I had lost track of where I was. There was no path, the thick tree vines swallowed everything back up. My heart was pounding in my ankle. My vision was slipping fast. I ran, plowed through the brush like it was a stalk of cotton.  I wasn’t gonna make it out. I would die from a snake bite in the bayou, and my body would sink right into the thick mud. Nobody would ever find me. Would Auntie miss me? Johnny Boy would miss me, We would never be married, never have babies. All because I had to find myself, and now I can’t even find the road. It was useless. Even if I made it out, I would have to get back to town on the bike.  My foot was thumping along like a log, dead. This was it. I slowed to a walk, breathing deep in the thick humid air. I wouldn’t make it, nobody would know my last words. Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little light. A little fire. I lumbered towards it, my foot feeling heavier than ever. Somebody could save me. I fell into a clearing. A small house sits in the middle with rings of daisies around the outside.  It’s run down, with moss covering the roof. The door is swinging open, It’s light inside. There’s a fire lit, and I realize that I’m so cold. A deep chilled to the bone kind of cold. My vision is leaving me, the world spins. I made it to the door before falling inside.  

The first thing I remember is heat, no warmth, warming me from the inside out.  My hands feel slick and I must be sweating. But something cool is resting on my forehead.  Opening my eyes, I see an old woman fussing over a pot over the fire. Looking down, my foot is covered in clothes.  There are empty bowls and pots laying around the small house. It smells like fresh herbs. The old woman turns around from the fire and notices that I’m awake. 

“Well aren’t you a sleepy one?'' Her voice is raspy, like it hasn’t been used in a very long time. “You cut it close there.  I got some antidote in that wound just in time. Your body is running a fever to kill of the venom, but you is gonna be okay.” The woman has hair braided to her knees.

“Thank you” I speak but don’t recognise my own voice.  I succumb to sleep, but it isn’t restful. My body is hot and cold, and it aches something fierce. 

I awoke with a start. The room was cold, and the woman was gone. I realized that I didn’t know her name. My head spun as I tried to stand, the room shifted before coming back into focus.  I was barefoot and the dirty wood floor stung my soft feet. It was light outside as I peeked my head out the door. I didn’t know how long I’d been asleep. The bayou house was bathed in dim light.  I hadn’t noticed that her tree was covered with hanging bottles. The woman sits on a ragged chair under the tree, and she’s humming something. She stops as she hears me approaching. As she turns to look at me, I notice that her eyes are the same shade as mine, green with flecks of gold right around the middle.  

“You cut it close there, deary.  I didn’t know if you was gonna make it. I assume you're here to know about where you came from.”  How does she know why I came? “You were mumbling in your sleep, something about Johnny and a blessing.  You're getting married: I can feel it in your aura.” 

“I need to know who I am so he’ll marry me. My Auntie won’t give me a blessing.” 

“You really wanna know who you are? Your daddy grew up on the bayou. He was a great man, loved that woman with all his heart.  She didn’t come around to him for awhile. See he was quite a looker, but had no money to buy her anything with. She was used to the high life.  He would never be enough for her. He loved her, would go into town everyday just to hold the door open for her as she left the post office. She had some fiance upstate. Your daddy didn’t mind though.  He wanted her to be happy. When this woman got married, he was crushed. He knew she wasn’t happy, the man she married was tough hearted, where your daddy was a sensitive man. He knew that one day your momma would come around to him when she had enough of the other guy. And she did, but not for very long. She went out with you daddy, and her husband got mad.  She had just gotten pregnant, but it wasn’t her husband's baby. She would never tell him this. They moved back upstate to keep her away from your daddy. One day that man beat his wife and almost killed the baby, she ran back here. To the bayou to find the man who really loved her. The husband knew exactly where she was. Came back in a fit of rage and killed the poor girl and the boy.”  If the woman was distraught, she did not show it. She had a vacant look in her eyes as if she was really looking into the past. “ He saved the baby, still thought it was his own. Didn’t want to see it any more, cause it reminded him of his wife. So he left it with her sister, your Aunt June. Handed the baby to her with it’s mommas blood on its blankets. Later that night, when the police were looking for him for the murders, he was found face down in a puddle, drunk to death.”  She paused. There was pain in her eyes now. I could see it through her misty eyes and dark lashes.  

“How do you know so much? Do you really see the past?”

“I lived it, that man, the one who fell in love with the wrong woman was my son.”  I stopped and looked at the short woman. We shared the same big green eyes and round button nose.  She was my grandmother. I had found my family. I had found somewhere I belonged. 

“I know you're disappointed cause you're not from blood money.” She remarked.  I threw my arms around her, noticing that she was not as frail as a woman her age should be. I told her about Johnny Boy, and how we were going to get married.  She gave me her blessing. I belonged here. 

February 21, 2020 20:25

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