the garden

{part 1}

My magic is simple, potent. It's not about nonsensical words and rabbits in hats. It's everyday. I wouldn't know how to live without seeing the way I do. In the blood, I guess.

My breakfast conversations as a child revolved around the night's dreams. We worked through them diligently, like homework. I had to know both, be grounded in two worlds: know the herbs in the garden and spelling; long division and the four directions; geometry and the phases of the moon.

Somehow, my folks were blessedly cursed with remembrance. They killed many of us for what we knew. Many of us forgot in order to survive. It was easier to be ourselves quietly, whispering incantations in babies' ears and reciting singsong chants in the kitchen.

My grandmother silently built her garden. Granny flew to Guinea in dreams and came back with special treats. The colors, “accent” pieces—everything had a meaning. There were veves made of pebbles and specially chosen flowers and herbs—every few steps offered a different scent.

It was years before I recognized the altars in my grandmother’s garden and even longer before I knew they were accurately constructed (for example, the Virgin in the grotto wasn't the Virgin at all, and there was a reason Granny meticulously shaded her face and hands in cafe au lait craft paint). The spirits spoke to her, and she listened. Often she'd wait for a message to repeat as confirmation.

She'd let me work in the sections devoted to my guides. There were some places we could not enter at all. Even my mother knew better. She didn't have to tell visitors, either; they just knew. Strangers would gravitate to particular spots and ignore others.

The church women were intrigued and repelled at the same time. Some became significantly less sanctified after spending an hour or two in Granny’s garden. The change was quiet, nothing dramatic. It just seemed that, over several weeks, they felt less and less of the Spirit in the sanctuary and started building their own gardens. Some spent more hours in the kitchen, giving away wondrous dinners, cakes or pies. Sometimes it was knitting or sewing. Some came back to the garden—same spot—for more inspiration. Others only needed one afternoon. Some found magical men and went away. Others dreamed of Nigeria. Or Benin. More went south—Louisiana, Miami. They'd heard there was more of that garden there.

The church women talked about 'em, then cajoled, then pleaded the Blood. Some went back to church, albeit a little less devoted. Most, if they'd truly been touched by the flowers, never did.

Granny was on the “sick and shut in” list at the church, even though she was neither. The women showed up a few times a month, always in pairs, like good missionaries. They would ask Granny about donating to the church or try to cajole her into attending Sunday’s service. She'd listen politely, chat, sometimes offering fresh herbs or teas she’d made. She'd grown up with most of them and genuinely liked a few.

Every now and then, one of the pair—typically someone she merely tolerated—would want to “take tea in the garden”. That’s when I waited to see which one would be the “inbetweener”—too sanctified to admit she was drawn to the garden, but too nosy to stay away. The inbetweener’s companion would invariably exhibit one extreme or another: excitement, or horror.

When the question came, Granny knew when to say no, when to hint about her space “changing” folks, and when to joyfully lead the way. If she gave the hint, that's when the inbetweener would persist and—except in the most extreme situations—the three women would go outside.

Immediately, one or both women would remark on the beauty of it all, simultaneously noticing the lack of a crucifix, Jesus statue, or “Footprints” plaque.

The inbetweener mused, “You know, they have some lovely Psalms etched in stones. Don't you think a cross would work over by those mums? Lord, You should rest among Your creation. Hm.” All the while, she peered over her glasses, searching for some proof of hoodoo—bloodstains, dolls or something. She'd have seen it all around if she'd known anything about real magic instead of accepting the nonsense she'd been fed.

Meanwhile, an excited companion wandered off, unbeknownst to the inbetweener. Granny noticed and kept the inbetweener busy, imploring the garden to lead the companion where she needed to go. Inevitably, the more respectful visitor returned with some question about a plant or an object she'd seen (sometimes actual, other times a vision). Granny smiled, offering an explanation and making a mental note to give her a cutting, poultice, tea, or phone call.

If the companion was horrified, she’d stick close to the inbetweener, totally thrown off by the magic, but seeing and feeling more than she was willing to say. The inbetweener continued to suggest more inane improvements for the glory of the Lord while her poor partner already sensed some ungodly purpose in motion. Granny told me later that these were the people who remembered but tried so desperately to forget that they clung to the Bible, hoping their visions and dreams would disappear. Many went crazy trying to shut their gifts out.

Sometimes the scared ones returned, alone, unable to deter the dreams. Others refused to ever come back, Christian duty be damned.

The inbetweeners traded gossip, told lies about what they'd seen, and declared the place unholy, but they also kept coming back, grinning wider each time and unwittingly pushing more women away from the Lamb and into the arms of the Goddess.

I'm sure Papa Legba was working them, laughing the whole time—content with letting them believe they were drenched in the blood of Jesus instead of a chicken's.

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