by Joaquin Fernandez
On the day she met the storm, The Other Swamp Witch took her breakfast beer onto the patio before dawn and lit up a Marlboro to start the day. Her delicate crepe-paper wrinkles came beautifully to life as she smiled at the way her smoke mingled with the hazy fog Florida mornings wore before the sun was fully up. The trailer park was quiet now, after the cooks and bartenders nodded off, just before the school kids and factory workers started their day. She sipped her beer, alone in the courtyard while she scrolled through her phone.
She didn’t follow her sister on Instagram, but she checked in every few days. Her sister in New Orleans was the Real Swamp Witch and everyone knew it. She wasn’t shy about it either, she told everyone. The Real Swamp Witch lived in Holy Cross, the matriarch of a rambling farmhouse, a moss covered little castle hiding in the 9th Ward with its back to the Mississippi. Fascinated by her own envy, she scrolled through her sisters life. There she was on a float at Mardi Gras, beaming her toothy smile in beads and body paint and little else. There she was holding her laughing daughters, with their fathers dark skin and the ginger flame of their mothers hair. Selfies with The Mountain Queen behind her Colorado fortress. The girls playing at The Forest Hermits dog rescue in the Hudson Valley. Cabeza tacos with the Echo Park Bruja. The important witches leading their big lives. They could have it.
She could feel the trailer park waking up and slipped back inside. She gave last night's boy one last lingering kiss, licking the youth from his lips and pushing him back as he reached for more. Later, she whispered at him, rushing him off to some job with a nametag. She watched him go, shirtless and barefoot through the fog like his father and his grandfather had gone before him. There were less pleasant rites of passage.
When the storm clouds arrived, she was already in the swamp, cursing and sweating in chest high waders and a sports bra while curious raccoons scampered and judged overhead. Mosquitos dive-bombed her and swampwater sloshed down her waders like fresh spittle dripped from stomach to thigh to gumbo muck underfoot. She hated the swamp almost as much as she hated magic.
Her mother's shack was two miles in, well hidden, easily lost and fiercely protected. The Other Swamp Witch always laughed at this. The only trespasser she had ever encountered at the shack was one-third of a hunter and the well-fed congregation of gator hatchlings keeping the rest of him. The shack was two stories of gris-gris hexes and chipped mirrors, impervious to man, entropy and the elements, in a perpetual state of about to fall over. It stood tall on a brief island, half graveyard, half witching grove. The Other Swamp Witch stumbled ashore and peeled off her wader, slinging it to dry inside out and upside down on her mother's old clothesline. She lit a cigarette and ambled to the grave side of the island where her mother's ghost was sunbathing, beautifully pale and iridescent, irresistibly unapproachable in cats-eye sunglasses. They were still not yet on speaking terms.
The Other Swamp Witch plucked a mango from a tree as she walked inside, making fists with her toes. On the island, the grass was always carpet soft and the mosquitos hovered offshore, bloodthirsty in their politeness. She stripped off her shorts and gave a sigh of relief as she freed herself from her bra. She pulled a knife from the kitchen and peeled her mango as she entered the Hall of Mirrors, trailing mellow sunburst fruit skin behind her. Her sister was going to look 25 forever, she thought bitterly. Still, she liked herself in her eternal forties. In the mirror, she relished the sight of herself. A patchwork of bright tattoos over lifetimes of burns and scars. Her drinker’s paunch. Last nights bites and hickies. She ran a sticky hand through the dishwater blonde of her hair, feral in its tangles.
Behind the shack, a breeze greeted her as she walked out, immaculately nude, dripping mango juice from her left hand. A pack of iguanas waited for her in the Working Grove, patiently munching sweet grass in the shade. The afternoon sky above them darkened with invitation. She took the knife, cutting a fresh wound into an old scar on the palm of her hand and got to work.
Joaquin Fernandez has appeared in Rhythm & Bones, AFTERMATH, and Chaleur Magazine among others. He is a recovering filmmaker and Miami native perpetually tinkering with his first novel. He can be found on Twitter @Joaqertxranger