Honoré had been her father’s favorite. Her older brother had grown and moved off the island before she had reached kindergarten, and althoughJean-Claude was proud of his son, they had little in common and had quarreled often. He pretended to be stern with Honoré, especially when she talked back to her mother or broke something with her carelessness, but they both knew it was for show. On his way home from the marina, exhausted and sunbaked from throwing line over and over into the Canal de Saint-Marc, he would stop at the grocer and buy a handful of peanut brittle shards for her. She paid him with a kiss and snatched them from his calloused hands and he would chuckle at her impetuousness. Sometimes in those broiling afternoons, if her mother was out shopping or resting in the back bedroom, he would tell Honoré vodou legends. Honoré would sit wide-eyed and silent, consuming his stories as eagerly as she did the brittle.
Jean-Claude knew the old ways but only spoke of them when he knew his wife could not hear. Marie was milatrès and coveted the social status that her light skin and smooth hair afforded her. She wanted to distance herself from her African roots and did not tolerate any talk about loa or sevis lwa. She went to her Catholic church every Sunday but had stopped asking Jean-Claude to go before Honoré was born. She prayed to St. Monica to give her patience. He prayed Obatala for strength.
Two years and four months ago, Honoré woke for school and found her father still in bed, burning with fever. He always left to fish before the sun rose.
“Ma choupette,” he called softly when she entered the dark room, “Bring me some water before you go to school. I’m so thirsty.” She brought him a glass of water and some mashed plantains in case he got hungry and worried all day, stuck in her stuffy classroom. When she returned home from school, she found her mother’s priest sitting at their kitchen table and a living room full of wailing aunties. Her mother, inconsolable, had laid down in Honoré’s room and was not to be disturbed. Father Francis had gripped her shoulder and told her not to cry. “Our Lord, the shepherd, has called for your father and he is now in the kingdom of Heaven.”
Once the house was quiet and empty, Honoré didn’t know what to do. She cried for a little while and licked the crumbs from the peanut brittle bag Jean-Claude had brought her the day before. Papa always made supper and tucked her into bed, so she fell asleep on the sofa, hungry and alone.
It was a Saturday morning in July when Honoré found the cat. She had walked to the grocer since Mama had not gone in several days and she wanted to fry up some accra fritters. Swinging the plastic bags in her hand and watching the trucks roll down the dusty road, she almost didn’t see it all. The cat had tumbled down the short embankment into the brush. It had bloated a little but had been torn open by crows or a hawk, rooting through the cat’s belly for a meal. Honoré stood for a moment, looking into its glassy black eye, watching it watching her. Papa had told her many times that Legba guards the crossroads, deciding for himself who walks over them. She wondered if the cat had met with Legba or if such encounters didn’t apply to animals. Honoré slid down the into the ditch, her narrow hips low to the ground so she didn’t topple forward. As she got closer, she saw a horse fly crawl across its fur and into its ear. She was both scared and excited, but unsure why she felt either. The cat’s lip had curled up on one side, a white fang gleaming in the sunlight. A car horn blared angrily a slow pedestrian and Honoré snapped back to attention. Scaling up the embankment, she scurried back home, unsettled by the idea brewing slowly in her mind.
When she stepped up to the wrap-around porch and pulled the screen door open, she saw Mama already laid out on the sofa. Her slender arm hung in the air, as if in mid-stretch, but Honoré knew from her slow, often gasping breaths that she was already drunk. Her jaw hung open, listing to one side, a thin string of saliva connecting her lips to the throw pillow her head laid on.
Honoré walked past the living room into the kitchen and set the bags down on the counter. She was damp and sticky all over from her walk and needed to change. The tile floor felt cool on her bare feet as she walked down the hall to her room. Closing the door behind her, she stripped off her clothes and changed into a soft, cotton sundress. Her father had bought it for her mother a long time ago and although it was still big on Honoré, it was her favorite thing to wear. Once bright white it had yellowed over time, but the blue embroidered flowers stayed crisp. A soft ruffle circled her shoulders and rouched around her waist. She laid on her bed and watched the ceiling fan spin.
She missed her Papa more than she could say so she said nothing at all. She was grateful for her home, thankful that there was money to buy food, even if she had to make it herself. Some of the children in her class were all sinews and dry skin. Their hollow eyes saw things Honoré could shut out and ignore. She didn’t have friends anymore; they were too concerned with the clothes and boys that Honoré dismissed. Mama stayed drunk most of the day now. She slept often and when she was awake, Honoré’s face looked too much like her father’s that she couldn’t bear to look at Honoré, much less speak to her. It would be so different if Papa were here. It would be so much better, for both of them, if Papa was back.
By early August, Honoré had gathered what she needed. On her desk was a Tupperware container with a few handfuls of dirt. The cemetery was in Centreville on the other end of the island and much too far to walk to. Instead Honoré had gone to Monsieur Fènwa’s; she knew he had buried his favorite horse under a mango tree last year, the one closest to his mailbox. He ate the mangoes that came from that tree and always offered one to Honoré when she saw him. She would always take one, to be polite, but left them in the fruit bowl in the kitchen for Mama to eat. She needed a sharp knife as well. She had taken the one Papa used to filet little fish he caught in the summer. The knife had been under Honoré’s bed for months, back when she thought she’d need it for something else.
She knew that she wasn’t strong enough, skilled enough, to try and bring Papa back now. She decided she would practice first and yesterday had found a stray mutt, shriveled and still from hunger and a speeding car. She knew when she saw it that tonight was the night she had been waiting for. She gently placed the body in a grocery sack and slung it over her shoulder. The poor dog had been small to begin with, and was even lighter now, and easy for Honoré to carry home without suspicion. For now, there was nothing to do but wait for night fall.
When she was sure that Mama was down for the night Honoré slid on her sandals and collected her items. She grabbed the knife from under her mattress and the container of dirt off her desk and set the items on the ground outside, leaning out her open window. She then crawled out herself, ensuring that she escaped soundlessly. She gently picked up the dog, still in the grocery sack she had hidden under some branches by the well. She walked quickly across their property to the tree line, ducked under few low hanging branches, and found the trampled spot she had prepared. Waiting for her was a woven straw mat, five tea lights she had taken out of Papa’s old emergency pack, and a cigarette lighter that she had bought from a boy at school. She lit the candles and set them in a circle around her on the mat. She pulled the dog from the sack, gingerly as if she could hurt it, and placed it in front of her. Honoré popped open the container of dirt and sprinkled it over the dog, murmuring her long list of prayers, addressing and thanking each loa for their presence and help. After the dog was adequately dusted, she reached for the filet knife. She sang a soothing lullaby because she couldn’t remember which songs she was supposed to sing; the details of Papa’s stories had begun to fade from her memory. She pricked each of her thumbs and pushed a droplet of blood to the surface from each. She smeared the blood over the dog’s brows before she pulled her thumbs down her cheeks in thick, dark streaks.
The ritual complete, Honoré continued to hum, her head swaying back and forth. She focused every thought, every piece of her being, on visualizing how the dog would begin to breathe, stretch, and finally stand. She visualized the combined love for her father, the pain of his leaving, and her fear, shame, and guilt into a powerful beam, aimed at the dog’s heart. She rocked and hummed, sang and prayed.
After an hour, tears began to trickle and slide down her nose. She prayed harder. The dog did not move. She rocked, and sang, and prayed more. Sitting between the tall, slender trees, Honoré poured her soul, like melted iron, into the dog, chanting as hard as she knew how. The dog did not move. It was only as the first streaks of daylight pressed against her swollen eyelids that Honoré knew that she failed.
“So stupid,” she growled to no one through clenched teeth. “Stupid.” Honoré stood up on her thin, stiff legs and began to snuff out the candles. A breeze blew through the trees and caressed her face. The hot tears of her cheeks cooled and dried. As she bent down to pick up the mat, she froze. The dog, still curled into a bony ring, was breathing. Slow and shallow, but he was breathing, she was sure. Honoré fell to her knees, weeping with joy, and cradled the dog in her arms. “Thank you,” she choked, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”
The morning’s breeze ruffled the dog’s copper fur and flicked its tail. As Honoré wept and rocked the dog, it opened its eyes, green and gold flecked as her Papa’s had been, and sniffed the blooming hibiscus.
“Ma choupette,” the dog croaked through its broken jaw. Honoré screamed and dropped the dog, recoiling in terror. “Ma choupette,” it rasped again, “I am so thirsty.”
Lindsay Seeley is a Pacific Northwest native. She earned her MA in English from Central Washington University in June 2019. Her poetry and short fiction are rooted in the horror genre; her poem “A Mouthful of Rainwater is a Bath for Warblers” was published in issue #48 of the Rogue Agent Journal.