In the beginning was the
word, and the word always
had two syllables: trashcan,
gutter, bubble on the water,
waiting, always knowing,
that it will pop.
Here's something I remember from when I was little. My dad decided we should get a goat. He'd been in Tibet designing a system to draw water up a craggy mountain to a small village.
The Tibetans used the goats for meat and milk and to carry things. One time, my dad woke up and a goat was lying next to him in his tent, eating his sleeping bag. He laughed so much, he woke everyone up at the camp.
So when he came home, we drove over to a farm. I picked the first goat that walked up to us. It was white and cross-eyed. Vermonters have a reputation for not saying much. The farmer lived up to it. He took Dad's fifty bucks and went back into his house. Dad and I tied the rope around the goat and tugged her to the car. I sat in the backseat of the old Mustang with her. "Keep her still," Dad instructed, which made us both crack up, because we knew it was impossible.
I called the goat Wilbur, after the pig in Charlotte's Web. "But it's a girl," my mom complained when we got home. "You can't call a girl Wilbur. Besides, it's not a pig."
"Chrissie has poetic license," Dad said.
Poetic license. The phrase stuck with me even though he hasn't. It means you can do whatever you want with words.
"Chrissie!" My mom doesn't knock anymore. It's one of those things she's shed since we moved to California last week, like her brown hair and cooking meals. "Why are you just sitting here? Why don't you do something?"
"There's nothing to do here."
"Unpack, for goodness' sake."
"I don't feel like it."
"Write in your poetry notebook."
"I just did. My poem sucks."
"Don't say 'sucks.' "
"My poem stinks."
"I'm sure it's fantastic. Why don't you read it to me?"
"I want to read it to Mr. Credenzo and see what he thinks."
"E-mail it to him."
"I'm not his student anymore."
"He'd love to hear from you and you know it."
I can't argue with that; my last day of class, he made me swear I'd send him poems. So I change the subject. "I want to hang out with Jason."
"Call him, then."
"Calling is not hanging out, especially when the person is your best friend your whole life and he lives across the country. Besides, he's not home. And don't tell me to e-mail because I IM'd him twice and he didn't answer."
"Okay. Instead of pining away for Jason, maybe you need to make new friends."
"There must be kids you'll like at your new school. Just smile at them and be terribly friendly. They won't be able to resist."
The words terribly plus friendly sum it up. I do friendly terribly. Mom does it well. Even glaring at me, she's charming. Like Ava Gardner, the old movie star she was named after. "Did you notice that people don't wear clothes here? I mean, there's a girl in my English class who wore a jog bra to school. How can I smile at someone who's half naked?"
"They dress that way because it's hot. If we were in Vermont right now, I'd be shivering and you'd be shoveling snow. Look at that sunshine flowing through your window."
"It hurts my eyes."
"You're making me very tired. Do you know that?"
"It's that bleach they put on your hair. Bad chemicals. They permeate the skin."
"These are highlights. Nothing permeated anywhere. Help me unload groceries, Chrissie, since you're not doing anything else. I bought a ton of food."
"You mean we're not eating takeout?"
"Give me a break. I just unpacked the dishes."
I follow her down to the kitchen. Every wall in our new condo is white. No wallpaper. Just white. The staircase is Plexiglas. You can see through it. And it has no banister, nothing to guide you on the stairs; a person's got to have a guide. "Someday I'm going to fall off of this thing and crack my head open." There is no way I'm making this easy for her.
"You don't fall off the stairs when you're fifteen."
In Vermont, our house was two hundred years old. The banister had carvings of angels, their features made smooth by two hundred years of loving hands. "Why do we have to live so close to the beach? If there's an earthquake, we'll be swallowed up by a tidal wave or monsoon. I read that California is slipping into the ocean."
"That will take centuries." Mom sighs. "Most kids would love to live near the beach."
"Why did we have to move here?"
Mom slings a bag at me. "Because I have been invited to work at the best advertising agency in the country."
"You could've kept working from your computer at home!"
"I never wanted to live like that, out there in the woods with no one to talk to. Freezing nine months out of the year. Your dad wanted it that way, but now . . ."
"I couldn't stay there. Not without him. And you, sitting there on the porch day after day, waiting . . ."
She doesn't finish, but I know what she means. Waiting for him to come back. It's what I did. Same as when he was alive and would drive in from town.
"Besides, Max was getting tired of a long-distance relationship. . . ."
Mind Occupation: my own invention. It's a way of blocking out what I don't want to hear. So while Mom goes on about the virtues of her boyfriend, Max, I take myself back to Vermont. There's still snow in March. Jason and I go sledding; then we take the horses out for exercise.
"Are you listening?" Mom holds up a cauliflower as if it's a severed head.
"Fine!" She puts her hands on her hips, which means a lecture is coming, with maybe a bit of yelling for decoration. Luckily, her cell phone rings (for the fiftieth time today). She dashes upstairs to answer. I hear her Max voice, sweet as taffy. "Darling, how was the meeting?" She never called my dad darling; she called him by his name, Peter, or Pete, if she was cranky.
I go to the front door and peer outside. March, and it's eighty-five degrees. The palm trees on our street look like upended brooms. They definitely belong on a movie set. Even the light in L.A. seems fake, brightly slicing through the air like a knife.
I grab Mom's Dior shades off the table, step outside, and tug the door closed behind me.
There's a sidewalk, but no one else is on foot. Like the song: "Walking in L.A. Nobody walks in L.A." But I do. I walk past a row of shnazzy condos like ours, through an even ritzier neighborhood, away from the beach past Crow's Sporting Goods, Jane's Juice, Phat Boys and Fitness Freaks, Remax, Cramer's One-Hour Liposuction, GloryWorld Tanning Salon, and 7-11, then into a part of town that changes to beat-up apartments.
Hopefully, Mom will be so busy talking to "Darling" that she won't notice I've flown the coop.
Mom used to have pet names for me. Candy names like Tootsie and Sweet Tart. She called me that when she told me we were going to move, that her boss, Max, had promoted her and she needed to be in L.A. I remember that moment like people remember a car crash or a tornado. My speechlessness. She was so apologetic; she knew she was trading my happiness for hers. "I'll do anything to make this work for you. I promise." Now she's impatient with my misery. And while she blossoms, I wilt.
I check my watch. I've been walking thirty minutes. I stop and turn back for home and then I see it, a sign drawn with a black marker like some kid's made it. And it says:
Aura Analyses, Psychic Readings,
Phrenology, Tarot, Palmistry, Crystal Ball,
Channeling, Wicca, Dowsing, Telepathy,
Homeopathy, and Raising of the Dead
SPELL TO CALL A LOST
MOTHER TO YOU
Sprinkle feathers, mint leaves, sugar, and cinnamon into a brass bowl. Take any objects associated with the missing person and place them in a circle on the floor. Light a candle in your window to attract the spirit children. For two moons, turn to the east. For two moons, turn to the north, saying: "Come now, mother. Come back to me. I call to the forest. I call to the sea. I call to the earth mother, come back to me."
Every house has its noises. I imagine them to be the dead and invisible souls come to life in objects. The silverware rattles in its drawer, the curtains swish, the walls groan. My dad's snores sound like a herd of elephants.
In England, there are ley lines, mystical gaps in the landscape where time and space disappear. Children have vanished within these lines. When the parents search for them, they can still hear their children's voices. The police arrive. They comb the area. But they cannot find them and, in time, the voices become like the lick of a river against the shore. Just part of the landscape.
When I can't sleep at night, it's the fault of the noise. It's like part of me is lost within a ley line, slipped into the gap of time and space. If I listen hard enough, I can hear my past.
I came to L.A. from Italy when I was only six. Before that, I lived in a caravan with a group of Gypsies. My dad says that during the day, my mom took me into the city to beg. Whatever city we were near: Milan, Florence, Rome, I would beg: my hands cupped into a bowl, my eyes wide and pleading.
But I don't remember this. What I remember are the campsites in the evening: children dangling like fruit from the trees; toddlers wading naked in the stream; old ladies in long dresses chanting incantations; men strumming guitars.
My dad says it was no life for me, no life for a child. He wanted greatness for me in the world. He didn't want me to beg. He had a brother here in Santa Monica with a beach stand that sold hot dogs. He thought this was a good opportunity ("This is your idea of greatness?" I nag him, when he bugs me about cleaning my room).
My dad is half Gypsy, half German. The German half wanted order and was tired of moving from place to place and being treated like "the scum of the earth."
So, deep in the night while my Gypsy-mom slept, my dad stole me and fled to Calais, France, then to England. From there, we flew to the New World.
I don't know how he managed it all, but we became U.S. citizens. The land of opportunity, he said.
At first, I worked at the hot dog stand with my dad and helped cook the food. I would walk in and pull the fries out of the freezer, stack the cups. Then my dad would cook the hot dogs, but the smell of the meat would make me puke.
Do you know what's in hot dogs? Organs, brains, ground-up bones, nitrates, corn syrup, the parts of dead animals that usually get thrown in the trash. Might as well toss in a pinch of mad cow or bird flu.
Don't eat a hot dog. This is my advice to you.
So my dad had to send me to school while he was at work. I liked school: the wooden desks, the pages of the books like dried leaves. I was given a reader. It was so old that part of the F had rubbed off of the title, making it look like a T. My first year at school, I thought America was the Land of the Tree. I considered that a nice idea.
I quickly learned to read, and other things: how to mumble a spell and ace a test, how to make a clock run faster. If kids laughed at my accent or my ugly clothes, I made voodoo pictures. I drew Jorge Garcia with a bowl of soup on his head. That day, he slipped in the cafeteria and landed in someone's lunch. I drew snotty Betsy Carol with blood coming from her arm. The next day, she got a staple in her hand.
I began to realize my powers.
What I hadn't yet learned was that my mom was one of the best witches among the Gypsies, and that magic was coursing through at least half of my blood. Nor had I realized the laws of karma; that a hateful spell catapults through the universe like an echo in a canyon, returning in full force to its sender. Whatever I did to someone else, something twice as bad would happen to me. Right after the Jorge spell, my uncle left for Mexico and we never saw him again. After Betsy Carol, I broke my ankle jumping rope.
In fourth grade, we moved from East L.A. to Santa Monica. I was so taken with the ocean, the pull of it like a magnet to my blood.
My first day at my new school, a blond girl entered the class in front of me. When she went to sit down, a boy stuck out his leg and tripped her. She took the whole desk down with her as she fell. Everybody in the class laughed and pointed, except me.
All day, kids made fun of the girl. It was clearly an old habit with them, but I couldn't figure out why. She was pretty and had cute clothes. She seemed nice. But I guess it just takes one person; meanness is a contagious disease. You can just look at history to figure that out. One person decides to oppress another and others will follow along like sheep.
Every time someone called her stupid or lame-o my heart felt like a watermelon smashed on the pavement, even though I knew I was lucky it wasn't me.
That night, when I went home, I did a spell for her. It was fairly simple. I crushed some flower petals and held them to my lips, then wished her safe from harm. But there was such intention in that spell. A spell only works in relation to your intention. It was the first time I'd done a spell for someone, rather than against someone.
Five minutes later, there was a knock on the door and the karma of my spell began to work. It was the apartment building's owner. He offered my dad a job as manager, which meant our apartment would be free. To celebrate, my dad took me shopping for new clothes. I was wandering through the aisles of Target when I saw her, the blond girl from class. She was standing like a statue with a box of shoes in her hand. "Here." She walked over to me. "These will look nice on you."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from White Magic by Kelly Easton. Copyright © 2007 by Kelly Easton. Excerpted by permission of Wendy Lamb Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.