House O’ Juju

This story will be in my volume of short stories that will come out in Spring 2018.  I wrote this four years ago.

The House O’ Juju

Hazel’s neighbor Chuck hired a guy to entertain people at his Halloween party.
The party wasn’t terribly interesting so Hazel nursed a drink and watched guests enter
and exit a curtained booth in a corner of the living room with a velvet sign-The House O’
Juju. Visitors stayed for about five minutes, came out and went back to
mingling. It hadn’t occurred to Hazel there might be something worth exploring in the
odd little booth. The House O’ Juju seemed no different than any other party attraction,
like a clown or a stripper. Finally, on a dare from her current lover, Bruce, who never let
good sense get in the way of a bad decision, a guy always too eager for Hazel to speak
with strange men, she walked into The House O’ Juju.

Inside, the curtain drawn behind her, Juju Man greeted Hazel dressed in a black satin
cape with a wide golden sash. His face was covered by a mask of feathers covering
and a gaudy array of shiny chains and baubles reminiscent of the costume jewelry you
find at second hand stores adorned his costume. Hazel thought Juju Man looked like any
other grown man in a tacky Halloween costume.

Had she stopped to think about what she was doing she might have admitted that
she was curious. She wasn’t naïve to “The world of healing.” Even when she got
healthy it was to excess, or so had said an herbalist she met once in Santa Cruz.
“Abundance is present to those who are open to it” said her former astrologer, before she
published a book, got a slick web site and doubled her rates. “It is a time of great energy
shifts” said the astrologer, “Your Moon sign influence will always counter your Sun sign
tendency to excess. “Trust the universe” was the astrologer’s refrain. Hazel never knew
what that meant-trust the universe to do what?

Growing up in a household where the Bible was used as an insurance policy, her
father, a man with a memory for prayers and poems, repeatedly said, “Trust in the lord,
Hazel. He will guide your faith.” Because that guidance hadn’t worked so well over the
course of two stints in rehab, two abortions and more shit having fallen on her head than
seemed right for one woman, Hazel walked into The House O’ Juju with the hardened
indifference of someone with nothing to lose.

Pulling open the front curtain she saw the booth wasn’t much more than a small
box framed by curtains, a table and two seats. Taking her seat, the masked man’s
feathers whispered against the curtain and his gold chains clattered as he entered from the
back. Once seated he offered his hand and in a slightly nasal voice said, “Hello, I’m Juju
Man, how are you today?” It wasn’t what she was expecting but she answered, “Just
fine, how about yourself? I’m Hazel.” The masked man started placing objects on the
table like a Blackjack dealer laying out cards. “I’m not too bad, but this party is getting
awfully dull, don’t you think?” The man, who was hired to amuse guests between
appetizers and wine, provided a diversion from an otherwise lifeless party. Juju Man
continued, “Pretty flat crowd really. The last guy who came in wanted to know if he
should buy Facebook stock. I told him, ‘Fuck if I know, do I look like a stock broker?’ I
suggested he try Oracle, but he didn’t get the joke.” Hazel didn’t get the joke either, but
she was becoming intrigued. As Juju man placed some liquid vials, a few candles, some
photos and coins on the table he continued, “Another woman asked me if the guy wearing
the brown corduroy pants found her attractive? I asked her why she would be interested
in a guy wearing brown corduroy pants but she didn’t like that. I held a mirror to her
face and asked her to make her own decision about her attractiveness. She really didn’t
like that and ran out.”

A little worried that she too might be subjected to some ridicule if she asked the
wrong thing, Hazel defended the woman. “She was just asking. You didn’t need to
make fun of her.” Juju Man nodded in agreement. “I suppose, but people need to understand this isn’t some kind of fortune telling act?”
“Really,” said Hazel, “Then what is it?”

Hazel hadn’t expected a conversation, especially not a down to Earth one and
though she was eager to get to the mystical part of things, she was relieved. She liked the
way the Juju man spoke, the tone of his voice, even the way he cursed, despite the
warnings that her therapist at the Woman’s Center said that cursing is a red flag. She
imagined what the Juju Man’s face looked like beneath the mask and figured he was
about her own age. There was also something else she liked, the sweet and soothing
fragrance of beeswax in the booth. It reminded her of the good part of going to church.
The deacon in her childhood church had been a beekeeper and he always filled the church
with hand-dipped candles. While the pastor’s sermons went on and on Hazel would take
refuge in the smell of the candles.

“So what can I do for you?” Juju Man asked setting aside the remaining cards.
His voice changed slightly into a slightly more business like cadence. “You may not
know it, maybe you don’t accept it, but every one has something churning in them before
they pull the curtain. That’s just the way it works. I’ve been doing this long enough to
know.” Then the Juju Man placed his hands on the table flanking six cards and Hazel
looked at the cards. The first had a picture of a whiskey bottle; the second a brutish
looking man; the third a pack of cigarettes; the fourth a picture of a Jesus Christ; the fifth
a picture of a crying infant; and the last was a picture of a dollar bill.
“I didn’t really have anything in mind, just came in to please my boyfriend. He
likes to tease me about this kind of thing.”
“Okay, we’ll see said Juju Man, adding “I don’t believe that for a second.
Everyone has something on their mind.”

Hazel felt a little exposed. Really, this was a party game, a joke, a little fun and games, and now she found herself feeling the same way she had every other time she’d ever walked into any place asking for help. Even before Bruce put her up to going in, she was curious about the Juju booth.  When honest with herself she said she was open to any therapy at any time so the second she stepped out of the all too boring party into the House O Juju it sent up the same lingering prayer for salvation that she carried inside.

Now, without thinking Hazel was swept into a swirl of energy that that took
control of her and out of her mouth came, “God, find me please. I am lost in the rushes,
floating and abandoned. Shield me from the torment of the hot sun, protect me from the
bitter cold of night, bring me to a place of love and hold me in your loving arms and carry
me when I have not the strength to walk on my own two feet. For I have always loved
thee and forever have found peace in your light.”

Removing the card of Jesus Juju man said, “Man, you don’t waste any time do
you,” then blew out the candle and reached beneath the table into a large chest. Out came a crystal saucer, which he set on a crimson cloth. Then he took a small bottle of liquid from the chest and set it on the table beside the saucer. “Who’s pouring, you or me?”  Hazel answered, “No I don’t want any more to drink. That path that never leads
me anywhere good.”

Juju Man looked at her, shrugged his shoulders and poured a small amount
of the liquid into the glass. The vapor filled the booth, the sweet and conflicted smell of
alcohol entered Hazel’s nose. She thought she should leave, but just as it had in so many
bars and on so many nights over so many years, the vapors held her tightly in their subtle
persuasive grasp and she stayed.
“It’s not to drink,” said Juju Man. Besides, the stuff they have on that table out
there is better shit than this. Can you imagine what the wine alone cost for this party?”
“If it’s not for drinking, what’s it for?”
“We’ll get there but first I have a few questions.”
“Fire away,” said Hazel.
“Okay. Was it gin or Scotch?”
Hazel feigned a confused look.
“It’s a pretty simple question, darling, Gin or Scotch? It’s not a trick question and
I’m pretty sure you know the answer. Don’t worry; we’re not going to spend hours
discussing it. Which is it?”
“Gin,” Hazel answered clearly. “It has always been gin.”
“Usually is with women,” said Juju Man. “Gin is a feminine spirit, comes from
Juniper berries you know. Ever smell an Juniper berry? It’s the essence of a ripe
woman. I thought you might have done some time with Scotch but there was a pretty
strong gin thing coming through.”
“Yes, I’ve had some Scotch but that was with my ex husband, and only when he
had lots of money. Even then it was gin all day then Scotch when he got home. That was
the tough part. He spent his days making money in a suit and I spent my days smoking
cigarettes, drinking gin and thinking I was the happy wife-twenty years old and dead
already. Sometimes you just fall into holes and no matter what you do you can’t get out.
When we got together I was just a kid living the fairy tale. It was like, I love him he
loves me and all that crap. Except he was mean and I was stupid and every time
something started to shift in our lives we fell deeper into the hole. When I got pregnant
all he could think about was how it inconvenienced his life. He wanted me to get rid of
it. That’s what he kept saying, ‘Come on baby, let’s just get rid of it.’ Can you imagine
what that felt like? Even his Mother thought he was an idiot after that. She told me once,
‘God help us from what love does to our judgment.’ Lucky for him I guess, he left me
when he found out how I spent my days. I don’t blame him. Just another toy store
marriage down the tubes.”

As Hazel rambled on about giving up the child, her life in bars, about black outs
and faceless men and too many forgotten nights, Juju Man set a match to the alcohol. A
dance of soft blue light came from the saucer filling the booth with a heady vapor as
Hazel spoke.
“There was this one time, when I was sixteen and I had false ID…”

And the blue light danced.

“That was before I was together with Andy. Now there was a fine man…”

And the blue light danced.

“My father was a Scotch drinker-Johnny Walker ‘Red Label!’ Every night after
work until he passed out on the couch in front of the television. “Two shots is all I want”
he boasted. “Two shots of my friend.” Two shots? More like half a bottle, sometimes
more.”

And the blue light danced.

“I was raped when I was fourteen by one of my brother’s friends…”

And the blue light danced.

Hazel rambled for a few more minutes and the Juju Man listened until she took a
deep inhale and settled. “Bruce, the guy I’m with, he’s okay. He claims to love me but I
know he doesn’t. He just feels guilty sleeping with a woman unless he loves her. I’ve
known a few others like him, good in bed, got lots of energy for a while until even the
sex can’t overpower the lie and they get that sadness. I dump them to spare them the
guilt. Some of them get angry too and you have to watch out for that, but Bruce out
there, he’s not one of the angry ones. He just wears himself out making love then drops
off like a sleeping puppy. Even though we’ve been together for a while, he doesn’t know
much about me. I never told him about giving up, Julia but you can’t hide some things.
He met her one time at a family picnic. He kept looking at her and saying she looked
familiar. If he had half a brain he might have figured it out but I didn’t tell him.
Anyway, that’s private business and Bruce and me don’t share a lot of private things…”

And the blue light danced.

“Sometimes it feels like life is a plain waste of time. It’s like you just keep
thinking all you have to do is get better at living the same old shitty, boring, fucking life.
Like if you eat right, save your money, go to work, play the game better it will all turn
out alright, but really the more you play the game the shittier you feel. You start falling
over the edge. That’s where I am most of the time, teetering on the edge.

And the blue light danced.

Juju man now removed the cards with the whiskey bottle, the cigarettes, and the
crying child as Hazel suddenly found herself aware of where she was. She became a
little embarrassed and tried to regain her self.
“Juju, that’s Haitian Voodoo, isn’t it? You don’t sound Haitian, though it’s hard
to tell just what you are in there.

And the blue light danced.

“No, I’m not Haitian,” answered the Juju Man: just a guy in a cape and a mask at
a Halloween party. It’s just a gig.”
“Really, I don’t think so? It’s a pretty weird little party act, Voodoo. Some kind
of gig that is.”
“Amen to that” said Juju Man. “It’s an odd little gig for sure, but “Juju, voodoo,
priest, rabbi, wizard, faith healer, lama, psychic, shaman… what’s the difference? It’s all
just a way of connecting. You know, I was raised with some pretty straight stuff too,
rational truth, everything in the hands of the great laws of physics-God a creation of man.
Astrology-bullshit. Prayer-superstition. In my house everything needed an explanation
to be real. But the unknowns kept piling up-I mean piling like a mountain of unexplained
shit, so I found myself praying even though I never knew to whom I was praying. And
the surprising thing was, I always got an answer. I needed to get out of my head. People
need to get out of their heads. That’s all I’m doing. When you pass through the door to
the House of Juju you get out of your head and let your soul talk. I work with what you
show me. That’s why those stockbroker idiots get me so irritated. I should start carrying
a Wall Street Journal in here and when they ask what’s hot, I’ll point to something, tell
them to sell the house and jump on it. Jesus, what is it about people with money, like
they’d know what to do with it if they got it?

“And the blue light danced.”

Hazel was calm now, safe inside The House O’ Juju. The party was only inches
away through the curtains, but she was in no hurry to leave.
“So, what do you need? I get the man thing: that’s pretty simple: you like sex
and you choose men for that need even if they aren’t the best companions. That’s no big
deal? Just accept it, have fun, and make some new friends for conversation. Everything
doesn’t come in a single package.”

And the blue light danced.

After a few minutes the flame burned out. The saucer was empty and the booth
was dark. Hazel spoke. “You know, you’re not what I expected.”
“What did you expect?”
“I don’t know, someone a little more spiritual.”
“Spiritual, you mean someone with flowing locks of yellow hair who speaks in
whispers. Or someone who promises you the Universe will provide what you need,
someone who tells you to meditate and drink herb tea three times a day while facing east?
I’ve been through all that shit. It’s goddamn Walt Disney, and all those hippie dip-shits
who get everyone thinking that, it’s bullshit. Me, I work with a couple of basic elements:
fire, water, earth, and air. I come from the Bronx, New York and I like pizza, I don’t
drink alcohol and I think God has an ass kicking jump shot and good taste in women.
Sorry if I disappoint you.”
“No, that’s not it, I’m not disappointed.”
In the dark Hazel found herself staring at Juju Man in the feint light filtering in
from the crack in the curtain. She was trying to see the face behind the mask. It had been
Hazel’s experience that men would say anything to get her into bed, something she didn’t
really understand because, for her, the decision was made in an instant. They’d be doing
this or saying that or trying everything they could to make an impression when the game
was already decided, but not this guy, sitting in a booth with a mask and a head of
feathers spouting whatever without a care in the world.
“No, you don’t disappoint me at all, it’s just kind of weird sitting here spilling my
guts out.”
“Yes, I suppose it is, but that’s the thing. People come in here because they need
a place to be honest with themselves. Well some, some will never be honest to
themselves no matter what, but that’s what the whole thing is and the feathers and the
booth and the mask and the curtains, that’s just how we cross from the light into the
shadow.”
“The shadow?”
“Yeah, you know the dark place, the cave you fear to enter, the place where you
can be honest and find and accept who you really are. And before you ask, no I did not
go to college to learn that but I did go to a lot of therapy and sat in a lot of meditation. I
came up with the idea of this booth because it’s faster and cheaper than all of that.”
“And this is all you do?” asked Hazel.
Juju Man laughed. “No, I don’t think so. Voodoo booths aren’t exactly the rage at
parties? No, even the great and powerful Wizard of Oz has a job. I’m a fisherman.”
“Here, in Seattle?”
“Sometimes, but mostly in Alaska.”
“Fishing, that can be pretty scary.”
“Not really. It’s has its moments, but it’s way better than working in an office or
a factory.”
“Where do you live?
“In Ballard, past the locks on the North side. I live above Totem Woodworking.”
“I know that place, the place with the cedar tree sign right on the Sound past the
Locks?
“One and the same.” Then Juju Man lit another candle that offered a welcome
sphere of light in the booth. He removed the last remaining card, the one with the brutish
man, and said, “You better get back to the party or they’ll send in a search party.” Then
Juju Man held out the deck of cards once again and asked Hazel to pick one and set it on
the table. “It’s your take away, a little something for you to keep.”
Hazel picked a card and set it face up on the table. It was a picture of a sperm
whale beneath the ocean waves. Seeing the card Hazel recalled her Father speaking one
of his favorite prayers, “You heard my voice. For you cast me into the deep, into the heart
of the seas, and the floods surrounded me; all your billows and your waves passed over
me. Then I said, ‘I have been cast out of your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy
temple.’”
“Man, you really go deep with the Christian stuff don’t you?”
“Not really, it’s just a memory. Childhood etches a lot of things into to you.”
“Yes, that is true,” said Juju Man as Hazel pulled back the curtain to leave. Then she
paused and turned back for a second and said to the Juju Man
“Totem Woodworking: right?”
“What?”
“Where you live, by the Sound. Must be nice. I love watching the tide change.”
“Most people do,” said the Juju Man as Hazel exited.

And the blue light danced.

The End  ©2013 Joey Emil Blum

 

One thought on “House O’ Juju

  1. Joey,…
    At first I laughed a lot reading the first part of your story, and then I became more serious:)
    Great writing, great story, and huge congrats on your stories being published!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *