In Rough Magick, Francesca Lia Block and Jessa Marie Mendez have gathered together a collection of haunting, sometimes chilling, short stories and poems about the darker side of love and sex. With a magical vibe as the backdrop, the pieces explore romantic love stories that are both realistic and out of this world, about teens and adults.
Ahead, a story by Francesca Lia Block herself—author of The Weetzie Bat Books, among others. The stories in Rough Magick were chosen from the work of some her favorite writers, including a number of her students.
I go to see my friend the Oracle. She lives with her husband in a Craftsman house in East LA. It’s the night before my birthday. I’ve brought some items with me, according to her general instructions calling for “stones, flowers, symbols of meaning.” In my case: a piece of rose quartz, a pink rose, a crystal phallus, a tiny sculpture of a goddess that my father, the artist, made many years ago before he got too sick to work.
I get lost in the rain on the way to the Oracle. My Waze app keeps taking me to the same house over and over again, but it’s not hers. The address isn’t even close. I call the Oracle and she gives me directions, but I get lost three more times before I find her. When I finally arrive it’s raining harder and I’m crying. I’ve just heard a story on the radio about a college student who wandered onto a freeway, drunk and disoriented, and was hit by a car. His body was destroyed beyond recognition.
I take off my rain soaked jacket and the Oracle hugs me. Her arms are as strong and warm as the beams and rooms of her home.
I follow the feline sway of her hips upstairs to an attic room that smells of herbs and beeswax. Candles burn on a low table.
I tell the Oracle about X, secretly hoping she will suggest some magic to make him leave his wife but she calls that black magic and suggests a cord cutting to let him go.
For some reason I think of Joni Mitchell who is in a coma in a hospital. Joni has this disease called Morgellons in which cotton fibers appear under the surface of the skin, making it itch and crawl. No one knows what the fibers are or what causes them to be there. Many doctors don’t believe the disease is real. It strikes me as particularly horrible that Joni Mitchell has to suffer with this. She had polio as a child. That’s how she wrote that song about wishing for a river to skate away on. Some people can transform shit into beauty.
The Oracle’s voice is deep and mellifluous as she beats a drum and calls on the spirits to come and bless us. Her hand is so large it completely covers the skin of the drum. In the candlelight she looks like a tall French actress with her effortlessly tousled bob, the gap between her teeth, her lambent eyes. She opens the window and little gusts of wind scatter rain into the room. The wind becomes my dead mother’s spirit caressing my face. Longing beats me like a hand drum. Tears trickle onto my rain-flecked cheeks.
To do the cord cutting I have to write a goodbye note to X, releasing him from any romantic entanglements with me. I tell the Oracle I don’t want to release all entanglements between us because X and I are good friends, and I can’t lose him entirely. She thinks that allowing the friendship to continue is reasonable, especially since X and I have never slept together or even kissed. Once the back of his hand brushed against my breast when we were fighting over the check at lunch and my previously hibernating nipple came to life, but that was an accident.
Thank you for being my friend, for always answering my emails, for taking me to lunch, for defending me in class, for going with me to get the mammogram, for your hugs. I want to keep our friendship strong, but I need to give up the hope of it becoming more. I release you from any romantic ties to me. I wish you every blessing and all love.
After the cord cutting I can’t stop crying. The Oracle suggests she throw in a love spell to help bring true love into my life or at least cheer me up. So I agree, thanking her, and she has me write a love note to my beloved, listing all his traits. Trying not to think of X, I write, “You are kind, wise, compassionate, loving, sexy, stable, strong, creative, a liberal and a feminist. You share my interests. We have a powerful sexual attraction and spiritual connection.” Thinking clearly of X I add, “You are not romantically tied to anyone else.” The Oracle folds up the note and draws some runes on it. We put it in a little gauze pouch along with the pink rose petals, the rose quartz, the goddess and the crystal phallus. I tie the bag three times and we say an incantation.
We go downstairs to the kitchen. The Oracle’s husband is making a Thai stir fry. Like the Oracle, he is tall and cat-like but while she has the eyes of a mystic, his gaze is very much grounded in the present, in the warm greeting of his wife and her friend, in the cooking of Thai food while rain strikes the shingles.
The Oracle summoned her husband to her with a spell. The same spell she and I performed tonight.
He kisses her, his hands on her hips, and their love is as tangible as the smell of ginger, garlic and lemon grass. The Oracle and her husband ask if I would like to stay for dinner. I thank them, but I’m eager to be alone with the after-effects of my spell.
The Oracle and I go into the backyard. It’s overgrown and the rain has soaked the un-mowed lawn, but the showers have stopped. We light a candle and I burn the goodbye letter to X. The flames leap toward me as if they don’t want to let me go. As if they want to consume me.
I take the ashes with me, “To release at a crossroads,” the Oracle instructs.
On the way home I stop at an intersection where the streetlights have gone out. I guess the storm downed a power line somewhere.
Never step in water near a downed line.
The intersection is dark and deserted. Dangerous in more ways than one. I get out carefully and scatter the ashes from a glass jar into the wet night. They cling to my hands. I taste like fire but no one will know.
I get back in the car, drive home, put the charm under my pillow and sleep.
The next day, my birthday, my three best girlfriends, who all happen to be poets, former ballerinas and Pisces, the wisest sign, take me out for brunch at our favorite restaurant. We eat waffles with strawberries and whipped cream and drink green tea bobas. I tell them about the love spell and the cord cutting, and they all think it’s good I’m letting go of X but that I should be careful not to get carried away with the love spell part.
When I arrive home I see that a man from FU Cupid has contacted me. Tall, lean, handsome, with a shaved head. An architect, a surfer, divorced and has a kid in college. Lives nearby. We speak on the phone and his voice is deep and warm. It turns out we even went to the same university, and at the same time. We share the same favorite book that we both read in our freshman year. One Hundred Years of Solitude. It changed my life because of the magic and his because of the realism. I email the Oracle and say, “I think the charm is working.”
“That’s great!” she says. “But wait and see.”