art by Eleanor Bennett
Jumbo Gumdrop Serenade
by E. Catherine Tobler
The yellow light in the cracked green window flickered and then by degrees began to grow dim, throwing the thing that sat on the warped porch into shadow. Wind stirred leaves; they rustled like paper, dry and ready to ignite with the smallest spark. Cold rain forestalled that.
"Jumbo gumdrop serenade, sweet serenade." Nesta scooped the bundle from the wet porch and hustled it inside. She kicked the old door shut behind her and hopped from her left foot to her right as she approached the long table. Splinters danced in her toes.
Chanarasanda snapped her fingers. "Here, here, and there, bring it here." She held her hands out and fingers flapped against palms. "Here and there. Here. There."
Nesta giggled and Chanarasanda blew on the lamp, giving air to the starved flame. It grew, a long yellow tongue to lick the glass which contained it.
Miluchra peered over the table's edge, ruby eyes reflecting the flame she'd brought. She rubbed hands together and small sparks shot between her blackened palms. She, too, reached for Nesta's bundle, but Nesta handed it only to Guinhumara, who placed it in the barrel of still water on the table.
The four women watched the bundle sink through the water with a gurgle. The bundle absorbed the liquid and sank fast. Bubbles rose in a shimmer, popped on the surface with air kisses. Guinhumara's fingers danced through the bubbles; she lifted her middle finger to her mouth to taste of the brew.
"Round and soft, what do we make of it tonight?" she asked, dipping her finger in for another sample. Water glistened on her lips. "Wet and tasty."
Miluchra ducked beneath the table. She came back up with a black leather pouch. With her long-fingered hand she flicked it toward Nesta who was nearest. Nesta rolled the pouch in her hands.
"A stink of bowels, of deepest earth. My womb, my shell--what is its worth? You, Chanarasanda, blow till the foul thing takes flight." Nesta's dark eyes narrowed as Chanarasanda blew. Wind whipped Nesta's earth-dark hair from her shoulders. "Sweet tumult."
In the air between them dark granules joined together in a whirlwind. Chanarasanda ceased her blowing and the grains dusted gently over the surface of the water. One bubble emerged from the bundle within, breaking with a peacock's mating cry and the smell of fire.
"Such a stink, sweet stink," Nesta whispered and patted the smooth black fall of Miluchra's hair.
Guinhumara tapped Nesta's hand with her fringed cane. "Did you bring anything?"
Nesta pulled a pink flower from her headdress. Above the barrel of water, she rubbed the flower between her fingers till pollen scattered the water's surface, till the petals bent under the pressure and yielded a pink rain that smelled of apples. Nesta dropped the remains of the petals into the water and Guinhumara stirred the mass with her fingers.
"It grows," Chanarasanda said and beneath the water, the thing stirred.
The wrappings, like fallen sails, moved in the water; a body, a hand, toes, briefly visible under the wet fabric. A great belch rose from the barrel and water scattered over the four women.