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Wishwoman.

On the corner of 8th, a secondhand shop with a blue door, wooden and peeling. One glass rectangle, cut out from the middle, frames a spider web of cracks. Inside, a woman arranges plastic geraniums in a glass vase, painted oranges circling the rim. The phone: Secondhand Rosie's. May I help you? A sigh wafts through the heavy flour sack of her body and her shoulders sink with it.

Yes, the Frankoma vase is still here. No, we're all out of jadite.

Five-thirty sharp, the sign flips to closed and Rosie walks back through a washed-out floral swatch of curtain fabric and through to the other side. There she keeps the small table and two chairs. In a basket waits the scarf she pulls over her smoky hair. She lights a stick of incense: frangipani, sandalwood, and waits.

WHEN THE PHONE RINGS AT MANDRA'S HOUSE it's always the wrong caller. Not the police, not her daughter, not someone announcing her daughter's whereabouts on the line.

"They say she found the Gilbert boy's body," Mandra says. "They say she finds lost pets all the time. That she knows things."

"Seven years gone, Mandra. The girl is seven years gone."

SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE IN ROSIE'S POWERS just because the shop has stayed in business somehow. The town so small, people rarely buy used things. Once, a junior high girl wore a tapestry vest to school and another girl recognized it from the bag of her dead grandfather's clothes newly donated.

In Rosie's town, you give away clothes and later you see versions of yourself caught in old funny clothing everywhere. You'll see yourself in a dated photograph frozen, looking silly, vulnerable, off somehow, and wish you'd pushed those hot pants to the back of your closet one more time, wish you'd left that gauzy blouse wadded up in your bottom drawer. When you spot that hippie shirt, those donated trousers, there's that moment, like running into that old friend you've had a falling out with, there's that moment I know you, then that old warmth rushing through before you remember your anger, stop yourself short of a smile, a greeting, and walk on, realizing only later how sloppy you seemed, how utterly off-guard, that you must've paused a moment too long, your expressions tripping over themselves across your face.

The phrase skeleton in your closet re-ignites when you're Mandra and your daughter's shrunken cardigan turns up at the town's one movie theatre, and the wrong girl, the lost age of your lost girl, curls into the soft safety of its lapel. You're Mandra and weeping and you'd been going to the movies initially for distraction.

But if you bought clothes at Rosie's, all the worse for you. At the soda fountain, you would imagine you had once seen the clerk in those bellbottoms. At church, you'd think Old Lady Lester might have once worn that pink angora dress you just bought. Either way, you're embarrassed, for the homeless woman dressing her small child in the park with your younger brother's ratty sweater, or for yourself, wondering whose clothes you've crawled into, who shed that old skin you put on and wandered out in.

"That woman must be magic, keeping that junk-shop going so long."

Rosie finds donations that come in at night in the wooden bin she keeps for after-hours drops. She sorts gray, torn underwear and run-stockings from vintage jackets, costume jewelry.

Mandra takes to dropping off business suits, evening gowns still tagged: Yves St. Laurent, Givenchy. Rosie is her last-hope outpost. As long as she doesn't know, Mandra can keep believing that maybe the wishwoman is something more than small town boredom gone wild. As long as she visits the shop in broad daylight, Mandra can remain just another woman donating clothes. Yet, there's something lingering, something a little wise in Rosie's regard as she whisks the brand-new items over the counter and looks at Mandra.

"SEVEN YEARS GONE," Mandra says, "and she's still my daughter."

Mandra had been alone through the pregnancy--the girl's father five hundred miles downwind before he heard about a baby.

Mandra's daughter was restless from the start, born a month early as if she couldn't stand the small quarters another moment. She was ready to arrive, pink, loud, healthy, to give the world a fight.

"Sleep?" Mandra asked in those days. "This baby's never even heard of sleep's third cousin."

Not even a hint of that otherworldly glaze to her baby's eyes, nothing even close to dreamy or drowsy or dazed. Just that bright stare, keeping vigil day and night.

When the girl was four, Mandra married a man with a wide back and see-through eyes. He worked hard, crooned love songs, and he loved Mandra and her girl.

That was years ago. Now Mandra just watches for the night watchman.

"With the white sequins," she tells the woman. The dress is beautiful, a certain weight in the hand, the glint winking a pure icy blue like snow shadow. Mandra takes out her checkbook and makes the first payment toward the layaway. The dress is three paychecks, but Mandra will do anything now.

Seven years gone.

Besides, she tells herself, it's a down payment on karma. Surely karma doesn't come cheap.

"Are you crazy?" say her friends. "That woman's an old kook; even she doesn't believe herself. She calls herself a secondhand genie; three secondhand wishes later and you're on your way."

"There are no new wishes," says Mandra. "You take what you get."

Rosie finds wishes with the stitches just coming apart, the edges fraying, worn.

Used-up wishes, say her customers, are better than none at all.

Rosie's eight children laugh when other children say their mama's a wishwoman. But the Gilbert boy was gone five months, when reluctantly the police came to her.

"In a high place," said Rosie, thinking even as she said the words how ridiculous they sounded. Another month passed while they searched the highest hills within fifty miles when a heavy smell wafted through the neighborhood not far from the courthouse. It was August with gusts of summer gone putrid and suspicious.

At the end of the block lived a small family, a mother, a father, and their troubled twenty-seven-year-old son. A large boy with hands that hung pawishly off his wrists like mitts. All through school he was always a good five inches taller than the next biggest kid.

In those mitted hands, that boy held a dark quiet rage that burned hot enough inside, scorching its way out to his features, to leave a burnt-in mask of meanness searing there. Outside, high in the oak, the boy's old tree house hung heavy in its ash-colored planks, boarded-up windows, nailed-shut door.

By the time they found him, the Gilbert boy had been three seasons there with the sign in drippy green paint reading Trespassers Beware. The boy at the end of the block sentenced to fifteen years in the state penitentiary and the headlines in The Bent Tree Gazette read: "In a High, High Place, Witchcraft Helps Cops Solve Local Homicide." The chimes on Rosie's door went wild. People charged in with questions about love, loss, the lottery.

Mandra's not utterly alone these days, though her lost-daughter grief swallowed the old Mandra up, devoured her and her marriage and found the man with transparent eyes five miles on the outskirts of Bent Tree hitching a ride to anywhere else.

Now some nights she hears the night watchman as he takes the first step. He climbs with the solid placement on each stair, each rise carrying a kind of weight, solidity. A body coming toward you with such purpose, thinks Mandra, isn't likely to leave. The night watchman holds her, listens to her stories of the missing girl over and over. The night watchman kisses Mandra's hair until her sobs turn to sighs.

MANDRA GOES TO ROSIE'S ON A FRIDAY, ice dress in hand, and asks for the wishwoman.

"I'm Mandra," she announces.

"I know who you are," says Rosie, "and your girl's not here."

"Please," Mandra says, "please."

"I remember her," Rosie says. "But sometimes wishes bump into each other, cancel each other out. Your girl wished first."

JUST HOW DO YOU TELL SOMEONE their child has changed color?

When Rosie finally tries to explain about the girl's visit long ago, her one wish to change, she waits for Mandra to doubt.

Horse of a different color is the first thought, strange as it is, to enter Mandra's brain. What if your chestnut mare suddenly turned palomino or appaloosa? Would it still be yours? Would you know it by the swish of a tossed mane, the length of the body in a dead run?

"I'd know her."

"Knowing's a funny thing," says Rosie, who's seen the woman pass the girl on the streets in dream after dream, with a polite nod of the head, an indifferent half-smile on her lips. "Besides you'll have to know her first before she can see you."

"Can't you tell me?" asks Mandra. "Isn't there something ..."

Rosie wants to tell her what she believes about wishes. Wants to say some wishes have a funny way about them, as if wishes had wishes of their own, wore them like a fragrance that whirled around them, made them strange. Rosie wants to tell Mandra that she tried to stop the girl. "We are not chameleons," she'd said to that headstrong, peculiar child. But the girl held her ground, her wish, held it closer, harder, tighter than Rosie'd seen anyone hold anything in too long.

Rosie, though a dime-store fortuneteller, is a mother too and feels she has an obligation.

"You'll have to do the knowing, that's all," she tells Mandra. "Have to know your girl another way now."

ROSIE HAS NO WAY OF KNOWING SOME THINGS: that it will be a Tuesday, Mandra at the market on the north end of town. A blackout at the south market--Mandra's usual store--turned the milk sour on the shelves. Rosie can't know it will be raining hard and a young woman will ride by the market on an old, dark pink three-speed. The young woman may be the color of dark honey, with hair like deep Bordeaux or maybe soy sauce--the tilt of her head oddly familiar or the swing of her body, off the bicycle with one foot on the pedal awkwardly swiveling down. But something will hit Mandra hard and she will watch the young woman, her body aching from the bones out with the sureness that this is her, lengthened with time, but her daughter: elongated, awkward, elegant in the same breath.

Rosie won't know any of this, but she'll remember the girl, the sure carriage, the utter insistence to her gaze. She'll remember that Mandra's girl wasn't a holding child, that she came into the world full-grown.

OUTSIDE THE STORE, MANDRA WAITS at the end of the block for the girl to turn, look back over her shoulder, spin on her heel to face her mother, close the distance. From here, it looks like dusk could come in from the west like a second storm, the sky could change color and the chameleon girl could press against that sky and change color too. Mandra sits down on the curb and watches her daughter fortified by time, her foal legs lanky with the promise of grace, the stretch of torso moving away. Seven years have passed and Mandra's learned the art of waiting well.

Rosie does feel the weight of the mother's stare on the girl's back and Rosie wants to make a wish all her own: That the daughter spin back and look hard at the worn and beautiful woman at the far end of the street and break into a dead run toward her, and even Rosie is surprised by the moment, nearly out of sight, when the girl brushes a stray hair from her mouth and then turns suddenly as if the wind reminded her and does just that.
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Title Annotation:FICTION
Author:Kartsonis, Ariana-Sophia
Publication:Witness
Article Type:Short story
Date:Mar 22, 2014
Words:2007
Previous Article:The Familiar Spirit.
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