When he made that jibe about not being able to get it up, Marylin and I exchanged surprised glances, but we said nothing. He picked up on it, put his hand on Marylin’s knee, gave her a sly wink, and said, “Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m helping you out, too.”
He proceeded to throw the shells for me in all aspects of life: health, career, love, etc. They came up all black. Every fucking time. And almost every time, one black shell rested upon another, which really seemed to stress out my santero, which in turn confirmed my sense of doom. How was that even possible, all those black shells? In my job, I deal with a lot of statistics, but any idiot with half a brain can tell you that it’s pretty unfucking likely that all four shells would turn up black time after time. In succession. I mean, it had to be a trick, right? Some flick of the wrist, some hidden button pressed with prestidigitous fingers, the epitome of legerdemain? (I know that sentence is a clunker, but I couldn’t resist tossing all those words in, even if just to witness the disaster.)
Or was it really the spirits, what I believe they call orishas in Santeria, manipulating the shells to deliver divine information?
“That wife of yours,” he said. I had been lost in thought, trying to figure out if I was being duped or saved, but now I focused on him. He blew vapor at me. “Was she a good woman?”
I wanted to fan the vapor away from my face, but I was afraid that might mess with the ceremonial juju. I shrugged instead. “She had her good and bad, like anyone else.”
He laughed and shook his head. “Esa es venono,” he said. She’s poison. As an afterthought, he added, “Don’t eat anything she gives you.”
Marylin later explained that the most potent curses in Santeria were delivered via food. She had an uncle who had died that way. Her father and uncle had both eaten the cursed food, and they both became extremely sick. Her father immediately sought out a santero and had the curse removed. Her uncle didn’t believe in Santeria or curses, so he sought medical attention instead. As the weeks went by, he became progressively worse.
He died, and the father lived.
My santero now looked at the shells again, drew some vapor, blew it out toward the arranged figures along the shelves. He stared into space for some moments. “Some months ago, you and your wife had a really big fight.”
We had, but that was a natural assumption considering we were getting divorced, right? We’d been really drunk. But I mean really drunk. And I can’t recall what actually happened, but I do know that she even called the cops.
“It was around that time that someone called this curse on you.”
“Do you know who?”
“Those things are hard to discover.”
But I had my suspicions. The night of that fight, Betty disappeared after the cops left. No one could find her. Her father finally called me and asked me to please check in her car. That’s where I found her asleep. Her father, though…he’s a sneaky one. He’s a first generation Cuban-American, so I was sure he had tons of access to santeros, and he was the type to initiate something like this.
Or was I just creating a narrative using random events and hocus-pocus?
“At work…you have to be careful,” the old man said. “The muertos have been making you do things you shouldn’t be doing.” This shocked me. I had been escaping from work early nearly every day. “But you have to protect your job. Even if you don’t like it, it’s what you need to live.”
He thought again for a few moments, drawing on the vape pen. “And legally…you have to be careful. There’s some trick I’m seeing. Some kind of deception.” I couldn’t think of anything, except the divorce. But it bothered him.
“We’re going to have to do un trabajo on you,” he said.
I wasn’t going to say no at this point. I still wasn’t sure I believed any of this stuff, but it sure couldn’t hurt.
So he stood me in the center of the room. He gave Marylin the option of going or staying, and she decided to stick around and watch. He grabbed some leafy branches from a large urn, and he started to pray. To be honest, I barely paid attention to the words. It was a quiet prayer, chanted, and sounded what like I used to hear when I went to church as a kid. As he prayed, he swept my body with the leafy branches. Down the arms, along the shoulders, down the back, and swiping downward on my chest and stomach.
That’s when I heard Marylin squeal.
“Felt that?” he said to her.
She had scurried out of the chair and was trying to open the door. “Felt it? I saw that.” She finally got the door open. “I can’t be here.” And she was gone.
She later told me that she had seen some large, dark presence, billowing like a wind blown curtain, attached to my back and struggling to keep me.
The santero continued the prayer, set down the branches, and picked up the ornate sword that I had noticed when I first walked in here. He drew the blade out of the scabbard. I really hoped that he didn’t pull out a chicken next.
To my relief, he lifted my shirt and used the sharpened blade to slice a long cut along the front. He did the same along the back, then finished by ripping the shirt off of me, and throwing it at one of the figurines in his collection. It was a big, shield-shaped mask with X’s on the eyes. He then sat me down, draped me in a yellow veil, sprinkled me with holy water, and continued his chants. I let the veil block out everything. Not just what I saw, but what I heard and smelled and felt. I let that veil obliterate all my senses, and when he removed it, I could almost imagine I had been reborn.
The ceremony was essentially finished then. He called Marylin back in. She tip-toed into the room, as if afraid of what she might find, but she relaxed almost immediately.
He gave me a small pebble. “Keep this with you.”
“For how long?”
“Until you lose it.”
I haven’t lost it. I know this trick, by the way. It’s just a placebo. But I still haven’t been able to bring myself to stop carrying it or throw it away.
He then threw the shells for me again, asking all the same questions he had asked before. At first, they came up half black and half white. Then he said a few more prayers over me, placed a shot of liquor in front of one of the figurines, and blew vapor at it. From that point on, all four shells came up white, time after time. He sighed in relief.
And so did I.
I then donated over $100 for his service, placing it in one of the bowls that was set up for one of the figurines. And I was on my way.
I still don’t know what to make of the whole thing exactly. I want to disparage it and say it’s all bunk and find alternate explanations for all the events and information he touched upon. But here’s the funny thing. I’ve been much better since. Even if it’s just my own subconscious finding ways to heal myself, the experience had value.
And the next time Marylin and I had sex, I was back to being much closer to a sex god than a limp dick.