A Gathering of Women by Laurette Folk

The following is an excerpt from TOTEM BEASTS, a forthcoming flash fiction and poetry collection by Laurette Folk. TOTEM BEASTS will be released by Big Table press this year. 

I sat in an easy chair reading a book in my friend’s house while the friend was vacuuming upstairs preparing for guests. The youngest girl came down and said she couldn’t sleep. She was in her flannel nightdress and carried a small doll that was becoming smaller by the second. The girl was fond of me; I had a sensibility she could relate to, and she wanted to be near it, so she curled up in my arms while I sat in the easy chair reading. I maneuvered myself so the girl was comfortable. I propped up her head with a pillow; I stroked her hair as if she were my own daughter. Upstairs the vacuum moved this way and that in a room I had never visited. Then it stopped. My friend descended the stairs in a fit of anxiety, anticipating the arrival of her guests. “You’re still here,” she said to me. The daughter squirmed in my arms. I wanted to be rid of her because my legs were going numb; I wanted my friend to fetch the child and take her away, which she did, but not before the girl turned into a cat.

It was night now and my friend’s guests were soon to arrive. I wanted to leave; I had no interest in a soiree. But my friend insisted I stay and gave me the guilt trip about how I never attended any of her gatherings. I thought of the long ride home through the woods. It was such a dark ride; I opted to stay for a while not only to appease my friend, but to defer the encounter with the darkness.

One by one, the guests arrived. My friend carried their coats upstairs to the guest room. They gathered around the table with newspaper clippings in their hands. I joined them thinking it was a seance and the clippings were obituaries. If you are going to tinker with the dead, you must have a talisman against evil, I told them. I hadn’t particularly noticed their sterling bracelets dangling off their tan, slender wrists, their bleached teeth. I asked them what they thought Satan’s face looked like. How horrible would it be? How disfigured? The women around me whispered into each other’s ears. “This is not what you think it is,” one of them said. “We’re not here to conjure the dead. We came here to collectively ask for these things. The items here—” and the woman showed me the clippings—cutouts from department store circulars that included smart phones, tablets, designer shoes, etc. “These are the items we want,” the woman told me. I thought of Christ then, how they gambled for his clothes at the foot of his cross.

I excused myself and went to the bathroom to hide. When I opened the door, I found a basin full of leaves. My friend found me there, trying to pee like a bitch. “Why are you so—different?” she asked. “So—strange?” My friend became visibly upset and worked herself into such a state, crying and carrying on. “Why can’t you fit in? We got together to discuss the things we wanted, but you had to ruin everything by bringing the devil into it.” I tried to ignore her, focus on the peeing, but couldn’t. Why is she talking to me, I wondered. Can’t she see I want to be alone? I stumbled out of the bathroom, out the backdoor. I came upon a ladder and climbed away from my friend as she continued to reprimand me. The ladder teetered in the open air as I climbed up above the trees, still trying to conjure up the devil’s face.

Laurette Folk’s fiction, essays, and poems have been published in upstreet, Literary Mama, Boston Globe Magazine, Talking Writing, Narrative Northeast, So to Speak among others. Her novel, A Portal to Vibrancy, was published by Big Table; Totem Beasts, her collection of poetry and flash fiction, is forthcoming from Big Table in 2017 . Ms. Folk is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing program and editor of The Compassion Anthology.