The Houseboat Veronica

The Black-Haired Woman

1.

She had been made into symbols and she’d been misunderstood and she had very long toes and she had killed a lot of people.

2.

In her life she had been called villain and shapeshifter and she had been called the Hard Woman, Candlestick, called Nancy-Witch and Creepwitch and Sex-Witch and cupcake and Witch-Surprise, Mistress Dick and Session Witch and half and half and The Would-Be Woman and Mother of Vyrus and Daughter of Vyrus and Turtle Mermaid and Mistress Forobosco and the Knife-Wife and Kundalini Oblongatta and box-herder and Girl-Unit and Shark Doctor. I’m saying she had been called bad names (and all names) and invented names and she kept track of these names she had been called, kept track of them—one might say, I will say—with a scrupulousness. For belowdecks in the houseboat Veronica, beneath the large white bed in the black-haired woman’s green-carpeted bedroom, lurked a bat-wing bound black book, a book in which the black-haired woman had taken pains to catalogue every name she had been called in her life.

3.

I had seen this book. It was a catalogue of vengeance. (It was a very thick book.) There were many entries and very many names. Some of these names appeared in the ledger with a black line drawn through them. The black line was a meaningful line. The black-haired woman: she would tell you and she would tell me (with one hand on her hip, for example) that a name crossed out in black meant the name-caller, whoever that name-caller might have been, no longer breathed. There were a lot of black lines, friends, a lot of breath not being drawn, in that book. The black-haired woman had been called fruitcake and Pink Distance and heretic and whore and pimp in the same sentence and Underwitch and Lemon-Witch and Witch-Member and Pond-Witch and murderer and face-wrecker and Snake Nurse and Black-cake and Long Toe and the Pirate Johnson, she had been called the Shiver Kid and the Queen of Dots, she had been called Pale Sue and Witch Marine and Tomato-Witch and the Pink Menace and the Ghost with the Most, freak and shrimpfucker and renegade and Bug-lover and Topside and One Way and Patience and amphibian, and I myself had even heard her call herself a dumb bitch and I had even heard her call herself a genius and I had heard her call herself by the name Lolly, her nickname for herself, nickname which no one else ever called her, as in, now, looking down at her own long toes, “Lolly, you might be a dumb bitch, but you are also a genius.”

4.

We sat side by side, in the heat of early Summer 2, the black-haired woman and I—who else? at this particular time there was no one else—we sat up on the balcony deck of the houseboat Veronica, on two cute-set pink deck chairs, the moon like a lost shoe on the black sky to the South, or I think it was the South, maybe the North, I in my uniform of pink knee-length shorts, the black-haired woman small aside from the pile of black hair on her head and she forever bare of foot and wearing the pretty green dress with the heart-break cut, the dress I hardly ever saw her without. The heart-break cut green dress made her look like a paper doll. She looked like a paper doll and then she looked directly at you in a way a paper doll never did.

5.

“Do you remember your parents?” the black-haired woman asked.

“No,” I said.

“Will you be my biographer?” the black-haired woman asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Even knowing,” she said, “that I will come back from the dead to murder my biographer?”

“Yes,” I said.

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Josh Bell