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fiction



by Monic Ductan


Gris-Gris



First, the tornado hit. Then, three days later, Lucy Boudreaux went missing. We all said she was a whirlwind (the Boudreaux girl, not the tornado).


Her real name was Lucinda, but she hated it. Wouldn’t you? So everybody called her Lucy, which is an old lady’s name, we think. We all went to school together. In those days, Lucy Boudreaux played ball on our team. Basketball. It’s what our county was known for. Girls’ bas­ketball. We didn’t just have a team. We had a stick. And we’d beat you with it. Best team in northeast Georgia, maybe even the whole country. Our gym still flies that state championship banner we won in ’87.


God, that day she went missing was pure fall. The air—crisp enough to prickle you and make you hug yourself—smelled like burning leaves. The trees were every color from deep red to bright yellow. Back then, County Farm Road ran from Evan Myers clear to Three Forks. We drove up and down those roads in two pickup trucks, most of us sprawled on the trucks’ beds, the wind cutting through our hair and chilling our skins. We were on another “cleanup pickup” to collect the debris—scratchy shingles and splintered wood—that had been strewn by the tornado. We liked the look of the insulation the most, how fluffy it was, how it felt like cotton candy on our fingertips.


Once we dumped the trash down at Bertrand’s Sanitation, we went to the school to do our warm-ups. All twelve of us—minus Lucy—formed a line that wound around the three-point curve and snaked its way toward the half-court line.


“Where’s Lucy?” asked Coach Newson, who could look at any line of us and immediately notice who wasn’t there.


We smirked, hid our smiles behind our hands, grinned at the shiny floor.


“She must be with Coach Terrance,” Kiara said to Coach Newson.


Under her breath, so that only we could hear, Kasha said, “Probably gettin’ her back broke in.”


We all knew Lucy and Terrance were hooking up. He was our new assistant coach that year and a junior at the local college. Lucy was a senior, our starting point guard, and one of our leading scorers. At an away game, some of us saw them together in the bed of his truck, her head on his shoulder, his hand over hers. At first none of us believed it. The year before, she’d dated one of us, Ashley Crawley, who had a pixie haircut and a great jump shot. You shoulda seen Ashley’s face—eyes narrowed, nose flared out—when she saw Lucy and Terrance together on the bed of the truck.


By the time we’d finished our warm-ups, Lucy and Terrance still hadn’t shown up. The bleachers began to fill with spectators. The other team—Jefferson High, which had only one really tall girl—walked past us. Coach Newson motioned for us to get into the locker room.


As Newson gave the pep talk, Lucy’s mama knocked on the door and poked her head in. She wore her salt-and-pepper hair in long braids. “Where’s Lucy?” she asked. Worry lines creased her forehead.


Coach Newson stepped out into the hallway to talk with Mrs. Boudreaux, but we all stayed quiet enough to hear. Lucy’s mama said Lucy had left home that morning and come to the gym to shoot some hoops. She’d told her mama she’d see her at the game that night. Newson said he’d been in and out all day and hadn’t seen her. We noticed he didn’t tell Lucy’s mama that Terrance wasn’t around either.


During the game we kept looking toward the double doors on either side of the gym, hoping to see Lucy. But she never came. Terrance turned up alone. Something on him was always disheveled—his wild afro or his wrinkled clothes. That night, his jacket was buttoned up wrong so that one side hung lower than the other. He’d been a ball player himself in high school, and you’d know it by his tall, lanky frame—about six foot four—and those hands that could easily palm the ball. He came over to our bench and leaned into Coach Newson’s ear. We could tell Newson was having none of it. His brows drew close together. He waved Terrance away and started yelling the play at Ashley, Lucy’s backup point guard.


After the game (we won 76–61), we sat huddled together on the benches in the locker room and on the leather couch that sat in the center of the room. One of us had thought she’d seen Lucy walking on the side of the road the night before, but when called to, Lucy (or whoever it was) hadn’t looked back. Someone else had called Lucy’s house to ask about today’s cleanup pickup, but Lucy’s mama had said she was out.


“Y’all see Coach Terrance wander in late like dat?” asked Macy, a tall and thin dark-skinned girl who was best friends with Lucy.


We all stared at Macy, wide-eyed, our heads nodding up and down.


“What y’all think will happen to him?” Macy asked.


The boys’ team must’ve scored, not just a basket but an amazing play—maybe an alley-oop or a three pointer—because the crowd erupted and chanted: “Raiders! Raiders!”


“Happen to him?” Ashley asked. “Why would anything happen to the golden child?”


Eddie Murphy was popular back then, and we’d all seen The Golden Child together in the theater. Ashley had been calling Terrance the golden child ever since, though there was no comparison between the child in the movie and Terrance. Ashley mocked Terrance’s long-legged, loping walk, his way of sitting with his legs too wide apart, and all the attention he paid to Lucy.


“Maybe it was the curse,” Ashley said, and the rest of us groaned.


Lucy and her family had moved to our town in north Georgia from Louisiana, and Lucy was the most superstitious person any of us had ever seen. She always carried a little pouch, and during games she tied the pouch to her bra strap. She called it a gris-gris and said hers was for good luck but that some used gris-gris to cast spells on enemies.


“Then how you know yours is for luck and not a curse?” we asked her.


“’Cause my granny made it for me,” she said with an eyeroll.


And it must’ve been good luck, some of us decided, because we hadn’t lost a game since she’d joined our team and had even hung that state championship banner in ’87.


“You never heard of voodoo?” Lucy had demanded, trying to coax us all into carrying a gris-gris. “Y’all Black, ain’t y’all?”


“We don’t know nothin’ bout no jungle voodoo. Girl, is you crazy?” Ashley had asked her, and we all cracked up.


We gathered our things and went out to the stands to watch the boys’ game. Near the end of the fourth quarter, when we were satisfied that the boys’ twenty-point lead was enough to secure the W, we went outside, piled into the two pickups and drove down to the Hardee’s for burgers and fries. We nodded to our classmates, both those who worked there and those who came to hang out.


And then Terrance walked in.


We all watched him as he stood in the doorway, his eyes searching every corner of the restaurant and then landing at the two tables we’d pushed together near the middle. His eyes moved from one of us to the next. Kasha waved him over, but he turned and went out the door, followed closely by Macy. If you’d seen the look on Macy’s face, you’d know why we all followed her and Terrance out of the restaurant.


In the parking lot, we chased Macy’s red coat as she tracked Terrance all the way to his car, which was parked near the dumpster. We saw the flailing of her arms, the blur of them as she came at him, how he put up his own arms to block her blows. “Where is she?” Macy kept asking. “Where?!”


We watched, most of us stunned, as Terrance locked her arms behind her back. She struggled against him another few seconds, and then collapsed into sobs. He whispered to her, something like, “I don’t know. I don’t know. It wasn’t me . . .”


After that, the speculation and conspiracy theories ramped up. Some folks said she was walking along the side of the highway the morning she disappeared and was probably picked up, though we didn’t believe that for one second. No way would Lucy hitchhike. Some suspected Coach Newson had something to do with her disappearance, but we knew Coach. He’d never hurt any of us. The most popular theory was that Terrance had killed her and dumped her somewhere, until it was confirmed that he was taking the GRE in Atlanta that morning, that she was safely at home at breakfast with her family while he would’ve been en route to the test, and that he was at the testing center for several hours. Coach had known in advance that Terrance would be late to our game.


For months, we searched for her. Hung “Have you seen me?” posters on telephone poles and grocery store bulletin boards.


People left hateful messages for Coach Newson, accused him of pedophilia and violence after someone dug up an old charge from when Newson had been accused of assaulting a much younger ex-girlfriend. He quit the team over it, though he never admitted the reason for his resignation. We’d see him around town, working in the insurance firm his brother worked in, or standing in line at the grocery.


Our team lost. Then lost again. And again. Didn’t make playoffs that year. Before every game, we’d pray to stay healthy, pray to play well, and pray for Lucy. In hindsight, we wanted her home for purely selfish reasons. We wanted her enthusiasm, how she knew the exact right thing to say to each of us before a game. We wanted her for us, our joy, the excitement we felt when she sank a three after popping the ball into the air, quick as lightning off the dribble. We wanted to say that she was a Division I prospect from our school and for her to help us hang another state championship banner during her senior year.


One day, near the end of that terrible ball season, the news broke. Her skull and a leg bone had surfaced, floating peacefully, out at Harmony Shoals. The medical examiner called it an accidental drowning.


The town gathered in our gym for her funeral. Mrs. Boudreaux had told everyone to wear white, and Lucy’s grandmother had given each of us a little gris-gris sachet that we pinned to our warm-up jackets. Coach Newson had quit the team by then, but he came down to the line we formed under the basketball hoop. That must’ve been the last time we were all together with Coach and Terrance. We retired her jersey right then, and it soared up toward the rafters. They put it next to our championship banner from the year before.


Some said it was so sad that we had no body to bury, though others of us said it was better to not see our friend in a coffin and have that memory overtake the living memories. Her folks decided to say a prayer over the spot in Harmony Shoals where they’d found her bones. After the jersey ceremony, the long procession to the Shoals took almost longer than we could bear. Sitting in the backs of the two pickups, we must’ve looked like the saddest girls in the world. When we finally came to the place where someone had stuck a marker in the ground to remember her, Coach and Terrance helped us bring out our gift to Lucy: a humongous wreath we’d made using white ribbon and artificial daffodils. We carefully lay the wreath on the earth. Some of us worried it would blow away, that no one would get to enjoy it for very long. That’s when Terrance looped a bungee cord through the wreath and tied it to a nearby tree.


Mrs. Boudreaux said the prayer, and she just sounded tired, not sad anymore, maybe relieved that she could stop searching, stop lying awake worrying about Lucy.


Some of us moved away. Several of us got college scholarships, became teachers and coaches and business owners and even a lawyer. We scattered, but most stayed around the Peach State. Every year, there was a pancake breakfast fundraiser for the team, and it eventually got named for Lucy Boudreaux. That made us sad. Lucy deserved more than her name attached to the pancake breakfast. She deserved some­thing bigger, a gym named after her or a scholarship fund.


The weekend before she went missing, we’d all gone down to Har­mony Shoals together. It was one of those old-fashioned parks that had a covered bridge leading into it. Once in the water, we stood on the smooth, hot rocks and looked down to see the murky outlines of our feet. Lucy talked about what she would do on graduation day, what she’d wear, how she’d bop across the stage. She, like most of us, wanted to go to college, to marry, raise babies. Under that sun, we all knew, Lucy included, that we would get what we wanted. Everything had come together, and we all rode on a current of youth and newness and the future lay before us, stretched out, endlessly.



From Daughters of Muscadine: Stories by Monic Ductan. Copyright ©2023. Used with the permission of The University Press of Kentucky.

 

Monic Ductan teaches literature and creative writing at Tennessee Tech University. Her writing has appeared in a number of journals, including Southeast Review, Shenandoah, Appalachian Heritage, and South Carolina Review. Her essay "Fantasy Worlds" was listed as notable in Best American Essays 2019. “Gris-Gris” is excerpted from Ductan’s forthcoming book Daughters of Muscadine: Stories (University Press of Kentucky).

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