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"Every Good-Bye Ain't Gone," © Geneva Benton 2018

"Every Good-Bye Ain't Gone," © Geneva Benton 2018

Mixie smelled chicken purloo cooking when she got home from work and knew someone had died. In her thirty years, the only time her mother ever cooked was when a person had passed on and someone needed to speak with the dead.

She strode over to the pot bubbling away on the stove and lifted the lid. The fragrance of smoked pork rolled out, along with the scent of roasting chicken broth, and fresh thyme from the back garden. She stirred it to inhale more of the essence, but she knew better than to eat Mamma’s magic.

Instead, she strolled to the fridge and stared at the offerings inside. “Who died?” she asked.

Her mother was chopping away at something on a cutting board, her back to Mixie, the knife crunching wetly through.

“None of your business.”

“Yeah, but who?” Mixie found a peach, almost too soft; she could feel the pit loosening inside its housing of flesh. She took it to the sink to rinse off the downy coating of fuzz.

When she was younger, she’d been too eager to eat the fruit and regretted the itch the fuzz left. Rubbing made it worse, the inside corners of her mouth taking the brunt of the friction. It was like the make-out session she’d had with Silvio that one time. Her lips had felt over-soft, bruised, and she couldn’t stop touching them. Pushing the thought away, she turned on the tap full blast and shoved the fruit under.

Mamma turned to look at Mixie, her hair in two braids tight to her scalp. Sucked her teeth. “Who do you think?”

She wracked her brain trying to think of whose favorite meal was purloo. Charlestonians loved rice, but most of those Mixie knew preferred other dishes: rich red rice or jambalaya or even cold rice pudding—a sausage made from pork and herbs. Who loved purloo enough to come back to this side for it?

“I don’t know.” Mixie picked at the peach skin with a fingernail until it loosened, then peeled it away in strips. Dangled each over her mouth before dropping it in. Then she realized. “Oh …”

She hadn’t thought of Terrell in so long, she’d forgotten his favorite food. But why? Who was bringing back her ex-husband?

Every good-bye ain’t gone. Words she’d been hearing her whole life. The family had turned it into a motto. Better than Caterers for the Dead, she supposed. The Upshaws cooked food for the deceased and combined with the right people, the right timing, the right prayer, their spirits would return to answer questions, give advice, tell truths.

“Before you ask, his wife requested a full service. Chose the most expensive plan we offer.” Mamma’s knife flew through an onion, dicing it into small chunks. She dropped them into a large stewpot with a smoked pork neck bone and turned on the burner. “And you know we need a real good reason to turn down that kinda money.”

A full service meant that woman—what was her name? Neicy? Neely?—wanted all three: questions, advice, and truths. So they would have to make three dishes. The chicken and rice was cooking, and a pile of washed collard greens waited in the sink. Mixie put down her peach to gather the greens, her movements wooden. She pushed the leaves into the sizzling pot, then covered them with water from the teakettle on the stove, followed by the lid.

Why now? Terrell’s been dead almost a year. We were divorced for six months before that. And he’d been with that woman—was it Nancy?—a year or so before we split up. That I know of.

When Mixie looked up, Mamma was watching her. Close. Like she already knew the litany playing in her daughter’s mind. “You don’t have to go tonight, you know. I can get your brother—”

“I’m better at communicating than he is.” Except, it seemed, when it came to Terrell.

“I know.” Mamma wiped her hands on a dishcloth.

“So?” Mixie asked, wondering if her mother was going to make two sacrifices tonight. First the chicken, second making her stay home and using her brother as focus for the sitting instead. Benjamin was a great cop, but he didn’t have Mixie’s experience with the dead.

“So, I guess you’re going. Get me the butter. I need to make a pie.”

She pulled the fridge door open again and took out the box of waxed-paper-wrapped sticks. “Pecan?”

Mamma’s face froze. Then a little frown formed between her eyebrows. “No … sweet potato.”

Since when? Terrell’s favorite dessert was pecan pie. No ice cream, no whipped cream. Just plenty of bourbon and sugar in a crisp, flaky crust that shattered when touched with a fork. Nuts chopped instead of whole.

“Oh, right,” Mixie said. “Want me to make it?”

“No, you get washed up and changed. I put everything in the boxes already. We need to be there at seven.”

Mixie glanced at her phone. She had three hours to get her head right for the sitting. Spirits could tell when something was off. Sometimes they’d ignore your efforts. Other times, they’d make a beeline for that flawed spot inside of you. The one that’s worn away, leaving a tiny hole that never gets filled no matter how happy you are. And that, Mixie knew, was so much worse.

“I need a bath.”

Mamma nodded. “Good idea. Take as long as you need,” she called out as Mixie walked away to the bathroom. “Refill the tub, if you have to.”

Mixie sprinkled the water in the tub with bluing and climbed in. The claw foot stood in the middle of the room, still in its pride of place since the house was built during Reconstruction after the Civil War. Mixie’s family had been cooking for the dead since before Juneteenth, when the slaves were finally freed. Her family had been lucky to get the land for the price they had, even luckier to avoid the ire of those who detested the nineteenth of June.

She reclined in the steaming water, laced with salt for purity and rosemary for clarity of mind, and let her thoughts drift. Had Terrell forgotten he liked pecan pie? Maybe that woman he married didn’t know how to make them right. He’d lost a great deal of weight when she’d seen him last to ask about the house. Sure, what’s her name lived there, but part of that down payment had been hers. Wasn’t she owed something?

Absently, she lathered a cloth with castile soap and washed thoroughly. Sweet potato pie. Mixie doubted that woman knew how to make a decent one. You had to boil the sweet potatoes in their skins to keep out the water, or it would drain away their flavor. Then peel the tough skin away and put the orange flesh through a ricer to remove the fibrous parts.

There was no reason to care, was there?

They’d split up, Mixie leaving the house she’d shared with Terrell and coming back to her mother’s after the divorce. That woman moving in.

It was over, because he hadn’t come first.

I’m what, Mixie? Third on your list of priorities?

He’d been fourth actually, after God, and Mamma, and cooking.

And this magic … He’d scoffed, waved his hand like he was clearing a room of a foul smell. Like her magic was nothing—a silly fancy not real enough to acknowledge with words. Like she wasn’t enough. But no one can separate a witch from her magic, unless she wants to be. Even then, it would wind its way back, bringing a good reason to take up the candles and the herbs and the whispers again.

You’re a teacake, Mixie. Like those desserts you make. He’d avoided calling her chocolate … small mercy. A fancy sweet that melts away. I need a meat and potatoes woman.

And he got one. Mixie had her ears out there and she’d heard Terrell’s new wife was no filler, no fluff. Work, eat, sleep, work again. Presumably, fuck was somewhere in that list because Terrell did like all his hungers satisfied. She kept his clothes looking good too: fresh from the cleaners, immaculate, creases sharp, and in them he marched around like a peacock.

A few weeks after they split, Mixie dreamed of fish, and she knew the woman was pregnant. But these fish weren’t the usual docile schools of bubbling swimmers. They were hideous, hunchbacked sea monsters, their twisted maws full of needle-like teeth. Mamma sent a baby shower gift, even though Mixie asked her not to. A lavender baby blanket, kitten soft, with a tiny stitched moon yawning among a scattering of stars.

She bore no ill will toward Terrell; they’d wanted different things out of life. But on some nights when the air carried a chill, she had a fleeting moment of missing him. And she wondered how happy he was. Would she take him back? No, never. Well … probably not. But she wouldn’t get the chance to dwell on the decision.

Soon, Terrell was dead and no one knew what happened to the baby, if indeed there had been one. His burial was quick after the postmortem, which found arteries clogged like a man’s twice his age. Natural causes, the coroner said. No foul play. Just a heart attack while driving and a subsequent drowning in the Ashley River. Mamma had gone to the funeral. She’d come home from the cemetery and the repast complimenting the beautiful service and berating the choice of caterer.

“Cake squares. Can you believe it? I’ll bet they were from a mix,” she’d chortled. “It should have been petits fours. You serve delicate cakes for the bereaved. Doesn’t anyone know that?”

Mixie had agreed, not looking up from her book, making sympathetic noises as her mother prattled on while changing out of her Sunday best.

"Every Good-Bye Ain't Gone," © Geneva Benton 2018

A timer went off in the kitchen, jolting Mixie out of her reverie. She sat up, poured a cup of the salt and rosemary bathwater over her head three times, then climbed out. Said a prayer before pulling the plug. Mixie anointed her curls with Crown of Success oil and let the excess drip onto her body, where it left shimmering trails before she smoothed the rivulets into her skin.

What could that woman want from Terrell now? Questions, advice, and truths?

Maybe, Mixie thought, pulling a white cotton dress over her head, just maybe she could get some questions of her own answered.

Mixie walked behind her mother up the stairs to the porch of the woman’s house. She carried the family’s signature cake boxes with the requested sweet potato pies, deep sienna with teal script. Her mother carried the empty chafing dishes, tins of fuel gel, and boxes of candles with extra-long fireplace matches. Her brother Benjamin, beast of burden that he was, was heavy laden with dishes of hot food.

When the door opened, Mixie’s shoulders tightened. But the woman removed the pinched look of disapproval from her heavily contoured face quickly enough. Her wig was made of human hair, Mixie noted, but it wasn’t a style that flattered her.

“Appreciate you for coming,” she said. The door swung wide.

“Thank you kindly, Nathalie,” Mamma said, and Mixie rolled her eyes. “Come on,” she hissed when her daughter hesitated before stepping inside.

The house was air conditioner cold; none of the sweet heat of the outside breeze penetrated these walls. When she had lived in this house, Mixie had kept the windows cracked open during the day to allow fresh air to blow through, taking with it stale, stagnant scents.

Mixie, her mother, and her brother followed Nathalie to the dining room where five chairs surrounded a table laid with five place settings.

“Over there.” Nathalie pointed to the table and folded her arms across her chest to watch while the Upshaws arranged the mise en place for the sitting.

Thick white linen cloth draped the mahogany table. A taper candle, unscented as to not disturb the aroma of the food, went into each of the house’s three silver candelabras.

“Good thing I don’t have to use mine,” Mamma whispered. “And you smell like cinnamon. You’re not trying to get that man back, are you?”

“He’s dead, Mamma.”

“So what?” she asked while Benjamin set down the trays of hot food and placed them in the chafing dishes. Both women watched as he popped the tops off cans of fuel gel and placed them under the dishes. Finished, he stepped back to his mother and sister.

Mamma lit the fuel, then nodded to her daughter.

“We ask for guidance and safe passage,” Mixie intoned, her voice clear and silvery. “Blessings for this food the dead are about to receive. May it nourish their souls with memory and feed our bodies with their words.”

“Touch and agree,” her mother said, taking Mixie’s right hand.

“Touch and agree,” Benjamin parroted, slipping one of his slender, rough hands into each of the women’s, completing the circle.

Power arced between their joined hands, the jolt feeling like a knife slipped through tender skin. First, only pressure. Then the sting, sharp and hot, followed by a throb of pain that pulsed in time with Mixie’s heartbeat. An aching, lazy pulse thick and slow as spun honey. Her mother rode it out, face not changing expression, but Mixie saw the control she used to pull off that feat.

Benjamin’s face was the picture of awe, head tilted back to look at the ceiling as if it was the first time he’d ever seen a sunset over the ocean. Mixie smiled through her own pain. He really hadn’t had the chance to experience much of the family magic. Full services were rare, as they typically held sittings consisting of one dish that could be accomplished with two people. She squeezed his hand and he looked down, then across at her, bestowing his radiant smile.

“We’re ready,” Mamma said, gesturing for everyone to take a seat.

They unwrapped the food, and steam rose in misty whorls, bringing the scents of Terrell’s favorites: roasted, herb-laden chicken, the rice it lay on having soaked up the cooking liquor until it was plump and soft, and the collard greens, wilted from their shared bath with smoky pork, sprinkled with a spicy vinegar to cut through any lingering richness. Heady scents made Mixie’s stomach rumble. Mamma opened one of the two boxes of pie.

Nathalie’s mouth was in a hard line. Her table was set with beautiful china. Mikasa, unless Mixie missed her guess, and her silverware was polished to a mirror quality. Stone-faced, she said, “I can ask now?”

“Just a minute,” Mamma said with kindness, but Mixie wasn’t fooled. She knew Mamma had seen the woman’s reaction to their ritual, this feeding of the dead, and had deemed it beneath her. Even so, Mamma dished up the food onto the warmed plates and passed them out to everyone. Terrell got his own serving. “This is a nice meal and we’re all going to act like we’re enjoying it.”

“Thanks for cooking, Ma,” Benjamin said.

“Smells good, Mamma.”

“You’re both welcome.”

Nathalie watched while they shared around the food, talking as though it were a normal Sunday dinner. Finally, she took her fork and began to push the food around on her plate. So, her thanks weren’t forthcoming.

Mixie looked at her mother who shrugged. She’d never seen someone as unwilling to participate when they’d specifically asked for their services. She hoped her mother asked for payment up front.

Now was as good a time as any. Mixie struck one of the fireplace matches and lit each taper candle. The flames flared up halfway to the vaulted ceiling before settling to a gentle glow.

“Call him,” Mamma whispered to Nathalie. When the woman shook her head, Mamma frowned. “You still want this? Then you call your husband to the dinner table.”

“Terrell? Honey … dinner.” Nathalie’s whispered croak wouldn’t have brought a rabbit to carrots.

“He’s dead, not in the next room.”

“Mixie,” Mamma scolded.

The woman cleared her throat and tried again, not managing to do much better. Mixie had enough.

“Terrell! Ter–rell James Hamilton, time for dinner!” The words felt familiar in her mouth—chewy sweet, tangy on the back of her tongue and she winced at how good they tasted.

The candle flames shuddered and flared again, illuminating the faces of those around the table. When the flames returned to normal, they saw a three-fingered pinch missing from one of the pies.

Nathalie gasped, her fork clanging to her plate. She brought her hands to her mouth, pressing in her scream, Mixie guessed. But Mixie wasn’t surprised. Terrell had always stolen a bit of dessert before dinner. He loved to say, Never know if I’m gonna make it to dinner, do I?

As they watched, the skin and flesh melted from a chicken thigh resting at the edge of the plate between Mixie’s and Nathalie’s, pinched away to nothing. Nathalie scooted her chair back, but Mamma stopped her from rising from her seat with a glare. The leaves of tender collards formed into pyramids, as if picked up in eager fingers and wafted into nothingness. The air conditioner stuttered to a stop, but the heavy chill lingered. For some reason, it didn’t affect the heat of the food.

When Terrell’s plate was empty, a shadow darted between the chafing dishes on the table. Mixie heard Nathalie’s tremulous warbling and cut her eyes at the woman. She’d asked for this. Mamma had explained everything and prepared her. But she obviously hadn’t listened. Or understood. Not really.

"Every Good-Bye Ain't Gone," © Geneva Benton 2018

Like so many people, Nathalie heard what she wanted and filtered out the rest. Mixie envied people who were able to do that. She heard the voices of the dead so often, it had become like she was sitting at a family meal all the time.

The shadow lingered over the hot food, hovered like a thick stream of coiling smoke off a charcoal grill or the acrid plumes of a burnt-to-a-cinder dish. Sniffing. Sampling. A raw, snuffling sound, of wild and hungry animals clawing for a meal.

Mixie’s arm throbbed. She looked down, expecting to see a cut, a flesh one, but there was nothing marring her brown skin. A vein twitched. Terrell had eaten of each dish, any minute, Mamma woul—

“Ask now,” Mamma said.

But Nathalie was staring. Staring at the void of inky mist that used to be her husband, whose tendrils now sank into the steaming rice, picking. Devouring. Her plump lower lip trembled, jiggled jelly-like.

The candles flickered, flame and smoke consuming the molded soy wax. Mixie sat back, sipped her wine. If Nah-tha-lee didn’t hurry up, all the food would be gone and along with it her opportunity to know whatever it was she needed to.

“What’s your question?” Mamma prompted. “Quickly.”

The shadow didn’t seem to notice the trauma going on at the table. It continued to consume, making snuffling sounds, a pig after a truffle. The darkness of its form grew, deepened into a richer, more solid black. The tendrils’ reach grew as well. Now they almost touched the walls.

“Damn,” Mixie said. “Did you not feed him?”

Nathalie’s head snapped toward Mixie and her upper lip curled. “He ate too much junk! That was your doing.”


She thumped her well-manicured hands down on the table. “Yes, yours! He was used to that rich, salty food you cook. What was I supposed to do? Say, ‘Terrell, will you please eat more vegetables?’”

Nooooo …

The answer stretched through the room, cavernous and resonant, ending on a sizzling hiss. Nathalie’s sneer dropped, face slackening with shock. She stiffened, her nails scraping along the linen tablecloth as she clenched her hand into a fist.

“That wasn’t my question and you know it.” Her words were ground out, powder fine. “You—”

“Careful, you only have advice and truth left.” Mixie pursed her lips. “Better not waste them.”

“Girls!” Mamma said, a frown marring her unlined brown forehead. “Yes, I called you grown-ass women girls, ’cause that’s how you’re acting. This is a sitting, not a playground.”

Mamma continued, ignoring their pouts. “Go on now and ask for your advice. Hurry, we don’t have a lot of time.”

A deep pull of breath in, released on a bourbon-soaked puff. “Terrell, how can I sell this house? I don’t have the deed and the cost of upkeep is breaking me.”

Mamma’s eyes flicked to Mixie and she shrugged.

The shadow stilled in its consumption. Its tendrils contracted, pulled closer to the main splot of dimness, solidifying. A face—possibly Terrell’s—formed in the amoeba-like matter then dissolved before reforming into something haphazard, confused, thrown together without thought. The neck, though, was evident. Well-defined. It stretched, pulled taut, as if the shadow reached for something with its jumbled muddle of a head. Lumps, like those in a fed snake’s belly, moved thickly, painfully down its corded gorge on a choked swallow.

Then breakkk …

Huffs of stale air made Mixie realize the shadow was laughing.

Breakkk like you broke me …

Fear crawled along Nathalie’s face and Mixie could see the stain of heat rising up her neck even in the dim room. She pressed her smile into the rim of her wineglass. How could she have missed this?

Nathalie wasn’t amused. “This is some kind of joke. You’re … you’re all playing with me, aren’t you? It’s sick. What you’re doing. Sick.”

The fine tremors in her body made the encroaching tendrils wispy and fine. They retracted, a pulse of vapor, then advanced again, coiled around the legs of Nathalie’s chair.

“No, child. We haven’t done anything sick.” Mamma’s face was impassive, her voice clear, but soft. “Have you?”

“How dare you,” Nathalie growled. She threw her wine in Mamma’s face. Droplets splashed on one of the candles, extinguishing it and leaving the tang of vinegar in the air.

The entire room waited a breath.

In. Out.

“You must be looking to die,” Benjamin said.

Nathalie’s hand closed around her table knife. “Try me.” She bolted up from her chair, scraping it back. Before the knife cleared the table, the tendrils tugged and the chair shot forward again, knocking the woman’s legs from under her. Her ass hit the seat, then her chest crashed against the table. Air whooshed from her lungs, endangering the life of another candle.

“Hmm.” Mamma touched her strand of pearls. “You might want to come clean about it, whatever it is.”

“What are you doing to me?”

The tendrils pulled the chair forward again. Mixie thought she could hear a crunching, a crushing. All that tooth grinding Nat was doing set her own teeth on edge. Mixie unzipped her purse, fished around, finally coming up with a piece of gum. Popped it in her mouth and chewed, glad for the minty buffer.

“We’re not doing anything. All we do is lure the spirit back. How they act toward you … varies.” Mamma narrowed her eyes. “Ask for your truth. While you have breath.”

“Let me go!”

Benjamin looked up from his place setting, where he was folding his napkin into a bow tie. “That’s not really a question.”

“Aren’t you going to help me?” Her voice wheedled out, nails clawing, scratching at the linen. Mixie looked at her mother.

“We can stop this now if you release us from the full contract. We’ll retain all payment, of course. All I have to do is extinguish the candles.” Mixie eyed her. “But you won’t get your truth, Nat.”

Chair legs scraped again.

“No.” Nathalie dragged in a breath—Mixie wasn’t sure how with that table digging into her torso, but she managed it—and coughed it out. “Terrell, tell me where the deed is. The truth.”

Terrell’s shadow rose to hover above the table. It pulled itself forward by those tendrils until it was nose to inky, amorphous matter with Nathalie.

You firrrrrst … Truuuth …

The shadow grasped her upper arms, shook her, or maybe Nat was shuddering so hard her teeth rattled. Mixie bit down on her molars, the gum between them popping like bubble wrap. The candle stuttered. Not much longer now.

“How—” Mamma began.

“Ha! I knew sweet potato wasn’t his favorite.”

Mamma’s mouth twisted and Mixie knew she was going to get an earful in the car. But her words were for Nathalie. “Answer him, child!”

The chair eased back, enough to allow her to drag in a breath. Her eyes darted around the table, but she didn’t get a response from any of the Upshaws or from Terrell. She sighed, coughed. A drop of blood reddened the white linen.

“Oh, I’m tired of this.” Mixie pushed her chair back, stood. “I used to live here, so I know the places to hide things.”

Mamma’s mouth opened, like she was about to tell her daughter’s head a mess. But she thought better of it, and closed her mouth again as Mixie stomped off and out of the room.

As large as the house was, Mixie moved through it with speed. Each step felt more familiar, despite the woman’s ill-advised changes in décor. She looked in the cabinet under the kitchen sink to find half-used bottles of her favored cleaners. Behind the loosened tile in the master bathroom, she discovered a roll of what looked like mold-softened bills. She shook her head, and replaced the square of porcelain, leaving its secret intact.

In the garage, she swung open the door to a small closet, revealing Terrell’s suits and casual clothes. From them, the eye-watering scent of chemicals wept out. It was overwhelming, as if this door hadn’t been opened since his death. Mixie staggered under the reek of it, tasting sharp and metallic as it choked her. Stumbling, she steadied herself on a rack of his folded t-shirts. She pushed herself away from the closet, slamming the doors to cut off the invasion of the synthetic smell.

Mixie gasped for fresh air, then she high-tailed it back to the dining room.

“What did you do?” she choked out. Two heads turned toward her. Nathalie’s, however, stayed resolutely still, eyes focused on the jacquard-print wallpaper in front of her. Her wild-eyed stare chilled Mixie. “What did you do to him?”

“What—” her mother began.

“She knows exactly what I’m talking about,” Mixie said, advancing into the room where the spirit still hovered over the steaming food. “His clothes smell like they’ve been soaked in some kind of … chemical. It’s like a dry cleaners in that garage.”

“Those chemicals are dangerous. Saw something about it in an old case file one time.” Benjamin tapped on his phone and after a few swipes of a finger, held the device out to his sister. “Here.”

Mixie scanned the article about a chemical she couldn’t pronounce. Fury rose up in her chest when she read out loud. “This says ‘stays stable in drinking water, however effects can be combatted with iodine.’ You cut salt out of Terrell’s diet, didn’t you? I remember him telling me that.”

Benjamin’s mouth set in a line and Mamma’s fingers slid back and forth over her pearls as Mixie spoke.

“‘Care must be taken as continued exposure can cause arteries to clog.’” Mixie tossed the phone back to her brother. “You killed him! Why? How could you, he—” The words loved you stuck in her throat and she couldn’t force them out.

A grating rasp ebbed out of the woman and belatedly Mixie realized it for what it was: a laugh. The tendrils contracted, bringing Nat against the table again and again, until her echoing laughter descended into a wet rattling.

“Enough!” Mixie removed her gum and pressed the lump of pink over the second candle flame, extinguishing it. The third quivered, but valiantly held as the shadow receded and Nathalie slumped to the table.

She mumbled words Mixie couldn’t hear, her cheek resting on the white linen, spittle-thinned blood leaking from her mouth.

Mamma called for an ambulance while Mixie leaned over to the woman’s chair. Pressed her fingertips against the neck. Listened to the labored breathing. She knew enough to not move the woman until the EMTs showed up, in case there was neck or spine injury.

There was one thing bothering Mixie. She bit her lip, trying to control the urge to ask. The flavor from her gum was gone, leaving a bitter coating in her mouth. She looked up, but Mamma was busy blowing out the flames under the chafing dishes. Once she removed the foil trays of food from them, and Benjamin packed up, they’d be ready to go. They’d leave the door unlocked for the paramedics.

Fuck it.

Mixie leaned down, put her mouth close to the woman’s ear. “Were you ever really pregnant?” she whispered.

Nat’s tongue slipped out, swiped her dry lips. Her lipstick was gone, leaving a smeared rim of dark liner that made her face look unfinished. The mischievous glint in her eyes was answer enough.

“Jesus.” Mixie stood up, but Nat grabbed her arm, pulled her close once again.

“Plain ol’ Gatorade works every time.”

Mixie yanked free, rubbed her arm to rid herself of the clammy feel of that grip.

Benjamin came around to Nat’s side of the table and moved the cutlery out of her reach. He’d put the lanyard with his police badge on it around his neck. “Just in case,” he said.

Mixie wasn’t sure which one of his actions he was referring to, so she left it and gestured to the shadow of her ex-husband hovering in the corner, subdued but not banished. Yet.

She inhaled the scent of cinnamon on her skin. There was still truth left. She turned to the shadow hovering tableside. “Terrell, where is the deed to the house?”


Of course Terrell wouldn’t answer, not with his less-than-favorite dessert on offer. But he was already here, already summoned, and there was no reason to waste a truth.

Mixie drained the last drops of wine from the bottle on the table and held the open mouth toward her ex-husband. “If you’ll come to Mamma’s house with me, I’ll bake you a pie. Pecan this time.”

After a moment, the inky shadow compressed itself, twirling down into the bottle like water running down a drain.

Maybe, Mixie thought as she inserted the cork, she’d start with changing that wallpaper.

"Every Good-Bye Ain't Gone," © Geneva Benton 2018

Eden Royce is a freshwater Geechee from Charleston, South Carolina, now living in the English countryside. Her stories have appeared on PodCastle and in Fireside Fiction, Fiyah Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, and Abyss & Apex. Find her at and on Twitter @edenroyce.
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