Written by Erin Nust
Art by Mikhail Nilov

“Are you sure? Once we start the procedure, there’s no turning back.”

The room was heavy with sage smoke and other aromas Betty couldn’t recognize. On the walls hung dark curtains that depicted constellations and terrifying tarot cards. One would think she had lost her common sense with all the emissions. 

“I’m sure. He has to pay,” she said to the woman on the other side of the table. 

“Very well.” The woman’s eyelids were almost closed, her eyes slit open. She was one with the atmosphere of the room. Her hair was an unbrushed dark bush rooted from her scalp and reaching her back. It was pulled back from her oval-shaped face with a purple headband. Her fingers were decorated with snake-like rings, some with coloured stones on them.  

“Did you bring them?” she asked Betty with a hoarse voice. Betty nodded and grabbed her purse which hung from the chair she was sitting on. She dug around for a few seconds until she found a small plastic bag with a handful of hair. Betty placed them on the starry tablecloth, besides the kitch crystal ball.

 “Very good,” Agnes nodded and touched the bag with her jewelry-heavy hands.  

Betty had collected some of Jake’s hair during his last visit in town. She had heard from a friend of hers that Madame Agnes was able to do the most unearthly things to someone if she possessed their  hair. It wasn’t easy to make a decision like that, but no one would understand how she felt when for the last year, at random times in the day, she had random flashes of her fiance cheating on her on every port he reached. Betty didn’t know how or why this happened, but she could see clearly in her mind’s eye whatever happened during Jake’s trips. 

“Tell me more about the man,” Madame Agnes asked as she was opening the bag and reached for a square box from the shelf behind her.

“He’s a sailor. We were planning on getting  married this year, but that’s not  happening now. I saw him with all of these women. I’m disgusted,”

Madame Agnes concentrated on finding some objects in the box.  “What do you mean you saw him?” she asked, somewhat absentmindedly.

“It’s hard to explain. I sometimes can see what he’s doing while he’s away. I can see these flashes of him in the ship with the other sailors, with the women.”

“You have the gift of sight. Interesting,” Madame Agnes said as she was laying some tobacco, thin cigar papers and filters. She put the box back to the shelf.

“Interesting? It’s torture! I want this to end, now!” Betty’s voice came out harsh and loud, but Agnes’s face remained composed.

Betty tried to calm herself. She watched Madame Agnes spreading some of the tobacco on the cigar paper with total dedication. Then she added some of the hairs and licked the edges of the paper to stick together when she would roll it. Betty felt her lunch reaching the root of her throat.

Madame Agnes raised her eyes and looked at Betty, holding a perfectly made cigarette. “There’s an old superstition,” she said as she stood to grab for a candle and a box of matches. She sat back down on her seat and put the candle in front of her. She looked so deep into Betty’s eyes that it was uncomfortable, soul-reaching. She took a match from the box and lighted it up, then used it to the white candle. She held the cigar in front of her mouth as if she was ready to smoke. 

“Whenever someone lights up a cigarette using the flame from a candle instead of a lighter or a match, a sailor dies.” Betty was now looking mesmerized by the swift moves of the woman with the wild hair.

“At least that is what my grandmother used to tell me. But what do they know? These things are just an old wife’s tale, right?” she said and put the cigar on the candle’s flame. The paper burned and the smell of tobacco merged with the rest of the aromas in the room. 

Betty didn’t move from her place. As the fire consumed the cigar, Jake’s image floated in her mind. He was in a cabin, drinking beers with some sailors. His head was dizzy and unclear from the alcohol, but he was having fun, watching his friends sing and dance without rhythm. Betty saw him falling dead on the ground, his friends still laughing at him. Jake’s heart had stopped and the image dissipated like smoke under the power of wind. 

“Thank you,” she said asMadame Agnes crushed the cigar to an ashtray next to her.