Magdalene

by Maura Yzmore

After Father broke my arm for the second time in the first grade, Grandma said it couldn’t be helped. I was just born unlucky, on the thirteenth, to a mother of whom no one spoke.

I tried hard not to tempt fate. Grandma taught me to stay away from ladders, black cats, and mirrors. To not step on cracks in the pavement. To hide in the closet or the attic or the next-door neighbor’s when Father was about to come home from a triple shift, the third spent knocking back drinks at a bar two blocks away.

My luck improved as I got older and learned the rhythm of Father’s comings and goings, my sight and hearing finely attuned to the slight changes in the pitch of his voice, the flare of his nostrils, the angle at which his caterpillar brow dipped toward his nose, all heralds that my luck would run out unless I made myself scarce.

But there was only so much good fortune in the world. The luckier I became, the worse it was for Grandma, her face purple and green where her son’s meaty paws had landed, a color-coded calendar of my timely escapes—until the day she died.

I felt rage, so much rage toward the happy kids at my school and all the good luck they took for granted. So I helped relieve them of some of that abundant, decadent fortune; I helped them fall and scrape their knees, lose lunch money and homework, step on cracks in the pavement and bloody their noses.

But not Magdalene.

Magdalene, with thin, blue veins under translucent skin, her hair and eyelashes so blonde they were white. I tried to trip her up, get her to rip her dress, break her compact mirror, but she was always perfectly fine. She knew what I was up to, yet she smiled at me anyway with a warmth I’d known from no one but Grandma, and that made my insides burn and my eyes well up, and I couldn’t tell if I was sad or angry or something else I couldn’t name, and amid the helplessness and confusion I decided I would have some of Magdalene’s good fortune if it was the last thing I ever did.

So I followed her home, keeping my distance. Each day, I’d follow her a bit further, until shame overwhelmed me and I went back home. I watched her walk under ladders and step on cracks in the pavement, carefree, as if none of that mattered.

The day a black cat crossed her path, I stopped, certain she would change her route. But Magdalene squatted, picked up the cat, then turned around and said to me, “We’re almost at my place. Don’t leave now.” We walked side by side the rest of the way, the black cat relaxed in the girl’s arms.

Magdalene lived in a small one-story house that backed into a wooded area. “Mom’s not home yet,” she said as she put the cat down and unlocked the door. The air inside was stale. Several cats, a bird, a fishbowl. Dozens of pictures of a smiling little Magdalene and a white-haired woman who looked just like her.

We went to the kitchen in the back. I asked for a glass of water and drank it up in loud, desperate gulps.

“Thanks. I should get going…”

“Not yet,” said Magdalene. “I’ve got something for you, but you have to help me get it. It won’t take long.”

We went out the back door and through the uncut grass to where the yard opened into the woods. Magdalene knelt on the ground by a tree, one of the roots sticking out like a giant knuckle. She plunged her arm into a hole beneath the root and pulled out a gray rabbit. She held it by the fur on the back of its neck like she’d done it countless times before.

As we made our way back, I noticed two metal rods, side by side, inches long and inches apart, sticking out of the house wall. Magdalene slid the rabbit’s neck in between the rods, like on rails, then grabbed the animal’s hind legs and yanked them up high, far above where the rods tethered the head.

I froze.

The rabbit’s body went limp, its neck broken. It was over.

Magdalene seemed unmoved. I followed her inside, even though I couldn’t really feel my legs. She placed the rabbit on the counter, pulled out a cleaver from a drawer, and cut off a hind foot.

“For you,” she said, holding the rabbit’s foot between her fingers for me to see. “It’ll bring you good luck. But I need a few days to prepare and dry it.”

My voice came back as a whisper. “Are, are you gonna make one for yourself?”

Magdalene shook her head. “No. A rabbit’s foot is only lucky if it’s received as a gift. I already have one, anyway.” She took out a rabbit-foot key chain from her pocket. “Mom made this one for me.”

I ran fingers through my hair. My hand was shaking.

“Magdalene…I…This is a lot to take in.”

She smiled. “I know.” She put the key chain back in her pocket, and the bloody rabbit foot right next to where it was severed.

I nodded toward the carcass. “What about the rest of it?”

“Dinner,” said Magdalene. “My mom can butcher anything. She always says, ‘We make our own food and we make our own luck.’ ”

Magdalene’s eyes met mine.

“You know what else my mom says?”

I shook my head no.

“She says that any animal can be killed. No matter how big, mean, or scary. No matter who they are.”

I swallowed hard. My face burned under Magdalene’s gaze.

She stood up on her toes and placed a kiss on my cheek. “You’re gonna love your new rabbit foot. And I know just how we can test it.”

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