Henry Joe squints through the smoke at the little white storefront. Who hasn’t heard of Mama Silva? Catty corner from the boarded up liquor store, Mama Silva’s open all the time, working fearsome magics in her back room behind a curtain made of beads . Crack heads and knife fights and sirens in the night: Mama Silva just goes on. She’s older than the mountains and wiser than the moon, and she plays with people’s lives like they’re puppets on strings wet with blood.
Henry Joe keeps as far away from magic as he can. Before she died of drinking, his mother told him how the night that he was born, the wind cried till the dawn came, and when the sun came up, there were three feathers on the windowsill: one black, one barred, and one grey like a dove’s. She carried her newborn boy to the window, she said, and when he saw those feathers his tiny little hand reached out sure and strong, and picked up that black feather by its quill.
She spent her life convinced her fifth-born one had been touched by the Spirits, and Henry Joe’s spent his whole life running from the thought.
If that’s possible, Mama Silva scares him more than Nettie Chubai. So he and Sam sit staring at each other, at Mama Silva’s front door, at anything but that damn sack. They could be here all night while Sam screws up the nerve to pick it up, and Henry Joe can’t stand that crawling dread any longer.
“Ah shit,” he says, and swinging open the door, he grabs the thing from the seat. The sudden weight of it, far more than its size should allow, drags his arm to the ground. Sam’s eyes roll; he flings open the door and starts down the sidewalk, never looking back. Henry Joe hauls the sack up into both arms, ignoring the squishy shifting of the contents, and follows Sam to Mama Silva’s door.
Sam Bass eases open the carved front door and they step into a little room full of golden lamplight and the smell of incense. Shelves along the wall hold votives and little pots labeled in Spanish. Crucifixes and statues of the Virgin fill a glass display case in the front. By the window two old women dressed in black and silver whisper, heads together, over a box filled with bundles of dried herbs.
Beads rattle like mesquite beans. Henry Joe glances up, mouth suddenly dry. Lamplight fractures like tiny rainbows on the crystals hanging from the doorway of another room in back. They part, and a small woman in black steps through.
She has silver hair piled high with combs and the hard proud face of a Mayan queen, and with a smile she holds out her hand to Sam Bass.
“Welcome, mijo. And how is your tia keeping?”
Sam casts a wild eye at Henry Joe. His voice creaks. “She’s, well, she says, uh, hello. She sends this.”
Cued, Henry Joe leans around from behind him. The contents of the bag sag moistly against his chest. His arms ache from the weight. “Where do you want it?” he hears himself say.
“Give Nettie my thanks,” says Mama Silva, and reaching up, she plucks the sack neatly from Henry Joe’s grasp. Lifting it in one hand like a grocery bag full of feathers, she gestures the two of them into the curtained room.
The two old women by the window glance up from their herbs. Smiling, Mama Silva tells them something in rapid-fire Spanish; they beam at Sam and Henry Joe.
That smile sends a worm of fear across the back of Henry Joe’s neck. He clears his throat. Mama Silva turns her black-ice eyes upon him.
“Come in, querido, and have some tea. I knew your mother, once.”