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Beyond that, Hattie might let a visitor use her bathroom if they needed. Anyone curious or nosy enough to approach the other two doors (firmly closed) would get a warning from Mr. Sniff, her cat. Once or twice in Hattie’s long career, she had to give a visitor a poke with a broom handle and a dire threat. Not that there was much to see behind either door.
One door went to her bedroom. The nightstand was the only cluttered part of the bedroom, stacked with books. The other door opened on a narrow hallway, leading to a back porch. It was screened in, had indoor-outdoor carpeting, and sported a small hammock. On this muggy summer afternoon, Hattie was snoozing in the hammock, a little afternoon constitutional—
BAM BAM BAM
Mr. Sniff, curled up on the warm carpet, jumped up and hissed. “Wha?” Hattie gasped, flipping herself out of the hammock. She landed on her hip, snarling a curse that would have curdled the swamp water if it wasn’t already nasty.
The pounding again. “Coming!” Hattie snarled, ducking through the narrow hall and grabbing her hat off the dining room table. Mr. Sniff went straight for the door and meowed, stretching himself toward the knob like he would let the visitor in himself.
“Huh,” said Hattie. Mr. Sniff was a pretty good judge of her visitors, even through the door, and he’d never done that before.
“What’cha want?” Hattie asked, jerking the door open and stepping back before the visitor knocked her nose. She sized up the young woman on the other side: she looked both plain and angry. Well, a Loosyana summer was enough to make anyone a bit testy.
“I want to disappear,” the visitor snapped.
“Come back at night and get off the path,” Hattie replied. “You’ll disappear right quick. But I guess that ain’t what you meant. Here, let’s sit out on the porch swing. What’s yer name?”
“Okay, Paula. Tell me what’s on your mind, and I’ll tell you if I can help. You want a glass of water or anything?”
“Yeah, water would be good. I’m sweatin’ like a pig out here.”
“Okay. Sit tight. I’ll be right back.”
Pouring the water, Hattie debated, then decided it couldn’t hurt nothing. She poured a goodly knock of vodka into Paula’s glass. It would help to loosen her tongue.
Hattie returned to the porch, to find Mr. Sniff in the woman’s lap, purring up a storm. Paula smiled and obliged the cat with ear scratches and head rubs.
“If that don’t beat all,” said Hattie, sitting next to her. “He ain’t usually that friendly. You must be a good person all the way down. Here’s ya some water. Tell me what’s on your mind. Why you wanna disappear? You ain’t killed nobody, have ya?”
That got a wry chuckle out of Paula. “Naw. Not yet, anyway.” She took a gulp. “No offense, but your water tastes a little funny.”
“It comes out a well. Eighty, ninety years ago, they went drillin’ for oil and struck water instead. They just capped it off, but one of my predecessors tapped it and run some pipe back here. Gotta pump it, but it beats draggin’ a barrel of water down the path. It’s probably healthier than your town water. But that ain’t tellin’ me anything about your problem. You wanna disappear? You don’t need no witch help for that, just head to Nawlins or Baton Rouge like all the other young folks.”
Paula shrugged and slugged down her treated water. “Still got men there. Always starin’, always thinkin’ I’m obligated to show ‘em a good time, like it’s a privilege for me or something. So I thought if you had something that would make me disappear, I could at least live my life in peace. I got two hundred dollars saved up. Ain’t much, but I’ll give it to you if you can make it happen.”
“Hm. You know most of what a swamp witch does ain’t really magic, right? I mix up potions, yeah, but it’s all stuff you can find out here. I checked the library, and I think there’s a scientific basis for all of it.”
“So you can’t help me.”
“I didn’t say that,” Hattie assured her. “I done a little studyin’ where I could, ‘specially where it comes to love potions. I guess my recipe gets yer body chemicals a-brewin’. Maybe that’s a natural thing for you. If I could figure out how the recipe works, maybe I could figure out something to make it go the other way, cut off that brew. But I got a more sure way to make ya disappear.”
“Without me jumpin’ in the swamp, I hope.”
“Yeah. Mostly. You ever think about bein’ a swamp witch?”
“What?” Paula jumped to her feet, swayed for a moment, and sat down. “I think the heat’s got to me.”
“Sure. I’m ready to call it quits myself. But Nowhere, Loosyana needs a swamp witch to take care of things. Nobody’ll bother you, unless they got a death wish. I teach you the recipes, how to deal with folks, and all ya gotta do is change yer name.”
“Yep. My born name’s Susan. But Hattie’s been the swamp witch out here for over a hundred years.”
Paula grinned. “You know what? You got yourself a student.”