– Fiction by Meghan Rose Allen –
Honourable Mention in the Dreamers 2022 Stories of Migration, Sense of Place and Home Contest
Marja missed the old days of film photography.
“What?” said her husband, tearing into the box of his just-purchased fish-eye lens. “You encouraged this hobby.”
Marja had. Throughout the 80s, the 90s, the early 00s, Marja had bought her husband camera magazines and dark room chemicals. She made sure to book them only on photo-worthy vacations. The photo albums in their house multiplied exponentially until they took up all but one of their bookshelves. But Marja had buoyed her husband’s pastime neither out of a sense of spousal duty nor an interest in capturing the interplay of light and shadow: she did it for the cylinders that the film came in: the plastic film canisters.
In the age of the digital camera, film canisters were no more.
For a curse to be successful, it needs three things:
- to be written;
- to be hidden;
- to be nearby.
Film canisters, in their plastic and lidded glory, let Marja’s curses to satisfy all three requirements. Marja could write the curse, seal it in a film canister, and then, in the guise of being a welcoming neighbour, bury it in the roots of whatever Marja planted in the garden as a gift. She always used sturdy, propagating plants, hostas or mint or raspberries, that, once, dug in, weren’t going anywhere.
As added subterfuge:
- write the curse in lemon juice; and
- write the curse in a non-Latin alphabet.
And so, even if they found Marja’s hidden canisters, none of her white-bread neighbours would be able to decipher what Marja had cursed them with since:
- lemon juice dried to an invisible ink; and
- even if a neighbour managed to unravel the lemon juice ploy, the odd symbols and punctuation ensured that neighbours would not be typing Marja’s missives into Google and sorting them out that way.
Nestled in her fridge door was always a fake lemon container full of lemon juice. The photo-album-free shelf held textbooks and dictionaries from languages all over the world.
Marja was ready for anything.
Marja cursed her neighbours, in part, because of proximity, and in part, because Marja’s neighbours deserved it. They were in a high-turnover area, which Marja sometimes took credit for (curses) and sometimes not (fluctuating and cyclical employment patterns), and neighbours, like the following, deserved to be cursed:
- those who had two motorcycles and an apparent allergy to mufflers (cursed and gone 1987);
- those who had a yappy dog that had bitten through the strap of Marja’s one-of-a-kind espadrilles she’d bought in a street market in Amman (cursed and gone 1991);
- those who had a teenage son who had thrown a party that had woken Marja part-way through the night, making her grumpy and sleepy all the next day (cursed and gone 1993);
- those who Marja just didn’t like although no matter how hard she tried, she could never find the words to explain exactly why the nice couple with those two angelic girls that were always taking after-dinner constitutionals around the neighbourhood annoyed her so much (reluctantly cursed and gone 2005);
- and so many others that Marja’s film canister supply had reached the critical low of only four left.
“Do you ever think about going back to film photography?” Marja asked her husband.
“Not since I sold all the dark room stuff,” he replied absently, between switching out his lenses.
The doorbell rang often; most of her husband’s camera packages were ordered with signature-required for delivery.
The doorbell rang again.
“I’m not getting that,” Marja yelled.
And again, the doorbell rang.
“Fine,” Marja groused. She stomped to the door, prepared to glower at whatever Fed Ex-Purolator-UPS delivery man was so intent on getting a signature that he couldn’t just drop-kick the parcel toward the front porch the way they did in YouTube videos.
“Oh,” Marja said to the woman on the other side of the door. “Do you want something?”
“Maybe. I just moved in down the road.” The woman pointed at a clump of houses.
“And during the storm last night —”
Marja hadn’t noticed any storm.
“— one of the rose bushes out front came loose.”
This seemed unlikely.
“And I found this.” The woman held out a film canister. “I don’t know how it ended up in my yard, under my rose bush.”
This woman was probably trying to dig the rose bushes out herself with no concern for neighbouring property values or curb appeal. That was the way it always was with these Johnny-move-in-latelies, leaving siding half-painted, filling their flower beds with annuals or ill-suited varieties, digging up perfectly fine garden paths to replace the stonework with red rocks, or grey rocks, or back to the original red.
Marja crossed her arms over her chest. Then uncrossed them when she realised she’d need a hand to take the film canister off the woman, for why else would she come to Marja’s house brandishing it.
The woman did not give Marja the canister. “There’s more,” she hiccoughed.
“Inside,” she popped the lid off with her thumb, “there was a sheet of paper.”
“So?” Marja wasn’t going to risk a multisyllabic reply, her voice giving off a squeak or crack.
“That’s what I thought, but —”
Somehow, maybe from the damp underground or a localised molten flare-up from the earth’s core or maybe Marja had been low on lemon juice that long-ago day and had watered what she had down to stretch it out, Marja’s curse had grown visible.
At least no one could make out what the squiggles said.
“And then the app said —”
“I’m sorry.” Marja straightened her back to intimidate the woman: Marja was now almost the woman’s full height. “What is this app?”
“You take a picture of the text and it’ll translate it for you. It says this is a script they use in East Africa and —”
Marja cut her off. “I’m sure it is nothing.” Whatever the curse said, Marja hadn’t written it for this woman as Marja had never seen this woman before in her life, and she was pretty sure that the curse she’d written in an East African alphabet was for a woman who bred miniature pigs for pets, genetic monsters that looked, and also must have felt, perpetually miserable. Or did she write that one in a Pitman shorthand?
Oh good lord. The woman was now crying.
“I just wanted to know if you’ve seen anyone around my house. My parents are super religious and they disowned me and I already tried to do everything to ward off the evil eye, salt and this —” she showed Marja a thin, red string around her wrist, “and you probably think I’m crazy, but I swear they cursed me and I didn’t ask for any of this. I know I was supposed to be a good girl and get married and have babies, but then Becki and I — and if God made me, God made me like this, so what does that say about their God and —” the woman kept blubbering. “My brother killed my cat because he was afraid I’d corrupted it and after that I cut off all contact for our safety but if they’ve found out where I, we, live —”
Marja’s curse fluttered away in a wind gust. The canister hit the porch with an unsatisfying thud.
“You need special tea,” Marja ushered her inside. “It will help with the upset, and the evil eye.
A quality blessing requires the same as a quality curse.
- to be written;
- to be hidden;
- to be nearby.
- You are beautiful.
- You are loved.
- You are more than what you think.
- You are not what they say.
The last four film canisters underneath Lea and Becki’s re-righted rose bush.
“We should invite them over for a barbecue,” Marja told her husband.
“I thought you hated all our neighbours,” her husband said.
“I thought you’d never give up using film,” Marja replied. “But here we are.”
Conversation over, her husband went back to his lenses, while Marja took to the computer to see if anyone had some film canisters to use for further blessings for sale on eBay.
About the Author – Meghan Rose Allen
Meghan Rose Allen has a PhD in Mathematics from Dalhousie University. In a previous life, she was a cog in the military-industrial complex. Now she lives in New Brunswick, Canada and writes. Her short work has appeared in Dreamers, FoundPress, The Puritan, and The Rusty Toque, amongst others. Her first novel “Enid Strange” is published by DCB/Cormorant and was a finalist for the 2018 New Brunswick Book Awards. One can find her online at www.reluctantm.com.
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**This story by Meghan Rose Allen received an Honourable Mention in the 2022 Stories of Migration, Sense of Place & Home Contest.
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