AS LUCK WOULD HAVE IT
By Sharon Angleman
 

     For thousands of years most every society has observed, and practiced, some sort of superstitious ritual.  The new, western world is no exception.  Broken mirrors, ladders, umbrellas, black cats, numbers and sidewalk cracks have, at some time, dictated oneís behavior.  Silly?  I suppose.  Hogwash?  Maybe.  Necessary?  I think so.
     But because of the rational, if not the somewhat mixed emotions associated with traditional, and often proven, superstitious consequences, the modern world has allowed us to pick and chose our deviltries.  I, for example, have never been intimidated by an open umbrella in the house.  I have never thought twice before entering an address of thirteen, and I will readily walk under a ladder if it shows to be the shortest route.  Black cats, however, had at one time posed a bit of a problem.

     It was not at all uncommon for me to be seen performing automobile acrobats in attempts to avoid a black catís path, even if it meant driving miles out of my way.  This tactic once made me late for an important job interview.  I did not get the job, most certainly due to the close proximity of the evil catís psyche, reaching past the allotted domain of her path and invading the sacred girth of my car with her impressionable powers.

     Experience had taught me the consequences of violating her inoculated crossways.  Lessons began as early as age 13 (just a coincidence, Iím sure).  My pride went well before a fall from my 125 cc Suzuki dirt bike.   Crouching just below the shadows, behind scrubs of small mesquite trees, she waited for me.  As I rounded a corner, preparing for a small jump, I glanced behind me to see if the young boys I was in lead of were watching.  As I turned back around, I saw the fading blur of her tail as she darted across the gravel.  Though her path did not directly cross mine, her presence was still there.

     As I took the jump, my bike soured up in the air, shaking as if from extreme fear of the beast, and the front wheel began to swing wildly back and forth.  In a desperate attempt to gain control, I opened the throttle wide.  The power seemed to force my front wheel up higher than the back.  Iím okay, I thought.  The back wheel will hit the ground first, and my posture will do the rest.  But the shadow in the bushes forbid it.  My front wheel hit the loose gravel first.  My timing must have been off, as RPMs forced the bike back up in the air for a short distance, and then it hit ground again.

     My helmeted head slammed against the ground before the rest of my rag doll body followed.  Fibers from my cotton shirt and layered shreds of my tender skin were rendered from my body as it slid 12 feet for were it left the bike.  I suppose because the beast did not directly cross my path, I was lucky.  My bike had flown the other direction, turning several flips as it did.  Colliding on the gravel 25 feet away from me, it landed upside down on the handlebars, wheels orbiting in the air as if a six-year-old child had just spun a newly repaired tire.

     During the next 10 days I had plenty of time to think about the incident, returning each event in my mind as my bruised and grated body lay healing.  Yes, I had seen it.  An obscure shadow, waiting.  A tailÖyes it had been there, Iím sure of it.  And orange luminous pools, as well.  Yes, now that I though about it clearly, I had seen eyes.  With the somber belief that my life had been effected by this diabolical black being, I knew for certain there was a force, and I could not escape it.

     Eight months later the wicked trickery was still being decreed.  It followed my mother and I across the country as we escaped her deranged boyfriend, who had two days before pulled a 357 magnum on the both of us.  The presence rained unforeseen hail storms on our small traveling VW Rabbit, punched holes in its engine block, spent all our money on U-Hauls so the poor rabbit could finish its journey, forced us to sleep at truck stops and beg work for food. Finally, residing 700 miles from where I was first introduced to the satanic forces of superstition, I naively thought I was safe.  We could begin our lives again, leaving the heinous ghouls of the past behind.

     My boyfriend quickly hit his brakes we pulled up to his house, in efforts to avoid a cat darting across the alley.  He cursed and said something about a cat moving into the neighborhood, but I knew better.  This was December 27, 1975.
     That night I received a distressing call from my boyfriend, Mike, telling me his mother was in the hospital.  She had attempted to take her life with prescription medication and was labeled in serious condition in the intensive care unit.  Mike was only 16, and his older married sister was overdue with child.  With three younger siblings, and no father in the home, my mother suggested we go stay over there to help out, so we packed a few things and went over.  Thus, our first visit the Belview County Hospital was to visit Mikeís unconscious mother and discuss her recovery with the doctors.

     The following evening, amidst the confusion of three teen-agers, a young expecting mother and her worthless husband, and three adolescents, my mother washed dishes in the large white cast iron sink.  One of the younger kids mindlessly tossed a glass in the soapy dishwater.  My mother shot him an annoyed glance then returned to her chore.  A few minutes later we hear a scream from the tiny kitchen, and all eight of us rushed in to find the cause.  Crouched over, holding her wrist was my mother, rocking back and forth.

     "My hand!  My hand!" she sobbed.  "I think  my thumb is gone!"

     When Mother had started to wash Rickyís glass, she stuck her hand into it and twisted at the same time with the sponge she held.  But the glass had broken in half when it hit the sink, leaving a gapping, ragged mouth of razor-sharp glass.  We all stood there, gapping ourselves before finally Mike grabbed a dishcloth and wrapped it around her hand.  The speared edges had pierced the forepart of her thumb, and in the same action had twisted through the tendons.  Inches of her flesh had been sliced away from the bone.  Blackish -crimson blood was beginning to pool on the speckled, sickly green ceramic tile of the kitchen, searching lower ground through the spaces between the tile were adhesive had once been.

     On our way to the hospital I recalled how earlier in the day Mike had laughed at me when I pleaded with  him to turn the van around, or back it up.  He said that crossing a catís path didnít do anything but piss off the cat.  He was right.

     Three days went by with little more in the way of mishaps.  The mood in the house was as festive as a New Yearís Eve should be.  Mike and I had tickets to what was supposed to be one of the best rock-and-roll partyís of the year.  Black Oak Arkansas and Foghat were performing at the LA Forum for a big New Yearís Eve bash, and we were going to be there.

     As we were leaving the house to pick up a friend of ours, Mike said, "Donít look now, but our buddy just run across the alley."

     "Well, back up, Mike," I begged.  "Come on, Iím serious, please?"

     "Oh, Babe," he responded, "youíre so cute.  Here, have a shoot of this blackberry brandy.  It cost half my paycheck."

     Dismissing my pleas, Mike continued on through the alley out  onto the main road. An hour and a half later we were traveling up the LA Express in the farthest left of its five lanes.  I sat facing backwards on the engine shrouding of the í65 Chevy van.  Our friend occupied the passenger seat.

     As I cracked the seal on our third pint of flavored brandy, I heard Mike yell, then I felt a blow to the back of my head, knocking me clear off the shrouding and into the back of the van.  At the same time I was flying through the air, I heard a loud explosion.  The van was rocking back and force as if a huge hand had picked it up and was shaking it.  My shoulder blades struck the right wheel housing, temporarily knocking my breath away.  I felt the van was spinning, and had the sensation that all gravity had simply disappeared from underneath me.  I heard other crashing sounds that seemed to come from far away.  Grinding and spinning, the van fought with the divider railing and lost.  We came to a stop facing south on a north bound freeway.

     Very badly shaken, but relatively unharmed, Mike checked on me, got out of the crumpled van and began to survey the scene.  A small red car sat about thirty feet to the north of us, also facing south.  What looked like a woman lay slumped over the steering wheel.  Mike said she had come over from the far right lane and started spinning, as if her brakes had locked.  She had hit us head on in the fast lane.

     As Mike used his best baseball throw to rid the scene of three liquor bottles and a bag of weed before the cops arrived, I reminded him about the fucking cat. He simply said we would come back tomorrow to find the weed.  It was Panama Red, he said, hard to get in LA.

     Four days later it was Mikeís birthday.  Being the good girlfriend that I was, and knowing that Mike had a bit of whiplash (we had visited Belview two days earlier), I wanted to bake him a scratch cake, chocolate, his favorite.  The first thing I did, of course, was turn on the oven.  It was old and tired, but Mikeís mother had produced some wonderful meals from it.  It was different than any stove I had ever cook on, but I was certain I would manage just fine.  As I went about mixing my ingredients, I began to notice a smell, a gas smell.  I realized then that to have heat, I needed to light the oven.  I had never cooked on a gas stove before, but that excuse made me feel no less stupid.

     I knew somewhere inside the oven there would be a hole through which the match would light the oven.  I had seen my grandmother do it many times when I was a child.  I opened the oven door and looked around.  The black grease-caked enamel  walls of the oven absorbed any light that came from the small kitchen window.  The smell was so strong inside.  I took one of the wooden kitchen matches from the top of the stove and struck it against the flint plate on the side of the oven.  The loud scratch of the match was immediately met by the strong smell of sulfur, a smell I had always liked.  I returned to the investigation of the oven, and with the added light from the match, I spotted the hole for the pilot.  With my head partially in the oven, I brought the match to the pilot hole.

     The next thing I felt was a huge sludge hammer slamming my face.  For a moment sound was everywhere, and it was nowhere.  I stumbled back against the sink pulling my hands up over my ears and then became aware of the putrid stench of burning hair.  Realizing it was my own, I began beating my head, and in a panic I ran outside.

     A neighbor was working on his car and saw me beating myself.  I donít know if I was still on fire then or not, but I continued to spin around in circles like a kitten chasing its tail.  He came over and immediately took me back inside.  As he sat me down on the couch, he was gently telling me to calm down, which wasnít too very difficult, as I realized my injuries werenít much more than singed eyebrows.  I didnít feel any pain, although my face had an odd tight sensation to it.

     The neighbor went to his house to get some medical supplies, and by this time Mike, his brother and my mom had come into the living room.  All three of them just stood there staring at me.  Stupid expression dripped off their faces, and their mouths fell agape as if they wanted to speak but had forgotten their native tongue.

     Finally, my mother began to act like a mother, and began to hover over me, asking me what happened.  Mikeís brother just kept pointing and saying "Ewe! Ewe! Ewe!"  Mike stood by the couch, not knowing what to do, but knowing he should do something.  The neighbor came back in and began wiping my face with a cold rag.  The cold felt wonderful, but the rag felt like a metal rake across my face.  I pushed back from him, and when I did, I noticed my left arm.  Hundreds of bits of charred, broken hair were stuck to bright pink flesh.  Pieces of black, curled skin hung off the bright colored flesh.  Some of the hanging flesh just had burnt edges, bordering bright white fragments tinged with a mucus looking blood.  Tiny glistening droplets of blood had begun to rise to the surface of the pink skin, and further up my arm, little white bubbles were beginning to show.

     When I reached to touch my face, I could feel the heat from my skin before my fingers actually reached my cheek.  When I touched it, I jerked away with pain.  The skin had stuck to my fingers like superglue, so when I pulled my hand away, skin from my face went with it, like the rubber makeup used in horror movies.

     When we returned from Belveiw County Hospital, with my face and arm wrapped up like a mummyís,  I saw the cat sitting on the fence ledge, staring at me, with a distinct Cheshire grin on her hollow, ebony face.  When I told the others in the car where she had been when I had returned to the house with cake supplies, no one laughed this time.  They only stared grimly ahead into the alley.

     One week later we found ourselves at Belview once again.  Matt, Mikeís youngest brother, had fallen from the roof will taking down Christmas lights.  Because of his youth, what could have been a broken back for a man, turned out to be just serious strain and bruising.  At the hospital, Mike vowed to get the cat, which had run in front of him and Matt earlier that day.  I took solace in this, but at the same time, I feared that revenge on the animal would cause far worse luck.  After all, the forces reside in the beastís soul, not just the body.

     The following day, we saw this cat for the last time.  As Mikeís sister (who was already three weeks overdue with the baby) and her husband were leaving the house, the monster darted in front of them and leaped over the fence in fluid agility.  You could see Mikeís brother-in-law cursing the animal as he pulled out of the alley drive.  The couple was headed to Monroe, a small desert town about three hours south of Los Angles.  Not wanting her husband to travel alone, the jealous young wife had insisted on riding with him.

     Two hours later we get a phone call from a stranger.  The coupleís car had overheated, the young mother had gone into labor, and they were 75 miles from a hospital.  An ambulance was in route, the stranger told us.  He was calling from a store about eight miles from were the car stalled.  It was the following day before we heard anymore news.  Everyone was okay, she had a baby girl, but the car had a busted block.

     The following years would bring more of the same bad luck to me; two more automobile accidents (one including four cars), a sliced thumb (same hand, same place, same cause),  emergency surgery when birthing my first son, and a stitched head from a large lead glass bowl falling on it.  Flat tires.  Failed brakes.  Two burglaries.  An assault.  An abduction.  Another auto accident. A dislocated knee that would promise six months on crutches.  My first husbandís proposal, my acceptance. Failed air conditioning in August when out-of-town guests are due to arrive the same day.  An impaled left foot.  A failed ceiling when exploring the attic.  A chat with an officer in on the dusty streets of  Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  A night in the woods because I was lostÖI could go on, but to immortalizing too much of the cursed plague might well be pressing my luck.  The point is, however, that the binding ingredient in these events was always the presence of a sinister creature, somewhere near, watching.

     When I first meet my now-husband, Lorne, I once again encountered a devil-beast on the way to the airport to meet him.  This time, however, I would fight back.  I would not let this be destroyed.  I would do whatever it took to make sure the malicious heart of the incarnate witch would not harm us.  When nothing happened, and I had not yet taken action, I began to wonder just how much there was to this.  Maybe these years of  odious luck were more a result of cause and effect, or were brought upon somehow by the willing of our own tormented souls.  Or maybe - that was it!  The events had been parts of a bigger whole, a whole that was broken into slivers, tiny pieces bringing forth blood when attempting to collect them.  Shattered so that one could hear the pleasant twinkling of glass as it fell, knowing better that with the final mighty crash, all would be undone.

     So now I knew.  My misfortunes had nothing to do with some silly cats with glowing eyes and limbs that melted into the darkness.  Forbidden and bestial as they may have seemed, they were just cats, watching me from the shadows as I played out my own fate.  They had already known what I had yet to figure out - breaking a mirror brings seven years of bad luck.  As luck would have it, I had  broken five.

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