If Iris was going to approach the town council about the curse, she was going to have to do it the right way. She’d need to have everything in place, all the information she needed at her fingertips, and she had to rehearse what she would say before she was actually in front of them.
So here she was, reciting her statement to herself as she straightened up her shop. The meeting was a couple of days away, right after the new year.
“This is a problem our community members have struggled with alone,” Iris muttered, straightening up a shelf of spellbooks. “There is no official policy in place to assist with curse management, nor have there been any officially endorsed attempts to solve the curse. As this becomes a larger problem in the community, we’ve reached a point where action needs to be taken.”
They’d reached that point the second the curse became a thing. But she knew she wouldn’t get anywhere being antagonistic.
She leaned down and picked up a receipt someone dropped. “I propose an action committee be formed to search for a solution. A group of volunteers to research and investigate the curse. I know this is a touchy subject for many of us…no, sensitive. I know this is a sensitive subject for many of us. But the discomfort of seeking a solution will be outweighed by the benefits to us all in so many ways.”
The store was clean now, ready for her to just flip the light in the morning. Satisfied, she stepped into the hallway to her apartment and closed the door.
She was halfway up the stairs when she heard the tinkling sound of breaking glass from the shop. She stopped and sighed.
“Fuck you, Roland,” she groaned.
Was it worth going back in tonight? Or was she better off sweeping it up tomorrow before she opened the store?
Screw it, she was going upstairs. She’d eat dinner, get some sleep, and deal with it in the morning.
Iris started walking again, ignoring the sound of scratchy piano music starting over the speakers. It was muffled enough, she wouldn’t even hear it upstairs.
Jamie hadn’t been looking forward to going to Mrs. Jensen’s house. He’d offered to come help Dad with some repairs for her, but by the time he’d gotten out of hockey practice this morning, he’d been exhausted and just wanted to crawl back into bed. Not wanting to disappoint his dad, plus the possibility of a rare cup of coffee after, got him out of the shower and into his dad’s truck instead.
But now Jamie almost didn’t want to leave. His stomach was growling, and he was just starting to get feeling in his fingertips again after shoveling the walk. But Mrs. Jensen and Dad were laughing in the tiny kitchen. And talking about the curse.
He’d flinched when he first heard Mrs. Jensen mention something about missing a family event in Boston because of it, sure that his dad was going to clam up or scowl at her for mentioning it. But instead, he’d laughed. He’d actually genuinely laughed at her story of a stubborn sister-in-law who’d gone so far as to start driving to New Winslow to pick her up.
“I don’t know what she expected to happen?” Mrs. Jensen said as Dad shook his head. “As if she doesn’t know how many times Jim and I drove headlong into that thing. If her brother couldn’t figure it out after fifty years, she’s certainly not going to swan in here and fix it in a day.”
Dad laughed. “I had a few of those in my thirties. Some guy would find out about me and come in all excited to get me out and get his name in some academic journal. Eventually, I just stopped returning their calls.”
Minnie nodded. “You have one person try, they talk to their friend, their friend comes to try…”
They continued talking for a minute. Jamie couldn’t believe he was hearing his dad talk so casually about the curse. It had been part of his life since long before Jamie was alive, but that didn’t mean he ever brought it up. Even now after everything with Ms. Davies last month, Jamie still didn’t hear him talk about it, even with Mom.
But here he was, trading stories with this old woman he’d suddenly become best friends with. It was weird, but Dad seemed happy.
A couple of minutes later, Dad turned to him. “Ready to go, bud?”
Jamie nodded, and they said their goodbyes to Mrs. Jensen. She shoved a plate of cookies into Jamie’s hands, then walked them out.
A few minutes later, Jamie was chewing on a second cookie as Dad drove, the usually blaring music at a reasonable level. Jamie knew this was just because he was in the car. He could always hear the bass from his bedroom whenever Dad pulled in or out of the driveway.
“Pass me one of those?” Dad said, holding out a hand as he watched the road.
Jamie handed him a cookie and they drove in companionable silence for a few minutes. Jamie pulled out a third cookie, then glanced over.
Now that he’d started the conversation, Jamie wasn’t sure what to say next. What if he said the wrong thing and Dad got mad?
“When you were talking to Mrs. Jensen…um…”
He faltered. Dad waited patiently.
“Why isn’t it weird to talk about the curse with her? Is it because she’s cursed too?”
Dad flinched, and Jamie instantly regretted his words. Now Dad was going to get all silent and angry again.
But instead, he sighed. “Yeah,” Dad said after a long moment. “Yeah, that’s exactly why. It’s…it’s hard to talk about with anyone. But it’s a little easier to talk about it with her.”
They were quiet again, but it was more awkward this time. “You…you can talk to me if you want,” Jamie said quietly.
He expected his dad to dismiss him immediately. But instead, he glanced over and smiled. “I forget how grown-up you are now,” he said softly.
Jamie had to force himself not to smile at that like a little kid would. Dad looked back at the road.
“I appreciate that, bud,” he said. “It’s just…it’s a really hard thing to talk about, that’s all.”
“Yeah,” Jamie said. “I mean, I know you don’t really talk to Mom about it either.”
Dad flinched again, and again, Jamie knew he’d said the wrong thing. “I just meant-” he started hurriedly.
Dad shook his head. “No, Jamie, it’s okay. It’s not you. You’re right.”
That acknowledgment didn’t feel as good as the other one. Dad drove silently, focusing on the empty road.
“Dad, I’m sorry,” Jamie said after a moment, the cookies that had tasted so good a few minutes earlier now churning in his stomach.
“Jame, it’s not you,” Dad repeated with a smile that even Jamie could tell was fake. “I’m not mad.”
Jamie didn’t know how to respond, so he stayed silent for the last couple of minutes of the trip. His eyes burned, but he wasn’t going to cry. Not immediately after Dad had said how grown up he was.
They pulled into the driveway and Dad shut off the car. He looked over at Jamie. “You okay, bud?”
Jamie nodded quickly, not looking up. If he looked up, Dad would see the tears threatening to spill down his cheeks. He could feel Dad’s eyes on him, but Jamie stared down at his knees until Dad finally looked away and got out of the car.
Jamie waited until Dad was halfway up the walk, then undid his seatbelt and got out. Dad was already walking inside as he made his way around the car. But just as he sneaked a wipe at his eyes, Jamie realized Mom was standing in the yard watching him.
“Sweetie?” she said, setting down the bag of rock salt she was holding and walking toward him. “Honey, what’s wrong?”
There was no getting past her. Jamie sniffed. “I think I said something wrong to Dad,” he said. “I asked him about the curse and…and if he talks to you about it. I think I hurt his feelings.”
“Oh, Jamie,” Mom said, wrapping him in a hug.
“It’s okay,” she said. “Your dad’s just…I’ll talk to him. It’s okay. Don’t worry, honey, I’m sure it’s nothing big.”
He was taller than her. When had he gotten taller than his mom?