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“Wouldn’t it be trippy if we were all dead already?” Karen asks without a change of expression. Karen looks to be in her late thirties or early forties with a tan, sandstone face, dirty-straw, neck-length hair, and eyes that look like new tombstones on a sunny day. On the wall behind her is a poster of a voodoo doll full of needles that reads: “Shoplifters will be prosecuted. You can look. You can touch. Just don’t forget to pay for it.” This is a contrast to Karen’s laid-back and trusting personality. She says that to run a shop like The Gypsy Market, “You have to keep it simple. Listen to your customers because they are the ones who will tell you what you need and keep personal contact with them. I try to remember their names.”
She breaks eye contact and stares out through the window, then continues, “Anti-Wal-Mart and Anti-Leather Pouch for that matter.” The Leather Pouch is a local shop notorious for breathing down the necks of customers, showing the same appreciation for their paying customers as they would for kamikaze terrorists. Still, Karen holds no grudge against the Leather Pouch, for she sometimes sends customers there when she doesn’t have what the customer is after. “We all work together,” she speaks of the local shops that were grown organically here in Lafayette. “Curious Goods, Heaven on Earth, Leather Pouch, Euphoria, Earthly Treasures, and so on; we are all in this together.”
Karen stands behind a glass case filled with ceremonial daggers and swords. On top of the case, where a calculator takes the place of a register, there is a deck of business cards that read in bold lettering, “The Gypsy Market, a unique gift shop.” Just beneath, in smaller print it lists, “incense, oils, herbs, candles, jewelry, imported clothing, new age books and music, rock & roll memorabilia, t-shirts, posters, exotic gifts.” Behind the Domino’s Pizza on the corner of University and Johnston, The Gypsy Market sits shyly amongst a tobacco mart, barber shop, and “the pink house,” a small building that holds Narcotics and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. In March of ‘98, when Karen opened the quaint little shop, she hid her pinnacles in the back of the store. Lafayette was not ready for this sort of thing. At that time, in Lafayette, Louisiana, a city that clings to small town mentality like mildew, The Gypsy Market stood alone.
“They think that we are all just about voodoo,” Karen speaks of common misconceptions. “People who don’t understand pinnacles and stuff like that. Closed minds.” Overall, Karen says that The Gypsy Market is, “well accepted. I think that the name keeps most of those ‘God please save me from your followers’ kind of people away.” Karen is not a Satanist or a Godless woman as many are likely to suspect. Her spirituality is eclectic. “I believe in the God that I was taught about in my Baptist upbringing as a little girl, but I don’t believe in everything in the Bible.” She turns her stony eyes away from me, mumbles something unintelligible beneath her breath, and continues. “I believe in Jesus, Buddha, and all of that, Wicca too. Reincarnation and the power of attraction. The stones, the Moon, and the Sun can heal,” she explains. “But only because God put healing powers in them for us to use.”
A girl with long, raven hair, sooty eyes, and retro clothing places blue and white candles, oils, sea salt, and a trinket or two on the glass case. Only the esoteric eye can see that her selections are tools for a healing ritual. “This will be all.” She slides the items to Karen who brings up the total on a solar-powered pocket calculator.
“How is your mom?” Karen asks with genuine concern.
“She’s sick again.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Karen finishes bagging the young girl’s items and accepts the fistful of crumpled dollar bills as the amount tendered. “Tell her I’ll send some healing energy her way.”
“I will.” She turns away with her bag of panacea. “Thank you!” she hollered back at Karen as she exited the shop.
“It’s sad,” Karen says to me. “Her mother had a heart attack and she’s only forty-nine years old.”
The shop is empty and the dust that stirs in the fragrant air defines the rays of sunlight that the windows allow to pass through. It is silent; the sounds of oceans and rainforests coming from Karen’s stereo fall silent.
“Hmm…” Karen ponders in response to the question of her last name as she unlocks eye contact once again. “Go ahead and put down Fogelman. I’m trying to steer away from my married name. Fogelman means ‘birdman’ in German.” Karen smiles as she rests the weight of her concentrated stare on me until I can feel my chest compress and I break eye contact. “It’s the name I’ll go by when I’m rich and famous.”
“I need to quit,” Karen says lighting a cigarette as we walk out into the sun. “The physical is nothing; it’s the psychological.” Walking out of the shop feels like walking out of an embracing movie in a cool, dark theater and having to face reality again. We sit on the steps and she tells me about a priest that buys his oils from her. “It used to be only curious college kids that would come here.” She slowly exhales the smoke in her lungs and watches it coil around a sunbeam like dragon’s breath. “Now there are little kids coming here. There are ninety year olds coming here.” She adds, “Paganism is growing as the town is growing.”
Karen is quiet as an unusually fresh breeze sweeps over us. Chilling goose bumps spring up as if I were standing barefoot in the cool, dew covered grass of an early spring morning. We share the drone of the cars coming from University and the smell of Domino’s pizza grease weighing down the air. She looks harmless with sad wrinkles at the corners of her mouth. “I believe that we are well protected.” She takes a long drag off her cigarette and gazes at the sky. In the sky the sun is falling, only to be born again. Karen may be contemplating her own reincarnation or shelving musty boxes of madness in her mind’s warehouse, but her face hides her inner workings like the onyx skin of an ocean on a starless night. “I believe we are totally surrounded with angels.”


The following comments are for "Surrounded With Angels"

Surrounded With Angels
reflective, quietly effective/ affective character sketch, this. observant and empathetic.

( Posted by: AuldMiseryGuts [Member] On: March 27, 2007 )

this is a good one. i really liked it. mail me on myspace. lol

( Posted by: pavlikogirl [Member] On: March 30, 2007 )

Small Ju Ju Business Association
Nice portrait of an independent shopkeeper and her miscellaneous ju ju.

I see that you have it all written out in a solid block of words. Is that how you want it? I'd like to see it broken down into several paragraphs.

Enjoyed this piece.

( Posted by: gomarsoap [Member] On: April 1, 2007 )

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