by Barbara Treat Williams
One day of normal—that’s all Corky McKinnon wants.
For Corky, normal would mean bullies and mean girls aren’t lurking on the way to school. Who wouldn’t want that kind of peaceful day? She’d also like a day where everybody—including her mom—isn’t freaked out she’s gay. Most of all, Corky would like a day where people around her aren’t swirling in colors that reveal their real mood.
After a devastating move to a hostile neighborhood in not-so-sunny Florida, what’s “normal” for Corky goes to a whole new level. Seeing colors was one thing, but now Edith is hanging around. Edith, who played pranks like cutting Corky’s hair while she was asleep. Edith, who defines a new kind of mean and holds a grudge. Edith, Corky’s dead twin.
The Coming of the Mojo… The new normal may not be a good thing.
In a world where “normal” is overrated, a sassy young heroine copes with her surprising birthright. By the author of A Killing Kindness and Relative Stranger.
GCLS Goldie Awards
The Coming of the Mojo — Winner, Young Adult.
Long before it came around, I had stopped listening to Baba about how scary my life might get after my thirteenth birthday. Her words blended with others I zoned out like, “Do your homework,” “Stand up straight,” and “Eat your vegetables.” So I guess I have no one to blame when the big thirteen rolled around and I wasn’t ready for Edith.
Edith Elizabeth died a year ago. Yet she was swinging on Seth Wharton’s porch swing last night. My scare-o-meter must have jumped to a ten when I saw her through my bedroom window. She was dressed just like she was when she was laid out, in a lacy white dress and her dark hair tied with blue satin ribbons. Last night was all the more creepy because it was raining, just like at the funeral.
If Baba were here, she’d say that I can now see Edith because of The Mojo. The Mojo is what Baba called psychic powers. Which she said our family has because we’re descended from Rasputin. Or Merlin. Or…was it Nostradamus? I didn’t always listen to stuff Baba said about the Mojo. The one time I did, the conversation was this…
“…It happens in our family every so many generations, Corky, and mostly it’s a good thing. But zumtimes—” She then took on the fake accent she liked to use with her long-ago carney customers “—zeze abilities don’t come in right and it goes bad.” She heaved a sigh. “If it goes bad, Corky, you could get like Great-Uncle Benny. He heard voices until the day he died that told him he was Napoleon.” Then she shook her head and pointed her lacquered nail at me. “And he wore lampshades for hats.” Even though my grandmother had looked more like Mrs. Claus than the exotic Madame Zimza of her carnival days, she still pulled off the spooky eye pretty good.
And, another weird thing since I turned thirteen are the colors that… But, hey, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me give you some basics.
My name is Corky McKinnon. Edith and I used to be an unmatched set known around the Estates as the McKinnon twins. Edith was taller than me, and had a straight nose and great skin. She was pretty in that unnatural way that demon-possessed kids in horror movies often are. I’m little, nose full of freckles. Momma says my body is all angles and elbows.
“Cordelia McKinnon! Get out of bed this instant.” That’s Momma at my bedroom door, hammering it with her fist.
“I’m up, I’m up.”
Now, about Momma: She was a different person three years ago. Until then, she’d been a regular sweet Mom with a few weird abilities. She always seemed to know when I was planning to cut school. Very irritating. Or, she’d know the phone was going to ring before it did. She had visions that told her when someone was about to die. Well, except for Edith. She’d missed that one. Anyway, it’s not a particularly useful skill as it tends to make people avoid you.
Then someone shot Momma when we were visiting Baba here in the Estates. She didn’t even know she’d been hit. She went to the doctor for headaches and he found a small caliber bullet lodged in her brain. She doesn’t remember anything about being shot other than she’d been standing in Baba’s driveway and next thing she knew, she’s washing blood off her face in the bathroom, wondering what happened, thinking she probably fainted and hit her head. To forget that event is good, I guess—a defense system that allowed her to go on with her life without being afraid all the time. But it also means the creep who did it probably won’t be caught.
That bullet is still in her noggin, the doctor’s theory being that it’s safer than the procedure for taking it out. For a while, I was worried that it might move, puncturing something necessary, and she’d die. Even though the doctor assured me that was unlikely to happen, I fretted that I’d lose her. And, in a way, I did. The Momma I had known—Sweet Psychic Momma—was gone. In her place was Not-So-Sweet Psycho Momma.
Psycho Momma has super energy and giggles while running around doing goofy things like driving a hundred and twenty miles an hour or buying everything at the mall on her credit card and then not having the money to pay for it when the bill comes. Last time she had a manic episode she got Sylvester Puddy Tat and Tweetybird tattooed up and down her right arm. In. Sane.
Then on the flip side, she’ll swing the other way and do a limp noodle impersonation, won’t get out of bed all day, and cry about Edith. Those days are tough. I carry a ton of guilt about Edith.
“Get your butt up!” Momma again.
Last night I thought I’d never fall asleep because of seeing Edith, but next thing I know it’s light in my room and I’m rubbing my eyes and hearing rain ping against the window. Usually October on the Florida east coast is the best, but the last few days a cloud has parked over our town of Conch Beach. Every now and then a gunmetal sky sends out a blast of rain that churns the sea and washes the town with a force you’d think would be hard enough to erase every stain.
“Gimme a minute,” I yelled back. I heard the clicking of Momma’s high heels retreat as she got ready for her day. I let my head fall back onto the pillow. Said a small prayer that she’d be normal today.
The doctor at the free clinic is trying to get Momma’s moods stabilized with medication and more often than not lately she’s halfway okay. But still, there are times. Gus tells me Momma was injured in the part of her brain that manages emotions. Gus is an old guy, a friend who lives around the block with his grown daughter, Wendy. He used to be a doctor, retired now, so I guess he knows about body parts and brains. In fact, he was the first person to see me and Edith take a breath when he brought us into the world.
“C’mon, Corky. Time’s a’ wasting!” Momma shouted. “And don’t give me any nonsense about how your colors are all wrong and you’re not going outside today.”
Okay, so here’s the deal with the colors: The first day of my thirteenth year, colored puffy clouds appeared around people, including myself. At first I didn’t have a clue what the matter was—I was thinking eye problems or brain tumor—until I remembered what Baba had said about auras.
Duh. Big slap to the forehead.
As I remember, she’d said that auras were electromagnetic fields of energy around bodies, and the colors in auras could tip you to people’s moods and thoughts and health. I’d forgotten all about Baba’s ramblings because I hadn’t seen any colors around anybody. But now that I do, I realize I’ve gone way beyond needing contact lenses.
I see flashes out the corner of my eye, glimpses of white feathered wings, or dark shadows that move, and when I turn, they aren’t there. Since I turned thirteen, I’ve felt invisible icy fingers drag across the back of my neck. Or, sometimes it feels like someone has given me a kiss on the cheek, or hugged me. I can no longer ignore that something about me is going off the rail. And, since I saw dead Edith last night, I have to consider that I might indeed be going the way of the mad hatter, Uncle Benny.
“Bus comes in ten,” Momma shouted through the bedroom door. “Try and make it, okay? And wish me luck. I’ve got a buyer coming in today for the antique music stand. I think I’ll be able to get a lot of money for it.”
Momma works at June’s Antiques and never makes money on anything. “Luck,” I shouted.
Used to be money wasn’t a problem. We had lived in Orlando with Jack, my stepdad. Edith had a nanny and a special school, and Momma had all the manicures and beauty treatments anyone would need. But then, Momma said the planet Mercury went retrograde and screwed up her luck. Adios Jack, adios nanny. Adios special school.
After Jack and Momma busted up, we ended up here with Baba in the low-rent district of Conch Beach called The Estates. When Baba died shortly after that, her house became our house.
“And comb that rat’s nest you call hair,” Momma added.
No time for a shower then. I reached for the deodorant can and blasted my body with a cold flower-scented mist. I fished through a pile in my closet and picked up a wrinkled black T-shirt with Captain Jack Sparrow and a skull and crossbones on it. A short black skirt peeked out from under my chest of drawers. It looked like it might have a day or two more wear in it so I put it on with black leggings.
My dark steel wool hair, overpermed in an attempt to tame it, parted in the middle and pushed out of my head like a Play-Doh fuzzy pumper toy. Frizzy tendrils closed around my face, covering most everything except for my nose and lips. Sigh. I’d never been able to do anything with my hair. I slapped on a black crocheted hat and stuffed my feet into my battered black cowboy boots from the Goodwill. I brushed my teeth and grabbed my pack, picked up a jet-black makeup pencil and made a slash through my eyebrows and rubbed black shadow around my eye sockets. Black lipstick seemed the right touch, so I applied it.
Momma was in the kitchen. “Geez,” she said, “you sure you want to go with that Specter of Death look?”
“It’s almost Halloween,” I said. “I’m getting in the spirit.”
“Oh sweetie, couldn’t you go with something a little softer, like be a Princess or Good Witch Glinda?”
“Maybe at school in Care Bear Land, Momma, but not at Neil Armstrong Complex. The mean girls there will have me for lunch if I show any sign of weakness.”
She rolled her eyes at me and we headed out the back door. A fat raindrop let go the eave and plopped between my eyes. I gave Momma a thin smile. She headed to the car and I walked to the end of the carport to wait for the bus.
“You working after school today?” she called out the window of her piece-of-trash Ford Escort as she fixed her expensive sunglasses on her nose. She’d bought them during one of her super manic times. When she got her head on straight again, she’d returned everything, but couldn’t bear to part with the glasses. They did look good on her, nicely accenting her red hair and brown eyes.
“Yeah. Be home about six thirty,” I said. “Unless Virginia Winslet comes in with Catta. She’s always late for her appointments, which then makes me late.”
“Well, that better be the only reason you’re late,” Momma shouted out the window for everyone in the neighborhood to hear. “If you’re fooling around with Mary Harding again…shoplifting at the mall…I’ll, I’ll…”
I could feel my face burn. I marched over to the car and shushed her. “Momma, for crying out loud. That was six months ago and lasted about two seconds. And we stole bras, which we both desperately needed and couldn’t afford.”
Being caught shoplifting was humiliation beyond belief. Mary had said we wouldn’t get caught. What a fool I was to listen to her. I hadn’t gotten jail time because the manager had been an old friend of Baba’s. But Momma had made me read a letter of apology, in person, at a store staff meeting. And I’d had to make payments each month on the bra. Who knew a bra for someone with size iddy boobs like me could cost seventy-five bucks? Mary said the store should’ve been the ones reading the letter of apology to me. I don’t know what Mary’s family did to punish her. She never said. She told me her brother pawned a stereo system he’d boosted to reimburse the shop owner for her bra.
“It doesn’t matter if you could afford it or not,” Momma said. “It’s a matter of integrity, Corky. Besides, you’re as flat as a tortilla. You could get by with a couple Band-Aids. Use your brains for once.”
Integrity. Hmmmph. I wondered if she was thinking about integrity when she unbuttoned her top three buttons and went into that made-up story about her dead dog, with accompanying crying jag, for the policeman who ticketed her last week.
“It’s ancient history, Momma. Mary and I hardly speak to one another.” Lie. “Have you taken your meds?”
“Meds…meds…that’s all anybody says to me anymore. Run in the bathroom and get my pills for me, will you? What with Zachary crying all night, I forgot last night and this morning.”
“Of course,” I said. I’d walk across hot coals to keep her regulated, on those meds.
I went back into the house by the kitchen door and grabbed Momma’s pills from the cabinet. I could hear Gretchen, my mother’s current rescue, stirring. I glanced in the living room. She was settling herself into the rocker, getting ready to give Zachary a bottle. A young mother in her early twenties, she works at the grocery store, which is where Momma met her. Two weeks into this whole new mother thing, Gretchen seemed a bit sore, and lowered her butt into the chair as if she had explosives strapped to it.
I’d been upset when Momma invited Gretchen to stay with us. To keep Momma’s moods halfway normal meant keeping her life as stress free as possible. Even I knew a baby was anything but stress free. I mean, where were we going to get the money to feed another person? Momma had looked at me like I was a fungus when I told her I thought it was a bad idea.
“How can you not want to help that girl?” she’d asked me. “She’s got medical insurance where she works, but no money during the six weeks she needs to get back on her feet. That kid who got her pregnant can’t even tie his shoes. What am I supposed to do, let her starve?”
In my defense, I knew Gretchen would not starve. She could’ve stayed with her own family. But Momma said Gretchen’s family did nothing but criticize her and living with them wouldn’t be good for her or the baby. She also added not to worry about food because Gretchen was a coupon clipping genius and it would actually save us money on groceries. Somehow, that goofball reasoning had turned out to be right. Plus, Gretchen cooked real meals—a glorious change from our usual Ramen. But accommodations were tight. We have two bedrooms, so Gretchen slept on a rollaway bed by Zac’s bassinet in the living room—a placement which effectively funneled his crying into my bedroom down the hall.
I gave Gretchen a wave and went out the kitchen door to the carport. I handed Momma the pills through the car window. She chugged them down with a sip of her coffee and waved goodbye as she backed out.
“Love you,” she said.
I just stared after her. Maybe someday I’d love her, too. But right now it just seemed too hard to do that.