come have a drink he said. he was so much older. and good looking too. i was flattered. come have a drink. a drink was something a woman had. a woman wearing perfume, maybe femme by rochas. my mother wore that, even though my mother did not have drinks with men. not even with my father. my mother was all woman but she did not drink.  come have a drink. and i envisioned a woman in an elegantly fitted dress clicking her heels across a tiled café floor, crossing her legs at the bar and slowly pulling out a cigarette, a menthol comme-il-faut. the man looking deep into her eyes  lit by the flickering  match.  the drink was something pretty, pink or turquoise like that gin my father kept on the shelf. bombay sapphire was a name that made you dream. there would be a glass with clinking ice cubes  from which she would slowly sip the colored liquid. with my imagination, i should be writing scenarios. i don’t even know where i get this from. maybe some trashy ‘nous deux’ magazines read on the sly at the beauty parlor? fotonovelas where the women had exotic names like marina or ilse and the drama was resolved in 5 pages.


come have a drink. i was fifteen and it was the summer of my discontent. it was summer. a breezeless, sultry summer. he’d come to the school at dismissal time and look at me. i’d be there, pretending not to see him until i turned suddenly and there he’d be, still looking until i lost my countenance and turned away again. every day for several days he looked at me until i looked away and I couldn’t wait for dismissal time and then one day he approached me. come have a drink. and i said yes. he was much older you see and good looking .  i was fifteen. and i was going to have a drink with him. we were from the same neighborhood and he lived with his mother. although my father watched me like a hawk, i could always pretend i was spending a couple of hours at a friend’s house. jessie was a good choice. her named worked like a charm with my parents since she was smart and had a complete disinterest in boys.

artwork: balthus

that saturday, i decided to wear my magic pants. i never told my friends but i had magic clothes when i was a teenager. my clothes had special powers. they could make me invisible or confident; they could make me invincible; they could make me different. i never told anyone because i was afraid they would think i was strange. or stranger. admit it, you think I am strange. you would have laughed at perseus as well. do you remember when he set out to slay medusa, wearing the winged sandals he received from the nymphs? (i had a pair of sandals that made me fly unerringly across a dance floor, so i trusted perseus’ story but you would not have; i know your kind). on perseus’ head, was the goddess athena’s gift: the helmet that made him invisible. what nonsense you would have said. and losing his resolve, he would have weakened and turned to stone under medusa’s glare. where would we be then? how would that story have ended? with people persecuted by a snake-headed irate woman no doubt and human statues everywhere. she was not nice, medusa. that’s the most i’ll say about that subject.  not being partial to reptilian-coiffured females, personally, i’m glad perseus slayed her.  maybe now that i have told you that story, you’ll be more inclined to believe my clothes were talismans that could protect me? hope springs eternal.

photo: schloss

my magic pants made me beautiful. they were fringed bell bottoms of the softest muted russet, the color of an overripe apricot that long laid in the sun. they were in my mind as sumptuous as a ball gown would have been to a princess. i wore them to parties, i wore them to after-school games. i wore them to church. I wore them until my friends were sick of them. i wore them  until i wore them out. and that afternoon as i was getting ready, I discovered the pants’ zipper was broken. i had other clothes mind you, but none with powers as magical.  i was distraught  yet i decided to wear the pants anyway and sew them shut on me. now, i have to tell you i don’t sew. a needle is a deadly weapon in my fingers. i can wage war on fabric and destroy clothes.  we had sewing lessons in school and while the other girls moved on to beautiful embroidery, i was still painstakingly practicing single-stitching a piece of cloth which looked like a sieve with the holes i made pulling out the crookedly stitched threads. later a stapler became my personal hand sewing machine as i repaired loose hems and torn clothes. it required no particular skill, was definitely faster than sewing and i carried one in my school bag.  but stapling the pants on me was an impossible task, and desperate times calling for desperate measures, i threaded a needle and sewed my lower body shut in those pants as in a shroud.


the afternoon sun shone through the trees as i skipped on the road clad in my magical clothes, and in my wild imaginings, i could see how he would greet me, where I would sit, how he would pour me the drink, the conversation we would have and then his words of departure as he would gently hold my hand. i was giddy. do not misunderstand me, i was not in love. i was not, was not, was not. but it was saturday and i was going to have a drink  with him. i lived the moment so intensely before it happened, i could actually have turned around and gone home. there was nothing he could do that would match what i had already dreamt of. as i reached his gate, punctual, and i’ve always been punctual; always there when expected, when required; the right girl at the right time at the right place, he greeted me and led me to the open patio. i glided as i thought i would on the black and white tiles. there was a wrought iron table and two chairs, a bottle of barbancourt pineapple rum liqueur and two glasses. did that mean his mother was not around? for some reason i had never thought about his mother. we spoke lightly of light matters, the weather, common friends; he was charming and made me laugh as he poured me glass after glass of the sweet alcohol. i crossed my legs on the chair awkwardly, choked on the cigarette he had offered, nervously sipping the fruit flavored rum. i was flushed, smiling and giggling with a lightheartedness that would have pleased those who thought me sullen and withdrawn. i saw everything as through a haze, the way you see the world if you’re looking at it through the fine weave of a silk scarf, everything blurry and pretty, all the imperfections gone. gently, still laughing , he led me by the hand to a room.

photograph:paul cava

a hundred years may go by and i may become blind, but I could still recreate this room from memory after having seen it in this brief drunken cloud. this was a woman’s bedroom. with the smell of a woman. it was tidy and pretty, with everything in its place. on the mirrored vanity, a huge rectangular fragrance bottle of vivara shone on an embroidered white doily facing the photograph of a fair woman, her lipsticked smile and eyes as hard as the crystal frame that contained her likeness. there was a mahogany armchair, lamps on both sides of the bed covered with quilted reddish satin and plump pillows. i swayed, dizzy from the rum liqueur. he guided me gently to the bed, he did everything so gently, and immediately I felt his weight on me. suddenly understanding why i am here, I  say no stop no. my voice muffled as if coming from underwater. time distorted, everything happening faster and slower at the same time as if we are going through a tunnel at breakneck speed with headlights off or swinging with exceeding slowness on a amusement park ride,  something like a freefall at coney island and i am screaming a silent scream, pushing away these hands, restraining these hands that seem to be everywhere all at once, moving them away as they cover my mouth, slide under my shirt,  loosen my bra.  these hands feeling my breasts,  tugging at my pants, struggling to get them off.  prying hands searching for the opening, the buttons, the zipper, impatient hands slipping inside my pants, frantic hands trying to rip them off me and my voice suddenly returned to me, my voice coming through the fog of alcohol screaming let me go and tears streaming down my face crying outloud i did not know i did not know this would happen and inside my head all i wanted was to glide across shiny tiles and sit on a bar stool with a man who would gently touch my hand and offer me a drink… all i wanted.

photograph:paul cava

i did not want these hands on me. touching me. snatching away at my clothes. tearing my flesh as I tore myself from him and my voice returned i am fifteen i said and my father.  i said my father and suddenly he stopped and said i could never say anything to my father and there was fear in his eyes and he was suddenly pitiful, a whimpering puppy and I staggered up and hooked my bra and lowered my shirt.  and my pants, oh my pants had not budged an inch, those stitches as strong as the metal fasteners from my stapler. my pants securely tight on my body, my shroud sewn tight to protect me, my talisman. my pants.


i ran out of that house, stumbling and  weaving in and out of the road, walking through plants and leaves and vines. i was still crying, mumbling the prayers of a lost child let loose in the world.  i could not embroider but i could single-stitch, and i wanted to thank mademoiselle edline who didn’t give up on me and persistently threaded my needle so I could make holes in that piece of cloth.  so I could sew my pants on me. so I could protect me.

michèle voltaire marcelin

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2 Responses to “talisman”

  1. Karen says:

    It’s poignant and beautiful. Bravo! I love it! Many of us more “privileged” girls suffered through similar experiences at the hands of men “least likely to”. Our heroine got out safely thanks to her stapled magic pants (modern day chastity belt) and by saying “my father” – they were her talismans. True enough, many are not that lucky but our experiences are just as traumatizing.

    Well done Mimi!

  2. patrick mombrun says:

    Very evocative and moving story at least she could fight off the predator and the fear of her father forced the young man to tame his advances.

    In the Haiti of today girls much younger are victimized every day, they suffer countless abuse from degenerates much older many of them from the diaspora who use their economic advantage to humiliate. Who will defend them? Who will write their stories?

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