Goldie is a six-foot, bisexual Haitian woman who cleans at Books & Books. She’s built like a linebacker, and she often lifts Becky from the ladder in the children’s section and slings her over one shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Becky is good-natured, Cuban, just over five feet tall, and tolerant of sexual invitations from Goldie which are off-putting at best and predatory at worst.
One day, Goldie bids Becky good day on her way home. Before she reaches the door, Goldie begins to sway. Her eyes go dull, her skin pops with sweat.
“Hospital,” she moans, “call hospital.”
Becky ushers the large woman onto a stool by the computer in the children’s section, bolstering her as best she can while dialing 911 on her cell phone. Becky tries to get information from Goldie for the 911 operator, but the Haitian is incoherent. Her eyes flutter, and she’s sweating like she’s running a marathon.
When the paramedics arrive, neither speaks Haitian. They check Goldie's vital signs, but there are things they want to know. Becky runs to Goldie’s boss, Irving, the café manager.
“Irving, there’s something wrong with Goldie. The paramedics are taking her away. Does she have insurance?”
“No.” Books & Books offers insurance for all full-time employees, but not all of them sign up.
“Do you have her address?”
Irving does not.
“What about her phone number?”
No dice. Further, he doesn’t seem particularly interested in finding either one.
“Call the office. Linda’s got to have all that for payroll.”
Becky runs back to the paramedics to deliver the bad news (if there’s one person who won’t answer her phone, it’s Linda).
As they grunt and struggle the barely-conscious woman onto a stretcher, the paramedics laugh. They can’t believe the prodigiousness of Goldie’s dead weight. They ask more questions Becky can’t answer, so she runs back to Irving.
“Irving, do you have her Social Security number?”
“She doesn’t know?”
“She can barely talk.”
“No, I don’t know.”
“Thanks a bunch.”
Goldie is finally on the stretcher. The paramedics are taking a breather.
“Do you know how old she is?” one of them pants, hands on his knees.
Becky runs to Irving once more.
“Irving, do you know how old Goldie is?”
“These fucking Haitians, they don’t know anything.”
At this point it might be worth mentioning that Irving no longer works for Books & Books.
“Irving, fucktard, she’s un-con-scious. She can’t talk. Do you know how old she is or not?”
On her way back, Becky remembers a recent trip she took to Paris with her sister.
“Anniversaire,” she yells at Goldie, “Anniversaire.”
Turns out it’s Goldie’s fortieth birthday.
During the next few days, Becky is amazed at how blasé her co-workers are about Goldie’s health. Hospital visits, flowers, cards, phone calls, letters, no one makes an overture toward any of these standard procedures the Books & Books family has used for various health concerns over the years – and Goldie left the store on a stretcher.
Before Becky’s amazement has time to build into a righteous ire over what can only be racism – a specific kind, as various Latin American nations are strong in number among the staff – Goldie is back. She was tested in the hospital for three days.
“The doctors say anemia.” Goldie sucks air through her teeth, a short, clucking sound; the noise sums up the stupidity of white people and their hospitals. “I tell you what Papo told me.”
The other Haitian cleaning woman apparently used voodoo on Goldie. She told the cook, Papo, and swore him to secrecy, but Papo refused to remain silent. The physical manifestation of the voodoo is a small bundle, hidden in a cabinet in the men’s room.
“Now I take the voodoo to my friend,” Goldie says. “My friend make it go back on her triple.”
The flood happened before my time at Books & Books, but I saw the aftermath. A functioning alcoholic who went missing for days and weeks at a time during her ten-year stint as a buyer trained me to replace her. We had a manager who ruled by blowjob and cliquishness. From day one, I knew this would not be a normal job.
Five years later, employees are passing voodoo curses back and forth. It’s nice to know my job still has the ability to surprise me.