Excerpted from AMERICAN GYPSY by Oksana Marafioti, published by Farrar, Straus and Giourx, LLC. Copyright © 2012 by Oksana Marafioti. All rights reserved.
“Svetlana’s husband is cheating on her, so we need to go to the deli up on Highland.”
No other explanation was offered.
All of a sudden, Svetlana was on me, squeezing my hands.
“Oksanochka, sweetheart, he must return to me,” she wailed.
“And I’m supposed to make that happen how?”
“The witch works at Giuseppe’s Deli,” Olga said.
“Ashley,” Svetlana said, looking like she’d tasted a rotten egg. “American.”
Olga patted her client on the shoulder. “Oksanochka, we need you to go inside and get one of her hairs.”
I pried my hands from Svetlana’s, slowly, so as not to disturb a woman clearly insane. “You want me to steal a hair.”
“Yes,” they said in unison.
“From a deli. With customers and meat and stuff.”
“Yes, yes, what’s the matter with you?” Olga said. “I need one of her hairs for my spell. That’s all I ask. I’m not an evil stepmother. I don’t make you scrub floors. This one simple thing is all I need from you.”
“If it’s so simple, why don’t you do it, then?”
Svetlana grabbed me again before I could protect myself.
“Sweetie, she’ll suspect something if one of us goes. She probably knows what I look like. He’s my husband,” she moaned. “Please, I beg of you. Go in, buy a pound of roast beef, and on your way out, pluck one of the bitch’s hairs.”
I couldn’t stand the idea of assisting Olga in any way, but as Svetlana bawled, her makeup running, she looked at me with so much desperation that I could almost feel it wrap around me like cellophane.
We drove to the deli. As I swung out of the car, Svetlana squeezed my hand and kissed it. I turned around and walked to the store with downcast eyes.
Delis are cheerful. You come in and you’re instantly enveloped by bright lights and the aroma of cold cuts and fresh bread. Not the atmosphere in which to reach over the counter and snatch a handful of the clerk’s hair.
“What can I get you?” my unsuspecting victim asked. She was so thin, probably four of her could’ve fit into Svetlana’s velour pants.
And of course she wore a hairnet.
My brain scrambled for a solution, and I was beginning to lose feeling in my tongue. “I am supposed to buy roast beef,” I finally managed.
“Can you show it to me?”
Ashley blinked a set of fake eyelashes before leaning over the glass case and pointing. “That one right there.”
“The one on the left?”
“No, over there.”
I shook my head in embarrassment, which, at that point, was genuine. “Very sorry. Can you show me from here? If I buy the wrong one, my mother will beat me.”
It was a long shot, but it worked. The woman looked at me strangely, then walked around the counter and stood next to me jabbing her finger at the glass. “The one that says ‘roast beef,’ right here,” she said.
“I see it. Yes. So sorry. My reading is not so good.”
A thin blond hair beckoned from her upper sleeve. I played my “creepy foreigner without a sense of personal space” card and gave her arm a grateful squeeze. “You a good deli person.” And came away with my prize, closing my hand around it.
Ashley eyeballed me while she cut the roast beef and wrapped it. I left the deli, memorizing the location to make certain I’d never shop there again.
I jumped into the backseat of Olga’s car. The interior was a nebula of smoke and I coughed, rolling down the window.
“How did it go?” my stepmother asked.
I handed her the hair along with the roast beef, a little disgusted and ashamed at the same time.
“Did she see you?” She dropped the hair into a sandwich bag and handed it to Svetlana, who rolled it up carefully.
“Well, yes, she saw me. I was buying roast beef,” I said.
“Did she see you take the hair?”
“No. At least I don’t think so.”
“Good girl,” she said, and started the car.
A week after the deli trip, Olga made it known that I was to join her yet on another excursion, this time to a nearby cemetery. “Ny pryamo (Yeah, right),” I said.
The Chinese sundry market might not have been the best place for this discussion, but Olga cared little for privacy, hers or others’. In the dried-seafood section she thrust a fish in my face.
“Your father said you’re going.”
Next: What happened when Oksana and Olga broke into a cemetery