Every man, woman, and child lived in this city more than a year knew that the Sisters of the Holy Convent of Orleans Parish made the shittiest soap in the world.
“I need you to go to the market. The nuns’ booth. Buy me a bar of that Jasmine soap.”
I worked for white people all my life and there was about nothing I wouldn’t do if asked. But I drew the line at that soap.
“That stuff made out of razorblades or gravel. Probably both. I ain’t goin down there. People might see me.”
“This isn’t a discussion, Des.”
“Looks like it is to me.”
“Just go buy the damn soap.”
No lie neither. People dumb enough to buy that soap only bought it once. By my estimate that stuff was responsible for more blood loss than any soap had a right to be.
Wasn’t the first time I had to weigh my options when it came to my job. I needed the money more than I needed respect, but that sure the hell didn’t stop me from grabbing a pair of Ms. Thang’s big sunglasses and a shade hat before I headed out.
Devil soap or not, the sisters were decent businesswomen. Luck or Jesus was on their side since New Orleans was a tourist town. My side too because I’d blend in with all them idiots fool enough to line up and buy that mess.
Until I got to the booth and saw that big yellow scooter. Sister Marie Therese. My damn luck. The only nun I ever knew sat there fanning herself in that booth. Just because she didn’t look like an accomplice to murder didn’t mean she wasn’t one.
She put on some gloves and arranged those bars of murder out on the table. A line of people had already gathered. I had to fight hard not to turn around and mouth, “run.”
My mamma told me once nuns were married to Jesus. Far as I could see, Jesus got the short end with Sister Marie.
“Desiree Lavolier? That you?”
I pulled the hat over my eyes. Crazy nun. Sunday school taught me I wasn’t supposed to lie to a nun. “It’s me.”
“What you doin here?”
Everybody in a ten-mile radius turned around at that question. Damn Marie Therese. Never could hear shit even when she was a girl. She talked louder than a bullhorn.
“I know I ain’t supposed to ask,” she crossed her arms. “But I’m tired. It’s hot. And last night Sister Catherine told everyone she found a bottle of Bourbon in my room. Ain’t every day a local come down here.” She sat the soap on the table. “You gonna answer me?”
Stupid woman. I didn’t care about her bourbon or her mood. "What you think I’m here for? My health?” Be the opposite if I bought that soap for myself. “I need a bar of soap. Jasmine.”
“You don’t use that soap. Ain’t no way.” She leaned across the table. “This soap gonna make your skin bleed.” She thought she was whispering but I could feel all them tourists back up.
“Look. Everybody in the parish knows about that soap. You take one look at me and know I don’t smell like no jasmine.” I crossed my arms. “Plus I still got skin, don’t I?”
“Right. And I aim to keep it.”
“Then who it for; it ain’t for you? You the one buying it?” Now she didn’t even pretend to whisper.
I thought about chucking a bar of that soap upside her head, but that had to be one of those sins God remembers.
“Girl I work for. She come here and smell that stuff. She didn’t have no cash on her and she probably thought she not good enough to buy something from a nun. Little she know how who’s really selling this stuff.”
“You ain’t changed none,” she ’bout screamed.
“You either.” With your loud ass. “I about fell over when she told me I had to come buy your soap. Told her she didn’t want that stuff.”
“You here though.”
Sister Marie Therese was the genius I remembered.
“I got a job cause somebody hired me. I keep a job cause I know my place. I asked her why she wanted it. She said the only thing that you remember is the smell.”
Even though that soap felt like sandpaper, it smelled like Jesus’ wife made it. Those soaps might’ve had the power to kill small animals, but they smelled like I imagined heaven smelt.
Sister Marie Therese wrapped the bar in its paper and handed me the bag. “Good to see you, Desiree.”
I waved off the change and lifted the bag to my nose. “You ladies make this stuff and it almost kills people. But it smells like Jesus wept on it. Might want to take a lady’s advice and think about candles.”
I didn’t go back to that stall in the market, because even I have some pride, but I heard a few weeks later the sisters done gone into a new business – Holy Candles.
Sometime, even I could do the Lord’s work.