I was mad. Madder than mad. I don’t know exactly how old I was – eight or nine, I guess, and we were in Des Moines, visiting relatives. It was early winter, gray weather on the plains, a light dusting of snow across the stubbled fields. And we’d just gotten a call that my favorite uncle – the one who always kept me laughing with his jokes and funny faces – had gotten in a bad wreck just up the road at my grandmother’s house.

I had two grandmothers who lived on that busy highway; one, the ‘great grandmother’, a kind but firm disciplinarian who lived alone in one house, and the other grandmother, slightly ditsy and somewhat alcoholic who lived in another house on up the road. She countered my grandfather’s gruff yet friendly demeanor while complimenting his love for alcoholic beverages. Together they made a well pickled couple, though I don’t ever recall seeing them drunk – just slightly steeped and tipsy, something which my grandfather’s mom – the great grandmother – frowned on with her often thinly pursed, disapproving mouth. And my crazy uncle lived with them.

We all piled into the car and drove up the road, and when we got there it was a horrendous mess. My uncle, backing out into the highway, intercepted a motorcycle doing a high rate of speed – my uncle’s fault, for sure. Wreckers were there, ambulances were there, and I got to see the car – it had been hit so hard on one side that it had deformed the other, a fact which thoroughly impressed me! The poor motorcyclist, thrown over the trunk, suffered a major case of road rash on an elbow and his knee, grinding them right down to the bone and then some, hence the arrival of the ambulances. Finally shooing us back to the car with a firm “stay put”, my mom went to comfort our distraught relatives.

Being shooed and confined to the car, all I could do was stare unhappily out the foggy window at the parked cars and milling people. I wanted to be out where the action was. And then this reporter showed up.

He parked right next to us in a golden brown sedan – one of those boxy things popular in the late sixties. I watched his car slide up next to ours and stop, then watched this man get out. I don’t know if it was just his usual demeanor, but he had a smile – a big broad grinned smile, all his teeth a-showing. And that smile irritated me, grinding at my general unhappiness. He kept on smiling – smiling at me through the window as he walked by, going to his trunk, smiling as he got out his camera equipment. He even had the nerve to wave at me as he walked by, that big toothy grin showing – and my rage grew into a flame. And that smile did more than grate on my nerves – it infuriated me, stuck in that car, making me madder and madder. It seemed he was smiling at my uncle’s accident, at my family’s upset, at the entire situation – and that was something I just could not take, not sitting down. And yet I had been commanded to sit, trapped in that car, with no way to vent my anger and frustration.

So I did what my momma had taught me to do. With all the hate and vehemence I could summon, I made the hex sign my mom had taught me, focusing my rage upon his car. Over and over I hexed that thing, wishing it to malfunction in some way, any way that would allow me to get back at the grinning man, this reporter who was smiling at our situation.

And it worked.

After awhile the reporter came back – still smiling – and went to the trunk of his car to deposit his gear. My mom came back at about the same time – the ambulance was leaving, cars pulling away, and I just stared in burning hatred at the reporter’s car, hoping that my hex had worked.

Slamming the trunk closed, the reporter stepped around the side next to our car – and the trunk popped back open. Still smiling, he went back and slammed it shut again.

It popped open again.

He slammed it again.

It popped open again. And finally it was happening. His smile was starting to disappear.

He slammed it again. And I began to smile – an evil child’s smile — as it popped back open again.

Lowering the window halfway, I leaned out and hissed at him.

“I hexed your car.”

His eyes grew wide and his fingers began fumbling with the knot on his tie. He slammed the trunk again. It popped open. Again.

“I’m telling you, it’s not going to close. I hexed your car.” I had an evil grin stretching from ear to ear and I hexed his car again, just for good measure, showing the evil sign.

Threading his tie through his collar, he hurriedly began tying the trunk closed with it, using it for a rope. His smile had totally disappeared. My smile just grew broader.

“I’m going to hex you, too,” I warned, shaking the ‘sign’ at him.

“Michael! Don’t you go doing that!” my mom said, almost laughing and breaking my concentration. I was busily summoning up all the mental hatred I could, but seeing the man’s wide, somewhat terrified eyes as he bustled around the car – keeping his butt firmly pressed against it as though he couldn’t keep enough distance between me and himself – I could feel nothing but a triumphant glee.

“You hexed my car!” he said, his eyes darting between my mom and me as he pulled the door to his car open.

“Yes, I hexed your car and it’s never going to close again,” I said with a child’s conviction, nodding towards his trunk. “And if you don’t get out of here, I’m going to hex YOU!”

That man took off so quick his tires threw up streamers of snow. If it hadn’t been winter, I guess he’d of been burning rubber instead. With my mom laughing, we turned around and went back to my great-grandmother’s house.

You’d think that would have been the end of it: a child’s anger expressed with the curse his mother had taught him; a coincidental minor mechanical malfunction which combines with chance to put the fear of magic in an obviously superstitious man. But no. There’s more.

A few days later we were driving through downtown Des Moines. It was about lunchtime and the sidewalks were full of pedestrians, the traffic slowed with congestion. Then my mom says something:

“Look! It’s him! The reporter!”

I looked. I see him threading through the crowd. About the same time he looks towards the car and I flatten myself against the window, staring at him. I can’t believe my luck!

He freezes and goes pale – and I mean PALE – as gray as the slush in the gutter – and suddenly takes off running down the sidewalk, shoving the people aside. I can almost see his hair standing on end, it’s so obvious he is scared. Then fighting the crowd to the nearest building, he darts into a doorway – again shoving people out of his way in his panic to escape – and disappears.

My mom bursts out laughing. I grin.

But meanwhile I was wishing I could hex him again.

Now I don’t believe in ‘magic’ – otherwise every president who ever got elected would be dead before he was ever sworn in – but I do know this: the power in magic lays in making others believe you can do it.

And I’m sure that reporter thought I could.

And I’d give good money to know what went through his mind and what tales he told his peers about the evil child who had hexed his car – and was haunting him.

Somehow I’m sure I’d be smiling.