“You don’t choose the gift,” Madame Phara says, laughing. “The gift chooses you. And there’s no giving it back once it’s given.”

Phara lives in a small apartment in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward. She shares the three-room efficiency with her husband Stanley, who didn’t do much other than snore on the couch during our visit. “He works the night shift,” explains Phara, “and I make him a powerful sleeping draught for the day so he can catch up.”

Though a sleeping potion powerful enough to knock out your husband for 12 hours may seem like a dream to many spouses, Madame Phara insists that her magical powers can be as much of a gift as a curse. “It’s impossible for me to use the microwave,” she says. “If it’s plugged in and I accidentally cook up a little magic, it’ll blow the breaker.” The microwave sits in a corner, greasy but unplugged; Stanley uses it only when Phara is away. She bashfully admits that it’s the 17th one they’ve had since getting married in 1983.

In the kitchen, the matriarch of magic goes through a litany of things her magic makes difficult or impossible, pointing each out in turn. “I can’t cook with vinegar,” she says. “Stanley has to do it for me. I’ll turn it to wine, even right through the bottle.” She has turned to using vinegar-flavored potato chips instead to satisfy her cravings for the sour and pungent.

Clearing her throat, she adds: “I hope you don’t mind a slice of raspberry pie. Normally I’d choose something without so many seeds, but…” She looks at a blackberry bush that has sprouted from the garbage can and overtaken half of the kitchen. Berries the size of golf balls dangle from its thorny boughs. “You understand, that’s just how it is,” Madame Phara laughs, by way of apology.

How does it feel when her magic interferes so much with her daily life? “You get used to it,” Madame Phara says. “Some things you get nonmagical folks like Stanley to help with, but other times–like when I accidentally raised poor Mr. Washington as a zombie–I just have to sort it out myself.”

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