one day


i.
where the river ends and empties into the sea,
where the pebbles shift into sand,
sit among the empty shells whose creatures left
the homeless leaves, the water ghosts, the-

you are for somebody a bag of salt, spilling into the sea
somewhere, when they
glance into their pasts

those moments shift
you into a spoonful of salt
in your mouth

sit until it dissolves
sit until your words dissolve
sit until your thoughts-
until you-

ii.
hang a crescent paper moon
in a sunlit corner of your room
thin thin thin as a shadow

remember the love
that felt like a sin, sin, sin,  remember
the apple slice razor edge
of it slicing through the strings
in your voice

iii.
some questions, the brutal taste of which,
you will never forget
and which you will never again allow
in your mouth:

“Was it real?”

“Did you have feelings for me?”

“Will you miss me?”

iv.
one day,
you learn – you
– you learn about everything
unspeakably humiliating
you have done to yourself.

you are not a victim.
you are not a survivor.

you did not survive anything.

you are not who you were

and that’s ok:

no one survives life.

v.
one day,

it is enough to love

it is enough to be careful

it is enough to not be bitter

and it is alright to never have been loved

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worth it

i think i started to fall in love with the idea of love because of books. reading. the way stories wrote out that feeling. that sense of truth. sharedness. the faith in a moment. that it meant something – the same thing, to everyone in it.

then i met people.

and it’s ok mostly. i’m faithless about people but not about faith. im hopeless about people but not without hope in a general sense.

i have my life

i love myself

i think it’s asking quite a lot to feel this way about anybody else. maybe i always knew that deep down.

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Dad, What’s A Condom?

Check out my latest piece on nuance! Excerpt below; for full text, hit the link.

Children’s sexual subjectivity matters. Why are we so scared to talk about it?

Dad What's A Condom

Artwork by Maia Boakye; follow her at https://maiaboakye.com/

“Dad, what’s a condom?” I walked into the small living room of our Scarborough apartment, nine years of nonchalance in my voice. Mom was leaning on the couch behind him. Both of them were watching TV, when they turned to look at me, dumbfounded that their daughter in grade 4 was asking them this.

“Where did you hear about this?” Mom asked, carefully.

“Oh some of the older kids were talking to each other about how they found one in the field,” I said, casually.

“What field?” Dad asked. In retrospect, their relative calm must have taken enormous inner strength.

“The fieeeeld,” I said, instantly exasperated. “Like, the soccer field — for recess? At school.”

After a short pause, Dad said, “It’s a type of apartment building — like a flat, like the one we had in Delhi, where it was ours because we bought it, instead of renting. You know how we’re moving to a house next year, right? So just like that — these kids must have been talking about a condominium near the school that their family is moving to.”

“Oh ok,” I said, returning to my room.

My little experiment had provided me with an answer and a feeling of prepubescent triumph in having uncovered that my parents were not always honest. My parents had just lied to my face to avoid a conversation about sex, condoms, protection, and intercourse. They were not infallible. I could catch them off guard, and indeed just had.

The next day at school, I told a classmate his parents had definitely had sex.

“No they didn’t!” He said, vehemently shaking his head.

“Yes they did. They so did. It’s how you make babies,” I said confidently, peering up from the Robert Cormier novel I was reading.

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Other Garden

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series, set in a universe.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
15. Rage and Her Spells of Power
17. Truth – Rhymes With Ruth
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
16. OtherSide 18. Pillow Talk With God 19. She, Named E 20. The Girl Made of Smoke and the Not-Boy 21. Other Garden

Companion Pieces
May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch

 

The water pours hot enough to steam up the bathroom. I scrub my body methodically, hands pondering, thoughtfully pausing over my stomach which has grown in the past little while. A distracted thought hums somewhere in the background – I wish the shower was a little steadier in its stream, a little more forceful, I think.

So, I am quite startled when he quite nonchalantly says “Hey,”, and pushes the curtain aside to climb in.

“Jesus Christ.” My hands immediately cross over my chest and then my belly. “Do you knock?” I say, a little crossly. It’s been some time since I’ve chatted with God Boyfriend. It’s just him. I drop my hands to my waist.

“Not usually – besides, I had to catch you at the right time,” he says, reaching past me for my body shower.

“And me showering is the right time?” I ask sarcastically.

“Yes,” he says completely seriously, lathering away. I’m surprised the tub comfortably fits us both. “I made it bigger,” he says automatically. My lips twitch in an automatic half smile at a juvenile joke that pops into my head. He rolls his eyes and bounces my pouf off my shoulder. “Get your mind out of the gutter, and, while you’re at it, why did you cover yourself when you saw me?”

“Because you scared the crap out of me,” I say automatically.

He cocks his head, and nods thoughtfully. “Yeah, I didn’t plan this well,” he says, finally, shaking his head. “Sorry for bothering you.”

“It’s ok,” I say, a little stiffly. I cross my arms over my chest again, feeling a bit uncomfortable that we seem to be fighting in the shower.

“We’re not fighting,” he says. “But ah – there you are crossing your chest again. And you’re not scared of me now, so why that gesture?”

“I don’t know,” I say bewildered. “I feel weird.” The shower is a little hot and I lean past him to turn up the cold water.

He smooths the water over his face, dark eyes and stubbled chin – and when she removes her hands her body has changed – round belly, soft thighs. “You’re still uncomfortable,” she says, reaching for my hand. “I knew a woman who was uncomfortable a long, long, long time ago. And, everyone took her story and turned it into something really strange.” She sounds so sad, and when I see her eyes, they are filled with tears. “And I don’t want that for you.” As a tear falls from her eye, I reach and brush it away. She catches my hand in hers, turns it, studies it closely and then kisses it.  “I want to show you something,” she says. “Someplace.”

“Ok,” I say, “Sure, when?”

“Now,” she says, snapping her fingers –

And we are in front of a set of gates. Huge, ornate, and blinding in intensity. Bright bright bright. I squint looking at it. Around us, there are trees as tall as redwoods. Flowers bloom around us, rapidly at times, slowly at others, delightfully basking in the golden light of the gates. Hedges of bright clean neat green shrubbery  line the pathway to the gates. “What is – what is that gate made of?”  I ask.

“The sun’s rays,” she says, distractedly. “Don’t stare at it directly; you’ll go blind. Zeke, could you please open them?”

“Sure thing!” A smiling man in his twenties pops out from a small tower beside the gate. “Oh hello!” He says, cheerfully waving to me.

I wave back, and then frown realizing I’m still completely naked. Furious,  I turn  to my companion. “Hey, what the fuck?” I say. “Give me my clothes!”

“You don’t need them here,” she says evenly. Her strides are confident, and the door opens with a strange song – like organs and choir music.

“What about Zeke?!” I say, following her into the garden.

“What about him?” She says.

She leads me to a beautiful, large tree, its trunk the size of a banyan. Its canopy casts a cool shade – around the trunk is a winding vine. From its branches, apples, pomegranates, and luscious unknown fruits hang from it.

“Oh,” I say, dully. I hold out my hand like Vana White,  presenting letters on Wheel of Fortune. “The Tree of Knowledge,” I say, acknowledging its presence. I’m immediately bitter. “This was a – “ I want to say bullshit, but it seems like an inappropriate word in this place, “a not-good story,” I say.

“Eve’s story,” she says, simply, “is the key to everything. A key that humans – men primarily, but everyone who followed those men, including women – have muddled, desecrated, and ruined!” Her voice is thunder suddenly and for half a second, the Garden is plunged into a strange darkness. Everything looks like the negative of a photograph, the eerie glow of her eyes and around the tree I see flaming swords marking a border. I see a woman too, talking to the vine, coiling around the base, laughing delightedly, curiously. Innocently, she chooses a fruit, takes a bite as the snake’s eyes narrow and a grin passes over its face. A blush passes over her cheeks as she swallows, and

I blink, and the image passes.

I feel a heaviness in my heart that I cannot shake. I swallow hard and sit heavily against the base of the tree.

“What was Eve’s sin?”  She asks, quietly.

“Nothing,” I say immediately.

“No, that’s unfortunately not true,” she says. “But, it is also not what everyone seems to think it is.”

“Ok, she ate from The Tree of Knowledge” I say.

“and?” She presses.

“And, I don’t know,  you told her not to, and she did it anyway. So boom: sin country. Sin book! Sin registry here, needs a file opened, first name Eve, last name – probably something ridiculous: Adam’s wife.”

“Knowledge of what?” She says, ignoring my rant.

“I don’t know, all the evils of the world – shame.”

“Shame,” she says, thoughtfully, and then she looks at me. “And what was Adam’s sin?”

“They never talk about that,” I say, bitterly.

She smiles, sadly. “No, they don’t. His sin was blame. But in this space, in this Garden, there is neither blame, nor shame, nor anger, nor fear,  nor guilt, nor defensiveness, nor anything else of that nature – other than, of course, this tree.”

I look around me. “Are you saying Eve… chose shame?” I ask, slowly.

She nods, once. “But, she didn’t need to. Ever. And Adam didn’t have to choose to blame her. Ever.”

“So how am I here, right now?” I ask. “A minute ago, I was angry – resentful actually about the story of Eve.”

“Grace,” she says, simply. “Mine. You can’t be here on a regular basis. You wouldn’t even make it past Zeke,”

“Right, the bouncer,” I say.

“Oh – not because he would keep you out,” she says, smiling ruefully.  “But how would you get past him without any clothes? You’d be too…well, ashamed to make it happen.”

I touch the tree and feel a shiver run through me. “Why plant this tree at all?” I ask. “Why have it here? If this is paradise why –”

“Because without choice, what meaning does anything have for humans?” She asks. “I never wanted any of you to be slaves to Goodness,” she admits.

“But you kicked them out of this place,” I say. I try to keep the accusation out of my voice, but she hears it anyway.

“No,” she says, heavily. “They… left. That’s what happens when you feel ashamed. Or guilty. Or angry. What peace can exist in your heart when that is there?  Think about it. If you were to eat from this tree, remember things from your past, do you think the gentle peace of this garden would withstand those memories? Those realities? That… suffering? If you ate from the tree right now, all that would be left is you, the tree, and a millennia of suffering – every terrible memory, every terrible projection of the future.”

I swallow hard. “People continue to shame Eve and blame Eve,” I say, softly. “And women. Religion. Churches. Mosques. Temples. Everywhere. Everywhere we’re kept out of positions of religious leadership, everywhere we’re told we’re less than men, everywhere we’re told we’re lesser creatures. And women believe this too – they believe we are spiritually less, cognitively less, – that we have literal lesser value.”

She nods, and kneels in the ground beside me. She takes my face in her hands and kisses my forehead. “Yes,” she says softly. “I know that this has happened. I know people have done this. I know men in large part have done this. But you must remember three things. First, man’s story is not my story.  Second, man’s story is not your story. And therefore, third: forgive them, for they know not what they do. You see, they don’t even know their own story well,” I break when I hear these words fall from her lips. Shaking with sobs, I curl up and cry in her lap, as the leaves rustle gently above us. When my crying finally subsides, I look up and see his peacock feather in his hair, and eyes crinkling in a smile.

He brushes away the last of my tears and then gently places his hand on my chest above my breasts. “There is something you have,” he says, smiling ruefully, “that is not yours to keep. It’s time to give it back now,” he says. “This will… feel a little funny,” he warns moving his hand in a rhythmic motion across my chest. I begin to feel a strange heaviness in my lungs and I cough, a little panicked. “Shh, it’s ok,” he says, moving his hand to hover over my throat. I feel the lump moving up and cough again, more acutely. He puts his hand in front of my mouth and looks into my eyes.

Firmly, he says “Vengeance is mine,” and I cough a small strawberry into his palm. He smiles in delight and tosses the berry into the air,  catching it in his mouth when it falls back down. “Ah! Such a tiny thing – and causing all kinds of unnecessary problems for you,” he says, chewing it. “Mm… a bit sour, but then, vengeance is never a perfectly ripe fruit,” he says. “I think… you will breathe easier now,” he says, still holding me in his lap.

I touch his chest and look into his eyes. I move my hands to his face, and run my fingers across his lips. He kisses them instinctively and I smile. Something deep and warm glows inside me and his eyes widen in joy. “No more shame, then?” He asks, but it’s more of a statement.

“Never again,” I say, smiling in the shade of the Tree of Knowledge, in the lap of my lover, in the Garden of Eden.

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The Girl Made of Smoke and the Not-Boy

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series, set in a universe.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
15. Rage and Her Spells of Power
17. Truth – Rhymes With Ruth
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
16. OtherSide 18. Pillow Talk With God 19. She, Named E 20. The Girl Made of Smoke and the Not-Boy

Companion Pieces

May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch

“Hey,” he says, approaching as I sit near the riverbank across the lake. I’ve walked across it many times, seen the fish dancing beneath my feet, felt the soft liquid of the water push up against me, gently holding me up. The water splashes against his feet as he crosses it too, and I smile seeing the not-boy arrive, with a gentle, serious smile across face. A dimple in the corner of his mouth makes my own lips itch. I want to kiss him. The thought is fleeting but it is there; I glance away from his face and turn  my gaze again to the lake. His grin widens, but I am not annoyed.

“Go on,” he says, teasingly. “Take what you want.”

I shake my head. “That’s now how it works,” I say quietly.  I notice the slender wooden flute case in his hand. I’ve seen the inside of it once before; a deep beautiful  velvet, not quite red, not quite purple, not quite blue lines the inside.

He slips a hand across my shoulders and pulls me gently into a sideways hug. I like the soap he uses. Something lemony. Something minty. Fresh.

“I see you met my sister,” he says. “Older sisters really are the devil – you’re lucky you never had one.”

Near the riverbank, the blades of grass lengthen stretching into the air. They wave gently in the cool breeze. I feel his hand travel down my arm and over my hand, and in one fluid motion, spins me away and pulls me in close like a dancer. As I twirl, I think about how I am not a dancer. I could stumble and fall. But, I decide – realize – as I twirl back, that I don’t have to stumble or fall. I smile at him as he eases me into a dip.

“Are you in there?” I ask, searching his eyes. In his pupils, a small puff of smoke dances, clears, revealing a small flame in each.

“Of course,” he murmurs. The sun in the sky is setting, casting its glow of reds, purples, and blues across his face. I reach up and trace his mouth, still in the crook of his arms.

“It’s like your flute case,” I say.

“Well nature does have the nicest colour palette,” he says, softly. “Why won’t you kiss me?”

“You could kiss me instead,” I say, evasively.

He leans back slightly and cocks his head. “Mmm I could. But that’s not how it works,” he says. I disentangle myself from his arms and move to sit under a tree, knees close to my chest.

He stands near me, crosses his feet and leans against the trunk. He starts playing his flute and it looks as though, just for a second, all the setting colours of the sun brighten as though they are listening to him play. The rays shiver over the water, and the lake’s surface ripples.

“I don’t want to kiss you until that happens,” I say, nibbling on a dandelion.  “Until there’s smoke and fire in my eyes. Until the sun dances across the water.”

He pauses in his playing and sits down beside me, his hand finding mine. Gently he lifts it, and the dandelion, to his lips. “Can I have a bite?” He asks me.

“Sure,” I say, suddenly inspired. I turn and gently bite his shoulder, giggling. He laughs, delighted.

“Thank you, thank you,” he says. I sink my teeth in just a bit more and then let go. He still has my hand and he nibbles on the flower I’ve already tasted.

“Delicious,” he says.

“Is it, really?” I ask. “It’s just a dandelion.”

“The flower?” He says in mock surprise. “Oh no, I meant your spit – it’s sooo yummy,” he says.

“And you’re sooo funny,” I say, rolling my eyes.

He snickers and then says, a little seriously: “All the flowers of your heart, especially the ones you’ve spent time cultivating, tending to, eating, taste like heaven.”

He places the dandelion in his mouth, crushing the stem, leaves and flower. Slowly, he pulls it out again, like a magician’s kerchief. It comes out fully formed. He taps it once, flicking his finger gently against it. Nothing happens, and he frowns. “Ah!” he says, his face clearing. Gently he leans forward and kisses it.

When his lips touch the stem, it multiplies into a million different flowers. A bouquet springs in his hands and around us, the grass suddenly blooms into flowers everywhere.

“For you,” he says, gracefully taking a single beautiful lotus from the middle of the bouquet and handing it to me. It is perfect and sweet-smelling. I eye it with caution.

“What happened to the dandelion?” I ask. “The one you bit?”

He smiles slightly. “You don’t like the lotus?”

I take the flower. “I like the lotus. Where is the dandelion?” I ask, stubbornly.

Gently, he places his fingers on my lips, and twirls his hand in front of my face. The dandelion  appears again, half bitten by both of us. “You’re ok eating something I’ve already eaten?” He asks, playfully.

I take the chewed flower and swallow it without hesitation. “Yeah. Just like you took my leftover dandelion.”

Gently, I tuck the lotus behind my ear. “It’s beautiful,” I say, sincerely.

Over the lake, the sun brightens for a moment and I feel its rays on my face like a halo. I feel the gentle fire in my eyes when I turn to the not-boy. I see his lips curve into a smile as he leans in. He stops a centimetre from my mouth, and gazes at my lips and then into my eyes.  In his eyes I see the reflection of the twin flames of my own pupils.

When our lips touch, I feel something change and for a second we are not bodies not woman not man not people not bodies not any thing and yet much more real.

We are both smoke rising, blending in the twilight sky.

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20 Reasons to Date Again

I turn 28 this year.  Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a piece called 20 Reasons to Not Date Until 30. As I wrote this piece, I laughed, seeing the date of publication on that earlier piece: April 26, 2017. So much has changed for me. I am not the woman who wrote that piece. I thought it would take me three years to recover. The universe smiled and said, “ok, sure, write what you need to write, let’s see how this plays out.” A year later, like a cosmic joke I’m in on, I’m… fine. Different. Fine. Good. Better. It’s amazing what can happen if you put in the work without worrying about the result. Give yourself time, and the universe will give you everything else you need. In my case, this is what the universe told me: “Set your goal,  do the work – and here is my gift to you: it won’t even take a full year.” So here is how I date now.

  1. I know who I am. People need to know who they are if they are dating as adults. I am committed to growing into who I am alongside those who I meet. I know my values, my strengths, my weaknesses. I am not willing to compromise my values; I am committed to deepening my sense of integrity with whoever I meet.
  2. I know what I offer – and I see to have it appreciated in my close relationships. If it’s not, it’s never going to work.  After my last experiences, I was left with a devastating sense that I had nothing to offer and that this is why people left me. But that’s ego talking. Here’s why: usually when people leave, it has nothing to do with the other person in an intense way around inadequacy/lack of offering. People leave because they leave. They aren’t feeling it. They have their own insecurities. Why someone leaves is  not my business – knowing what I offer and being clear about it is essential. It is everyone’s business to know exactly what they are bringing to the table and to be clear and up front about it.
  3. I know what I need in a partner. I know what strengths, characteristics, communication skills, pace, values, life stage, and qualities I want in someone. I have thought about it through and through.
  4. I meet people with where they are at – and make it clear where I am at. I do not fantasize. I do not needlessly or endlessly or tragically “hope” that someone likes me. I do not tragically “hope” that I will like them.
  5. I approach dating without ego – without hierarchies about who is better or worse. I see who fits into my life with clarity, with precision, with insight. I am not interested in chasing or being chased. I am not interested in “winning” a partner as though it is a contest.
  6. I see people where they are at: flaws, ego, strengths, weaknesses, areas of growth. I see if they are people who are already growing in directions that make sense to me. I see if a solid partnership can be developed.
  7. Romance means something totally different to me now compared to a year ago. I don’t care about superficial flirtation. I do still care about sexual chemistry and emotional chemistry. I do care about compatibility and how well someone fits into my life and how well I fit into theirs.  I can envision a different way to romantically love someone. There is no anxiety, fear, jitters. There are also no butterflies anymore. But… there is still a spark sometimes. There is still some sort of chemistry that makes sense – it’s just not some far off unattainable thing.
  8. I look to see if my time, energy, and Self are being respected by my partner. The standard? Is what it has always been: myself. my Self. But now my Self is sharper, clearer, stronger.
  9. I know what I will tolerate and what I will not – and what I am willing to work with if a change seems likely or possible. I have standards for what I know I want without expecting everyone I meet or have a connection with to meet those standards. I know my boundaries. This is not to close people out, but to be selective about who I let in and why. This is an expression of my deepest responsibility to myself. This means that I have standards for what I want – and those standards are in accordance with everything else that is amazing in my life that I have built over this past year and will continue to build.
  10. I have buried, cremated, burned away, laid to peaceful rest my troubled past. I do not seek new lovers to heal past wounds  – and I expect them to have worked on theirs.  It is what it is. It was what it was. And I came to terms with it. My romances and dating history were small – tiny – but compared to what? Some weird standard of what I thought a relationship had to be to “count”? They were not insignificant due to the impact they had on my life. Other things, bitter things happened to me; they showed up in my dating life too – so often we seek lovers as aid for our wounds, and sometimes this is ok but sometimes it is not. Regarding the level of pain in my life I had to process, no partner could really stick around for that level of comfort, and I understand that better now.  And so…
  11. I have no guilt or shame about what happened between me and people I dated whose departures from my life affected me intensely. It ended. They left. I was dumped twice. And rightfully so – who I was when they dated me was not someone I enjoyed being. There were many hearts I broke along the way too – and again rightfully so: they were not people who would help me on my journey in a way that was fair to either of us. It is no one’s fault. No one is that special to be loved by everyone and no one is so disgusting to be rejected by everyone – thinking either thought is an egotistical way to approach life.
  12. I love who I am now – without ego or pride – in a general way. I am interested in parenting myself. Does that make sense? We turn into our own guideposts as we age. We see the flaws in our parents, we see them as human. And I am human too. I know that no matter how future relationships work out or don’t, I am committed to a process of bettering myself and the world around me. I am not interested in being a different version of myself when I date.
  13. I answer to a higher sense of Self – the “who I want to be” and the “who I am becoming” every day. Because of this, I want people in my life – friends, family, partners who aid me in that process.
  14. I am open to being vulnerable. I am open to stating my needs and being open about what I need and want without begging for consideration. I am committed to seeing with clear eyes exactly how I am being treated and I am strong enough to leave if my needs aren’t met. I am strong enough to assert what my needs are without internalizing rejection as a measure of my self worth.
  15. I do not internalize rejection – or validation – as a measure of my self worth. Who I am is beyond what any single person thinks of me, whether their opinion of me is good or bad. Who I am is the standard of integrity that I answer to – and no one has control of that except the deepest, best, and most profound part of me.
  16. I value security, stability, and reliability alongside emotional and sexual chemistry. Flakiness makes me lose interest. Lack of communication makes me lose interest. I am turned off by people who do not know what they want. I am turned off by people who are too cowardly to make a commitment to what they actually want.
  17. I give what I can, and not a single drop more, not for a single second more. I will never be in a codependent relationship again, where I demand from a place of ego (I need you! So much! Don’t you love me enough?) and where I offer from a place of ego (you need me! let me take care of you!) . I give what I can, I take what I need – and that is it. Offering at the expense of your own self respect, dignity, sense of Self is unkind and cruel to oneself and to one’s partners.
  18. I appreciate connections without reading into them for “more”. In the past, I couldn’t understand why people don’t invest in good connections with me. Then I broke a dozen hearts (and then some). I experienced a “spark” with some, and didn’t with others. Why did I end it? Because I saw that there was no foreseeable future. There is a gate now between connection and commitment for me – and it doesn’t decrease the value of the connection or call into question its legitimacy. And so, I know that in my previous dating experiences where I was rejected and really liked the other person, the connection was real. It’s always real. Those kisses that feel magical really are magical – they’re just not enough sometimes.
  19. I reject avoidant people and overly attached people. Neither interests me. Neither draws me in. Dating will be balanced and neutral or it will be useless to me. I am not interested in playing games; I am interested in authentically connecting.
  20. I trust myself in a complete way – including dating, selecting people to let into my life. I trust myself to make kind and good choices for myself in general for my life – and that means I trust my process of dating. Before trusting someone else, I had to learn to trust myself.

Final thought: Before being ready to date, I had to do a lot of work to feel comfortable being loved. I had to understand for myself what that really meant. I needed to build a standard of what I would accept in my life as a reasonable way to be loved. And, it turns out, surprising no one in my life, that when I develop standards for something, they’re damn high. They’re concrete. There is a bar that I meet (or try to meet) every day in how I treat myself and others – and that is the bar I expect others in my life to meet. Love should never be a reason to lower your standards. I never want to feel weak in love again; I want to feel as I do every day, when I approach my Self with love: I want to feel strong in love. 

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She, Named E

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series, set in a universe.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
15. Rage and Her Spells of Power
17. Truth – Rhymes With Ruth
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
16. OtherSide 18. Pillow Talk With God 19. She, Named E

Companion Pieces

May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch

I sit at the riverbank again, closer to the water now. I dip my feet into the shallow, cool stream.  For the first time there are no witches, no gods, no goddesses. No elephant named Memory. I am alone, and I do not feel lonely. I smile at the comfort in my body and my skin. For a second it feels like pride, but it gives way to a softer gratitude. Across the water, reflected in its depths are the sun and moon hanging together in the sky above. I look up at them and sigh. It’s not right. Not quite right, the tapestry of the sky shouldn’t be like this, I think.

I think about The Three Questions BeingLovedAgain asked me, ages ago, a lifetime ago, a time when I was five years older and already dead. Her words of the backwards riddle echo:

Third, what must you give back that does not belong to you, and what must you take back because it does belong to you?” She asks, a voice from the past, humming against my voice box like a knife against the rim of a glass cup.

“Second, if I am here, holding you, who is in the grave?

First, yes, good, you’ve emptied yourself of bees. The bees will nourish these roses – but why, what for, what is the point?”

When Truth held my tongue briefly, I wasn’t able to say anything that was not honest. It felt like bees then, buzzing like an allergy. I remember when they left me, poured out of my mouth, a hiveful of bees – the bees that still buzz around the roses, their centres filled with memory. It felt like that when Truth held my tongue. I shiver thinking of her.

I had solved the second part of the riddle. I was in the grave. The many versions of me, killed across many years, buried in shallow graves in my own heart. I had finally laid to rest on New Year’s Eve with the help of the Time Witch and BeingLovedAgain – Respect.

A bee buzzes near my lips. A memory comes to my mind, and I smile. “They think your mouth is a rose!” BeingLovedAgain shouts, her voice is childlike and a little loud in my ear but so pure, so lovely. Clever Fourth Witch.

“Hmmm, funny thing isn’t it?” A voice calls out. I look around and see no one.

“Who’s there?” I ask.

“Hmmmm, right here. I am right here,” She says. I look down the length of my nose feeling cross eyed.

“You’re…the bee?”

“Pleazzzed to meet you,” she buzzes, hovering in front of my face.

“What’s your name?” I ask her. “It’s not Bee, or Bea short for Beatrice, is it?”

She laughs, a chirping sweet-honey filled sound. “No, it’s… E,” she says.

“Eee?”

“E, like the letter. Like Oh hello, it’s E, short for Emily, though my name isn’t short for Emily.”

I nod. Distracted, I continue staring across the water.

“Don’t you want to ask me anything?” She asks.

“Are there more of you inside me?” I ask. “Any more building a hive in here when you should be… tending roses or whatever it is that you do?” I sound a little angrier than I want to be and am not sure why. The water shivers in front of me. It is, I notice, expanding slowly, turning into a lake.

“Yes,” she answers immediately. “There is a hive inside your lungs, you see, crawling with us, but we don’t mean you any harm – no no no. We gave you such sweetness, and such honeyed words  – all your beautiful poetry harvested from so many beautiful flowers. All your flowery thoughts and your quick phrases. And then you spit us out, quite unceremoniously but I suppose it was time, after all!”

I feel a strange buzzing in my temples and in my chest, “I see,” I say softly, and my own voice sounds like a buzz.

“In a strange way, you know we are… you” she says, but there’s something in her tone that bothers me. “Let me explain,” she says, noticing my eyes narrow. “We know your memories best – those roses. We take care of them. They exist because of us, in a very real way. We dance our bee dances deep inside the little sulci of your brain, inside the little alveolar sacs of your lungs, the little dances that tell us where the flowers are – tell you where the flowers are.”

Above the lake, the moon and the sun seem to glow brighter. I blink from the brightness, and when I do something shifts. I blink again unsure of what just happened. In front of me is…me. I am there, sitting against the riverbank, a strange expression on my face. I try to move her mouth and cannot. She opens her mouth – I open my mouth, I feel myself do it. But I am not in her, I am “me! You see? We are you. You are me. You are we, little Bee!” She/I say/s.

I buzz back confused.

“Silly Bee, Bees can’t talk,” I/she says. She pulls the flower out of my pocket and sniffs it. “Ah. So sad. so much longing! You loved him so much so much so much so much,” she says. “Shall we think about how much we loved him? Shall we write a lovely poem about how much we loved him? I already have a few words – here, how does this sound: A river runs from a pen/across the years, a memory whirls in – ”

A hand made of grey smoke crawls over her mouth and from behind her, a spectre rises. I cannot make out its shape. I cannot make out its face. It is a silhouette. It is grey smoke and it slowly sinks its fingers into her mouth. It looks up at me, and I am not afraid.

The-girl-that-is-not-me-and-me looks at me, the bee.

“Do you want this? Do you no longer want your poetry, your words, your beautiful heart rending words?” She coughs, a little nervously. “Do you really want to smoke all of us out? We’ve lived in your lungs for years and years and years! We are you are me are E! Without us, you will lose your poetry. You will lose your ambition. You will lose all the flowers of longing and beauty and – ”

The smoky hand pauses, its fingers inside her mouth, and looks to me for direction. I  “You see?” The-girl-that-is-not-me-and-me says, triumphantly to the ghost. “You see?” The ghost hangs its head, but does not move.

“And what?”  I ask, in my tiny bee voice – but the voice comes out from the ghost’s face, a whisper, deep and solid.

The-girl-that-is-not-me-and-me swallows – or tries to. I buzz, closer to her mouth.

“And what?” I ask, again. Again, the ghost asks for me.  “Tell me, what else will I lose?”

The ghost does not have a face, but I swear it is smiling.

The-girl-that-is-me-and-not-me frowns for a second until her face smooths over into a calm smile. “You will lose your pride. You will lose the Stone Lady – forever. You will lose Rage – forever. You will lose The River Witch – the one who gave you power over all the elements,” she says.

In my mind, I hear a cackle start, a swooping crow of a cackle. I remember Truth, staring at me when I couldn’t form words. When I couldn’t say what I thought I wanted to say. I saw how easily she saw through me. I learned how to see easily through myself, maybe, in that moment.

“Will I lose my voice?” I/the ghost ask/s gently. I move closer to her face, buzzing. The ghost looks at me with its blank face and I feel something warm wash over me. I shiver in the haze as I move closer to its lips, no longer sure what is happening.

The girl’s face hardens into stone. She does not answer.

When I open my mouth again, it feels different. I see the vast lake before me. I feel my smokey hand resting against the stone girl’s face.

“Will I lose love?” I ask gently, already knowing the answer.  My smokey hand rests against the stone girl’s face. Again, she does not answer. There is no bee. I am not a bee. I am not a girl. I am not the girl I thought I was. I am not a boy. I am not these things. I am something else entirely.

“Will I lose any of the flowers?” I say, gently tracing her stony lips and set jaw. I follow the same lines on her face that a God/dess traced in my face. The stone melts away and she again does not answer.

“Will I lose my spells?” I say, dipping a smokey finger inside her mouth, touching her tongue. The girl named E cries softly, as she often has, and I dip my head gently against her temple, kissing her face softly. She reaches, hand trembling, for my hand.

“Will I lose Memory, the elephant?” I say, curling my fingers gently into her hair.

I feel the earth shift under my feet as I become, forming into something new. I look at the girl in front of me, the girl I have not yet killed, the girl that used to be me, the girl that was never truly me.

She looks at me, sullen and angry and afraid and… sad.

I reach into my pocket and pull out the coin that BeingLovedAgain has given me – silver on one side for herself by her other name, Respect, and gold on the other for Love. I smile, biting my lip, thinking of how thin the silver side had been when she first gave me this coin. Both sides feel equal in weight now. In my other hand is the rose she gave me a long time ago. I smile holding them both in my hands, and I show my talismans to the girl.

The girl in front of me looks crestfallen, understanding dawning in her eyes. “But I helped you,” she says. It sounds like a vicious insult, the way she says it, but it lands nowhere inside my body made of smoke. “I helped you so much – before anyone else, I helped you! I kept away everything that harmed you, I kept you safe! I stung anyone that tried to hurt you! I let you have your-” she hesitates, and then says “Pride!”

“I know,” I say softly. “But not myself. Not my Self. See, since Truth visited, you’ve had a lot of trouble lying inside my mouth. You can’t really do it anymore, can you? You are not me,” I say. “And I don’t answer to you. ” I place my items back inside my pockets and carefully open my mouth. Gently I lift out my tongue and show her. She looks at it fearfully. Carefully, I slip it back into my mouth. Inside me, I feel airy, light like a ghost, heavy like a campfire’s glow.

“No, I will not lose love. No, I will not lose Memory or the flowers. No, I will not lose my voice,” I say. Nothing buzzes inside my head anymore; it feels clear and calm. I trace her face gently.

“You’re going to kill me,” she whispers, whimpering. I almost can’t bear it.

I sigh. “Think of it as resting. Changing. There will still be flowers in my garden. The bees will still be taking care of them – and me, I’ll be taking care of the bees,” I say. Tears sting my own eyes. I gently brush her tears away and lean forward, tilting her chin up. Gently, I kiss her on the mouth.

I close my eyes, turning again to smoke as I fill her lungs, and I am not quite sure what happens next, but there is a blaze of light, a sudden sharp feeling, a million cuts that are instantly healed, and when I open my eyes again, there is only me. I look at my hands, as they tremble and fall to my knees, suddenly feeling weak.  The girl-that-is-me-and-not-me is gone, as though she had never existed. I am surrounded by a million flowers, memories everywhere, and millions of bees that float around, gently in them. in a haze, in a daze.

They’re recovering from being smoked out, I realise.

“Goodbye, E.” I say, softly. “I promise the bees will make better honey now. I promise that they will take care of all the flowers – properly this time. Not just memories of longing and loss, but  memories of love and deep connection. Not just memories of pain and hurt, but memories of beauty and kindness. I promise they will fill the gardens of my heart with a balanced joy. I promise to keep them where they belong – outside me.”

They hover in front of me, frozen in mid-air and then buzz in a frenzy coalescing into a woman, a being, hovering radiantly in the air in front of me. She is eight-armed and holds a variety of items in them: a book, a mirror, a lotus bud, a rosary, a bow, and a familiar sight: a wheel, small and sharp and made of sunlight. The boy-who-isn’t-a-boy had a watch just like it. I cut my hand on it once, and he kissed it better. Her scarlet lips are a perfect bow, smiling with kindness and – glory? It’s something I cannot name. Her robes are made of dark clouds billowing around her in the wind. Behind her, the moon moves into full luminous view like a halo as the sun finally sets. She looks behind her as she soars up over the river.

“The sun and moon have their rightful place in your heart now,” she says, turning back to me. “Close your eyes,” she instructs, lifting her arms towards me.

I obey and  feel a weight lift from them. “And…open,” She says. I blink and she looks at me, a strange expression on her face. “So many people are asleep even when they are awake. My gift to you is to be awake, even when you sleep.” She leans closer to me, peering into my eyes, as  though searching for someone else beyond them. “Ah, there you are,” she says. “Well, listen, I borrowed this for a bit, thought I’d return it,” she says, holding up the wheel made of light.

I look at it and swallow hard.

“Careful,” She says, smiling. “It can, after all, cut the night into dawn and day. But a powerful weapon nonetheless – will cleave, in fact, the souls of your enemies from their bodies. It will.. help you help other people, you know, who are struggling with our little sometimes overly friendly bee, E. ”

“I’m not ready for that,” I say shaking my head, and she bursts out laughing, not unkindly. The river is calm and still beneath her and soft sounds of the night forest are starting to echo through the trees.

“Just thought I’d try – you weren’t even tempted!” She says, grinning slyly. “Ah well, I suppose Rage really has left you alone – she would love this.”

“It would cut her,” I say, with clarity. I shake my head, looking at it in awe.”That thing can cut stone. I can’t… wield that weapon. I… and it’s not for me to say what other people need or don’t need in their struggles. And.. and if they need that weapon, I’m sure they will find it themselves somehow.”

She chuckles, and gazes lovingly at me. “Just like you did,” she says, seriously. “Just now. With smoke and with a kiss and with this blade. That’s why there are no traces of her, you know; you cut E to pieces, and then to nothing with – this.” She kisses the Chakra softly “Ah you always do the trick,” she says to it before tucking it into her robes. “And no, you cannot wield a weapon like her forever; this weapon was not made for mortals – no, not even witches. I wouldn’t even say you should look at her too long; she can cut your sight from your eyes, you know. But you’ve held her once and cut what is necessary from yourself without being cut yourself. That means you will be able to do it again. She will come to you when you need her – if you know how to ask for her.” I nod. I finally believe I will know how to ask if I need her.

With a serious look on her face, she hands me the mirror. “Take this instead. In case you ever forget what happened here today, look inside it. It will help you…see clearly. Well done, Beekeeper.  I take many shapes, you know. Grief and pain and loss and desire and lust and wanting and longing. Have you ever wanted to save anyone? Have you ever wanted to be saved? Have you ever thought you were better than someone, less than someone?  Have you ever… felt Fear? Victory? What a tormenting puzzle am I! What a beautiful maze I create!  Ahhhh how gently you asked me to leave your body  – with a kiss nonetheless! Ego is gone, for now – what a fun illusion she is to cast – but Ekanamsha always remains,” she folds her hands in front of her in greeting, and bows with tongue-in-cheek respect. Winking, she says, “Pleased to meet you; my friends call me Maya.”

I fold my hands in the traditional namaskar and smile as she fades into the night.

 

 

 

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Pillow Talk With God

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series, set in a universe.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
15. Rage and Her Spells of Power
17. Truth – Rhymes With Ruth
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
16. OtherSide 18. Pillow Talk With God 19. She, Named E

Companion Pieces

May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch

 

 

PTWG

Art by Sarah Alinia Ziazi, website here: https://www.sarahaliniaziazi.com/

Excerpt below. For the full text, visit: Pillow Talk With God, published through nuance!

She looks up at me, chin resting between my breasts. “So, what is love?” She asks.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Take a guess,” she encourages.

“Am I supposed to say something cliche like ‘you! God is love!’” I ask sarcastically.

“No,” She says seriously. “I’m asking a serious question.” Outside, the moon hides behind a cloud.

“I thought it was something sacred,” I say slowly. “Something special. Seeing yourself in someone. Them seeing themselves in you. Room to help each other. Trust that they would be there. Choosing one another. Choosing to stay. Something like that, I guess that’s what I thought it was.” The words feel wooden, and hollow in my mouth.

“And what do you think it is now?” She asks. Who knows, I wonder. A farce. A fever dream. A joke. A lie. I don’t really have words for how disillusioned I am about it so I stay silent and just shake my head.

“I felt so foolish,” I say, my voice tight like a violin string about to snap.

“Why?” He asks, pointedly.

“Hubris, I think,” I say, my lips twisting in a smile of sheer humiliation. Silly, stupid me. “I think…I felt during the time I was with him, that if my love was honest enough, my intentions true enough, that… even if it ended it would have been enough. Some bullshit about how it’s better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all or some crap. But it wasn’t. After it was done, I saw how…useless and small and…tiny my love was. The truth is… I can’t go through that again. I just can’t.”

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Things I Learned After Being Dumped

So much of how we heal after great pain depends on where we were in our lives  when the painful incident happened. For this reason, the healing process looks different for everyone. None of this is universal; not every person will go through all of these processes. These processes are also not linear.

1. To love someone means to be invested in their growth as much as you are invested in your own. When you’re dumped, you are acutely aware that you wanted to make this investment when someone else did not want to make this investment with you. It is ok now to prioritise yourself in every way; you don’t have to stay friends with someone who left you.

2.  Never internalize someone’s rejection as a measure of your worth. Someone ending things because they have lost feelings, don’t have strong enough feelings, can’t commit, or any variation of these things means absolutely nothing about you.

3. It’s ok to fight for a relationship to continue when you’re initially dumped. You showing commitment to a relationship and working through issues is not a weakness; it’s a strength. It’s not something to feel ashamed about; it’s something to respect deeply about yourself – you are able to connect to people, fight for relationships to continue. But…

4.  Never beg someone to stay. They will show you through their own committed presence, or lack thereof, in your life exactly how much you mean to them.

5. Ego has a strange way of manifesting its presence in times of great emotional distress, especially when we feel inadequate, hopeless, helpless, or not enough. For those of us without a strong sense of self, ego serves as a shell-self, a curious protective layer from fully feeling the emotions of inadequacy, loss, or helplessness. Ego tells us it didn’t matter anyway and anesthetizes the pain. Ego tells us to be angry in order to assert a boundary, a need, or assert a temporary, external mirror of sense of independence and respect. Ego is a self-conscious thing, but not a very Self-conscious thing…so the shell-self only works for so long. For me, I felt stupid after being dumped by someone I was starting to love. “Why?” He asked. “I don’t know,” I said. Later,  I knew I felt really stupid for thinking things could work out. But this is because my deep seated fears around inadequacy and not being enough were triggered through my partner dumping me. My ego knew that it had to protect me from those terrible feelings, so it settled on “well you were stupid this time for thinking it could work, and yeah, you never really know *shrug*.” The “meh” response is usually ego. But after a point, I found dating to be really difficult because I couldn’t trust anyone.  After a point, when you feel you want to move on, ego prevents you from trusting others, trusting yourself, or believing in a reality where your flaws will be accepted because for so long, the role of ego was to ignore your flaws entirely to preserve, (and present at least to the external world) a sense of self. And so…

 

6. at this point, you will have to re-envision what love and acceptance means for you. If you always thought of other people validating you as love, you need to reconsider this. For many who are survivors, or who grew up in homes where love was often validation (and rejection meant being unloved), this is a hard lesson. Love is not validation. Love is Love is being one hundred percent invested in someone else’s growth and journey as much as you are in your own. If there are things you have trouble accepting about yourself, explore those areas. Because now is a great chance to…

 

7. Take stock of your flaws – without ego or self pity. Rejections immediately highlight places in our lives where we are most vulnerable. We think “I shared this hidden and secret thing with this person, and they did not like this part of me.” That may be true, but we still have to like ourselves, and see ourselves clearly. We can work to improve our flaws, not to impress someone else, but to reconnect with our idealized versions of ourselves – what would our highest selves want for us? Use that as a guiding question to work on your flaws from a place of self-love.

 

8. Address your flaws – kindly. It’s ok to grow and be better to yourself. If you feel inadequate in any way, just remember that there really is nothing permanently and/or deeply wrong with you. Yes, everyone has places they can work on, but that’s what dating and loving and relationships are: choosing what flaws we want to tolerate in our partners, and help them grow through. If someone rejected your specific flaws, it doesn’t mean you are a bad person or unworthy of love; it just means they couldn’t envision themselves working with you to help you through yours, or they couldn’t envision you helping them through theirs. Sometimes, this is because they have spent serious time thinking about how you both work – but sometimes? The fact that they can’t choose you is their flaw – and those are the ones that always come back or who have trouble fully letting go.

 

9. Let yourself respond emotionally more flexibly to how people treat you. Often, we do the opposite; we say: “this person is a good person/good to me/my best friend, so even though that was hurtful, I’m going to laugh along or pretend it wasn’t a big deal.” Eventually, friendships, connections, and relationships like this explode. Instead,  learn to do the opposite: stand in the truth of your feelings without being mired in feelings as the only truth. Let your actions come from a place that answers to a higher self in you. If someone in your life hurts you, it’s ok to tell them that they hurt you – and that your needs for a relationship look different.  After a breakup, learn what you need from relationships and start asserting that when you meet new people. For those dealing with a history of abandonment, it’s ok if the screen you apply to new candidates is one around commitment. It may sound boring or not exciting but guess what – it’s a need you have that deserves a place to exist if the relationship is going to work.

 

10. Figure out how to listen to your self-respect voice and figure out what it wants to tell the world. For me, my self respect tells me that I am enough, that I’m not inadequate, that I don’t need ego so long as I feel accountable to a higher moral self, that it’s amazing that I tried to make something work, that me being rejected is not at all a signifier of anything about me in regards to future partnerships, that I deserve to be in a relationship where I am wanted and respected as much as I offer those things to myself and to my partner, and that I am a courageous and generous individual.

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Truth – Rhymes With Ruth

Introduction:
This piece is one in a chronological series, set in a universe.
Feel free to find the others here, and to browse through any companion piece, set in the same universe.
 Witches
1. Three Frenemies 2. Fall Coven Meet 3. BeingLovedAgain 4. The Fourth Witch
6. The Three Questions 
7. Seed 8. Garden Graveyard Heart 9. The Cook
10. River Witch 11. Rage
12. Reincarnation 14. Hate
15. Rage and Her Spells of Power
17. Truth – Rhymes With Ruth
Goddesses

5.  Memory Elephant 12. Reincarnation  13. Memory and Mudbaths
16. OtherSide 18. Pillow Talk With God 19. She, Named E

Companion Pieces

May 22 – Part 1  Stone Lady  Paper Boots  Dredge    Half Yours, Half His    Flower Seller
When You Must End Love    Talk   Scorpio Rising    Pretty Men, Stone Lady
From The Olive Pit to Gratitude  Reliability dead girl Soft Witch

“Oh, hello!” She says, sitting under a tree. She is knitting a scarf. “Do you like it?” She asks, holding it up. “That ice storm this past weekend was horrible, and I just thought you might like this.” I smile looking at it. The witch named Love is, of course, by nature loving. The weather is bright and sunny at the moment. My heart is a strange place where weather doesn’t always make sense.

Her white dress waves merrily in the breeze. Sandals sit near her feet. “It’s been… some time since we’ve talked,” she says. Beside her, the place where the grave was is flat and filled with roses.

“You seem different,” I say.

She laughs. “No, that’s not me. That’s you. You’re different now so our conversations will be different.” She is calm and sure of herself.

“I didn’t treat you well,” I say softly. She pauses in her knitting, briefly and looks up at me. I can’t quite read her expression.

“You needed me so you found me,” she says, finally.

“Did I use you?” I ask her. Again, she pauses in her knitting.

“You know,” she says, evasively “I’m not the witch named Truth. I’m the witch named Love.” A cloud passes over the sun, and I notice that only the sun hangs in the sky. This is not the twin sky of night and light near the riverbank where the River Witch Rage lives. Near Love, there is only sunlight.

“So that’s a ‘yes’, then” I say. And then, “I’m sorry.”

She nods thoughtfully. It’s almost as if she hasn’t heard me, but I know she has. She hums and breaks into song. “Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye. Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. When the pie was opened the birds began to sing. Wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before a king!” She stops singing and says,  “You know, that never made much sense to me as a rhyme. If they’re baked into it, aren’t they dead? Shouldn’t they be dead? But then I thought maybe they’re like me. Maybe they just can’t die – oh! I’ve upset you” she says looking at me.

“No you haven’t,” I say, but my throat is tight. “I just… I always thought… that if You were there, that it was… a sign.”

Love’s eyebrows rise. “A sign?” She asks.

“A sign,” I repeat. “Like, that if You were around, it was… the right path to take. I should… follow – ”

“Why?” She asks, frowning, trying to understand. “Follow what?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“Well, would you feel this way about Rage, or The Time Witch, or Fear, or Loneliness or The Cook, or BeingLovedAgain or – ”

“No, no I wouldn’t,” I say. “But you – you’re different from them.”

She pauses her knitting, and hesitates a moment before putting down the half made scarf. It lands with a thud, as though it is made of a million books. Dust rises in a little cloud, a puff of witch smoke. She stares at me deeply. In her eyes is recognition of what I’m saying. But she shakes her head.

“No,” She says, with some difficulty. It’s not a word she likes to say. “The thing that sets me apart is that I am the most powerful witch. Where I am here, Fear and Loneliness do not exist. And, as you can see, they have not visited you in many many months. But in every other way, I am exactly the same as every other witch you will ever meet. I’m not a sign of anything. I, like every witch, simply am. I never claimed to be Truth or Dignity or Integrity or Courage – though it’s true I do better with those around. But I never claimed to be anything else than precisely what I am. I’m definitely not a sign post on some imaginary road you find yourself on. Hah. Hah! ” It’s almost a cackle, but she is a witch who is too kind to cackle.

I nod. “And you’re not validation.”

“I am not Validation, Ego, any other witch. But… people confuse me all the time with other witches. And,” she says, “Confusingly, I can exist beside Shame and Guilt and Rage.” She looks at me. “You… have often preferred Rage,” she says. It’s not an accusation.

“I don’t know you,” I say, boldly, suddenly. I feel I’ve never known her, not a bit.

“I know!” She says, smiling. “Well, you know me a little – otherwise Fear and Loneliness would be around. And if you know me a little, you must love a little. Haven’t you had little moments of love since meeting me?”

I close my eyes and sit, leaning against a boulder. Tears slip out from under my left eyelid. Memories of an unsure man with an unsure smile play like a videoreel. Little touches. Little words. Little laughs. Little jokes. Little cuddles. Little kisses. Little handwritten letters. Little time together. Little dances. Little songs. Little moments.

“Yes,” I say, and a soft smile wavers on my lips. “Very little. And,” my voice breaks. “honestly, they weren’t enough,” I choke out.

“Enough for what?” She asks.

“For me,” I say. “To matter – to matter – to be real  – to-”

“But they did matter,” she says matter of factly, and easily.

“They shouldn’t,” I say.

Love looks at me and tilts her head. “But, you see, it’s quite simple. You want me around don’t you? I have to matter when I’m around, obviously. Just like Rage. Or BeingLovedAgain. But that’s why you’re different now. Before, little was enough. Now it’s not. Now you want a lot.” She frowns as though in deep thought. “In the immortal words of Jennifer Lopez, “Used to have a little, now I have a lot,” she says brightly.

I laugh crazily through my tears. “I just have… to be ok somehow with what happened,” I say, looking at her. “How do I do that? I…” I shake my head. I look up at the sky. “I can’t go through that again,” I say. “Not like that.”

“I’m not the witch named OK.” she says, softly. “But after this man, this love with him,  you met Respect and Rage.”

“I can’t forget him,” I say. “I’ve tried. I’ve tried to just –  ”

“Oh, that… won’t be possible,” Love says, a little apologetically.

“I want to forget,” I beg softly, tears blurring my eyes.

Love shrugs. “As the most powerful witch, it’s very difficult to forget me. And, besides, you’ve met Memory, the elephant. So forgetting is…quite impossible now. But…why do you want to forget?”

“Because it was meaningless,” I say.

“No it wasn’t meaningless,” says Love, easily and brightly. Not even a cloud in the sky acknowledges my empty words.

“It wasn’t real,” I insist.

“It was,” says Love.

“It was painfully stupidly small,” I say through clenched teeth. Leaves rise near us in the mulch.

“It wasn’t stupid,” says Love, carefully. The leaves fall back down.

“It broke me,” I say, simply.

“It didn’t,” She responds, equally simply.

“I still love him,” I say, shrugging helplessly.

“Of course you do,” says Love, unsurprised. “Not in any practical way of course, but yes, you want the best for him. You knit him a scarf every night in your mind. You hope he is well. You hope he finds Love, again. You want his life to be happy and good.”

“I wish I never met him,” I say.

Love blinks. “That has nothing to do with me,” she says, as though I have said something she does not understand.

“I wish I never met him!” I scream, and the sky darkens for a moment. Everything looks inverted like negatives of a photo. The world is inside out, suddenly and sharply.  Love opens her mouth but the song she sings comes out backwards, eerie, strange. In the grave beside us I see maggots squirming in the mud. The sky looks solid, the earth looks transparent and when I look down I see for a moment a cemetery – grave after grave after grave lining the OtherSide. I look down and see the bones of my skeleton through my hand.

“That,” says a booming voice, echoing like a thunderclap around us. “is a lie.”

Everything reverts back to normal and I blink. Boulder. Scarf. Love. Roses. I breathe shakily and look around me. Love is still humming, seemingly unaware of what just happened.

Behind her is a row of trees, and a figure emerges. A stooped back, grey hair, a pointy witch’s hat, a wizened face, robes of black. I sigh. “You’re a witch, I suppose” I say sourly.

“Truth,” she says by way of introduction as she approaches, driving her walking stick into the ground. “Rhymes with Ruth. And it’s not a walking stick, it’s a staff. ”

“I do wish I’d never met him.” I say again, tilting my chin at her defiantly.

She narrows her eyes at me. “I don’t like those. Those partial truths. Those half lies. Those not-quite-anything sentences. Miserable. Bad for spells. Lacks conviction.” She hits the ground with her staff with the last word and a crack appears in the earth.

Love frowns. “Oh you’re so dramatic sometimes, aunty,” she says, crossly.

“Well we can’t ALL be flouncy and bouncy and knitting scarves in the summer like you. Put it away – oh do put away those needles! You’ll take an eye out…” Truth says waving her hands fussily in front of Love.

Love blinks, mutters “Boundaries, honestly” and shifts over to make room for Truth.

“You’re Love’s aunt?” I ask. “But Fear said she was the oldest – ”

“What sort of utter goose listens to Fear?” Truth barks. She points her staff at me, and smiles the witchiest smile I have ever seen. Shivers run up my spine. “Hmmmm yes.. yes I see now.” She closes her eyes and begins to mumble a spell, rapid and quick. Her lips move but I cannot make out the words. When her eyes fly open, she stops speaking, her mouth frozen, lips slightly apart. She turns, furious for a moment.

“Don’t look at me,” Love says easily.

Truth looks back at me and laughs again, a bark of a laugh. Incredulous and disbelieving, she mutters: “Well, I never… I – you mean to say – ?” She says, looking at Love. Love nods, and shrugs – a “Well, what can you do” gesture.

Truth looks back to me. “Child,” she says. “Child, do you mean to tell me, you have been casting spells like this? With just… Love and Rage and BeingLovedAgain? You mean to say you’ve never invited me to your little training parties? What can you do? Show me what you can do!”

“I… well, Rage taught me how to turn to Stone at my will.” (“Your will,” scoffs Truth.) ” I… turned back time with the Time Witch. Oh and I can actually do all the elements now, not just stone.” I say brightly.

“Woop de doo da,” Truth says. “Alchemy – fine. Fine.”

“It’s a respectable skill,” Love says, supportively.

“Do you wish you’d never met him?” Truth asks and a strange buzzing itchy feeling sits on my tongue. It feels like allergies.

“Yes,” I say. The feeling does not go away. It feels like a million small bees.

“No,” I try, confused. The feeling remains. It feels as though my tongue is disintegrating, turning to dust inside my mouth. A tea made of a million bee stingers.

“Hrmmmmmm!” Truth says, shaking her head at me. She looks triumphant, as though she has caught something; her eyes flash. She fishes in her pocket for something and then pulls it out.

A tongue. I try to scream and can’t. My tongue, then.

Love frowns again. “Aunty, that’s so unnecessary. Give it back,” she says. “Honestly, your generation is so…theatrical.”

If you’ve never had a witch pull out your tongue, then you have no idea what this feels like.

Truth chortles and then, upon seeing Love’s admonishing face, she sighs and waves her hand. “Fine, fine. Good lord, neither of you are any fun.” Turning to me, she says “You! New Witch! You have a problem, you know. Dangerous… dangerous dangerous dangerous,” she mutters.

“I know,” I try to say – but it sounds tinny in my mind. “I know I am,” I try repeating, but there it is again, weightless, tongueless, the words don’t even make it past my lips.

Truth cackles wildly, watching me struggle. She takes a step and smiles at me. “Oh that will not work here no no NO no no no no, not with me! Not with me around – you think you’re dangerous? You are! Yes yes yeeeeeeeees but not in the way you think, you silly girl!  Your most powerful spells will disintegrate, just like your silly little tongue unless you solve it.” She holds it in her hand and blows on it once. A puff of air strikes it and I feel it suddenly wriggling again in my mouth.

I spit immediately feeling strange. It feels normal… It doesn’t feel like a tongue that has been ripped out and forced back in. I swallow and move it gingerly around my mouth. It feels connected to everything it should be.

“Ok,” I say, feeling prepared. I’ve been meeting witches in my garden heart for so long. “Ok, yeah, is this a riddle I’m supposed to solve? I’ll sit with it and figure it out – my most powerful spell – ”

“This,” interrupts the old witch, “is not a riddle. What do I look like, the Sphinx? I am an old, old witch. And if there’s something old witches like me like to do, it’s curse, oh yes I curse quite a bit – and there is no curse like Truth’s curse,” she says. “This is a curse. All witches must find the antidotes to the poisons of their lives.” She pauses, thoughtfully. “Alright, yes, maybe it is a riddle too.”

“Wait, you’re cursing me?” I say, horrified.

“Yes, oh yes – with a miserable itchy tongue! and like all witches’ curses, the curse is binding until you die or I die. And dearie,” she says, leaning towards me. “I never die.”

She taps the ground three times with her staff, raising the dust around her, like a swift and small sandstorm.

When it settles, she is gone.

 

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