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