This story is paired with “Hansel and Gretel” from Children’s and Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free.
There was a white witch of Ojo, who wore a house on her back. She was an oracle of scabrous-repute, a tiny tyrant who blasted villages off her tongue if anyone dared enter the narrow alleyway of her mind. The witch bought an old demented hotel for a good price. She haunted the inner psyche of the real estate agent with secret tape recordings disclosing sex the agent had in abandoned shacks with married women, twisted the agent’s climax into a reason to strap on another day. The witch was a heel who called herself a healer.
The witch wore the only white skin in town. Third generation locals sent their sons and lovers to scare the shit out of her. They shot a few of her cats and left the steaming carcasses on her doorstep. She left her gifts in bottles on their doorsteps. A liver for one, spleen for another, fingers and toes floating in liquid for the rest. She kept a shotgun by the door after her first week in town.
Soon the local women started to call anonymously, wondering with desperate pleas if she knew the winning lotto number that day.
Get those goddamn reproducing sub-species off my property, she yelled, when some couple wandered in by mistake, wondering if there was a room available at the hotel. The only visitors allowed were the sickly women who came in for their appointments with the healer, limping in to her studio and then limping back out an hour or so later with a bag of herbs.
White witch ate the same meal three times a day, cooked all day in a crockpot, methodical and chronic as herself. The stench of damp earth and kitty litter permeated the adobe. Write it down, she said. Quinoa, carrots, turnips and onions, her rancid grin, raw and chapped as the dirt: mushrooms, broccoli, peas and garlic.
—Shed your splintered self and become a resolution instead of a debate, she said.
—Stop straddling your doubt.
She yanked me from the torn pages of fear, grabbed my hands tight and said push against them as hard as you can. She called it muscle testing, kinesiology.
—Are you worth ten bucks?
She wagered how much I would make per hour to cut her lawn the size of a football field.
I clenched every muscle inside of me, my fingers barely breathing, until she said thirteen and then my frame collapsed. I was shooting for fifteen, but thirteen dollars it was, sweating back and forth, three times a week with a rusted lawnmower as cranky as the crumbling asylum on her face.
She gave me the blowtorch to kill ants. A chainsaw to cut tree limbs. I was given a half an hour off for lunch.
We had come to an unspoken understanding. We had no one else in our lives. She would call me in to have lunch with her when my skin was already smoldering a deep purple from heatstroke. I’d get a bowl of her slop.
—Do you have kids? I asked.
—Two, she said.
—How old are they?
—In their fifties.
—Do they ever come to visit?
—Never. They are of no consequence to me.
White witch was transcribing books on how to heal yourself without yourself.
—Hey you, she’d yell out when she needed an ego to tattoo in the guise of a forearm.
Her questions were as ludicrous as her resolution. She pushed down on my arm as I resisted with everything inside me.
Did humans come from another planet?
Was it Venus?
Was it somewhere in the Pleiades?
Will men become pregnant in the future?
Are humans who eat meat less evolved?
—Push, girl, push, she would say.
But whether I slackened my force or not, white witch already had her answers and they were rarely no’s.
She had the worst case of scoliosis I had ever seen, but refused to acknowledge it. She waited for wind shifts and once every few days would come struggling out with her windsurfing gear.
—I must go, she said, but I have counted over twelve ‘goathead’ weeds still scattered through the yard.
Her eyes would peer up at me from her iron board position.
—Why don’t you call your kids? I’d ask.
She never wore sunglasses because her eyes were horizontal to the sun.
—You are weak and have no friends, she said, as she peeled out in her ’68 Chevy station wagon.
—Don’t forget to feed the cats, she’d yell as she sped off.
She had over thirty starving cats that ate the same crap as her.
One day she called me in to her studio for the usual. She was on book number six: A Self-Help Guide to Healing: Planetary Supplements. My lack of strength had answered most of the questions for the last four books.
—Today, I am going to heal you.
—Really? I thought. Just give me a glass of ice water, a cold shower and maybe two more bucks an hour and all will be good.
—Today, I will read your aura, she said.
—Today, I will hide your dentures, I thought.
—Give me your hands, she said.
She turned them palm up and laid her palms on mine. I started to shake. Her furrowed face and glazed gray eyes narrowed in even further as she studied me. She smelled of unwashed hair and sage. She was intimidating up close.
After what seemed like forever she pulled her hands away from mine and clutched them to her chest, started to hack. I thought she was dying.
—You, she hissed. —You.
Her crooked index finger lifted out of the mix and pointed at me.
My eyes were two small islands, uninhabited, frightened.
—You, she said, have no soul.
—You, I thought, have scoliosis.
The white witch shook her head at me.
—-I thought you were just a shallow pond when I met you, but now I see there is nothing but a dried up arroyo of evil. I don’t have enough herbs to heal the decay inside of you. —I’m sorry, she said.
Her front end got up and started moving toward the door.
I’d spent hours, days, months, sweating over her weeds, logs, unending grass, and the bitter lies she inflicted on every woman who came with checkbook in hand to inhibit the war raking inside of her to get an injection of wisdom from the white witch of Ojo.
I grabbed the back half of her before it got too far from me and held on tight to her bones.
—Listen to me you fist of a storm.
I stared at the white witch’s lack of an ass.
The old lady was strong and pushed me off of her.
—A check will be waiting for you in the kitchen, she said.
I wish I could say I ran and knocked her down. That we wrestled around on the grass scratching and biting each other for hours. That I took the blowtorch to her little healer’s hut and watched it burn to the ground. No.
I just walked to the kitchen and picked up the check. The witch was nowhere in sight. The crockpot was humming. I scrounged around in my bag until I found the half-eaten McDonald’s cheeseburger I usually saved for the cats, but today I smashed it up in to tiny pieces and smiled as I lifted the lid.
Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in numerous journals. She is author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (Sententia Books, 2013) and Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press, 2011) and three chapbooks, including Her Skin is a Costume (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014), written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College, and lives in Santa Fe with her husband and menagerie of pets.