The decorations had been taken down, boxed and stored in the loft, but the feeling of confinement

Christmas always grew over the period of its short flowering in her house hadn’t dissipated. She had expected a lightening of the atmosphere once the looming presence of the tree had gone. With the corner of the room now freed from the oily darkness of a dying fir she thought the walls would stop hovering over her, but instead they had sullenly shuffled back only a few inches. Her picture frames were equally disappointing. Unburdened of the fuss of tinsel and strings of cards they failed to convey the anticipated look of sophisticated urbanity. They hung from their nails tired and thin. Witchy harboured mixed feelings on the subject of Christmas. Flaming puddings, uncensored chocolate and sparkly lights were to be celebrated with vigour; however the convention of semi-hibernation in ones house didn’t sit well with her. Christmas Eve and the day itself were pleasantly experienced on a sofa or at a dining table, but come Boxing Day she could feel her flesh filling with the warm ooze of sloth. Her body was quite happy for it happen. As far as it was concerned its needs were being met: food, comfort and no sudden movements to disturb its homeostasis. The spirit inside the body, however, railed at the bars of its tinselly cage. And the imbalance could only continue and develop while she waited for Jools Holland and then, six days later, the three wise kings to turn up. Finally taking the decorations down and restoring the house to normality always came as a welcome release from this long sweaty sleep. But this year when she looked at her dusty walls and familiar furnishings she felt she hadn’t yet fully emerged from this seasonal torpor. Murkiness still lingered in her alcoves. There was nothing for it but to jump on the trusty broomstick and fly fast and furious to some wide open space with no walls and no hint of a bauble. Thus, a couple of cheek-chilling hours later she dropped down onto the ploughed earth of a Suffolk field. It had a horizon. From left to right and all before her the brown earth stretched to meet the expanse of a milky sky. Behind her some trees hid a handful of houses. A distant dog barked but these signs of civilisation were easily ignored, and the sense of delicious freedom could be maintained with the minimum of willpower. A faint pink tinge from a wintry afternoon sunset bloomed on the horizon line. Depth surrounded her, and it felt good. There was air and light. A quiet breeze needled through her clothing making her flesh shiver. In response she raised her arms, closed her eyes and took a long breath. It was just her and nature, alone, in a simple raw relationship that didn’t involve an obligation to send a Christmas card. “Are you real?” A young girl spoke from underneath the witch’s left armpit. Witchy, momentarily frozen by confusion, looked down past her arm at the girl. She was perhaps 10 or 11. Her hair was in a lopsided pony tail and she was wearing an outrageously pink coat. There was also a hound standing some way behind the girl that barked non-stop.

Garden65.blogspot

January 2013

©Janet Walsh

“Are you?” she finally retorted. “I am, yes. I thought you were a scarecrow, but there isn’t usually a scarecrow here, so I came to have a look.” “Do I look like a scarecrow?” She dropped her arms down by her sides. “Yes, you’ve got flappy clothes on and your arms were out, like this.” The girl put her own arms out, which jerked the lead of the hound forward. It didn’t want to get any nearer the tall woman with the ‘flappy’ clothes so it pulled back and barked some more. “Can’t you make it stop?” “No.” Her reverie now entirely shattered Witchy picked the broomstick up in one hand, hitched her skirts with another and began to stalk across the field back to the road. The easiest exit would have been to fly away, but exposing yourself as an out and proud sorceress is not always wise: the girl might have a farmer father with a shotgun and a fear of the devil. The girl followed, pulling the reluctant hound behind her. “Why were you in the field with your arms sticking out like that?” How can you explain existential ennui to a child? “None of your business.” They both hobbled awkwardly over muddy ruts. “Were you rehearsing?” “Rehearsing?” Perhaps the child did have some grasp of the performative element in life. She paused and took a close look. The eyes that looked back up at her were clear and unusually direct for a young person, and yet there didn’t seem to be a challenge in them. She wasn’t trying to bait an adult into an emotional response having caught them doing something out of the ordinary and probably shameful. It appeared as if she merely wanted to know the story. As I’m sure you can imagine, Witchy has little patience with children, and was certainly annoyed by this one (‘flappy’ clothes, indeed!) but this simple curiosity aroused some flicker of affection. An odd sensation that lasted only a moment. “Yes, are you in pantomime?” “Pantomime. Pantomime. Certainly feels like it.” She resumed her plodding. “What character are you?” “Don’t you dare say Widow Twanky or an ugly sister.”

Garden65.blogspot

January 2013

©Janet Walsh

The girl sized her up. “I wasn’t going to say them, but your bum is big like Widow Twanky’s” Who will rid me of this pestilent child? “It is not. This is a bustle. It is fashion.” The girl looked unconvinced. “Anyway, I think it is Captain Hook.” Perceptive child: a figure of menacing authority endlessly searching for completion. “Why him?” “You’ve got a big hat on.” Once again the girl in the pink coat effortlessly brought down the haughty witch with the bare facts. Two can play that game. “Maybe I am a witch.” The girl thought for a moment. “No, your nose isn’t big enough.” “Yours certainly is.” “It’s not.” “It is. Sweetheart if I were you I’d start putting pennies in the piggy bank to save for the future nose job.” To be frank, the girl’s nose was on the large size. Witchy’s retort was both jibe and helpful advice. For the last few yards they walked in silence until the girl piped up. “But, it’s not like a proper witch’s nose. That’s like this.” She put her hand to her face and dangled her fingers in a gesture that could convey either hooked nose or elephant trunk. It was funny. They both laughed. “No, alright. It’s not that bad.” At last at the road they stood hesitantly. Witchy asked which way the girl was going. When she indicated towards the houses Witchy said a smart goodbye and began marching up the road in the opposite direction. She figured it would be safe to take to the broomstick once passed the first bend and out of sight. The sun was nearly below the horizon. A mist had risen and a gloom descended. A car with its headlights on sped by making her stumble into a hedge. A country lane at dusk is a dangerous place to be. It was a good thing she would be airborne soon. And then a thought struck – what of the girl and her animal? They were walking on this road too. It wasn’t safe for them either. Quickly she hopped on the broomstick and turned back up the road, flying high enough not to be seen. She caught up with them and decided to keep a watch from a height until they got home. The hound had stopped barking and was

Garden65.blogspot

January 2013

©Janet Walsh

trotting along calmly only stopping to sniff and pee. Suddenly another car appeared. Without slowing it zoomed towards the girl. She bent down, tucked the hound into her legs, and they both bowed their heads against the rush of wet leaves the car left in its wake. Witchy was horrified. She flew down and landed in front of them. “Hop on. I’ll take you home.” Pragmatic as ever the girl didn’t recoil in terror but merely pointed out her mother had told her not to accept lifts from strangers. However when the witch reasoned her mother hadn’t specified flying with strangers she come to the conclusion her mother wouldn’t tell her off if this stranger brought her home. They hoisted the reluctant hound, who now resumed barking, onto the broom end, the girl perched on the front, and off they went. “Is this a jet car?” “No, I’m afraid it’s not that high tech. It’s a plain old broomstick.” “So you are a witch.” “Yep. With a small nose.” “And a big bum.” “You’re bit of a witch yourself, aren’t you dear?” “No, but my dad says my mum is a witch.” Our witch’s curiosity was aroused. Here was a sharp-witted child with a mother another adult had seen magical properties in. She asked why he considered his wife a witch. “He called her that when she said she was fed up cooking Christmas dinner and he should do it this year.” “Oh, I see. Well, good for her. She does sound like she’s got the nerve to be one.” The girl mulled over the etymology of the word ‘witch’. Previously it had meant a bad woman in a fairy story, and a naughty mum who made your dad cook Christmas dinner, but now it sounded like it was something to be praised for. And this flying was fun. She made a decision. “I want to be a witch.” Witchy lost control of the broomstick for a second. “What GCSEs do you need to be one?” “Hold on there, lady, let’s talk about this properly.” She flew down into the girl’s dark garden. The lights were on in her house but no one could be seen inside. “Now listen ... what’s your name?”

Garden65.blogspot

January 2013

©Janet Walsh

“Natasha.” “Now listen Natasha it is important that you realise ... it is very important ... that no one has the authority to say when you are or when you are not a witch. There are no exams to pass, no one in an office you have to persuade, and certainly no man to ask permission from. If you know in your heart you are one then that’s it, you are.” Natasha nodded sagely, and then asked a difficult question to answer. “What does a witch do?” “She asks questions and looks into the eyes of scarecrows.” Witchy thought about the last few weeks. What had she done? “She doesn’t hibernate. That is for sure.” “Will I have to stand in fields with my arms out?” “Oh yes. There’ll be lots of that.” “Natasha!” Her mum stood at the back door and shouted out blindly into the dark. “You’d better go in.” “Will I see you again?” “Maybe, perhaps. I’ll put you on my Christmas card list.”

Garden65.blogspot

January 2013

©Janet Walsh