Janice, Daniel and Shelagh at the beach outside Edinburgh.
The Boy For Two Witch Girls -
She blushed. Made to feel weak by an inanimate object, in front of nobody, but her pale skin blushed at the slightest upset and had done since birth. She tried to move the cauldron-like, cast iron, boil-up pot from the heat, to the cooler part of the stove but the weight of the pot won and she lost. It summed up the frustrations of her day so far. Shaking her head to refocus, she knew the aroma from the herbs being boiled had made her head feel woozy to make her feel even weaker than she normally was. She had to move the pot off the heat or the two herbs in it would over cook, before her favourite two herbs were added and, if the pot spilled, Litha celebration might as well be forgotten.
Her red hair was grabbed from her upper back and angrily tied into a knot, and that cooled her neck enough to wrap a cloth around the pot handle for a second attempt but, even two handed, the pot shook violently as she moved it.
Janice Sheeler knew how important this job was in providing the cream that would grease the brooms to allow the whole coven she belonged to, to fly at the Litha celebrations.
It kept her trying. If and when all four herbs were eventually boiled down, an ointment would be made and her life might, for once, be appreciated.
The steam from the pot condensed on what had returned to being a chalk-white face and breathing in started to affect her in a very pleasant way. She didn’t mind appearing to sweat, especially if, in her head, it was for the boy she loved fro afar. That wandering daydream, enhanced by the fumes, took her to her secret love, a non-witch that her mother would probably never let her marry, or even go out with but who lived almost close enough to touch. She craved that touch, especially when he worked out in his back garden, craved it in a ‘girl wants boy’ sort of way and the steam on her face became, in her head, sweat from what Daniel might one day do to her.
Janice’s problem in life had always been that her coven was populated by women only, her friends at her all-girls school found her weird, and so to her, Daniel, if she could ever get him interested in her, was her hope of love and friendship and he lived, oh so close but had no idea that when they used to play together as children, she wanted to marry him, there and then. But and it was a big but, he had a body that seemed to be admired by a lot of the girls in school. If some of the overheard conversations on the school bus were anything to go by, some girls had extremely erotic dreams about him, making Janice jealous.
For Janice, being seventeen was no fun if people looked at your pale, undernourished body and guessed, say, fifteen at the most, immature, not worth asking out with a chest that flat and arms that skinny.
According to Sandra, and I don’t know whether to believe her or not, I’m the only virgin in my school year and all I can do about that is yearn for a boy with muscles who will probably never look twice at a weak, china-white, girl like me. He has no idea how much I notice him. With these fumes in my head, if I saw him working out now in his back garden, I might hurdle the fences to his house and snog him down to the ground before he knew what had happened and could get away. Better not look, just in case. Maybe Sandra is embarrassed that James finished with her after they’d done it and she wants everyone to be the same as her.
An alarm rang in her head. She had not been in Daniel’s head, but she felt his distress. Five houses of boring normality separated her from the boy she ached for who seemed distressed.
Daniel threw his head back and groaned. “Why me Mam? John is fourteen now and I ran errands at his age. Why still me? It’s not fair.” He’d been reading, no surprise there, when he’d been disturbed. He would much rather have stayed in his bedroom, slumped in his bean-bag, absorbed in his make-believe world, a world he preferred to the real world. It was a comfortable environment, seated in the mess that he called ‘bedroom.’ His book had become more than interesting and he’d lost himself in the story but his mother was a pain, as usual. The two bad guys had the hero’s girl in the back of their car, her frail body pinned between them, her hands tied together and Daniel wondered what would happen next. His overactive mind had raced, ahead of the author, wanting to complete the scene himself. Sometimes when he read, the words on the page would go hazy, his mind would take over and he’d melt into that page, and become the hero, the one that eventually won the girl’s undying affection. Then he’d snap out of it, to start the page from the top again, or maybe go back a page.
Not that any of the girls that I know would see a spotty, greasy brown boy, like me, as looking like a hero. Heroes in films never look like me. They’re white, tall and have hair that behaves and looks cool.
His mother had not gone away as he’d hoped and still nagged from his bedroom door. “Because dear, it’s an errand for your brother, who is not well. Simple as that.”
A sigh came out as he spoke and forced himself to stand at the same time, as if a huge effort had been made. ““Go on then, what is it.”
The novel, an old, passed-around paperback, received yet one more page folded down at the corner and it hit a dirty plate on its way to the floor, filed amongst the other items there that his mother didn’t want to stand on or even touch, which was why she spoke from the doorway.
“Nip down to Mrs. Sheeler for me love, and ask her for tuppence worth of herbs for diarrhoea please. Tell her it’s for John so she knows to give you a child’s dose.”
Daniel combed his hair back with his fingers, but didn’t finish the job, leaving his hand in his hair, the palm on his forehead, forcing his eyes wide. “Joking are you Mam. Sheeler the Healer the Stealer of souls.” He made to sit down again.
“Daniel. You’re a few weeks off eighteen love, you don’t believe that childish mumble-jumbo and anyway, I chatted to Maureen Sheeler only last week and she’s a very nice woman, a good friend of mine. She just has an interest in herbal remedies and, to be honest Daniel, we can’t afford expensive tablets from the chemist shop at the moment. You used to spend a lot of time with her daughter, Janice. A lovely girl and about your age I would think.” An incentive to get him moving, his mother thought. “I see her looking at you dear in a loving way. When you exercise, if I’m pegging washing on the line, I can see that she stands in her bedroom window, looking down into our garden. At you love.”
Daniel knew that a young and beautiful girl like Janice was way beyond his hopes and completely out of his league. A year lower in school and playing with dolls last time I spent any time with her, and extremely white and not interested in a brown boy like me. Probably thinks I’m nuts, working-out in the open air and watches me while giggling like a little girl and wondering why I’m not the beautiful black colour that my mother is.
He thought this but didn’t feel like arguing any more so stayed silent on the subject. He needed to get to the Sheeler’s house, buy herbs at the door and to get back to his book.
He passed five semi-detached council houses before he reached the house he needed, then looked back to his house and noticed, as if for the first time, that the street curved. He thought about a girl watching him work out from her bedroom window and wondered if it would be possible to sit in his garden and see into her room. What wonders he might observe if she watched him while she dressed. It could be his only thrill in life, outside books, and he might try looking the next time he worked out.
Not much effort went into knocking the door, hoping he could go back home to say nobody was in. When Janice opened the door, she smiled with her mouth, cheeks and eyes. “Daniel, do you want my mother? Come on in.” She turned quickly with her red hair following seconds later like a slow-motion theatre curtain opening on a new play.
Daniel cleared his throat but had no words. A more handsome boy would be allowed to run his fingers through that hair, while charming the beauty in front of him into a kiss.
Once Janice had turned, Daniel wasn’t able to see that her eyes had opened wide in wonderment and hunger. Janice walked towards the kitchen, thinking. Oh, Hecate’s cat, trust him to come now, when I’m a mess from cooking but thank Hecate I unknotted my hair to answer the door. Fumes in my head, steam on my face and a hunk at my door. A dangerous combination. He has always looked a dream but, close up, those brown eyes are more penetrating, hair blacker, muscles firmer. Dangerous really to ask him in, he’s so strong now and I am so weak he could, well, provide me with the reality of my pirate dreams, if he wanted. I wouldn’t put up much resistance if he tried to calm the butterflies in my lower stomach by forcing himself on me.
Daniel entered cautiously and closed the front door behind him, as everything went dark. He was trying to concentrate on acting his age in front of this incredible looking creature that looked even better close up. Looking all around in the gloom, taking in all the herbal smells, he snapped out of his thoughts when Janice spoke while opening the kitchen door.
“Kitchen,” she told him, “I’m just finishing a boil-up but need one more herb that my mother’s gone to collect. She won’t be long though.”
He sort-of took in what she said but the words seemed to have floated into his head from somewhere else, because he had concentrated more on the fact that as she'd entered the kitchen, the low, summer sun had shone through her kitchen window and straight through her summer dress, showing just how gorgeous her legs were. His eyes started at her feet and rose up quickly as the gorgeous silhouetted legs failed to touch each other until they eventually met in heaven, Daniel’s heaven, where legs were in beautiful proportion to the rest of her body that somehow, he knew came from vegetarianism.
Some red meat might bring some colour to that pallid complexion. I have to try and act normal now, not like the juvenile that's infatuated by a silhouette.
The thought of waiting scared Daniel a bit, not because of soul-stealing but because he was so close to something he wanted and couldn't have. The house, in one way familiar because all the houses in the street had exactly the same layout of rooms, was unfamiliar in other respects. The smells going on around him, for instance, especially the boil-up, as she’d called it, could be a preparation for something evil, so he moved tentatively.
My mates all fancy the girls who look older, make themselves look older with makeup, girls who have filled out more in the chest department, have curvier figures and are interested in going to the cinema, parties and park benches in snogging areas. Why am I so different? Always different? I find this girl statuesque, with youthful skin like marble, breasts that are only a handful and…
Janice carried on talking, interrupting his thoughts.
“So, what were you wanting Daniel?”
She smiled, as if she already knew his ‘wanting’ as if aware of her captivating looks and sexy smile and used them to tease all the boys.
She’s reading my mind. I’ll have to blank out or she’ll know I looked at her legs under the short dress and that I want to do things to her, but that will have to wait until bedtime, dreamtime. The bad guys will have her in their car and, when I rescue her, she’ll be so grateful she’ll…
Janice interrupted his uncontrollable thoughts again. “From my mother. What were you wanting from her?”
He told her but stumbled over the word diarrhoea because of it being an embarrassing word. “Not for me though,” he added quickly, “my brother. He’s younger than me.” Daniel didn’t want Janice to think he had a smelly bum.
She turned, wiping her hands in a towel in an adult way, like a mother or an older woman would. “Then I think I can help you out with what you desire Daniel. Would you like that?” Then she added because she could see him staring at the boiling pot, “Making an ointment ready for Litha celebrations at Midsummer’s Eve and the dawn. Don’t suppose you celebrate it though.”
He shook his head in a ‘no’ because that’s all he could do, not understanding the word Litha, the word that had come out of soft, pink lips that had also said, ‘I can help you with what you desire’ and ‘would you like that.’ Then he watched her take seven different herbs from jars, place them in a paper bag and shake the bag to mix them up with delicate hands and long white fingers.
Maybe I’m boring because of my nondescript brown skin, sat in my bedroom, reading. My mother is ebony black, this girl is marble white and I would love to be either colour, but find myself neither. She made the word ‘desire’ sound sexy. She knows, somehow, that I have desires that are greater than wants. Did she always have that dreamy voice? I think it’s arrived with her since we used to play together. That was the sexiest placing of herbs into a paper bag I’ve ever experienced. Okay, the only experience. That herb smell is strong.
As she approached him to give him the herb bag, she didn’t look into his eyes, but looked instead at his hair. He thought there might be something wrong, hair sticking up, a twig stuck in there, or something equally as embarrassing, but she ran her long fingers through the black, wavy hair, sending a tingle across his scalp that he found pleasant and that froze him to the spot. Either her closeness, or the boiling pot, made him sweat.
“Beatles or Stones?” She asked him, as if one or the other had to be true. She seemed to be trying to find out his likes by combing his hair with her fingers, maybe feeling the bumps on his head to read his character.
“Stones,” he prayed it was the right answer. She’s different, maybe mature and most girly girls are screaming Beatles fans.
“Me too,” she smiled as she lied through her teeth, as if they had found a bond.
Time had slowed down into dream speed for both of them and Daniel found the dialogue inside his head far easier than anything coming out of his mouth. She’s younger than me but oh, so confident in her own home. I can’t imagine her playing with dolls. She’s teasing me but I don’t care, in fact, I’m enjoying it. She’ll look good in the back of the car. Maybe I’ll be one of the bad guys in the back seat with her and when she...
“I’ve always loved your raven-black hair Daniel and the fact that it’s so soft looking and feeling. I hate my red hair, it’s so wavy there’s nothing I can do with it. I wish I had your hair.”
When a girl ran herself down, a boy had to contradict her, but Daniel couldn't remember which book that idea had come from. Girls liked compliments and needed them more than boys. If a girl said she thought herself fat, you had to say you liked that she was curvy, if Janice told him she hated being skinny, he had to remember to say he disliked fat and thought her to be just right, healthy looking.
“I’ve always loved your hair Janice, so please don’t say that, it upsets me. The red sets off your lovely, clear skinned, china-white face, making your eyes stand out as even bluer than they would appear on boring skin like mine.” Lips, no, don’t mention lips. That would be going too far. Maybe, I’ve already gone too far.
It was the best he could come up with and hoped it would be sufficient for him not to be laughed at, or worse.
Shit, I just had an image of her saying to her friends ‘do you know what he said then about my eyes?’
He prayed that what he’d said wouldn’t annoy her and noted she was still feeling his scalp but changed the angle of her face to look directly into his eyes forcing him to gulp at her closeness. He could feel his hand raise itself to touch her hair, in the same manner that his own hair was still being touched but her free hand somehow, outside her field of vision, took his wrist gently, plucking it out of the air without taking her eyes off his eyes, and then calmly, she placed his hand by his side again, in slow motion, before she released his wrist and spoke, softly.
“Have you noticed Daniel, all the different people in our street? Italians in number thirty-seven, an Indian family in seventy-two, your mother and brother are a really beautiful ebony and the family in seventeen are gypsies and it’s their first ever house. Twenty-seven has an Irish woman and a Brazilian man, they’re not married, naughty. We all get on great, especially you and me, a brownish boy who looks like he's white in his features, but suntanned and a white me who looks as if I’ve never been outside into the sun.”
She’d done it. She’d given him every opportunity to ask her out, with him surely knowing she wouldn’t turn him down because he’d stared at her talking lips as if he wanted to kiss them. He surely had to ask her out so that she could allow that kiss.
Her hand came out of his hair, making him feel neglected until the backs of her soft fingers traced down over his chest, on the way to, not where he’d hoped, but to the counter top. “Here are your herbs and this pot of ointment is for free,” she said, suddenly changing the subject. Then at normal speed, “face and neck. I use it and don’t have one spot.”
He knew his brown skin had reddened slightly because the heat coming from his face felt like flames. When he looked down towards the floor, she touched his cheek to raise his eyes to hers again, her fingers under his protruding cheekbone, and she spoke softly again.
“Everyone gets them at our age love, spots. I’m lucky. My mother first gave me this ointment at age ten but I still use it every night.”
Daniel left, just after. A girl likes me. That’s a first. She gave me free cream, touched my hair and my face and called me love and said we get along no matter our colour, even made out a case for races mixing. This ointment goes in my pocket until I can get it under my bed, hidden away. How quickly, I wonder, can I use it all up and go back for another pot? If I went back, would I have the guts to ask her out, or am I dreaming again?
Janice found herself on her own with only her thoughts and hoped she’d captivated her friend. He says he likes my hair, facial skin and eyes and tried hard not to say legs, which were the main focus of his brain. Only now do I understand why this thin cotton dress spell-jumped out at me this morning, when I looked in my wardrobe. I had no idea then how I would walk into the kitchen and stand with my legs slightly apart. If only my silhouette had shown a waistline and hips instead of my straight body but at least now I understand why the pinafore has gone missing from the kitchen.
I want to be so adept at witchcraft that I can enchant a boy with spell, I need my own book of spells and don’t have the time to wait for mother to pass hers down to me. I know it’s in that drawer in the living room, that the drawer is spell locked and that if I try to open it, she’ll know. If she teaches me basic, domestic spells, then why not let me have the book? I’d be able to spell-move heavy pots and spell-strip Daniel's shirt off him when he works out.
I’ve tried dropping hints to Daniel but boys can be so thick, or he doesn’t like me as much as I hope. A tiny spell to get him into my arms would do it. He’d never escape then because I’d snog him until he gave in.
She was knocked out of her thoughts by the front door slamming, obviously her mother returning, hopefully with the necessary herb. Normal life had resumed and her love for Daniel would have to wait until her thoughts in bed took her into the dreamland that she loved. Before her mother came into the kitchen, she knew she’d have to stop thinking about her dream that would help her sleep that night. She had a few regulars but favoured the one where she somehow became captured on Daniel’s pirate boat. That night, she would touch his scalp, use words like desire and love, to try and win the pirate over, so that he’d keep her on board his pirate ship and not sell her into slavery to be a concubine in some rich but cruel ruler’s harem.