The knock on the door was one of those that intimated immediately a sense of urgency in me to answer it.
I opened the door and there stood Miss Marble my ageing neighbour. In her hand she held a half-cup measure.
‘Could I borrow a half cup of sugar dear,’ she asked.
I looked once again at her hand. Her fingers were long and talon like, her nails long and curved. It was rare to see her out of her house and for the most part I considered her so reclusive as to think sometimes she wasn’t there at all.
Today she appeared at my door and I was taken aback. Her long black dress did its best to hide her ageing form; her feet were bare and like her hands gave more the appearance of claws than feet.
She looked at you in the most inquisitive of ways and you thought her toothless face grotesque until she smiled and you saw a row of impeccable white teeth.
She was a lady of many aspects.
I invited her in and she wandered in behind me. I turned to see her looking at the photos on the mantelpiece.
‘Ah,’ she exclaimed. “I recall your grandparents, lovely people, we had many a quiet evening on my veranda watching the evening sunset.’
To me Miss Marble looked about 60 and any reference to my grandparents suggested she was a greater age than her looks betrayed.
I quickly gathered some sugar for her. I was beginning to think she wanted a little more than sugar, perhaps some conversation or company but I wasn’t all that keen to entertain that thought as she did give off a rather unpleasant unwashed aroma.
‘I wonder,’ she said, “If I could bend your ear a moment dear.’
‘Yes,’ I replied still very wary of what I might be in for.
‘I’ve lived here a long time and my days I feel are numbered. As you know I keep very much to myself and I know you and most of the people in the street think of me as a little eccentric. You see being a witch is no easy thing. The expectations are enormous.
The things I have had to do, would curl your hair and to let you in on the know, so to speak, it was me who killed off Mr Turner’s radishes, laid low the Smith’s ginger cat and as for the recent flood well what can I say.
As a witch I have a reputation to uphold. Chaos and mayhem are my stock in trade and I have always maintained a standard to never inflict any adverse event upon you and the Weston’s on the other side. After all its hard to come by good neighbours don’t you think.’
By this stage I was getting more and more uneasy, all this talk of Miss Marble being a witch was hearsay and part of the towns legend.
‘You see its not all my fault. If old man Turner had agreed to supply me with radishes none of it would have happened and as for the Smiths they had it coming, stupid cat kept attacking my native animal friends and one thing I wasn’t having any truck with was a feral cat harming my natives. So I put an end to it, quickly.
But my dear I am an old lady now. Time is catching up with me. My hands are arthritic, my feet swell on hot days, the inclination to concoct spells is decreasing each day and even my desire to make my life elixir is fading.
Too much greed and too many wicked people. They call them ‘colourful characters’ in the news now days.
I want you my dear to take over from me.’
‘Pardon?’ I was stunned, I stood frozen, my head said it needed me to sit as the words sunk in.
‘You see my dear, I ask you for a reason. Your grandparents were my friends, your grandmother my sister, so that makes me your great aunt. No don’t try work out my age it’s a worry for me too.
I need you to learn the spells and potions. I think the time has come for me to take down my shingle and for you to assume my mantle. I think it’s also a good time to shake off the perception that I may be a wicked witch.
All this time I said nothing. Miss Marble was my Aunt?
She was asking me to take on something I thought of as a curious myth within my family. My parents had made mention of a colourful family past and I never asked about it. That past was now staring me in the face.
‘Think about it my dear.’
She turned and made her way out of the house, carrying her half-cup of sugar. At the door she stopped and turned to face me. ‘It’s OK you know, I responded the same way when my great aunt asked me, well over a hundred years ago. You’ll get the hang of it in time and the life elixir is such a hoot to make and a great buzz to take.’ She gave a little shudder that was more delight than horror and reached for the door.
“Drop over dear when you are ready and we’ll make a start.’
As she left a cup fell from the kitchen bench, bounced across the room and found its way into Miss Marble’s hand. In an instant she had propelled it back across the room and landed it intact on the shelf it fell from.
‘It’s a lot of fun,’ she cackled at me, closing the door behind her.