This is the second instalment of Witch's Bile, and you can find the first one here. Eliza Belmont is a misanthropic witch who's been given a protégé to look after, and she's definitely not happy about it. Please enjoy
So, here we are. Report number two. To recap, I’ve got a girl who’s barely out of her teens living in my spare room. She’s got so many questions. She’s convinced, thanks to you, that I’m sort of sensei of witchcraft. I really don’t know what I’m supposed to teach her that she doesn’t already know. I mean, she’s been to the school, is this work experience? What did you tell her? Am I supposed to teach her about being a bitter recluse? Am I a cautionary tale?
Anyway, I know these constant reports are one of the conditions of my continuing to live as far away from you as possible, Madame Étienne, so let’s get this over with.
If you’re wondering where I put her, my house has an attic that someone with more time and consideration for creature comforts than me has converted into a cosy little bedroom. I haven’t dusted or cleaned it or anything but Jo seemed very taken with it. She said it was “lovely”. So that was that. I offered her the sofa instead but I think she’d made her mind up. Maybe she knew that it doesn’t pull out.
I left her to unpack and went downstairs to drink coffee until my stomach burned. She came down about half an hour later and sat down opposite me at the kitchen table. I made her a cup too, the face she made when she drank it made a certain amount of all this inconvenience worthwhile. It made her scratch her shiny little fingernails against the tablecloth. I noticed when she put the mug down that she seemed to be looking around for something.
“I don’t have a cat,” I told her. She muttered that she hadn’t assumed that I did, but I knew she had. I could have sworn she’d re-done her hair while she was upstairs. She wrapped her fingers around the coffee mug but she didn’t take another sip. Small victories.
After a wonderfully uncomfortable silence which I spent staring directly at her while she tried to avoid my gaze, she finally asked a question. “So, how long have you been living here?” she asked. I told her that I’d been in this house for roughly three days, and that I’d been in America for almost twenty years. “And do you like it here?” she asked.
“No,” I told her. “But people leave me alone.”
“Is that very important to you?” she asked. “Solitude?”
I grinned my best-coffee stained grin at her, exposing as many of my yellow teeth as I possibly could.
“It’s vital, Jo, if I’m honest. Absolutely fucking vital.” She nodded like I’d imparted some great secret.
On the spur of the moment I reached behind me and cracked open the top drawer of the kitchen cabinet. I’m sure you remember that I smoked incessantly as a teenager and only gave up when you stopped nagging me to do so. I have the occasional one, and I make sure that the brand I buy is the most effective at coating everything in a thick layer of carcinogenic fog. Looking at the fresh face of the pretty young woman in front of me, I realised that this was the ideal time to indulge in one of my (but by no means most) disgusting habit.
But she was a blank bloody canvas. Even as I blew smoke in her face she showed no sign of discomfort, she just kept asking bloody questions. “You said you were Émilie Étienne’s daughter?” she asked. I nodded. I didn’t realise that I was a secret, by the way. Or maybe I’m not a secret; you’d say that you just don’t discuss me. “So you grew up in the coven? You always knew what you were? They told you that you were a witch straight away?”
“My training started as soon as I could form the words to cast spells,” I replied. There was another pause. I could see that Jo wanted to discuss something so I let her stew for a bit. I dropped my cigarette butt into my coffee mug, hoping for a distasteful look. I thought I caught one this time. I lit another cigarette and leaned back in my chair. I knew she’d get round to it herself in her own time. A minute or two passed before she opened her mouth again.
“I found out that I was a witch when I was seven,” she said. I knew her whole story as soon as she said that. They’re all the same. Each of these girls thinks their own tragic personal history is unique and horrifying but everyone who isn’t born directly into it seems to find out the same way. Rather than let Jo ramble on, probably stumbling and weeping over the traumatic details, I coughed heavily.
“Who’d you kill?” I asked. “Your parents?” She looked up and there was just a bit of a wobble in her eyeballs, that tell-tale tremor that the tears are about to start. “What did they do? Deny you a second helping of pudding? Tell you that you couldn’t go to Disneyland? Did they tell you that the stuffed toy you wanted was too expensive and that you had three just like it at home? Did they tell you that the film you wanted to watch on telly was on too late and it wasn’t suitable? One lesson I can teach you, Jo, is that unless you are born into a witching family, the chances are that you will have a story like that.
There’s no way to know because you’re not looking for the signs and neither is anyone around you, you just explode one day. My best friend at school burned her house, the farm, the surrounding fields, all of them to the ground. Her parents were inside with her baby brother and sister. It was because she was told that they were going to have to move house.
Truth is, that amount of power in a child is dangerous, it’s fucking deadly, and that’s just the way it is. So if you’re looking to impress me by spinning a sad story about how difficult you had it and how it’s haunted you ever since, it won’t work. Everyone has got one. Part of being a witch, I’m afraid.”
She’d been staring at me with those trembling eyes of hers while I was talking. I could feel her energy building up; there was that strange fizziness in the air that comes with it. I wondered if she would try and take her anger out on me. I almost got excited; it’s been ages since I’ve had a decent fight. But instead she got up, walked calmly but quickly out of the kitchen and up the stairs, and slammed the door to her room.
I got up and went to look out at the street. It had got dark as we were talking; the lights were on in all the lovely houses on our lovely street. Everyone was getting ready for dinner. Settling down after a long day apart and appreciating that, no matter how hard it gets in the hard world outside, you always have your family. So naturally I burst out laughing as all the lights on the street went out at once. Jo had had herself a little strop. She was entitled to be angry, I suppose. But I had at least taught her one lesson today, Émilie: Don’t expect me to care.
Please check back soon for the next instalment! I hope you enjoyed it.