Syntax & Salt is very pleased to announce the arrival of Halloween with this special piece, an invocation of sorts, by Mariel Tishman.
Mariel Tishma is a writer and editor trying to prove that she’s a successful human being, and not three squirrels inside a human shaped coat. She is a student at Columbia College Chicago pursuing a creative writing degree and a minor in biology. When she isn’t working she enjoys cooking dinner for parties of 5 or less and pointing out dogs on the street. More information about her and her work can be found at marieltishma.com.
Cats and crows and sidewalk cracks, little curses that pass between us two. We glide by each other on the street, our glares sparking, like flint on steel. Sometimes I imagine fires starting in our wake. Sometimes the heat laps at the back of my calves. I’m not writing this down, mugwort tea growing cold by the hearth, for her. The first time I saw her punishing the sidewalk with her pointed shoes was the first time I knew she would be trouble. Thinking anything more of her is a waste of a day turning the sweetest kind of cold outside. Still. My heart won’t go quiet. Sometimes, people like us, we dance around our fires alone, with only the swaying trees for company. Sometimes we move together.
Should I test her? Shall we stare into flame until our eyes go white? Shall we stab one another and see which of us rises again?
I don’t know how else I can explain it to you. When I need something I make it happen. I charm it into being or twist it into place by force of will. If I wanted her gone, she would go. It’s simple, or it should be, or it was until she smiled at me across the lane, and I shuddered, and she decided she wanted a piece of my blackbird pie.
I guess that’s why I want to take the scissors and cut off all her hair. She won’t be so pretty then. They won’t look at her with awe anymore, but pity. Or maybe I’ll prick her pretty finger, draw blood. Blood’s powerful you know. Drop it in your cauldron, keep it in a vial, and you’ll bind them to you, forever.
Next time I go out to gather plants from the field I won’t think of her. No roses, no lavender, no berries bursting in my fingers, ripe and sweet. Only nettle and thorns, only dry sage to purify. Cross it in an X three times over yourself and no harm will come to you. Hang it over your door and no enemy will cross under it.
Maybe if I ignore her she will dry up and blow away. I’ll give a shoulder so cold she freezes. I can do that. If she had cows I’d starve them. She doesn’t, she’s just got lips and eyes and a scowl nicer than mine. Flowers bloom under her touch, arching toward her with eager petal-mouths. Ravens call after her but huddle, silent, when I pass.
I guess I don’t know the charm to get what I want. My right hand wants one thing, my left another. I’ve woven all the braids, spun all the thread my fingers can manage. They have bled and I have kept the blood in a heart-shaped bottle. I’ve stirred the pot and cackled as the smoke turned from black to pink and back again. I have drunk the results.
The answer to these things only comes when you’re willing to listen. If I scry her picture, the darkness of her hair, the soft lines of her cheekbones, what will I see?
I want her to come dance with me under the light of the moon and call down a thunderclap. What things we could understand together, what things we could ruin. We would make a perfect circle, her and I and the magic between us. The silver rings on her fingers, her amulets, would shine so bright. Her eyes would look like crystal shards, emerald, aventurine, fighting with the stars.