I think my mother was a witch.
This is not a story about facts. This is not a report of family history or sociological study of the Craft. This is a story. It is not about facts at all.
First of all, there were the books. Not the bodice-rippers and horror novels stashed in the headboard bookcase of her bed, nor even the wildly explicit novel about the Roman emperor Elagabalus, one of Rome’s more… flamboyant emperors, that I peeked at when no one was home. But the newspaper insert with excerpts from Linda Goodman’s Sun Signs. The illustrated book about witches with pictures of women holding chalices, clad only in long hair and cuff bracelets. The little book about talismans, and my mother’s conversation with the rather odd lady who worked the circulation desk at our neighborhood library and kept a pet tarantula. I never knew where these books came from; they were just there, in our house, to be stumbled over and perused cautiously. I was never warned off from reading them.
Then there were my mother’s amateur theater friends. I did amateur theater, too, though not as many plays as my mother, which is why I’m not particularly shy about taking my clothes off in front of people. I spent a lot of my childhood in crowded dressing rooms, and a lot of it in church wearing vestments, too. Dad had stories about one woman, call her Tara, who claimed to be a witch. She had seen ghosts in the theater, a basement black-box theater with some decidedly spooky storage areas. (Spooky and probably fire-hazardous.) She wore black all the time. One time, he said, she had summoned something and been unable to dismiss it, and it still followed her around. My father, a self-described atheist, related these stories with rational seriousness.
My father, while a good nurturer, was also chronically unfaithful, always in search of more sex. Was my mother making talismans to keep him from straying? Was she looking for love spells to keep his libido fixed on her? Did she charm herself to conceive at the age of 39, with a tumor lurking in her uterus, to keep him from leaving her? That tumor was my secret twin.
A couple of years ago, before the corona times, I had a soul retrieval done. The healer did not so much bring back parts that were missing as clear out extraneous gunk. One of those extraneous pieces was something lodged on my heart. My healer said it was a piece of my mother.
My mother was raised Methodist and sang for years in an Episcopal church choir. She liked the Episcopal church but did not convert. She was neither religious nor superstitious; she sent her daughters to church but never went to a service herself, though she supported all the bazaars and church suppers and bingos. She had none of those little ways that people talk about in witchcraft books, inexplicable things that their mama or nana or that strange aunty did. And yet. She read horror novels as lightly and voraciously as many women read romances or mysteries. She had a way of looking at you, a way of talking to you. She could be both hilariously funny and mercilessly cruel with her words.
Am I the daughter of witches? Does the power run in my blood? I don’t know, and yet. This is a story with an ambiguous ending. What do you think, reader?