Guilty Witches by Ellie Taylor
I cannot remember where or when we first met, which is of course the first lie, because I remember everything about that day. I remember being cold and wet from the rain and not even noticing him but later, he would insist that he noticed me.
I still haven’t confessed to him that I did, of course, notice him instantly.
There is so much I haven’t confessed.
I was frustrated. My feet were wet in my shoes and the suede of my boots had turned dark as the water seeped through. They were new boots, the best of me about to be ruined unless I acted quickly. I took my shoes off. I took five napkins from the silver dispenser. I sat on the floor and tried to stop the water soaking through. Two napkins shoved down each boot, and one for me to wipe the tops. Now we have fucked, him inside me and me all over him, I am annoyed that the first time we met I was crouching on the dirty, wet floor without my shoes on. And unfortunately, I was not wearing any perfume either.
He tells me he finds it funny, but when we fight, I really regret that I wasn’t looking perfect that day. I think about my wet feet and the cold and the fact that we had sex in the gentlemen’s toilets whilst we waited for the rain to stop and he stuffed my mouth with his white tie so I couldn’t make a sound and I wish, so hard, that I had looked better that day. This guy Stendhal wrote a book on love and he says women do not like giving in to sex because they feel like they have gone from a queen to a slave, or something along those lines. I’d perhaps have liked to have been his queen. But then, maybe he does not want another women to be his queen and that’s why he will not leave his honest wife. Not that I know he won’t. But I bet he won’t.
When the rain finally stopped, he slipped an old receipt into my hand and left.
The old receipt had his phone number scribbled on it in pencil. I took it home and pinned it into my journal to keep it safe. I drew little love hearts around it, and coloured it all in pink. It only took two minutes but I found it calming and I liked to look at it because it was the first thing he ever gave me that I could physically keep. Sometimes, I smell it. The paper still smells of ink and his aftershave.
When the rain stopped, he slipped an old receipt for a meal for two at an Italian restaurant into my hand and left.
The old receipt had his phone number scribbled on it in pencil. It was easy to read, even though the print of the receipt was thick and black. He bought merlot wine and garlic bread. I took the receipt home and pinned it into my journal to keep it safe. I drew little love hearts around it, and coloured it all in pink. It only took two minutes but I found it calming and I still like to look at it because it was the first thing he ever gave me that I could physically keep. Sometimes, I smell it. The paper still smells of ink and aftershave, but that might be because I bought the same aftershave he uses and occasionally I spray all my things with it. It’s another part of my fiction, the lie I tell myself, that this behaviour was acceptable and that he really did, and could, have loved me.
I still like the way he smelt, even if I didn’t like the way he made me think. Or behave
When the rain stopped, I put his receipt in my zip pocket so I wouldn't lose it and to stop it getting wet. I went straight to the chemists. I bought red nail polish, some lip balm and this shampoo that said it would make my hair super shiny and long. I wanted to buy other things too, but I didn’t want the girl at the counter to look at me funny, and I decided I probably wouldn't need anything else anyway so it would just be a waste of money.
I sent him a text that evening and then I ran myself a very hot bath. It was so hot, it made my skin bright red and I thought of Salem and how they used to burn witches like me, or throw them tied up into the water. The bath was as hot as a fire brewed for a witch but I wanted to punish myself, just a little bit, for looking so disgustingly desperate in front of him and for ruining my life. I was glad for the bath, in the end. I felt better after I had cleaned myself, purged myself, and my skin was no longer pink like my journal, but pale and peachy, like the girls on all the magazine covers. And when I was dry, I looked at how shiny my long hair had become and I smiled and smiled all night. I hoped he might like my new hair, but even if he didn’t, I knew I did and I hoped that was all that would, could, matter.
That night I went to sleep with an alarm set for every hour, so I could wake and check my phone and see if he had replied to my message. Because I was addicted.
When he did finally reply to my disgusting, desperate message, I had already vowed to never speak to him again. He was not for my taking and I was not to become obsessed over him. Especially as he was unattractive, and my friends would laugh if they ever knew how I had ached for him to touch me and prayed that he might not think me desperate for him to notice me again. Plus, he is quite a bit older than me and my friends think I have issues because my dad left me when I was a teenager. But when I let him fuck me in the gentlemen’s toilet, I did not think once of my father. Or my pride. Or his honest wife. My free fall was in motion and I simply could not stop.
His message was bland and uninteresting. I cried. And then I took an old receipt out of my own purse and made a list; one black silk nightgown, one red lipstick, one pair of new kitten heels and one pair of long silver earrings. I then went to the shops and bought these things and did not bother to check the price before I took them to the till. I needed these ingredients and my mother says there is no substitute for quality. Then I went home and put on my nightgown, and my heels, painted my lips to match my nails and hung the long earrings about my cheekbones. I poured merlot into an old cup because I did not have glasses, and I took a photograph of myself drinking wine from a mug and I sent it to him and told him goodnight.
That night, he was aggressive in bed, but I think it was because he was excited and not because he was angry with me. I knew he would like the black and the red because I read it in a magazine. He was happy to drink wine out of an old cup instead of a glass, which I was surprised about because he is, after all, older than me and therefore far more sophisticated.
The next day he said he felt guilty so I said I did too. In fact I wanted him to have sex with me again, but this time, more gently, as I was still a little bit sore.
His messages were more passionate after that night, which entertained me greatly. Sometimes he would write me song lyrics even though neither of us can sing or play an instrument. He told me about his day, good and bad, and I pretended I was busy with my friends or out on dates with other men who were more my own age just so I could make him jealous. I knew it made him want me more and sometimes, I would go out and ask a young man to dance with me, or buy me coffee or take me for a walk in the park simply because I knew the knowledge I had done these things would come in useful one day. I actually enjoyed these days immensely, and had a lovely time; my genuine happiness, at last, cast a decent spell over both of us.
But it was also frustrating to feel even more alone when I was in the company of anyone who wasn’t him. We had started to become reckless. We didn’t always have sex which is how I knew he was beginning to love me. On these nights, he would stroke my hair and kiss my forehead and I would cry quietly and we would talk about my absent father and his honest wife and how he is a lost cause, and an addict and he sleeps with whores. Both of us were too polite to point out I was just as bad as him, committing adultery and running away and becoming addicted to warm merlot drunk out of old coffee cups. I did not want to be a whore but in my heart I knew I could be called one by women who were better than me, or at least, women who could still pretend to be better than me because they hand’t had the chance to be a witch yet.
I stopped painting my nails red, but I kept the lipstick on. And my hair was beginning to look very long and shiny indeed.
We were reckless and yet also careful. We were in love but this was the second lie as I knew he didn’t really love me and I was certain now that I didn’t really love him. But I was obsessed with the attention he paid me, and I was fascinated by his arrogance and intelligence. He was clever. Not as clever as me. Or maybe more so? He has a fantastic way with language which is probably why he is such a beautiful deceiver. I admired his lies. When my father had lied to me and my mother, he hadn’t been half as convincing. At night, I leaned into him and placed gentle pressure on his chest.
I still like the way he smells, even if I don’t always like the way he makes me think or behave. I pretended he had said things to me to make me happy. I became confused, between my fiction, and our reality that love was absent.
The third lie came in the winter, nearly five months after he had taken my virginity in the gentlemen’s bathroom. I wrote him a letter to tell him how much I missed him and he replied, eventually, to tell me he missed me too. This was certainly a lie, as I discovered not long after this that he had found another young girl to turn to witchcraft and she was now buying red lipstick and painting her nails a glossy ivy green and sending him messages and sharing her warm, soft bed with him. I imagined them together, turning the sheets from dry cloth to wet rags, and creasing the pillows against sweating skin. This girl was also not his wife, but I did not think to ask if his wife knew of her existence. I am still certain she doesn’t know of mine, but that might be because I always feel invisible anyway and I am not important and I do not deserve to be seen.
The third lie hurt the most, because I did honestly miss him, and he honestly did not miss me. Maybe I had given up too much too quickly? I cried. It had been five months and the hot baths were not enough to keep me clean and young and innocent and attractive. I was a living, breathing, burning, guilty witch. I became certain he did not care about my existence. I wrote and wrote and wrote to him, but he made me feel invisible and not important because he never replied. I cast spells in my mind to bring him back to me. I did not write anything that sounded too desperate, and for that I am proud. It gave me some dignity to tell him I was thinking of him but not tell him I was scared and jealous of the girl with red lips and green nails. I implied I knew about his new infidelity and I think that’s why he stopped talking to me at all. But I would never have given him up, because I am a good girl and, if I had, some would call me ‘the first witch’ even though there had certainly be many others in the coven before me.
I kept using the shampoo. My hair was beginning to look very long and shiny indeed. And much thicker.
At Christmas, I found out that this new witch was much older than me. I saw them together, sharing a bottle of wine and eating garlic bread in an Italian restaurant. I looked through the window and knew, in my heart, I had not been replaced as I had feared. Or maybe I had… but I no longer cared. She was pretty. But I still have my best years to come. I was so happy I went inside the restaurant, ordered a glass of merlot in a proper wine glass and drank it in one go whilst I sat perched at the bar. I did not speak to him, and he did not speak to me. I did not even look but I felt his eyes looking at me, and I knew he was jealous and lustful and sad. When I stood up to leave my heart was skipping with joy, my hair was shiny and long, my lips were perfectly red and I was full of happiness. I did not feel like a witch, at least not one who deserved to be burnt anymore. I felt like an old movie star who deserved to be worshipped. The fiction he had crafted to make me believe in our real love was over, there were no more lies and no more truths; I cast myself in the final scene of my own beautiful, silent film. As I walked home, the sky began to drop snowflakes and the damp streets turned to ice, but I did not slip. My shiny hair blew in the wind like a cape and my lips remained plump and moist. When I returned home, I had the hottest bath I have ever had. The copper tub billowed smoke, spitting fire into the cold air of the room, misting the glass to create a cage of fire. I climbed into the water and slipped under the surface.
I am the most powerful. I will not be burned.
I ignored his lies and his words, because they are one and the same. I laughed at his desperation and I did not ask him to return. When I was dry, and smelling sweet, I climbed into my pristine bed and lay in the dark and I cursed him.
My curse took some time to work, but eventually his lust for me gave way to love and my hurt gave way to my new strength. I drank wine from old cups, sent him messages sprayed with my old perfume, and walked past him without allowing my eyes to wander and meet his. I began to collect the wood needed for the pyre, and at night, I smelt the wood and imagined him burning in the middle of the city. Much like my beautiful movie, his death was, mercifully, silent.
I’d perhaps have liked to have been his queen, once. But I learnt that I much preferred to be my own ruler. My own powers were far more seductive than his attempts to control me. I still regretted not having any shoes on the first time we had met, but when the rain came and the winter turned to spring, I left my hot baths and my warm bed and walked the streets barefoot all through the night, and cast my new, natural magic, over him in my mind. In my mind, I was always winning. That was the final lie, the lie I told only myself; you see, the strongest, most powerful people can imagine loosing.They eat, drink and sleep failure. That way, they avoid the traps because they can see their enemies coming. I convinced myself I could not lose to anyone, that I had no enemies, that my witchcraft was stronger than anyone else and his love was a magic of my own making. Of course this was all in my head and served my obsession with him to run deeper and deeper, until it could be defined as ‘love’. One day, my hair stopped looking so shiny and long. I think it was maybe because I had grown immune to the mixture. In my heart, I knew my hair was just the same as always. I had convinced myself that it had been much improved as a result of using the shampoo but really, it was just a trick of my eyes and my mind - a fiction, and nothing more.
My love for him was addictive. I loved the way he smelt and I loved how he made me think. We spent some days together, and I would lie on his chest with the gentle pressure only a lover can give. He lay in my bed, completely at ease, and whilst he slept through the afternoon I gathered the bits of wood I had collected for his pyre and unpinned the pink receipt from my journal and I burnt them in a pan on the kitchen cooker. I had no need for trinkets anymore. I returned to bed, crawled in next to him and felt his warmth seep into my skin. It thrilled me, a little, to think he might always share my bed….
The next morning, he had gone. I did not ever ask him why.
Hot bath, wash hair, warm bed, smell sweet, sleep. Hot bath, wash hair, warm bed, smell sweet, sleep. My witchcraft allowed me to forget, but not forgive. The man who I had stood barefoot on a wet, toilet bathroom floor for and given my virginity to, who told me he loved me and created a story for us to life, safely, in - I had learnt to cast my own spells over and in doing so, had cursed myself. He moved away from my city and disappeared. I guessed his queen had discovered he passionately loved not just me, but many of the witches of the city, and was not as immune to our wickedness as I had prayed she might be. She had no desire to paint her lips, or dress in black night silks or embarrass herself. She walked away and in doing so, made herself far more powerful than us witches who would have had her heart for our own amusement.
Many years later, I had all but forgotten him. When I finally saw him, hunched over, in the window of an Italian restaurant the empty bottles of wine lay on the table, the glass dripped red drops onto a pristine tablecloth. The plate lay empty and the romantic, wicker candle burned thin.
And he was alone.
And I knew the honest wife’s own curse had, mercifully, worked.