Friday, 14 October 2016

A Witchanory Short Story


Excuses... Excuses

Grimelda picked up the large wooden spoon worn down by the passage of time. It fitted snugly in the palm of her sweaty hand. It was hot by the hearth fire but the heat didn’t bother her.
She had work to do.
She leaned over the old, cast iron pot and drove the spoon into the mixture. Bubbles surfaced and popped as she stirred through it... round and round the spoon went.

Entranced and at one with the action like any magician should be, she smirked. This was, after all, how magic happened.
She began to murmur under her breath as she stared, transfixed at the pot beneath her.

“Many kinds for many uses
All different sorts of lame excuses
Worn out ones which need refreshing
A hint of nice and gullible dressing
Stir it in and make them ring true
Believable to those they’re made to
Selling well and we shall see
Every penny comes to me…

As I will so mote it be!”

Grimelda repeated the words over and over, chanting into the night and walking in slow and deliberate steps around the fire and bubbling pot. She went on for hours and hardly noticed the knock when it came. A low thud soon turned into a loud rap and startled her out of her trance.
      “Who goes there and what d’ya want?” She cried out to the door.
   “I’m in awful trouble Grimelda," wailed a small voice, "I need an excuse if you can sell me one...please!”
She detected desperation and her eyes narrowed to dark slits.Nice and quick, just how I like it, she thought, as she made her way to the door. When she opened it, the first thing she saw was a watery sun rising in the distance – and then the early riser in front of her. A small child, no more than ten by the look of him. He looked bewildered and bedraggled and she beckoned him impatiently to come in out of the rain and closed the door behind them.
    “Well child... be specific now and I’ll see if I can oblige you," she clipped,  "But remember I need payment for I am not a charity and I’m definitely not your friend.”

   “Oh I know that Grimelda.. I don’t have any of those anyway...” the voice trailed off, barely audible.
   “Spit it out child, I don’t have all day!” She placed her hands on her hips and stared down at him. He had big, round eyes with a silly, pleading look. She cared nothing for children and certainly not this one. He was pathetic.
  “I can’t do the fields today, I wasn’t there yesterday and I probably won’t be there tomorrow. Me Mam’s crook and Dad’s inside.. for now anyway.. I need a good excuse or else Mr Broadside won’t have me back after!”

 The round eyes bore into Grimelda’s and she let out a heavy sigh. What a sad story to be told and for what sorry excuse to be sold? She grabbed her chin and pulled it hard. She needed time to think…
       "And just what are you going to cross my palm with then?" She spat at the urchin, "I'll not give it a moment's thought before you do, mind!"
He shifted from one skinny leg to the other and banged filthy hands against torn britches,    "Well..." he faltered, "I can do chores... I'll do anything!"
Grimelda ran her tongue across her bottom lip. It wasn't every day a serf appeared at her door and the pot still not cold...She prided herself on a job well done.
   "How much time have you got?" She narrowed her eyes at him.
He glanced quickly at the pale sun in the sky, "About an hour, two at the most..."
   "You can sweep all the floors and fetch me some water from the brook which is a fair distance away, and after that you can skin the rabbit hanging over there," she pointed at the fireplace where a rabbit hung from a bent up hook, "And get a stew ready for the pot..." 
Her mouth watered and her eyes gleamed at the pathetic boy.
She knew she had him.
Scamps like him didn't have any choice, hands tied by circumstances beyond their control.
   "Thank you Grimelda," he said, "And will the excuse be ready for me then?"
   "That's something I shall see about only if you do a good enough job boy!"
   "But you said..."
   "I say what I like and you'll do what I say if you have any wits about you at all," she hissed, "And then we'll see about that shall we? You must prove yourself or your job will be lost and your mother will perish no doubt...up to you!"

The child looked terrified and she took pleasure in it, "And that's the first thing you can mop up!" She screamed at him, glaring at the dark stain spreading down his filthy trouser leg before hobbling off to bed. It had been a long night and she grabbed a bottle from the shelf and drank straight from it.
The boy caught the hint of whiskey as it mingled with the urine, warm against his skin. There was something familiar about it...
It carried the faint offer of an opportunity.
He could smell it.

While the old woman slept heavily the boy worked hard and quickly, driven by a mixture of fear and the slow dawning of a feeling new to him. It made him shiver and he was drawn to the hearth fire still smouldering and the pot still warm above it.
He was thirsty.
The faint aroma of a herbal brew was enough to quell any uncertainty and he took the spoon and helped himself. It wasn't bad. Just an odd bitterness to the taste but he could put up with that, it was after all, warm and wet. A little sustenance for a lot of toil - a fair exchange he thought.
He became drowsy and rested by the hearth until the stirrings of the old crone startled him. She was as ugly to listen to as she was to look at...everything about her was in shadow as she emerged from an unlit corner of the room. He could tell the sun never showed it's face here and why would it?
    "Have you finished the work boy?" She croaked at him before spitting on the floor,   "There'll be no excuse for you if you're not done."
He looked on as she made her way to the fire, swaying and belching out loud. The stale liquor stinking her breath and clothes. She was foul.
   "No, I didn't finish it all," he said looking straight at her, "But I have good reason."
   "Good reason? Good reason?" She roared at the boy, "There are no good reasons to be had for anything do you hear me?"
   "Well alright then, an excuse. I have a good excuse," said the boy quite confidently.
   "An excuse..?" Grimelda recoiled like a snake and stumbled against the wall, "I've never heard such rot and excuse..?
The boy looked through her.
    "It had better be a good one then..." She said sliding down the wall, not feeling altogether well.
    "Oh it is," he said picking up the spoon by the pot, "I was thirsty and drank some of this you see..."
 Grimelda was confused. It was a battle she was not used to and she was losing it.
   "Yes," she said faintly, "I do"
   "I thought you might," said the boy taking the pot in both hands with a strength he didn't know he had, "It's a good enough one isn't it?"
 The old woman said nothing, only staring vacantly past him as he made his way to the door, "Yes of course," she muttered, "It must be..."
   "Yes I thought so," said the boy as he closed the door behind him.
Just like Mr Broadside the governor would think so when he told him. Just like the doctor would think so too when called for his mother and just like the jailor would also think when he next went to visit his father. He could see the fields, smell the laudanham, hear the jangle of the prison keys.  
No, good excuses were not hard to find at all.