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Bedtime Fantasy Sad

Willow looked more Ghost than Witch. Her wispy silver-blonde hair and pale features blended almost seamlessly into the pearl-white walls of the East Hollywood salon where she worked as a shampoo girl. Invisible until needed, no one noticed Willow when she emptied a dustpan of swept-up hair and nail clippings into the front pocket of her black smock. She would have been chased out with a broom. Willow smiled at the irony of the image, enjoying her inside joke. 

Willow didn’t belong in a salon, and she certainly didn’t belong in L.A. She belonged at home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where the air always smells scrubbed clean, the late summer pawpaws are ripe for picking, and wildflowers can be woven into a perfect crown. 

Her sister sent her to California right after that boy went missing. The boy who had lured Willow to the shade of the sugar maple tree. Lizard-tongue darts everywhere all at once, his mouth wide and greedy, grip bruise tight as Willow struggled hard to get free. Her twists and whimpers added to his amusement, “Yawl’d only be purdy if yer eyes wuz bulloo. Naw wun wants you. ” He was laughing when the river suddenly swelled, rising high enough to snatch him from the bank. His terrified eyes and silent, gaping scream were the last Willow saw of him before he was swallowed whole, and with a satisfied gurgle, the river returned to normal.

A week after he was gone, Willow was gone too. The boy in the river, Willow in L.A. All she had with her was a canning jar of cash, clean underwear, and a note in her sister’s scrawled handwriting tucked inside the pages of a worn book. “Promise me, Willow, promise me y’all be good.” Willow whispered her promise and hugged the book tight, fighting back the tears. It wasn’t her fault the river had taken him. Applying for the first job that seemed like something she could do, Willow interviewed at the salon. They were busy and asked her to start right away. The same day Willow was offered her first job in a new city, a black bunny appeared on her doorstep, pink nose twitching. Willow was happy for the familiar company, especially a bunny.

Annalisa was Willow's favorite customer, who came into the East Hollywood salon every week to see Stephan for a blowdry and Luna for a manicure. Willow would take as long as possible with Annalisa’s shampoo, sudsy, circular motions unlocking all of Annalisa’s musings. Willow saw all of Annalisa’s life; the grocery list left on the counter, her daughter’s ballet recital, the dreaded return call to her mother-in-law and former boss who keeps asking when she’ll return to work. Annalisa’s thoughts were the quiet side of the Ocoee for Willow’s thoughts to float on. 

Annalisa’s scent reminded Willow of her mama; tangled hair, white floral, and delicate breezes. With a deep inhale, Willow could see her mama’s face and hear the hypnotic songs she sang when Willow was a little girl. Comforting sadness would wash over Willow, lapping waves on a summer day. Stephan’s hard tap on Willow’s shoulder, “Um, hello, space girl, back to planet Earth! I’m on a schedule.” always came too soon.

Willow knew Annalisa liked her. She would always tip Willow with cash and a compliment, 

You have magic fingers. Sei molto simpatica!” Walking the three-mile stretch from East Hollywood to Echo Park, humming a made-up tune, Willow would rub Annalisa’s twenty-dollar bill tip between her finger and thumb, spending it at her only stop, a corner grocer. Willow would buy cream for her tea, green tomatoes to coat in breadcrumbs to fry for supper, and cilantro for the bunny she named Raisin. 

Stroking Raisin’s velvety fur, Willow would sip tea, the metal infuser stuffed with Annalisa’s hair clippings, nail slivers, cattail root, sumac, and nasturtium. Once finished, Willow would close her eyes, recite ancient words from memory, then settle in to watch Annalisa’s life in full color. Only the bunny knew Willow’s secrets. 

Willow knew she wasn’t supposed to use the tea more than a few times on the same person. The tea’s potency grew stronger with each new cup, not for Willow but for the people she watched. If she wasn’t careful,  Annalisa would catch her in the act.

As months turned into a year, Willow grew bored watching the other clients and only tuned into her Annalisa. The other clients, fleetingly fascinating, were all the same trope - love triangles, weight gain and loss complaints, frivolous spending, bratty kids. It was only Annalisa, with her jet-black hair, smooth olive skin, and white teeth, who she wanted to watch repeatedly. Willow knew Annalisa was starting to feel her presence. Annalisa would suddenly stand up from kneeling in the garden; hand shovel gripped tight, green eyes large under a wide brim hat scanning the rows of poppies and penstemons. Or Annalisa would check all the security cameras in her gourmet kitchen, sauce bubbling on the stove, a sudden shudder of shoulders, arms folded around her body. But it was in Annalisa’s daughter’s bedroom that she saw Willow outside of the salon for the first time. A pale, hollow-eyed marionette doll without strings, suspended mid-air in the darkest corner. Face contorted into raw terror, Annalisa screamed. Willow vanished.

NO! NO! NO!.” Raisin scurried to a corner as the porcelain tea cup shattered on the ground. Panicked, heart racing, Willow scrambled across the room to the suitcase under the bed where she hid the grimoire. On her knees, flipping through the tattered pages, Willow found what she dreaded most, then curled into a ball on the floor. There was no way to reverse the curse; abusing the power of the tea had finally caught up with her.

The next morning Raisin was gone. Willow trudged to work, legs heavy, head hung low. “You’re late.” Stephan snapped, then turned to Luna asking, “Do you think Annalisa’s ok? She’s never no-showed! SHould I be worried?” Willow cleared her throat and spoke directly to Stephan for the first time, “She’s nevur comin’ back.” and then walked out.  

Willow kept walking for two-thousand three hundred miles—a ghost with red eyes and skin that glowed pale day and night. By the time she reached the river, the soles of her shoes were worn thin, her tongue thick in her mouth, skin dry and cracked. The rushing water was cold, ice-cold, up to her waist, chest, and neck. A light breeze rustled through the sugar maple trees, softly blowing Raisin’s velvety black fur, her sad eyes watching Willow from the grass. 

June 06, 2023 02:52

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2 comments

Michał Przywara
20:46 Jun 14, 2023

There's a great sense of subtle magic here, and though the story is quite short we have a feeling that the world is real and established. Willow's an interesting character, who falls prey to an irresistible temptation. She knows what she's doing is dangerous, she knows how it's dangerous and how to avoid it, she knows it's wrong - a violation of privacy - and yet she pushes on anyway. There's a curious parallel between her and the boy. No doubt he knew what he was doing was wrong, a violation, and he ended up drowning in the river. Ultim...

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Colleen Ireland
21:15 Jun 14, 2023

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and feedback. Willow is a tragic and lonely character, and yes, most Ghost than Witch; invisible and irrelevant to the world around her, yet still impactful. Sadly, her fate was sealed when she was forced to leave the home, mountains, and river she loved; the same river that called her back home to a watery grave. Her spirit lives on in the waters where she found finally found peace. Thank you again!

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