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Funny LGBTQ+ Romance

Coriander. Cardamom. Turmeric. Saffron. Most of the spices and herbs were labeled. They all had little handwritten scraps tied around the necks of their glass shakers. But one bottle set apart from the others. It was a little, crystalline thing which held some brown or yellow spice that I couldn’t place. I watched my host, Inma, use the unlabeled bottle multiple times as she cooked our dinner. I counted when and where she sprinkled that certain spice, wary of its contents.

I feared she might poison me.

Inma swayed and hummed in front of the stove, narrating her recipe to me. She spoke over her shoulder about onion and cumin and tomato and the like. The clanging of spoons and cast-iron pans drowned out her voice, but it all went over my head anyhow. I was never much of a cook, to the chagrin of no one in particular.

I sat at Inma’s kitchen table, watching steam plume over her head. She was making masoor dal because she found out it was my favorite. How she figured that? I would never know. But she was right.

She opened all the windows, but her little cottage trapped all the spice anyhow. The dried chilies simmered, and I tasted them in the air. Inma was the perfect complement to her broiling kitchen. Her nature seemed to be in a tattered smock, isolated amongst the deep woods and her cast iron artillery. She grew her own peppers out front and squash in the side yard. Their aromas mingled with that which was in the pot and danced about the kitchen which took up the whole house.  

I straightened my skirt in my lap, hoping I wasn’t over or under dressed for the occasion.

She’d already set the table with napkins and utensils, leaving me rather idle. I simply watched her dance about the tile, hesitant to join her.

“Just a minute more,” she told me, stirring her pot. “I meant to have it ready when you arrived.”

“Well, I was early.”

“That you were.” She laughed.

She must’ve thought I was eager to see her, and I was. But I really wanted to get here in time to watch her cook. It wasn’t often that she invited people all the way out here. We’d been neighbors for a long while, so long as an eight-kilometer distance is still considered neighborly. I had a flat in the village, while Inma lived up here in the mountain. We met every so often at a festival or potluck rather. Everyone knew of Miss Inma who lived in the mountain. But no one knew her.

The kids in town called her a witch because she forever wore a long, green cloak and had a crooked nose. According to Inma, she’d earned the crooked nose from a rowdy drunk who’d punched her square in the face. She used to work a pub in her twenties and cut off his spirits that night. To which he responded rather aggressively.

The cloak, she admitted, she wore simply to aggravate the rumors of her deals with the devil. She found her reputation for dark magic quite amusing.

But wouldn’t that be the perfect acquittal? Hiding it in plain sight?

In any case, I felt silly for indulging such antiquated beliefs. But my aunt (who lived with me at the time) truly threw a fit when I told her Inma had invited me for dinner. She was convinced that I would be lured to the woods and spoon-fed a love potion of all things. I laughed at the notion and told one of my friends at the grocer about the accusation. I expected him to find it as incredulous as I did, but he said he agreed! He told me Inma was planning to steal my heart. I couldn’t tell if he was joking, but the baker told me about the same thing when I went out yesterday. They all said Miss Inma would cook my favorite meal, then slip in a potion and steal my heart.

I was planning to walk here today, but the stories finally got to me, and I rode my bike instead. This way, I could watch everything Inma put in the pot. Not that I truly believed in witches, of course. That was ludicrous. But just to be sure.

“Minnie?” she called.

“Yeah?”

“Rice or naan?”

“What do you have?”

“Both of course. You seem like a naan gal. I’ll do that.”

Correct again, Inma. She served the dal on two plates, all the while humming a tune reminiscent of Doris Day. And it was fitting. Inma often moved like a movie star through the village. She turned heads, and not just for her isolation and witchery. It was for a sort of glow about her, a halo every time you saw her in the sunlight. Her steps floated and twirled as if a camera were pointed to her at all times. Her humming and whistling was rather endearing, and I secretly wished she would sing something.

Yes, I now picked up on the melody to ‘Que Será, Será;’ One of my favorites.

She left that unlabeled bottle by the spice rack. The glass lacked considerably in whatever grain or millet it possessed beforehand. She slid a shallow, steaming dish of naan and yogurt and chickpeas onto the table. It all smelled overwhelmingly like heaven. She threw her smock on a hook in the kitchen and sat across from me with a smile.

The scent, I thought, of that mystery spice must have taken some effect. I grew wary of Inma, for she only seemed lovelier the closer she got. The poison was stealing my heart already.

“So what do you do up here?” I asked, perhaps stalling the commencement of the meal. I had no plan to avoid whatever potion Inma had in store, but the least I could do was hesitate.

“You’re looking at it,” she answered, helping herself to the dish. “I grow and I cook. And at night I have to go into the woods and pray allegiance to the devil of course.”

Inma mocked the wide gesture of a witch casting a spell. She laughed, and I chuckled along when I realized she was joking.  

“What do you do in town?” she asked.

“I’m a fixer.”

“Oh yeah, what do you fix?”

“Whatever people break, I guess.”

She laughed again. I was glad for it, because I wasn’t typically amusing. It always made me a bad houseguest, but Inma made it easier.

She looked to me expectantly. In contented silence, she waited for me to eat. I obliged. The food tasted like home. Better than home. And the heat of it was a great comfort.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

“It’s delicious.”

“Well, I was hoping to impress you.”

I set my food down and met her eye. Her plate was already clean. She leaned forward in her seat and watched me with great focus. “Impress me?” I repeated.

“Naturally.”

Wow. It must have been that unlabeled poison, but Inma was a marvel. I hardly concerned myself with the witchery in the food. It was too late now, anyway. I felt affected only by Inma’s gaze. The magic of ancient days couldn’t hold a candle to the lure of her eyes. They held the wonderful darkness of the forest. The mystique of the towering redwoods and slithering brush lived in her as much as she lived in it.

I found that I loved how her crooked nose accented her smile.

She spoke of the night and the history of it all. I tried to comprehend, but I felt outside of myself. I couldn’t tear myself from the wonder of her voice.

My heart fluttered, and I worried at the effects of that potion. Would she steal it now? My heart, that is. The case fell hopelessly to Inma’s purpose. I was hers.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have given in. I shouldn’t have eaten the unknown spice. It might have been worth it though.

We cleared the table, but I didn’t want to leave just yet. Inma procured a little, battery-powered radio with a long antennae. She flicked it on, and a crackled rendition of ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ rang out. I offered to dance. She obliged. Inma placed her hands on my shoulders, and I wrapped my arms about her waist. She led me through her little kitchen on our toes. To the sweet songs of Doris Day, who turned out to be a shared affinity between the two of us, we danced. I felt light on my feet, floating, hovering. I couldn’t let her go for a good, long while.

I wondered at the authenticity of the feeling though. What if it was all just persuasion? A potion? A poison?

“Inma?” I said softly.

“Yes?”

“I meant to ask—what was in that bottle? The unlabeled one?”

“Oh?” She turned to see what I referred to . When she spotted the bottle by the stove, she picked it up, uncorked it, and took a dubious sniff. “Mustard seed. You like tangy right?”

Mustard seed. I laughed but did not tell her why. She’d seasoned the dal with mustard seed. “Inma, I’d like to see you again soon.”

“Well,” she said, placing her hands on my shoulders again, “Glad I impressed.”

We danced again to the warble of the radio. As the songs grew dimmer, our dancing devolved into a light sway. The deep of night encroached. And Inma cast a wonderful spell over me. 

July 03, 2021 01:59

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4 comments

Rustys Logic
03:47 Jul 10, 2021

I liked the connection between Inma and the main character.

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Winston Smith
04:40 Jul 10, 2021

Thanks!

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Alex Sultan
05:02 Jul 05, 2021

Your use of first person POV feels natural to read - you do a good job of portraying Minnie. I also like how you go over backstory, quick and to the point and then back to the plot.

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Winston Smith
13:44 Jul 05, 2021

Thank you for reading!

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