Cara's Lessons
Jessica Macbeth


The witch next door had a very nearly black cat (called The Spook), a crystal ball, a silver bell, a glass bell, and a whole range of colored candles. She had home-grown herbs hanging from her kitchen ceiling and a large black cauldron to brew them in. Cara Glassis felt this was right and proper for a witch, and she longed for the day when she would be old enough to begin training in witchcraft too. But even at the age of eight, she knew there were problems with her career choice.

Cara's father was an accountant and didn't approve of witches or of magic of any sort. He felt they made the world untidy, and he had already decided that he wanted Cara to become an executive in the computer industry. Cara didn't fancy that at all. Nor did she care for her mother's plans for her to join the astronaut program, where she "would meet lots of exciting men." Cara had always known she wanted to be a witch and wear long purple skirts with orange blouses and dye her hair green and terrify little boys. To her mind, little boys needed terrifying, especially Jerome, who lived across the street. She had plans for Jerome. In fact, Cara had a lot of plans for a lot of people.

On Saturday morning, Cara was looking at her garden. Although her mother wouldn't let her grow any of the really interesting plants, like nightshade or bergamot, she still had some useful herbs—and she knew where the toad hid. She frowned as she tried to recall exactly what she had heard the witch tell Mrs. Simmons.

She busily gathered herbs, ground them up together, and added a little toad slime. She carefully washed out the jar she had stashed in the garden shed, put the herbs and slime in it, added some shavings from a green candle, and filled it with water from the rain barrel. Then she hid it under behind the shed where her parents were not likely to find it, but it would be in the light of the full moon that night. She washed her hands carefully, pulled a few weeds out of her herb garden and went into the house to play with her dolls for a while. It was time for their tea.

Sunday morning Cara was up early. The liquid in the jar had turned a bilious green. Cara's eyes sparkled with delight. The witch next door looked over the fence and eyed Cara and her jar thoughtfully. "You be careful with that, child. Looks pretty potent to me."

Cara grinned and nodded vehemently. She carried the jar into the kitchen, where she hummed to herself as she fixed coffee and toast for her parents, as she had done every Sunday for the last few months. Her father's coffee received a careful three drops of the green infusion, and she rang her bell over it a cautious three strokes.

Later that afternoon, when Mr. Glassis started to turn neon green and develop huge and unsightly warts, Mrs. Glassis, clutching the jar she'd found in the refrigerator, came looking for Cara, who was peacefully playing with her dollhouse. Cara followed meekly downstairs, and screamed convincingly when she saw her father.

As her mother scolded her, Cara burst into noisy sobs, protesting that she thought she'd given him a potion to make him rich so he wouldn't have to worry about his taxes. Mrs. Glassis, having listened to her husband grumble about taxes for the past three months, knew that they hardly had to pay any by the time he'd finished fiddling the books and making deductions. She secretly felt that there was some excuse for Cara's actions, however misguided, but knew better than to admit it.

Mr. Glassis thundered at Cara for a long time before subsiding into whimpers upon finding out that she hadn't a clue how to reverse the procedure. They called the doctor, who cheerfully referred them to the witch next door. Mr. Glassis thundered some more, but in the end had to submit to the indignity of having the witch come over and give him a nasty-tasting remedy. He continued to roar at Cara the whole time.

"It's no use you fussing at the child, Mr. Glassis," the witch said calmly. "Talent will out in a born witch. Far better to have her properly trained—unless you want to wake up one morning and find she's turned you something a lot worse than green."

Mr. Glassis argued and bellowed for a long time, while Mrs. Glassis wept. The witch responded quietly and firmly, cautioning him that all this shouting was likely to reinforce the warts. Finally, Mr. Glassis shouted that no daughter of his was going to grow up ignorant, and she'd start lessons with the witch that very week or she'd be grounded for six months. Still sobbing, her hands hiding her face, Cara nodded. Her mother sent her up the stairs to consider her wicked foolishness and its effect on her poor father.

Cara climbed the stair with dragging footsteps and drooping shoulders, carefully hiding her broad grin. As she sat on the side of the bed, she considered her next project: Jerome.

Copyright © 1995 by Jessica Macbeth.
All rights reserved.
This fable originally appeared in
Otherworld Arts, 1995