“What? Why are you staring at me?”
“I’m not staring at you.”
“You’re staring. Actually, I think the term is ‘looking sideways’ at me. Why?”
“No, you’re right. I am. I guess I’m just wondering why you’re smiling.”
“Why I’m smiling? Do I have to have a reason to smile?”
“Yeah, actually. I think you do.”
“I have to have a reason to smile, a reason to be happy?”
“Let me ask you this: is everything in your life going the way you’d hope it would?”
“Is everything in my life going the way I hoped it would? Well, I mean, not everything.”
“What’s not going to plan?”
“Well… I guess I’d hoped to have gotten into that Ivy League grad program.”
“But you didn’t?”
“I didn’t get in… But that was years ago. I’m over that now.”
“What about your current job? Is it really the job you’ve always dreamed about?”
“Of course not. My dream job was to be a heart surgeon. But, come on! That’s a tall order.”
“Not really. There are plenty of people who are heart surgeons. A lot, actually. They were able to get their dream jobs. Maybe they worked harder than you. Maybe they’re better than you. Maybe life has better to them.”
“Where are you going with this?”
“I’m saying, you’re not in your dream job, you never got into that Ivy League grad school you applied to, and are you even making the amount of money you were hoping to make by thirty?”
“Hopes are dreams are not reality. But I’m still making pretty good money.”
“So, you’re just going to stop reaching for the stars? You’re just going to be complacent?”
“I’m grateful for what I have, even if my whole ‘dream’ career didn’t work out.”
“But didn’t you also want to have a family by now, too? How’s that going?”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Hey, I’m just repeating back to you what you’re telling me. What about those abs you always figured you’d have?”
“Oh, no one cares about abs anymore!”
“You do. I know you do. I see it when you look at your body. So tell me, do you really have anything to smile about?”
“Are you trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be happy?”
“Why should you be happy if you haven’t gotten what you wanted out of life? If you’re not the person you’d always hoped to be?”
“But all of those things are superficial. They’re not what make me me. It’s just stuff on paper.”
“Yeah, and your paper is a blank page, buddy.”
“So I shouldn’t be happy? I shouldn’t smile?”
“Do you have any reason to be happy?”
“What about the reason that it’s a beautiful day? The sun is shining?”
“Yeah, it’s shining because of global warming, and life’s gonna get real shitty real soon. You really should wipe that smile off your face.”
“I should just punish myself? Be miserable because life isn’t perfect? Because my life isn’t what I hoped it’d be? Because life has disappointed me?”
“And you’ve disappointed yourself.”
“Okay, really? You’re going there?”
“So unless I have a reason to be happy, I shouldn’t smile? Be carefree? Enjoy my life?”
“Now you’re catching on!”
“And one reason isn’t enough? I can only be happy if 100% of my life is great?”
“Finally, you’re learning.”
“Feeling pretty miserable now, aren’t you?”
“You’re welcome. Have a nice day!”
He looks at his reflection in the mirror, watches his smile turn to a frown. Goddamn these internal monologues with his reflection. They always end in tears.
It is seven o’clock in the morning on a Saturday and I am awake. The October sun bursts through the unveiled windows at an autumn angle. Its buttery light temporarily blinds me as I open my eyes. My bedroom is freezing. I have left the window open to counteract the blasting heat. I asked my incompetent roommate to turn the heat to sixty-eight degrees or lower at night; sometimes, I think she actually cranks up the heat, just to piss me off. That is the narrative I tell myself. I have often been told I make up stories in my head—that I project my own vengeance onto other people. No one is out to get you, Lucinda, my mother has often told me. But I think otherwise; I believe that at the core, everyone is out to get everyone else. We are selfish beings who are trying to survive. We all operate on one single objective: we want to get what we want. When things stand in our way of getting our way, we are angry and combative. Or, we become passive aggressive. And I am certain that she is passive aggressive. I am always certain of what people are thinking and feeling, because I am a witch.
A manicured hand slams a bag of colorful crystals onto a glass countertop, stirring the shadow behind the counter. A wrinkly face pokes through the curtain of smoke, writhing from incense sticks, staring back at the face that belongs to those intrusive hands.
“Hello. I’d like a refund,” says the young woman, her dirty blonde hair hanging limply to her shoulders, the last sparkle of light fading from her grey-blue eyes. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, crossing her arms, hoping to be taken seriously. She’s tall and willowy, unlike the owner of the shop who stands opposite her, petite and round, like a soft pillow. They both wear chunky stone jewelry—the type you see anthropologists wearing as they hang out in trees, snooping on other cultures—and their outfits have that air of boho glam. Long tunics, a few sequins, neutral colors. As if any minute a primal drum will start beating and they’ll have to follow it into the wildflowers.
“And what seems to be the problem?” the middle-aged woman asks, running a hand through her long, wiry grey-black hair.
“They don’t work. That’s the problem.”
“Are you sure it’s the crystals that don’t work…”
“Prebiotics? Wait a second,” she says as she flips the carton around, squinting to read ingredients. “I thought it was supposed to be probiotics?” She turns to see if anyone heard her talking to herself in the dairy aisle of Whole Foods. Just the thirty-something man with long hair and those trendy sweatpants. He’s her age, and handsome, she notices, but then she thinks twice about whether she’d ever want to date a man who even knows what probiotics are. She’s not even sure she knows what probiotics are. Wait, prebiotics. Yes, that’s right. Prebiotics.
She returns the carton back to the fridge, closing the door. After pulling her hair up into a messy bun, she crosses to the vitamin section, holding up her handwritten list. “Glutathione,” she says, mispronouncing the word. Finding the bottle, her eyes widen. She gasps. “Ninety-four dollars!” Again, she looks around. Did anyone just hear her?
“It’s all bull, honey,” a voice says. Her eyes flicker to the elderly woman next to her. Long, silvery-black hair, watery green eyes, age spots over porcelain skin. “Don’t do it, Deirdre.”
Eyes wide, she brings her hand to her heart, astonished. “How do you know my name?” she asks the old woman, who looks freakishly familiar. Is she a distant relative? Looking at her is like looking into a mirror.
“I’m you. Fifty years from now.”
This is the first page of a new young adult novel I'm writing. A romance between an unlikely pair.
Somewhere outside Salem, 1690.
Past the golden fields of wheat that shine like honey, through the thicket of pines and labyrinth of oaks, over the babbling brook that sparkles against smooth stones, until you reach the moss-covered clearing under the tallest tree, that’s where you’ll find her: The Wild Woman of the Wood.
That’s where she’ll be doing what she does best—stirring and pouring, never measuring or calculating, relying on memories, not recipes—alone in her humble cabin, sitting beside the fireplace. Here she steeps stinging nettle leaf, red raspberry, and clover in tall glass jars. She makes potions from bees’ honey and pine needles. She sinks her feet deep into the cold, damp dirt, letting it spring her back into this world. When the moon is full, she places jars of water onto a mossy bed, their openings facing upward, letting the silver moon cast beams of magic into the liquid. Yet this is not her source of strength. She gains her power from within, from the knowledge that she is tune with her Mother Earth. She syncs with her Magic Moon.
Though others call her the Wild Woman of the Wood, she knows that she is really a simple Wise Woman—one who listens to the songs the wind carries on its back, adjusting her potions accordingly. She hears her voice within, never letting thunderstorms outside drown it out. She is content to cook and bake, steep and ferment, from dawn until dusk, nourishing her body with the Earth’s generous offerings. But she does so because it pleases her, not because she’s beholden to anyone’s expectations. She does so because it’s what she’s always known, what she’s ever known, handed down to her from the Wise Women before her. For she is last in a long line of women who had been outcast, banished from their society, for knowing too much. For doing too much. For being too much.
Because that’s what history has shown us. True power comes from knowing yourself, and teaching others to know themselves. Our Wise Woman of the Wood has been keeping others’ secrets for too long, but it won’t be much longer now.
At the next full moon, the winds will turn. For now, before Harvest has begun, while the last of the cicadas sing their dying ballads, Our Wise Woman has no idea that her whole life will change. She doesn’t know that it will transform because of a young man, just a few years older than she, lost in the wood, seeking help. Because that’s always how it happens, isn’t it? A woman’s life always changes when she meets a man.
And that’s where our story begins.
My husband is dead. Will Gibbons is dead. I repeated those sentences over and over in my head. I thought about all I had left behind: a house, my belongings, a career, and a husband. And now, I imagined, that husband was dead. Lying on the floor. Lifeless. Breathless.
I had no plans.
I could start over—start fresh. That was something that always appealed to me my whole life. Maybe it was the artist inside of me, but I loved to create and then destroy. I loved to produce art from start to finish, either sell it or get rid of it—sometimes actually smash it to bits—and then start over with something new, something fresh. A new idea. A new, perfect idea.
I liked the idea of perfect. I wanted everything to be perfect.