By Linda Talbot

smaller-IMG_0001Lew comes back from Japan with a sweet-faced woman speaking no English and trained to say “yes.”

“A home help!” he tells Esme, his witch wife. Esme is descended from a long and illustrious line of white witches who occasionally veer towards the darker arts but have not yet done any lasting harm.

Esme can concoct spells to cope with most of life’s quirks, except for some inexplicable reason, housework. So, morosely, she manipulates the vacuum and grumbles as she piles plates in the dishwasher.

    She looks dubiously at the Japanese. “What’s her name?”
    “Don’t know,” replies Lew.
    “I’ll call her Doris.”

The white-faced Japanese looks anxiously at her employees. She assumes she is here as a concubine. Esme shows her how to tuck up her kimono and handle the Hoover, dust, cook, wash and sew.

Doris learns fast and soon Esme is sprawled all day on the blue couch, reading Vogue.

Doris is puzzled. When will Lew take her to bed? He vanishes every day at eight and does not return until seven in the evening. He and Esme eat the dinner she has prepared, watch television and go to bed around eleven o’clock. They bid her “goodnight” and she retires to her tiny room at the top of the house.

Occasionally Lew looks at her, wondering what she would be like in bed, but not seriously thinking of finding out. Esme weaves wonders of sensual delight – her inherited magic reducing other women to unresponsive robots.

But one night he passes Doris’s door and sees her naked; an amalgam of tiny curves, shining white as a new shell on the beach. She is sitting sadly on the simple bed, her long black hair hanging loosely to her waist. She seems far away; living another life in a land Lew had not had time to know.

He knocks on the open door. Doris leaps to her feet. Her small mouth opens but she is speechless. “Sssh!” says Lew unnecessarily. He joins her, pushing her gently back onto the bed. Now she understands. A softness floods her face, which Lew cannot resist.

Esme does not need the evidence of her eyes to know Lew has been unfaithful. Her witch’s insight is enough. She comes down the next morning to find Lew has left early for work and Doris, instead of washing up the breakfast plates, seated thoughtfully on the couch.

“SO!”  Esme’s voice knocks her sideways and the accusing hand she points, spilling sparks onto the carpet, paralyses Doris. She is sealed, semi-conscious.

When Lew comes home, he knows at once what has happened. “It’s not what you think!” he utters the timeless untruth of the faithless.

“Get her out of here!” screams Esme and flounces upstairs to the spare room. Lew prods Doris. But she is motionless. He picks her up and carries her outside to his burgeoning greenhouse. He sits her on a wicker chair among azaleas, orchids and begonias, gently draping her with a lilac clematis.

Esme retains her silence; struggling as before with household tasks and cooking unappetising meals that Lew can barely swallow. He begins eating out and coming home late. Esme cannot devise a spell that will bring him back to her.

One morning, when Lew has left for work, she goes out to the greenhouse. At first she can see only plants, left lately to wilt or, if not needing water, scramble unkempt over others. Then Esme sees Doris on the wicker chair. She is bound tightly by the lilac clematis, barely visible beneath a riotous mass of flowers, flowing from her tiny bare feet to her terrified face.

Esme will unbind and bury her in the garden, with the witch’s death curse uttered over the grave.

She begins to tug at the tenacious plant. It proves harder than rope to wrench away. She mutters a spell but the clematis does not respond. She continues to grapple, scattering flowers like confetti. At last Doris is free but remains motionless like a plaintive painted doll.

Esme grabs her, pulling her roughly from the chair. She drags her over the flower-strewn floor to the door and out into the rainy garden. She does not see the clematis straining from its roots in a terracotta pot, slither over the wet lawn and fling a tendril round her ankle. She falls, losing her grip on Doris who crumples on the grass.

The clematis moves up Esme’s body, binding her limbs and jubilantly bursting into flower again. The perfume is overwhelming. Esme faints. As the climber reaches her swan-like neck, it takes a deep breath and coils round it in an elaborate series of knots, binding tighter and tighter, extinguishing Esme’s feeble breath.

Instead of the death wish, there is a silent epitaph of falling rain, which slowly washes away the lilac flowers.

© Copyright Linda Talbot All Rights Reserved

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