Old World Charms

More complex times.

The young woman comes to her door.

“He does not love me,” she says. “What must I do?”

The old woman watches her with the hidden eyes of a beetle.

“In three days return you here. Abstain from all impure thoughts, eat the flesh of no living creature. Do not wash your hair or your hands. Bring a bowl of your urine.”

The young woman bites down on her lip and tries to see past the old woman. In her eyes the old woman can see flashing knobby wrists, a turning stream, the laughter of children. The young woman nods her head and is gone.

The old woman shuts the door. Inside is the odour of herbs.

In the dawn the old woman goes down to the stream with a net woven from human hair. She stands upon the weir and casts three times and no more into the waters. In the first cast she pull forth a nugget of gold and a fish that sings in Aramaic. In the second she finds the souls of a drowned sailor and his broken-hearted, bartered bride. In the third she pulls forth five ordinary fish, dull grey in color, with eyes that do not blink and tails that thrash uselessly against the net.

One of these she places in a bowl of water, and tickles the belly of the fish to make it move, to give it life again. The other four she saves, that she might eat their sweet and crackling-fat flesh. Inside she lights the fire and breathes in the peat that burns sullenly upon the grate. She takes the fish still living from the bowl and holds it within her sex until it dies. Then she cleans it, rolls it in honey and oats, and smokes it over the heavy fire. She leaves it to cure there among the coals, and goes out to tend her gardens and wild herbs.

In three days the young woman returns, three small coins between her black-nailed hands, the small clay bowl of her urine balanced surely upon her head.

“What,” says the young woman. “What must I do? I die for his love.”

The old woman watches her with the slow eyes of a mole.

“Take you this fish. Bake it sweetly into a cake and give it to your love. Wait two days, and bathe from head to toe. Call you then upon him and he shall be yours.”

The young woman’s eyes fill with tears and she passes the urine and the coins to the old woman.

It is so much magic, so much hocus-pocus. Sweeter smells the rose that grows from excrement. The old woman closes the door. Inside the herby dark she pours the urine into a pot. It is nearly full. Crystals are clustered around the rim, tart as lemons, brave as dreams.