I will myself young again. Smooth out my crepey arms and turkey neck. Magic my hair, thick and long once more, down to the ass that I made taut with my bitter wishing. I harden my fingernails until they shine, then smear away the dark bags from under my eyes until my skin is the color of cream. From my deepest cavern, I siphon a rush of blood. Cup it into my hands and flush my cheeks with it.
Grandmother claimed to be a witch. She said anyone could do magic if they hurt badly enough. “This is why most witches are women,” she said, stripping thyme stems and tossing them into a pot with a turkey carcass, fat around the chest like a baby. Like most things Grandmother said, I didn’t really understand the truth of it until I was a grown woman myself. But there was a logic to all her tales that made them easy to believe. My husband hurt me bad, and so I can do this magic. It’s more poetic this way, more homespun, like one of Grandmother’s quilts or the sparkle in her eyes when she told me these stories.
We tried counseling, like every other couple we know. My husband told the counselor that he loved me from the second he first saw me. He described the way I stood leaning against a pool table in a frilly peasant top.
The counselor asked him, “What made you attracted to her?”
My husband answered, “She was sexy. She was—I don’t know what to call it. Carefree.”
Together, they concluded that he couldn’t be attracted to me when I represented a lifetime of stress and household responsibilities.
“Have you tried to be carefree with him?” The counselor looked at me over the black frames of her expensive glasses, her lips pursed, her lipstick sitting in the wrinkles.
“I have not,” I said. “I am in pain a lot.”
This was before the hysterectomy.
“That’s the thing,” my husband said, excitement in his voice like we were getting to the bottom of something. “I associate her with pain. I come home and I’m going to make love to her, or laugh with her, and she’s lying in the dark.”
The counselor nodded, wrote something down.
My husband continued, “It’s like we lost that spark when we had kids.”
“That’s the responsibility factor,” she gestured with her pen.
Together, they built each of my hurts one on top of the other, brick by brick. At the end of the hour, my husband and I are given homework. He is to go about his life as usual and I am to be waiting for him in a sexy nightgown, once in a while.
This will be my only spell.
The first thing I do after I turn myself young again is shop with my new body. When I first had a body like this, I was mean to it. I told it that it was ugly and fat. This time I know better. I have learned from experience not to hate my new body like I hated my old one. Not on the other side of years of pain and slow walking in public.
I go to one of those boutiques that are so small it’s like shopping in a closet. I buy something tight and short with straps that slip over my shoulders when I move my arms just slightly.
I stop in the mirror to admire the shifts that I made to keep myself unrecognizable for him. I examine my eyes, which are the same shape, but no longer completely brown. Acid green swirls there. I suppose it’s obvious: this spark of jealous anger. But in that sense, I kind of like it. I stare until the swirls expand and eclipse the brown. I’ve always wanted green eyes.
Into my fuller lips, I’ve put the sting of my husband-memories, the bristles of him, the steel wool of my life.
I hold up my longer fingers. This change I planned merely to please myself. In the bright lights of the boutique, I see that I’m still wearing the stack of engagement, wedding, anniversary, mother’s rings. A lifetime of choices and chores, of responsibility. They are loose, clinking and crowding one another, like I can no longer be a young bride, a wife, a life partner, a mother. I let them slide onto a display of scarves, hard metal stacked between silk, and wonder who I am without them.
Grandmother also said, “They’ll make you hate yourself. That’s men’s magic.”
When Grandmother’s words finally made sense, my husband and I were trying out a carefree romantic vacation—part two of the homework from the counselor we’d long since abandoned. I was excited.
Post-hysterectomy, I was relatively pain free. Although my endometriosis was being filled in by other types of pain. Arthritis in my knees, difficulty with my eyes. Still, I felt I would be able to put it aside for one week. I was willing to do that.
We went to the beachside resort where we had stayed on our first anniversary. We arrived in the evening, the insects screeching from the palm trees. The place had gone downhill, but I didn’t say anything. I don’t know if he noticed.
I unpacked various nightgowns in ice cream colors, all too uncomfortable for sleeping. He checked the status of the cable and searched for a nearby liquor store on his phone. “Find anything?” I asked.
“Hmm?” he said, distracted.
“The liquor store?”
“Oh,” he said. “Right.”
Before we left home, I’d found a photo from our honeymoon in the back of our closet. The image was me, in nothing but a pair of black panties, lying sideways on a bed with my original young body glowing from the flash of a film camera in a dark room. The darkness had oranged over the years, but my skin stayed petal white, my back stayed arched in the kind of defiance that demanded attention.
I could say I happened on this picture while packing, but I knew it was there, secreted away when my daughters were young. I didn’t want them to happen upon it and recognize the raw desire in me, or the fact of their father being nowhere in the picture, and that being the whole picture. The way he could take this image of me for his own pleasure, and the pleasure I took in this attention. I didn’t want them to ask any questions about where it had gone.
While he slept, I took his computer out on the balcony. The flash drive, burning in my palm. What does it say of him, and of us, that he’s never changed his password? As soon as I clicked on the browser, a notification popped up from a name I didn’t know. I clicked it, although I should not have.
There were many messages. None from the same girl twice. Young, carefree, in the age range of our daughters, or younger, eyes without wrinkles, hair thick, inside each a uterus where inside me was a space where something once was.
I remembered the sound of his step the night he’d taken my picture. How I’d posed, knowing what he would do, waiting for the flash to lick my skin with white light, his laugh somewhere behind it in the dark. This photo, I’d thought, would help him to remember what we were, who I was. I’d even thought the word carefree, when I pulled it from the box. Though by now, even far away from home, carefree was its own opposite. It hung, heavy lead, in my mind. It wasn’t just my nakedness. It was a time when I was sure that he would never look away from me.
I didn’t want him to have the picture anymore. I didn’t want to convince him to remember.
I didn’t wake him. I put the computer back where I found it and walked to the shore. I threw the flash drive into the water, watched it come back on the next wave and bob pathetically against some shells. I sunk to my knees and pulled fistfuls of sand into my hands and rubbed them into my chest.
I remembered that I could do magic.
I find the bar without difficulty. Even if I hadn’t written the name down, I would’ve been able to guess. The hurt sticks me like a pin: I know him better than he knows himself, and he had still made me feel like a fool.
A patio winds around the brick walls, flapping black awnings slope over the neat little tables, mostly for two. Candles flicker inside shot glasses at the center of each swath of white linen. There’s always a candle flickering. I sling my bag over my bony shoulder and wonder if fire extinguished in one place lights in another. Perhaps the fire whispers of what it saw, who was talking to who. I wonder what the fire knows of love’s beginnings and endings. More than me.
I walk on platform shoes, back in style, and my legs chill with the evening air. They haven’t been out in a long time.
I stand by the door waiting for him. He walks up with a bouquet of roses. Is this why younger women date older men? Because they use tired worn out gestures? He walks slow, and I know because I am his wife that it is because of his knee. When he realizes I’m the one he’s coming to meet, he hitches himself up, quickens his pace. He pretends he is not hurting. I think, is that what you wanted?
I bite my tongue until I taste blood, lick it over my lips, feel its copper magic make them plumper. I smile to show the strong bones in my gums.
“Hey,” I say. “I’m Luna.”
We get a table for two.
At seventeen, it began.
“The pain is because we are healers,” Grandmother said, putting hot tea on the bathroom counter, painfully out of reach.
I was throwing up, curled on the tile floor of the bathroom that I shared with her, and too drained to stand. I didn’t say anything but felt blood gush from me, as if in response. The bleach smell, from her weekly cleaning of the toilet, stung.
“We smooth over,” Grandmother continued, as if excited to be finally making this lecture to me. “We make people comfortable. We feed and host, and nurture. You can’t heal without taking some pain away. That’s how it works.” She leaned back against the counter and after a long moment blew over the rim of my tea and took a sip.
I groaned, “I don’t do any of those things.”
She shrugged, “Women have been doing it for so long that our daughters and granddaughters hurt before they’ve made their first pot of chicken noodle soup. You come from a long line of healers.”
She took another sip of my tea and then asked, “Are you going to drink this?”
My husband and I finished our carefree vacation in fake ease. We had nights by the sea with bottles of wine. I participated in love-making that no longer hurt me, physically. He laughed and sipped his wine and checked his computers and told me he loved me. The magic fermented inside of me, grew hot, began to boil. He didn’t notice, but I wasn’t surprised. He had grown used to my pain. It had become background noise, a static that he could tune out if he chose.
I let him sit in the damp sand at high tide, clinking wine glasses with me while we held hands and faced the black gulping of the ocean.
We get a table on the patio. I enchant the spring breeze to loop my hair around my face and neck, to whip it around the flush on my cheeks. My husband smiles at me the way he used to. The magic burns, can’t wait for the big finish.
“Luna is a beautiful name,” he tells me, winking.
“My parents are big hippies,” I say.
He swallows his scotch, shows his teeth with the sting, says, “I’ve never had time for that. I was already working my ass off.”
I can see that he is wondering whether or not he should’ve said that. He drums his fingers against the table, nervously butters bread.
“That’s so cool,” I say, smiling.
He turns to me and apologizes, “I’m a workaholic.”
I laugh, but am not amused. I remember this dance. Laugh no matter what he says, smile, tell him what he is saying is brilliant and funny. Make him feel handsome and wanted, like a genius, like more than himself. Carefree.
I say, “It’s easy to work hard when it’s something you care about.”
When I got married, Grandmother sewed a sachet of herbs and violets into my dress. She held me by my lace sleeves and looked me in the eyes and said, “Love only lasts so long.”
My husband, I now realize, probably started fooling around early. He probably went through phases where he stopped, felt guilty, and then phases where he began again and was relieved to feel the rush of himself, whoever that was.
When we had been married ten years, I waited up for him one night. One of the nights he was working late. I wanted to surprise him with champagne and roses. I fell asleep in the chair with the tv rumbling company.
When I heard him shuffling in the kitchen, heard him clink the bottle of champagne as he picked it up and then put it back down quietly, so as not to wake me, and heard him bypass me on the couch on his way upstairs, I knew. Though it has taken me a long time to admit this, I knew then.
Dinner turns into dessert and then, very easily, into a hand in hand meander to a nearby hotel. I remember to attach myself to his arm like I will lose my balance if I don’t walk against him. Even though it’s for his benefit, it feels good to giggle again, like something painted shut has just been worked open.
When we kiss against the door, he becomes a little younger, too.
I thought Grandmother would go on forever, but she died two months after my first daughter was born. In retrospect, it was clear that Grandmother wasn’t fully with us, even then. She had paled, softened, become something of a shadow, as if we were watching her transition from this world to the next.
I remember the crumpled look of Grandmother’s skin as I handed her this new pink life, her hands grayish and spotted while she kissed the baby’s forehead. I felt angry when the first thing she said was, “Poor thing, poor thing.”
I didn’t have to ask her why my daughter was a “poor thing.” I knew what she would say, and I didn’t want to hear it. I watched the old woman rock my daughter, cup her head like trying to hold water, and sing a song about a maiden finding, and then losing, a man.
Before my husband left for work this morning, I made sure to sit with him and have breakfast because it was a favorite part of our marriage. I liked the way his smile looked over orange juice and coffee and eggs in bright light. Everything sunny.
I made sure to take his hand and look in his eyes and say, “I love you.”
He said it back, the bastard, he looked at me, and said it back.
In the hotel room, I get lost in the desire. I’ve been starving. I kiss him and make love to him, but I’ve never stopped doing that. The difference is him and his hunger for my new body.
He reaches for the lamp, but I tell him to leave the lights on. I want him to see me when it happens.
We ride the waves, we plummet like swallows, we wriggle like worms.
He gasps, he grunts, he groans, he says that I am the best he has ever had and I think he means it.
I vault my venom from my veins, I hold him like vines, I envelop his heart with my magic until I am clutching it with invisible fingers. I vacillate between joy and pain. I take my last bit of pleasure, and then I lift the veil.
We unify. He recognizes me. I age.
We melt, his eyes tear up, his hand touches the side of my face.
He loves me before he is horrified, before I rot, taking him with me, until we are tumbling into each other, growing over each other, until we are just bodies. He is the last thing I see and I—rotten, teeth falling out, hair in clumps as he tries to get free—am the last thing he sees, too.
The first time I heard the scream of feral cats mating I was just a little girl, and I was frightened. I must have screamed, too, because Grandmother rushed to scoop me into her arms and hold me to the cloying softness of her neck.
“Don’t cry,” she said.
“What is it?” My small voice choked with panic. “What is it?”
Grandmother’s voice scratched the dark: “Love.”
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