If you think you’re brave, step out of the Epiphany Cafe and turn right. Go about three blocks and take a left at High Street, by the Sherwin-Williams. Continue a quarter mile till you come to an unpainted Victorian on the right, its yard overcome by sumac saplings. Tread carefully on the porch, avoiding the soft spots. Knock on the door; the bell hasn’t worked in years. Peer through the windows as you wait and you will see piles and piles of stuff. Busted furniture that could be mended. Broken electronics that could be fixed. Old newspapers that could be read. The accumulation of more than a decade of life that could be discarded, but hasn’t, because that would confirm the passage of time. You would note that objects entered the house, but nothing ever left. You would wonder if people entered and never left. You would lose your interest in entering and turn to leave, but a woman of indeterminate age in an unfashionable long dress and unkempt hair will come to the door. Take one look at her and run off the porch if a soft spot doesn’t catch you.
The Kenilworth kids call this woman the High Street Witch. If you saw her in this context, you’d think she was a witch, too. All the essential elements of witchiness would be there, right down to the black cat who’d answer the door with her, twining around her feet. She has a wart, too; not on her nose, but on her cheek; although it might be a mole. She possesses a broom, leaning in a closet. She has been known to cackle, especially when watching her favorite sitcom. If you thought she was a witch, you’d be wrong, though. She’s not a witch, but a devoted sister and a reliable employee at a nearby pathology lab. She doesn’t get out much.
If you’d gone to bravely knock on the door the day the Lisping Barista said yes to the Geeky Guy, you would’ve missed the High street Witch. She would’ve been at the Epiphany Cafe, where she never goes. She would’ve been there looking for her brother, none other than the Geeky Guy, himself.
He hadn’t come home when he usually did, right after his appointment with the Therapist Emeritus. After he had asked the Lisping Barista out, and she said yes, he hung around and waited for her to get off work. This agitated the High Street Witch. She set off, not on her broom, but in her Nissan, cruising the streets of Kenilworth till she found him.
Seen at the Epiphany Cafe, away from her ramshackle house, cat, and broom, you wouldn’t have thought she was a witch at all. She’d been an earth mother type with a hard edge; an aging hippie, not all that old; a sister who’s more like a mother; or a mother who’s never given up. You wouldn’t know what to think of her because she would straddle multiple categories. All you’d know is that she and the Geeky Guy were very, very attached, and that bond was about to be tested.
“You’ve got a what?” you’d hear her say when she found her brother.
“A date,” he’d say.
She’d repeat her question, not because she didn’t hear, but because she didn’t believe. He never had a date before. Neither had she, for that matter. They didn’t need to go out on dates. They had each other.
“Where is she?” She’d ask because there was no one with him at his table but an Excel spreadsheet.
He’d nod towards the barista. “With her,” he’d say. “After she gets off work.”
She’d look the Lisping Barista’s way, but she didn’t need to study her close. Piercings, tats, and dreads were one thing, that she existed at all and would have any kind of connection with her brother, was strange enough.
“You like her?” she’d say. Everyone else in the world was surprised the Lisping Barista said yes to the Geeky Guy. She, alone, was surprised he asked her.
He shrugged, feigning indifference, although he did like her, very much; if only because she’d been the one to say yes.
“It was a therapeutic exercise.” He nodded this time to the Therapist Emeritus, having tea with a zoophile, who had passed the Crazy Dog Lady’s dogs when he came in for his appointment. The zoophile was talking to her about how he admired the Setter’s graceful tail, the Beagle’s silky ears, the Labs’ fine coats, the Dachshund’s patrician nose, and the St Bernard’s soulful eyes so much he’d have a hard time choosing among them and would fantasize of a composite dog to warm his bed.
The High Street Witch never liked the Therapist Emeritus. She never thought she was necessary, and once thought she was a threat; but, had been mollified when nothing changed after years of therapy. This was different, though. This was an existential menace. This was war.
“I don’t understand. You see your therapist to get over our parents dying. How does going out on a date help you do that?”
“She thinks I need to move on.”
If you were an old time resident of Kenilworth, you’d know the story of the siblings and their parents. You’d know that the parents, always careful driving on the Turnpike, couldn’t be careful enough the icy day they brought their daughter back to college after Christmas break. On the way home, a truck jackknifed ahead of them. They skidded, too, and didn’t stop until their car passed under the truck. Most of the car passed under the truck. The rest, the top, sheared off after striking the trailer, loaded rock-solid with tons of timepieces, coming from the Waterbury Clockworks. The parents were decapitated; but the Geeky Guy, then just an ordinary boy, sitting in the backseat, appropriately harnessed, was too short to lose his head. He was later extracted from the wreckage with nary a scratch, clinging to his parents’ heads, one tucked under each arm, like footballs, to keep them safe.
You would also know that the sister would selflessly foreswear college and come home to raise her brother. If you were the Kenilworth garbage man, or anyone he told, you would know that the first thing the siblings did was to throw out all the clocks. From that moment on, time stood still in the dilapidated house on High Street.
Time now posed to resume its remorseless clicks into the future. Clouds had gathered, darkened, and threatened to bring change. The sister did what she’d always done. She cast a spell. A cruel, calculating, guilt-inducing accusation, designed to preserve a stagnant status quo.
“You wish I’d died with them; don’t you? You wish you had my head under your arm, too. Then you’d be free to do what you want.”
Maybe she really was a witch, after all.