Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

Suddenly one summer

That morning a witch’s head had rolled across the breakfast table. I notice things like that. It had to be a sign. A bright, cheery, summer morning a few years back. Oddly enough, just months before the world banking system imploded.  I can’t think why I connect the two events. The witch’s head came to rest by my plate. A pair of beady eyes screwed into mine.

It was hardly surprising, the house was haunted by one hundred and eighty-seven witches at the time. They’d got three-hundred and seventy-four eyes between them. One pair was bound to catch up with me sooner or later. Yet Angelica was determined to summon up another one hundred and thirteen by August. Another two hundred and twenty-six beady eyes.

The fools we were. We actually believed they’d help us make money. That’s what witches are for, aren’t they? They cast spells and you wake up next morning to find sacks overflowing with gold coins at the foot of the bed. Or your partner has turned into a toad. With fifteen score hexes we fully expected to be minting it. Or to find a lot of toads in the garden. So far, the foot of the bed was empty. As Angelica had yet to metamorphose into a warty reptile, the unfortunate partner had to be me. I looked in the mirror and, if nothing else, felt like a slimy toad.  She had been working her fingers to the bone. And even some bones were showing signs of wear.

That winter she’d spent countless hours sewing the things for her summer stall down by the beach. By candlelight. Well, that bit’s a lie. And I’d just watched. She told me they were ‘lucky’ witches. A concept I still have trouble with.

I’d watched across the table each breakfast as winter turned to spring. I’d watched over countless slices of toast smeared with garlic, olive oil and pulped tomatoes. Or Marmite, when there was any in the house. I’d watched over boiled eggs, as swallows returned and summer blew in.

All in all, I did far more than my fair share of watching that year. Had cast a gimlet eye across the table by the window on many occasion. Mouth full of toast and dribbling tomato – mine not Angelica’s – I’d watched her fashionng ‘lucky’ witches, scissor blades flashing, as she clipped up dozens of pairs of tights and stuffed them with bits of my pillow filling. The theory went we’d sell the bleeding lot to tourists down on their luck, and make wads of dosh.

I did my bit I tell you. And I did it with a stiff upper lip. Bits of pillow fluff in your marmalade isn’t exactly The Ritz. Not a word of complaint did I utter. Raising not even a murmur of dissent despite the daily raids on my pillow for stuffing. I kept my mouth shut so tight my lips started to bleed. Night after night that pillow kept shrinking, till fluffing it up was just a distant memory. It just lay there starved and exhausted from having its insides removed bit by bit. In less than a month it halved in bulk. At that stage most of my head was separated from the mattress solely by the thickness of a thin pillowcase. I began waking with headaches. Those witches were bewitched. Bad jou-jou. But Anglica wouldn’t listen, or stop making them. She was possessed. I could hardly recognise her. “They’ll see us through the winter”, she’d taken to cackling. See us through winter. A bit like my ‘see me through the summer’ idea of bringing mineral water ice lumps to the cocktail-swilling nouveau riche of London back in the 90s. I was bound to make a fortune. Where do those brainwaves go wrong? The person who works the answer out to that will grow-up to rule the entire planet.

What was my drift? Yes, she would slash the tights into small tubular pieces, before sewing one end. Then stuff them till they became balls the size of haggises – or is the plural haggi? – before sewing up the other end. An equal number of tinier haggettes the size of ping-pong balls were destined for heads. They were treated to a couple more deft stitches here to pinch out noses, lips, chins and cheeks, and give them faces. Each one ended up with its own character, depending on Angelica’s mood. Some had faces sweet as cake icing, others wore expressions of the demented. More than a couple looked vaguely threatening. I couldn’t help but laugh. Well, you do in a financial crisis. We often find ourselves laughing like drains these days. The laughs of the doomed.

The big haggis balls formed bodies, to which the ping-pong haggettes were attached. A few clever stitches and the bodies had fat-cheeked bottoms. The rudely naked witches were ready to be clothed with discarded rags donated by sympathetic well-wishers. In hindsight, they were rather like sightseers wishing passengers on the deck of the Titanic ‘bon voyage’.

Only then were the witches given sight. Another part of the recycling process. Eyes were metal washers found in gutters, beads garnered from old dresses, sequins, tiny round widgets, anything small and circular did the trick. Horsehair, fur from cast-off cuddly toys, and other strandy things gleaned from here and there served as hair. Tinier pieces of donated brightly-coloured cut-offs and rags transformed into cloaks, headscarves, and hats. Broomsticks were fashioned from windfalls of twigs. By July enough witches to populate a sizeable village were ready to fly to all corners of the earth from elastic threads hung round the stall. They were ready to dispense luck on a global scale. Some had been given names, Gunhild, Kunigunde, Heidi, and Gertrude. Because it was Angelica’s job they were mainly Teutonic.  Eva Braun was one I managed to sneak in.

Another I secretly named Ali Botha, the boy witch from South Africa. From there I created his biography. Just as I had with the invisible Mr Brown, who was tiny enough to drive my Dinky Toy cars when I was a boy. Quite a man that Mr Brown. Very enterprising. One Sunday afternoon he raced to all the way to Timbuctu and back in a Ford Consul Classic with a bent axle and a tyre missing. It was his bid to rescue five bad schoolboys kidnapped by aliens. Even though they’d been horrid to Mr Brown he still went. He’d adapted the Ford Consul Classic so it could both fly and float. Unfortunately, by the time he got there, all five schoolboys had been painfully chopped to death and fed to crocodiles by angry tribesmen, who they had cheated. There had been rivers of blood. Mr Brown couldn’t say he was that sorry. He’d tried his best. He comforted the boys’ mothers by telling them that’s just one of the very unpleasant things that can happen to boys who throw stones at other boys. The car was the first amphibiaeroautoplanemobile. The only one in the world. Invented by Mr Brown.

To get back to Ali Botha. A mixed race schoolboy from Soweto Ali had won a scholarship to an Academy of Witches near Capetown called Warthogs. It was called Warthogs because there was a watering hole nearby attracting hippos and warthogs. And I don’t know why they didn’t call it Hippos and Warthogs. To get back to the point. What was it? Ah, yes. I remember. I conjured up an entire story based on Ali’s years at Warthogs, with all the magic things that happened, as young Ali and his fellow pupils were initiated into the mysterious rites and secret knowledge of witchcraft. The spells took my imagination hours to summon up. It had all the makings of a global bestseller. Then I discovered Harry Potter.

Needless to say I didn’t begin the draft and we hardly sold any lucky witches.

With all that good luck being rejected out of hand something bad was bound to happen. Sure enough, the very same year, the world financial system collapsed overnight. Does that really sound like coincidence to you?

To undigress, and go off on a completely different thread, the other night I had another brilliant idea in a dream. Like you do. Another of my brainwaves. We’ve still got boxes stuffed with hundreds of the evil little ragbags somewhere about the abode. So anybody in desperate need of a bit of luck there are still a few hundred ecologically sound, lucky witches made from recylables waiting to wing themselves your way. You can contact me through this blog.

A this point I feel legally obliged to reveal that each lucky witch comes with a printed disclaimer to avoid any unpñeasant, unforseen, legal repercussions of an expensive nature.

Lucky Witches

Lucky Witch is the name given to this product in the same way Lucky Strike is the name given to a cigarette. And in the same way smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes can not be guaranteed to bring heavy smokers any more luck than puffing away on thousands of other branded tobacco products, neither can owning a Lucky Witch.

And, despite Scandinavian and Germanic folkloric superstition, Angelica cannot guarantee each and every Lucky Witch will bring good luck to any lucky victim the lucky buyer intends to bestow the said Lucky Witch(es)upon.

Though Angelica wishes no one harm, she cannot be held responsible for mal-intentions harboured by lucky purchasers towards lucky third parties, or subsequent misfortunes, suffered by the lucky recipient upon, or following, receipt of (a) Lucky Witch(es).

Acts of God and other Supernatural occrrences

The vendor accepts no culpability for Lucky Witches in the event of strange coincidences, supernatural vistations or unusual occurrences. As admitted in the title, Acts of God are authored by the Supreme Creator and therefore his legal responsibility. The vendor assumes no responsibilty for such events and will deny any accusations they were caused by her products.

It was a sign all right. A few month’s after the morning the witch’s head rolled across the breakfast table the world changed forever.  I’m not superstitious, but you just have to look at everything that’s happened since. Now, you get it.

Copyright © 2012 Bryan Hemming               Conil

This year Angelica is sticking to drawing lucky portraits of lucky wriggling babies and lucky tanned lovers down by the beach. To see Angelica’s lucky portraits click here.

One comment on “Suddenly one summer

  1. WordsFallFromMyEyes
    July 18, 2012

    My gosh I love the opening! Especially ‘I notice things like that’ – bloody wonderful!

    I love the image of Angelica sewing by candle light for a market stall – it’s a sweet-as image.

    I love the way you developed the tale that we eventually saw it was real, that Angelica was sewing ‘real’ witches for the stall. I can’t believe you didn’t sell many, after all that work?

    Tell me on my hotmail how much one would be to send to Australia – after you check out your postage prices. I would genuinely love to receive this. And how could I pay you? I have Paypal – do you? But I’ve never paid anyone through it – but for Ebay & that’s all set up – but I could try.

    Are they all one colour or various colours? Do any have an “overall” blue colour or “overall” red colour or yellow? I’d like one of those. I bet my cats sniff the hell out of it, coming from so far. So tell me what you’d expect, & how I could pay.

    They sound great, Angelica! 🙂


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