Witches, I’ve been told, are very difficult to fool.
I’ve got a witch on my block. She lives three houses down from mine, behind the gate that’s climbing with ivy and blue morning glories. I’ve seen her a few times, working in her garden, or sweeping off her steps with a twiggy broom that I’m pretty sure she flies about on when the moon is full.
I haven’t let her see me. Not even once, although I’m sure she’s tried. Sometimes I take the long way home from school, walking all the way around the block to reach my house from the other side, to keep from passing her door. Sometimes I get down on my hands and knees and crawl past her gate, although the gravel on the sidewalk cuts my knees in the worst kind of way. Sometimes she isn’t in her yard at all, and I can hurry past without being seen.
Today is that sort of day. Her yard is empty and a little smoke curls up from her chimney as I go by. I wonder what she is cooking in her big black kettle, and hope it isn’t a child that forgot to duck when he was walking by her gate. Tommy, I think, is a very probable candidate. Tommy does not believe in witches, even though he’s got one living on his block, and sometimes he does forget to duck.
But he’s waiting for me at the bus stop, same as every other day, and I decide that the kettle was probably full of squirrel guts and frog eyes instead of careless children.
The kids at school all know about the witch on my block. I tell them stories about her every day. Today, I tell them about her bubbling, steaming kettle, and the frog eyes that she collects in her garden an hour after midnight. Only Tommy pretends not to believe me, but I can tell my stories are getting into his head. Tomorrow, I think he’ll duck when he goes past the gate.
Just in case.
I’ve been thinking about our witch more and more lately. I sit in the back of the bus on the way home, so as to think better, and put my mind to the problem. Witches have extremely sharp eyes, and I’m sure that one day she’ll see me walking by her house. Maybe she’ll follow me home, just to see where I live, or maybe she’ll lure me inside her house with something that I can’t possibly resist. A new baseball glove, maybe. Or a white mouse in a cage, like Eliza Finch has in her bedroom.
I don’t think I could resist a white mouse. Their pink paws are so impossibly tiny.
When we climb off the bus, Tommy suggests I come to his house to play basketball in his basement, but I tell him I can’t today. I have other things to do. Important things. He leaves me to myself, and I take the long way home, down our shady street, thinking all the way.
Witches, I’ve been told, are very difficult to fool. Only the cleverest sort of person can do it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got a chance. I’ve won the school spelling bee three times in a row, after all, and I am the only boy in school who knows how to count backward by threes. That has to count for something, I am sure.
So I go home the long way around and stop to pick a whole handful of daisies from the empty lot at the end of the street. I find some thistles too and add them to the bunch, because I’ve heard that witches like to use thistles to fill their pillows. They prick my fingers, so I’m not sure why a witch would like to sleep on them at night, but I bring them anyway, right up to her front gate.
She’s working in her yard again. She has a black cat with her, which is very fitting for a witch, and she comes over to the gate to see me when I knock. Her eyes are very blue, and she has a hooked nose and gray hair and a long, pointy chin. She smiles when I give her the flowers, a witch’s kind of smile, and asks if I would like a cookie. I’m cleverer than she is, so I say no—because witch’s cookies are made with spells—and thank you—because it’s always wise to be polite to a witch—and walk home.
The next day, I bring her a muffin from the school bake sale and tell her about the batch of brownies that Ellen Stauch tried to sell, even though they were made with salt instead of sugar and tasted worse than anything I’d ever eaten in my life. She tells me her name is Milly-Jane, which I think is a terrible name for a witch, but I don’t say so, because maybe she’s self-conscious about not having a really good witchy name.
After that, I meet her at her gate almost every day after school. I bring her lots of things, like thistles or ugly plants that I think a witch might like or river rocks that are extra smooth. Once, I even brought her a toad I found, and she seemed to like that more than anything else. I give her the gift and tell her about the pop-quiz at school, or about being chosen last for the baseball team and still hitting that home run, or about the white mouse I want to buy when I’m old enough. Sometimes she lets me into her garden, and I help her pull weeds or pick up sticks so she can mow her grass, and she gives me a cookie and some lemonade that she made in an ordinary kitchen, without any spells.
Witches, I’m told, are very difficult to fool, but I’ve fooled mine. I’m not afraid to walk past her house anymore, because I know she won’t try to boil me up in her kettle or turn me into a toad for her garden. If she did, who would bring her interesting treasures for her window sills, or tell her about baseball and bake sales and the girl at school who I’m pretty certain is actually a vampire?
No one, that’s who. So I guess I’m pretty safe.