Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Fire’s Legacy
The heavy brass lock sticks. It takes three tries, and I nearly break the key off inside before I finally coax the lock open. The thick wooden door creaks on hinges in desperate need of oil. The lettering on the glass inlay says Emerald’s, but everyone in Blythe Creek knows what this place was for.
It’s musty inside, and a coating of dust layers the weathered wooden floor, glass cases, small round tables covered with jewel-toned fabrics, and the shelves behind the counter filled with dozens of colored glass bottles of liquids and powders. Strands of faux jewels hang from the ceiling in strategic positions; the recessed lighting used to glint off of them, shooting prisms of light around the room, lending it a certain mystique. Now their brilliance is dulled by years of dust.
I never expected to be here again.
After Gran’s funeral last week, a call from her lawyer alerted me that she’d left the apothecary and the adjacent property to me. Gran had closed the door to her shop when she became too ill to continue her life’s work and had checked herself into the local rest home.
I come from a line of powerful witches. As far back as I can trace, each female in our family has been named after a gem. My grandma was Emerald, my mother’s name is Amethyst, and mom named me Sapphire. There’s been an Opaline, Onyx, and Ruby, as well. Mom is dead set against “that witchy shit” but continued the tradition just the same. She left Blythe Creek as soon as she was of legal age. Being brought up in a small town by a witch didn’t increase her popularity at school; others feared or despised her.
Gran’s little shop of spells and tinctures was considered a necessary evil, one the residents studiously ignored until they were in need. They called her sorceress and shunned her in town, but no one dared to make a move against her. She’d saved their lives and the lives of their children many times over the years, yet they would all deny making the trip to Emerald’s and following her instructions to the letter.
Mom raised me three hours away from here. I didn’t meet Gran until the summer I was thirteen and demanded to go for a visit. Before that, I’d spoken to her on the phone, and she’d sent me presents, but Mom refused to step foot anywhere near Blythe Creek. Dad dropped me off, rolling his eyes good-naturedly over my mother’s stubbornness.
I spent a month with Gran, and she told me all about our descendants. When I asked why she stayed here, treated like a pariah, she smiled softly and said, “Someday you will understand, Fire. Your mother turned away from her heritage and ignores the magic all around her every day. It’s sad, my dear.” She leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Yes, it’s sadder than me staying in Blythe Creek where nobody wants me.”
I wondered how she knew what question was on the tip of my outspoken tongue.
Gran stroked my cheek. “People tend to fear and hate what they don’t understand, sweet girl. It’s their fear of what might happen if they dispatch with a witch that ensures I’m safe here. Besides, who would cure their ills? Old Dr. Clausen? Oh my, no.” She tittered with a hand over her mouth, eyes wide with mirth.
That summer, I watched people slink into her shop to ask for spells, favors, or tinctures. There was no bell above the door; Gran always knew when she had a customer coming, even when we were up at the house. She’d say, “Time to go down to the shop, Fire. Someone needs us.”
She was right every time.
I close my eyes; the echo of Gran’s laughter and gentle voice alongside the faint spice of sandalwood surrounds me. Even though the shop closed several years ago, her presence still permeates this space.
Placing my suitcase on the floor, I make my way behind the counter, running my index finger over some of the colorful bottles on the shelves. Each one is meticulously labeled with the contents: Absinthe, Alfalfa, Cat’s Claw, Cinnamon, Devil’s Claw, Hawthorne, on down through Wormwood, Yarrow, and Yucca.
Guilt sizzles through me when I consider how easily I forgot about Blythe Creek and my heritage once I was back in the city and my mom started in on “that old bat and her foolishness.” School started, and the magic I’d felt in this place, the excitement that coursed through my veins when Gran would teach me about the herbs and tinctures, evaporated. The wide-eyed way I’d hung on every word she uttered faded into the background buzz of a teen girl’s life.
Cheerleading, girlfriends, shopping, and hanging out.
Dating Hal Martin, losing my virginity in the back seat of his car for our two month anniversary, and crying when the popular quarterback ignored me the following day.
College, pledging for sorority, making more mistakes with guys.
Graduating from college, getting a job, moving into my first apartment.
The list grew longer, and the time I made for Gran grew shorter. Months turned to years, and before I knew it, contact with Gran had been reduced to a holiday card or a five-minute phone call while I was distracted by other things.
She never judged and was always happy to hear from me, even though I didn’t deserve it. The tears I shed at her funeral had less to do with her death and more to do with a burning shame that consumed me from the inside.
When I received the call about Gran, I was well on my way to getting hammered. I’d just been laid off from my job and was wallowing in self-pity at the bottom of a bottle of Zinfandel.
Gran’s lawyer contacted me about the will after the funeral, and I started to roll my eyes before I realized I had no job, nowhere to be. Why not visit the old place, relive a few teen memories, and try to assuage some of my guilt?
I decide to check out the garden before heading up to the main house. Gran grew most of her own herbs here, tending them with love and patience. I shudder to think about the snarl of overgrown vines and weeds that must be fighting for space out back. When I force open the moisture-swollen door, my momentum sends me flailing onto the back porch and I just miss taking a tumble down the stairs.
My jaw drops as I gaze around at the yard.
It’s exactly as I remember. Lush grass surrounds a well-tended garden. In the back corner of the yard is a beautiful ash tree. Its limbs are bare even though it’s spring; Gran told me no leaves have grown on the tree since my mom left Blythe Creek and denounced her heritage.
Who has taken care of the garden and mowed the grass? Beyond the white picket fence, the vegetation is an overgrown tangle, and I realize the only way into this yard is the way I just came—through a door that hasn’t been opened for years.
A sense of giddiness fills me, and I slip my shoes off, dancing across the yard barefoot. The soft grass tickles my toes, coaxing a rare giggle from me. The sun glints off the plants, flowers, and grass, creating a fairytale-like intensity to it all, yet beyond the brilliant white picket fence everything looks overgrown, dreary, or dead.
I race toward the ash tree and a memory niggles at the corner of my mind. Standing before the elegant tree, beautiful despite its bareness, I spy a miniature door in the bottom of its trunk. My mouth drops open, and the memory comes flooding back.
“Fire, this ash tree is special. Someday, you will be ready to receive its magic.” We were standing out by the tree, and Gran was stroking its rough bark with reverence.
“How will I know when? What kind of magic?”
“You’ll know, my dear. Trust me.” She patted me on the hand. “All will be revealed in its own time. You must be ready, Fire, and that means taking responsibility for the magic.”
The memory of Gran’s endearing face brings tears to my eyes as I recall her standing by the tree in her white nightdress with her wild tangle of iron gray hair.
“Oh, Gran,” I whisper, “I’m so sorry I let you down.”
Lowering myself to the ground, I scoot forward on my stomach and contemplate the door in the tree. It reminds me of childhood stories of garden gnomes and fairies. I try to peek inside the tiny window, half-expecting to see magical creatures at work. I reach out and pull the tiny metal handle, but nothing happens. Her words echo in my mind, “That means taking responsibility for the magic.”
Could I agree to that without knowing what it meant for the future? Yes, I thought I could.
Another tug, and the door swings open easily. There’s no visible locking mechanism. Inside the hollowed out tree is a small satchel, a leather-bound journal, and an envelope. I draw out the envelope first, instinctively knowing it’s a letter from Gran.
We all must live in our own time, in our own way. I don’t regret a moment of my life, and I’m not upset with you for living the way a teen and young woman should. How else would you know what you really want? What has true meaning?
If you’re reading this, then I’m dead and you’re of age. I believe you’d be thirty about now, right? If you look at the date of this letter, you will see it was written when you were sixteen.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering about my yard. It’s magic, of course! The grass never grows longer than it should, and the flowers and herbs always produce just enough for my needs and no more. Inside the tree is my medicinal journal and a starter set with all the implements you’ll need to start on your own journey.
Blythe Creek is a tough town, but you’ll do just fine. Best of all, you aren’t destined to be alone like your grandma. When he comes, you’ll recognize him right off. Try not to give him too hard of a time. He’ll bring you and your daughter happiness in my old house. I suppose I could tell you their names, but that would ruin the fun for all of you.
Fire, I love you with all my heart. The road may not be easy, but it will be well worth it.
All my love,
My face is wet with tears. I turned thirty last month, and this tingle deep inside tells me it’s all true. I’m meant to be here.
Gathering together the satchel and Gran’s journal, I head back into the shop to grab my suitcase. I reach the main house in the waning light, and it’s still as imposing and beautiful as ever. Somehow I know everything will be in order when I go inside.
I sit in the rocker on the front porch and smile to myself. The love of my life is due to appear in six months, four days, and nine hours. There’s much to be done before then. Much to learn.
My journey begins now.
Sarah Aisling hails from New Jersey and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and awesomely precocious daughter. She’s currently putting the finishing touches on her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SarahAislingAuthor