March 1, 2012
SHORT LONG JOURNEY NORTH #35: July 18, 1946
Tommy Hastings blinked in the darkness and said, “What friend?”
The figure took a step forward, “You know what I mean, kid!”
Tommy stepped back and said, “What do you mean ‘us’? All I see is you there, standing on the beach.”
“I mean all of us! I’m the Witch of Anoka, kid! You’re afraid of me!”
Tommy tipped his head to one side. He’d never heard a witch talk like a regular person. He remembered her playing her guitar there in the amphitheater the morning after they’d left Loring Park. He remembered the mist drifting up cold and clammy from the Mississippi. He also remembered his cousin saying that there were Communists in Duluth. He said, “You’re not a witch.” The figure seemed startled and took a slight step backward. He continued, “And besides sing that weird song in the amphitheater, I ain’t heard you never cast no spell.”
“I hereby cast a spell on your mouth, to make it shut up!”
Tommy laughed. Out of the darkness something must have flown and hit her because she screeched and spun around.
“Good shot, Freddie! Keep shootin’ as long as she keeps shootin’ off her mouth!”
“I ain’t shootin’ off my mouth! I’m a witch and I’m gonna put a curse on…Ouch!” she screamed again.
“I ain’t never heard of no witch who says ‘ain’t’, either. They use spells and stuff that sound creepy. You just sound like my sister, and she ain’t no witch.” He took a step forward. “‘sides, I think you’re just as a afraid of us as we were of you and your communist friends!”
“We aren’t communists! We’re socialists…”
Freddie’s voice came from the darkness, “Same thing – filthy, un-American liars!” Anther rock hit her because she screamed and with a splash, fled into the water and began to run along the beach.
After a moment, the splashing stopped. Freddie came out from his hiding place and whispered, “I heard her trying to sneak up on me so I hid behind that huge hunk of wood.”
“I figured,” he paused then said softer, “But I don’t hear her no more. Where’d you suppose…”
The woman’s voice came from the rocks they’d been hiding in, “I may be a witch, or I might not be, boys; but I am a cunning woman no matter how you look at it. I also have powerful friends who could kill you where you stand if I had a mind to tell them to. And Thomas Charles Hastings, I do know that your mother and father were socialists of the very worst kind – and that had your sister not come along, you might very well have been born in Chile or even Russia. Then you’d REALLY be a Communist now.” The voice paused. Tommy could hear his pulse roaring in his ears. It came from even nearer, softer, more precise, “On your head, child; a curse that will last to your final day and then be cast on your children’s children’s children: that they never settle, never stay, never commit. I leave you to ponder that curse, boy.” The last words seemed to fade into the slow rush of waves on the shore.
Freddie whispered, “She warn’t no witch,” he paused, “Was she?”
Tommy shuddered. He started to speak but his voice cracked, bouncing into the highest register even though he’d now turned fourteen. He swallowed and tried again, “Nah. I ain’t never heard to witch talk that way, either.” He reached out and tugged Freddie’s T-shirt toward the road he knew ran from Duluth into Canada.
Freddie came along with him, silent. Neither boy noticed that Tommy kept hold of Freddie’s T-shirt for a long, long time.