A Short Story By Manelle Oliphant
Goody Alice’s hate began on a sunny day and grew from there. Over the years she’d stoked it with all the anger and resentment she had until it burned like a bonfire, warning others to avoid her at all costs.
She lived in a ramshackle cottage at the edge of town where no one came to visit for fear they’d be turned into a rat, or worse. She spent her time hating herself, her sister Mary Anne, and Yisis. Yisis was a lizard, her familiar, who helped her with her spells. She made revenge spells, and rat spells, but sometimes she got creative and baked a cake. Then she ate it all, and hated herself more.
The day on which this story takes place is also a sunny day. Alice hated sunny days so it made it very easy to take her bonfire of hate and channel it into a new spell. This was her best one yet, and she looked forward to her long-hoped-for revenge on Mary Anne.
She added a few sheep’s eyes and swung the cauldron into the fire. “That should do it. Now we just need to let it boil.”
Yisis scurried up her arm and onto her shoulder. “Very good, very good.”
She flicked his chin with her warty finger, and sat down to wait. She imagined Mary Anne drinking the bubbling brew with delight. If all went as planned Mary Anne’s loving nature would turn upside-down. Then she’d know how it felt to hate and be hated. Alice giggled. This spell would work, unlike her many other attempts.
They heard a small click outside. Yisis crawled up her hat and squinted out the window. “Person approaches!”
Alice growled. Visitors were unwelcome and they knew it. Who would have the gall to come to her house uninvited. She slid off her stool and shuffled to the door. By the door’s frame hung a small leather purse. She grabbed it and held it ready to throw. It was her on-hand spell for turning unwanted guests into rats, frogs, or spiders, and like all of her spells, hate fueled it.
She flung the door wide and glared at the man on her stoop. His body trembled from head to foot. His fist hovered in the air, ready to knock. “A-alice M-marie Cartwright?” His voice rose to an ever higher pitch as he spoke her name.
Alice held her spell at the ready. “Who wants to know?” She would have poofed him right then except she hadn’t been called anything but Goody Alice for over 40 years.
The man held out a sealed letter. The paper flapped about in his shaking hand. “A-a letter has been l-left to you in the will of Mrs. Mary Anne B-brandon.”
Alice’s eyes narrowed. “Mary Anne is dead?”
At her harsh voice the man quavered backward. She could tell he wanted to run but he stood his ground holding out the letter. “I’m j-just the clerk ma’am. I do what I’m t-told.”
Alice glared at him, then at the letter he held out. She recognized her sister’s round handwriting giving the direction to her cottage on the edge of town.
So, Mary Anne was dead. She considered the shaking man for a few seconds more. Turning him into a rat seemed a waste of a spell. She snatched the letter from his hand and slammed the door.
He’d gotten off easy. Ten years before, Goody Alice took great pride in knowing nobody left her yard in human form. Had she become more lenient, or maybe the thrill of watching a face agonize as it turned into some kind of vermin had abated? She wasn’t sure.
Goody Alice stared at the letter in her hands. Her sister’s soft handwriting hadn’t changed over the years. Alice’s handwriting was spiky and hurried. As a girl, she often got scolded for it.
She thought about the last time she’d spoken to Mary Anne.
The sisters sat on their father’s sunny porch reading. Alice listened to Mary Anne’s clear voice, while she fidgeted with her sleeve and wished they were finished.
A man’s voice broke through Mary Anne’s. “You read very well Miss Mary Anne.”
The young women looked up to see the handsome Jeremiah Brandon. Alice’s stomach flopped. She always felt awkward and hopeful around him. Alice and Mary Anne had stayed up many nights talking about Mr. Brandon’s kindness and good looks. Alice hoped the awkwardness would pass as she got to know him better.
Mary Anne, as always, seemed very composed. “What brings you out our way Mr. Brandon?”
Jeremiah smiled at Mary Anne. “I wonder if I could have a private word with you Miss Cartwright.”
Mary Anne smiled back. “Shall we walk a bit?”
They walked together through the gate and down the street. When they came back they were to be married.
Alice’s heart felt like it melted into the ground. She hadn’t realized during their late night talks that Mary Anne meant to steal Brandon for herself. It was the last day she ever talked to her sister.
In her gloomy cottage Alice sat down on her stool, and broke the letter’s seal.
My dear Alice,
If you are reading this letter I am dead. I’ve been sick for some time now, and I want to tell you how much I love you before I go. One regret of my life is that we grew apart. We were so close as children. I loved following you about the yard and playing the wonderful games you made up. You have a talent for imagination, which I never had. I wish you could meet my daughter Patience. She reminds me so much of you. Both of you are bold and fearless, something I have never been. I envy that of you.
I have lived a happy life. I hope you have found happiness on your path.
Your Sister Mary Anne Brandon
Alice’s insides deflated. Mary Anne had died, and not by her hand. Alice wanted her to suffer in life as she had suffered. She wanted her to feel bad for taking Jeremiah for herself. Sure, she’d gotten sick, but it was none of Alice’s doing. She had still been kind and happy her whole life.
She looked at the spell pot boiling over the fire. Little good it would do now. She screamed and kicked the pot. Green liquid sloshed out and fizzed in the fire. A noxious smoke poured into the room. Yisis scurried away to avoid breathing it in.
Alice screamed again. She stomped to the window and threw it open. The smoke floated from the room and wilted the tree branches outside the window. With another grunt she slammed the window shut and stomped back to her stool.
When she had calmed a little Yisis scurried onto her hat. “She did say she envied you.”
Alice jerked her head up to see him. “What?”
Yisis held tight to her hat so he wouldn’t fall off. “She said she envied you.”
Alice grunted again but picked up the letter from where she’d dropped it in her rage. She read it again. Mary Anne had envied her? Their parents often praised Mary Anne for her quiet patience. Alice always felt loud and awkward. Even so, Mary Anne had envied her.
She thought back through the years of failed spells and landed again on that sunny day when her hate began. Her heartbreak had been the spark, which fueled years of schemes for revenge. She found now, in the wake of Mary Anne’s death, the bonfire of hate she’d built up over the years had died down. Her torso felt hollow. What would she fill herself with now?
Yisis judged his mistress’ mood and decided it was safe to speak again. “She also said she loves you.”
Alice thought for a minute. She reached up and stroked Yisis under his chin. “Thank you.”
He didn’t move for a split second, then he leaned into her finger and rubbed his face against it. She looked at him and saw a smile. He’d never smiled before. Of course, she’d never said anything nice to him before.
She looked at the remains of her boiling spell and grimaced. Making that spell, all those spells had been a waste of time. “Yisis, lets clean this up. Today is now a cake-baking day. Maybe, I’ll even share with you.”