your birth, it is known, was your first act of witchcraft.
you see, it was an unfortunate affair. your father had hoped for a boy, and his disappointment hung foul in the air. but your mother, with her smile like a summer dream, was bewitched. just by the face of you. her eyes followed the crook of your chin, the wrinkle of your nose, spellbound by the glow of your eyes. and you, howling from the storm in your lungs. surprisingly fierce, face flooded by candlelight. and your mother understood, all at once. she saw you. and so, shaking, she held you tightly to her chest and prayed in a quiet rhythm, a desperate chant lost to the wind.
by seven you were unseemly, for asking so many questions. your mother found you once at night, in light of the full moon, which, it is said, was cursed. eyes full of sin and trying to read the book you had taken with unholy hands. the words were long lines that made no sense, but they tasted like magic on your tongue. i wish to eat it whole you confessed, guilty and trembling. that night you were taught your first incantation during the witching hour, when all the men were fast asleep. and when you grinned, your eyes were ravenous, your laugh wrapped up in the air.
by thirteen you knew spells by way of women. blackberry to calm an upset stomach, sumac to encourage healing. sometimes men would catch you in the forest, hunting wild rose or yarrow or greenbriar for your potions and that was entirely inappropriate, but you did not care for their sharp stares. as it was in nature that your heart would beat with tender ferocity, so full of spirit, beastly. here was where you collected charms, uprooted them. hoarded their secrets in your sleeves. and oh how you would laugh, alone in the forest. the village could hear its echo carried on the wind, all the way down to the river.
by sixteen you had no suitors, which was unbecoming of you. not that you spared a thought for such behaviour. it was widely known you were an unusual girl, who did odd things like disagree and talk back. and you spent so long in that forest. dirt coating your skin, hair untamed. the men of the village knew of your peculiar ways, but they did not have a reason. they would never have thought you were mixing mint and bruising leaves (which, as some could tell you, would help with itching). and that was okay by you, for you knew they would disapprove. women are made for their hips you were reminded, their minds are not built for thinking. that was often followed by an absent chuckle, their amusement washing the idea of it away. still, you preferred to spend your days slipping astragalus root to your neighbour, for you knew how it would help in her old age.
by twenty the women knew you as: helper, woman of herbs. when the men caught wind of your hobby, for surely that is what it was, their mouths foamed, lips curled. witchcraft, they wailed, girl enchanted. even you had to admit, it was certainly unorthodox. a woman has no business being a doctor, they insisted, for who would raise their sons? it was dangerous work surpassing men, as men did not like it at all. and you knew this, of course you did, but it was also dangerous indeed to leave the village women to the mercy of men and their science. for their bodies were a language no man had time to learn. and so you continued with your sorcery, and the men’s wrath was white hot.
when the men condemned you, as men do, they found you in the forest, for it was your home, in a way. you had recently finished preparing a potion of aloe vera for a girl in the village, who had a wound festering on her skin. and you did not shrink under their fists. it was strange of you, to be so pleasant, as it was commonly known that women have a tendency to be so very hysterical. but your mother raised you with a rough hand. and when the men clutched at your skin, you did not fuss, as your fate was settled. they said, devil in your eyes, misfortune on your tongue. and when they tied your limbs and stood aside and set you alight, you felt their temper in the fire. their triumph. they yelled witch and, laughing, you spat with a rage so unfeminine in its power: no, healer. and by morning, your body was ash and you left the world behind.
i have been warned of the witch and her wicked hands, you know. my brother cautions her name at night under a half moon. he says she never really died, that her spirit haunts the village and that sometimes, she likes to eat little girls for being too curious. i hear her by other ways, too. in murmurs, swift and quiet. in wisdom passed to daughters at the witching hour. blackberry to soothe an upset stomach, greenbriar helps with burns. and one time, when the full moon lit my path, i found my way to a friend by the river, feverish with infection no man could cure, for it truly was a nasty cut and her arm was surely gone, and i whispered the secrets my mother had told me and offered a potion of my own.
when i hurried home, all the men were fast asleep, and i swear. in the distance, a laugh on the breeze, loud and delighted.