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Fall 2001, Volume 19.1

Fiction

 

Margaret Karmazin

The WebPhoto of Margaret Karmazin.


Margaret Karmazin has a B.S. degree in art education and done graduate work in environmental studies and psychology. Her comment or humor pieces have appeared in Playboy, SageWoman, Infinity, Penn Lines and others. Her short stories have been published in Reader's Break, The Inditer, Short Stories Bimonthly, Slugfest, and others. Her illustrations have appeared in SageWoman, Delaware Valley Magazine, thINK and Nouveau. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she currently lives in northeast Pennsylvania with her husband and cats.

 

As I stand in Jim Winder's kitchen, looking out the window at the dry Arizona landscape, I remember the Web he speaks of and the strands of it that brought us together. Though he is waiting for me outside, I linger to enjoy the view.

For thirteen years, I taught art at Jackson High in Montbleu, Pennsylvania. I was often lonely, with my only brother living two states away and no other family to speak of. He and I were raised as foster children but in different homes and were not especially close. For most of my life, I'd felt like a piece of tumbleweed trained to be a loner whether it was my true nature or not.

Occasionally I'd begin a relationship, excited and flush-faced, but in time it would peter out. Most of the men didn't know about my particular spiritual bent, and those who did laughed it off. I'd begun to accept the fact that most likely I was going to continue to be solitary in more ways than just my practice of Wicca. On weekends this pained me the most, but on Monday mornings back at school with the kids, I almost forgot it.

My friend, Carole, was not a witch but a laid-back, open-minded Methodist. We had lively discussions about reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, and the morality of using magic, especially if it leaned toward the negative. Debates on this last issue were merely hypothetical, since I hadn't yet been tempted in that direction.

On Friday afternoons in my senior class, we often lost formality and delved into life as well as art. My current teacher's pet, Amber, asked me, "Miss Raines, what's that pink crystal you wear on your chain?"

"Rose quartz," I told her. "I wear it to strengthen my heart chakra. Stones work with us to regulate our vibrations."

"Really?" asked Amber. "How can I find out more about this?"

"At the library or on the Internet," I said.

Vanessa, a dark, serious little thing, asked, "What do you believe happens after we die, Miss Raines?" I explained my views on Karma, which set off a debate, and we got very little art done that day.

They asked me if I was a witch, and when I replied that I was, they wanted to know why. I explained it the best way I could. "For most of my growing up, I never felt connected to anything. I lived with different families. Some were churchgoers, others not much of anything. I saw a lot of hypocrisy. They often followed rituals, but they seemed to mean nothing. It's hard to believe in what someone says if it contradicts how they treat you. My closest friend was Nature. The trees, the grass, the wind and rain, they were always there for me. Later, when I learned that people still practice nature religions today, I studied about them; and when I discovered Wicca, I knew it would satisfy my yearnings."

My students listened quietly, then asked more questions.

Later, when I related to Carole how I'd enjoyed the discussion, she warned me, "You know this is a conservative, rural area. The farmers are mostly fundamental Protestants and the transplants from the cities mostly Catholic. I would be careful about planting ideas in their kids' heads if I were you."

For two years I'd been harboring fantasies about the principal, but he'd been married. Now, however, Theo was freshly divorced and fair game. My fantasies speeded up until I got out a red candle and performed a hot little spell. All I wanted was some sexual release. Well…who am I kidding? I really wanted what everyone wants: a devoted partner who adores the ground I walk on and wants to be with me until my body is dust.

Days later, Theo and I were in his office after everyone else went home. One of my students was working late on an art project, and I was giving him a ride home later. My presence in Theo's office was ostensibly for the purpose of discussing my retirement plan, but, really, I wanted to see if my spell was working. It was.

"They say not to mix business and pleasure, Gwen," Theo said, "but I don't have a problem with that. Want to go out to dinner?"

"Sounds good," I replied, and we set the time and place.

At home I took a glass of iced tea out to the patio. It was unseasonably warm for April, something that we who live in damp, cold climates are grateful for when it happens. I lived on the ground floor of a house owned by a retired math teacher in her late sixties. A Rosicrucian, she was open-minded about my practice of the Craft and occasionally sat in on my ceremonies at Beltane or Samhain. It was a pleasure to occasionally have spiritual company.

While I relaxed on her porch swing, deciding whether I should perform another spell to turn Theo mad with lust or just wait and see what happened, a long shadow fell across the cement. Looking up, to my astonishment, I saw a tall, lanky Native American. His long, dark hair hung loose, and his intense black eyes were staring at me as if he knew my very soul.

"Um, hi," I said. "Are you looking for someone?"

He stepped forward and extended a large hand. "I'm Jim Winder, Maryann's brother, visiting from Arizona. You're Gwen Raines, right?"

I shook his dry, warm hand. "Yeah, how'd you know?" Stupid question, since Maryann was our next door neighbor.

"Maryann told me I should meet you. She said we have things in common."

"What things?" I asked rather rudely. Then remembering my manners, I asked him to sit down. "Want some iced tea? A beer?"

"No thanks," said Jim. "I just thought I'd hop over the fence and meet this witch Maryann talks about so fondly."

"She knows I'm a witch?"

"Of course," he said matter-of-factly. "She grew up on the reservation. She immediately recognized what you were doing when you laid out a stone circle last summer. It made her happy to see someone respecting the forces of nature here in Pennsylvania. She's often lonely for her old home and ways."

"Are you a shaman or something?" I asked, still in a state of some confusion. I sensed some deep serenity in him.

"Yes," he said simply, standing up. "I'd better get going. Maryann's taking us to the movies. Wants to see Smoke Signals; imagine that. Hopefully, we'll meet again."

"Yes," I said, sitting up straight and trying to look more sociable, but he'd already sprung over the fence.

I could tell he was a spiritual person just by looking at him. Too bad I had this stubborn belief that that kind of thing didn't go with sexy. But why was I even thinking along those lines? He could be married with five kids and would not be staying around long anyway. I had felt something exotic and pleasant from him, like a whiff of fresh, clean air from the desert. The thought, which had come to me many times, again popped into my mind: that I was in the wrong place. Then it was gone like the tenuous thread of a dream. And I stopped wondering about the shaman.

Theo picked me up, and we stopped at his apartment to collect his wallet, which he claimed he'd forgotten, then ended up never leaving. We "ravished" each other, but perhaps that is not entirely accurate. I was so hungry for human touch that I somehow ignored the fact that the sex was less than satisfying.

On hall duty Monday morning, Vera Monteith and Larry Green appeared to be in a deep conversation, one that excluded me. Usually Larry and I joked around, but today he hardly glanced my way. I felt certain they were talking about me.

Later that day, two other normally friendly teachers passed by without a greeting. By 3:10, I had a knot in my stomach. Feeling a need to find out why, as soon as I got home, I dug out my scrying mirror; but before I could get started, the phone rang.

"You've not been forthcoming on your date with Theo," accused Carole. "You slept with him, didn't you?"

Oh Goddess, here it came. "You know it's been ages, Carole, and I'm human."

"He's not for you," replied Carole. "There are rumors about him."

I did not bother to reply. Perhaps she was jealous, not having had a date of her own for over six months.

"Listen," she said. "As the Superintendent's secretary, I hear things. There's been talk behind your back. Some parents have been here to complain about your discussing witchcraft with the students. I warned you, Gwen."

I felt a stab of fear in my stomach. "Well, what can they do? It's a free country. This isn't Salem or the Spanish Inquisition, is it?"

"Those things always seem to exist under the surface," she said. "Just watch out."

Now I really wanted to know what was going on.

It was stifling in the apartment, so I took the mirror outside and sat on a stone bench next to the blooming forsythia. Placing the mirror on my lap, I gently rocked back and forth, a movement that relaxed me. As I stared into the glass, swirling gray clouds crossed its ebony depths, and I felt a peculiar drawing sensation in the center of my head. Suddenly there was a parting in the fog, and for just a microsecond, I saw a skunk.

"Damn!" I said aloud, backing off from the mirror.

From behind me came a deep voice. "See something in there you don't like?"

I almost jumped out of my skin. It was Jim Winder and I was mildly pleased to see him while irritated at his manner of sneaking up on me.

"A skunk," I said, "I saw a skunk. I was just—"

"I know what you were doing," he said.

"You know about scrying?"

"It is a common way of seeing in many cultures," he replied. "So I take it you are not pleased to see this skunk."

"No," I said, looking at him in wonder. "When a skunk shows up in my dreams, it means trouble. I can only assume it means the same thing here."

"It's good to know it is coming then," he said. "It is good that our dreams warn us."

Just as I was about to offer him a seat on the bench, his sister called him from her back door.

"We're going to Syracuse for dinner," he explained. "A long ride, right?"

I nodded, and he left. Then I looked back down at the mirror. It was solid black and remained so, but I knew the skunk lurked in its depths, and I knew that something unpleasant lay in store for me.

Theo and I went out again, but I could not pretend we had a relationship. The truth was, I didn't really like him all that much as a person. I felt lonely with him; for that matter, lonely with the world. Yet, I never ceased to hope that somewhere there was a place for me, and somewhere the right person. I decided to cast another spell, this one more serious.

Since I work alone, I make up my own rituals, sometimes borrowing ideas from books, but mostly doing what feels right. This time I drew a circle on the floor with my ritual knife, imagined it formed of bright light, then placed my element symbols at the four directions. Inside, I set a pink candle rolled in scented oil, rosemary and orange blossom. As I lit it, I concentrated on what I thought was desirable in a relationship, but another idea pushed that out of my mind and replaced it. I saw a friend instead, a brother-in-spirit, someone I could count on. As the flame shot up from the candle, I knew something had been set in motion.

The next morning, Theo called me to his office and coldly told me, "There was a meeting last evening of several parents requesting that you be dismissed. It seems they are up in arms about you, as they put it, poisoning the minds of their children. If anything was said by you of a sexual nature, it is actually possible you could be in trouble."

I was temporarily shocked into silence. "What are you talking about, Theo? I did not discuss anything sexual in my classroom, but since when did that subject become taboo anyway? We only discussed various spiritual subjects. Is that against the law now?" My stomach was again a butterfly-nest of fear.

"Did you not give your views towards abortion?"

"The topic may have been touched upon. We talked about many things."

"If the parents felt you were encouraging sexual license among their children, you could end up losing your job, Gwen."

"I don't understand," I protested. "If I had been spouting off church dogma, that would have been acceptable? What about Muslim dogma? Buddhist? Are some belief systems acceptable and others not? Is it because what I believe is not part of organized religion that I am not permitted to reply honestly about it to students' questions? I'm supposed to lie to my students?"

He didn't look me in the eye. "Look, Gwen, I don't want trouble around here. My job's hard enough as it is. You know the School Board. Fred Rhones is a lay preacher. Sandra Ryan's brother is a priest!"

Suddenly Theo was anything but sexy. I stood up, my face on fire. "You're real supportive, Theo!"

He shrugged. "I suggest you stay home until we see where this is going. And don't make any comments to the press."

"The press?"

"Sandra Ryan's other brother is editor of the Tribune. And I heard they were hiring a lawyer."

"A lawyer?"

"I suggest you get yourself one. Go home and wait until we know what to expect. I don't want a riot in here. Don Mackley can take over your classes."

There seemed to be no air left in my lungs. My knees threatened to buckle as I negotiated the stairs and stumbled out to my car. I imagined that eyes from every window in the school were focused on me. As I drove home, I tried to recollect what had been said during the discussions in that art class. Had the students all run home and reported everything I said? Why would they do that?

And what law was broken if they had?

Carole called from the Superintendent's office. "Get a lawyer, Gwen," she warned. "The boss is really P.O.'d."

I spent the day in hell, locked up inside, sobbing, and not until after dark did I venture out. As before, Jim loomed up in the shadows. "You're in some kind of trouble."

"That's putting it mildly. We don't have the freedoms in this country I thought we did."

"What happened, Gwen?" he asked.

I told him. He was silent and studied my face.

"There are always those who fear what they do not understand," he said. "Over a century ago, they tried to outlaw the Ghost Dance that had spread among the Indians all over the West because it threatened their hold on us, because it gave us personal power. Like our Ghost Dance, your belief system has always threatened those who try to control others. Nothing changes in the hearts of people, Gwen."

"What can I do?" I asked him. Tears welled up in my eyes, though it was amazing there were any left in my body.

"Maybe you need to find out what's really behind this situation. There is probably more than meets the eye."

"And how would I do that?" I asked him, then mentally slapped my forehead.

"I'll leave you to it," Jim said quietly, slipping back into the dark and, presumably, over the fence.

Inside, I laid a black velvet cloth over the coffee table and lit a white candle. "Help me, Mother Goddess," I whispered as I placed my mirror on the cloth. "I want to know."

As I bent over the mirror, I experienced stillness and saw clouds form as a dark bird flew across the image. Expecting a return of the dreaded skunk, I was caught off guard when the mists parted to reveal a woman's face with a long, narrow nose and corona of red hair, one that I immediately recognized. I shot back from the mirror, my heart pounding.

Rushing to the phone, I called Carole. "Tell me every rumor you ever heard about Theo."

"The main one," she replied, "was that he'd been having an affair for several years with Vera Monteith. His wife finally had enough, I guess."

"But Vera's married!" I said, naively.

Carole didn't bother to reply to that. "Well, thanks for the info," I told her and was about to hang up. But something was picking at the back of my mind, like a tiny irritating bell ringing in the distance. "Listen to this," I said, then told her my suspicions.

She sighed. "Unfortunately, it sounds plausible. Vera has this cozy affair going for years, then you come along and legitimately go out with her lover. You already weren't too fond of each other, right?"

I didn't reply to that, I was thinking so hard. "Should I confront her?"

"She'll deny everything."

After I hung up, rage swept over me. There was no concrete proof to back up my conjecture, but in my gut, which I had learned over the years to trust, I knew Vera was partially behind the accusations. Somehow, she had incited the parents against me, perhaps just adding fuel and organization to minor animosity.

My fury grew and flowed through me like a wave of fire and ice until I was in a frenzy. I wanted revenge! If that self-serving bitch was going to ruin my life, then Goddess help me, I would ruin hers! Was I a witch for nothing? If I chose, I could make her get cancer and die! I could cause her pretentious little BMW to swerve off the road and dump her over an embankment with a broken neck! I could, I could…

Where was that little book of black spells? In a frenzy, I racked my memory, then dove under my bed to yank out a cardboard trunk. Tossing out objects, I finally located the green notebook someone had once asked me to hold in my bag at a Samhain festival. Afterwards, I'd not been able to find her to return it, and there was no address inside the cover. Back home, a glance through the pages was enough to see what the book was about, and for some reason, afraid to dispose of it, I'd stashed it in the trunk. Now steely-eyed and clench-jawed, I opened it.

The pages were covered in tiny compact writing, and soon I found what I needed. "How to weaken, disarm and destroy an enemy within three days!" For this I would need four small black candles and one large, fat one, and something she'd touched or used or…

My arms vibrated as if energy was flowing into them from the notebook. My very atoms seemed to be humming with this force, and I imagined I heard whispering in my ears. An irresistible urge to lie down and sleep came over me, but as I was heading towards my bed to do that, a vision appeared in my mind. It was a wolf, and oddly, as if it were a person, I seemed to recognize it.

"All things in the Web vibrate as One," said the wolf. "Your actions will affect the Whole."

Something inside of me snapped, and violently I hurled the notebook across the room. Then, before I could change my mind, I ran outside. I was sweating so hard my arms were shiny, and cold chills ran down my back.

"Something wrong?" called Jim from his sister's yard.

"Help me," I said weakly.

He appeared at my side. "What do you want me to do?"

"Go inside to my bedroom. There's a green notebook on the floor somewhere, probably by the closet. Take it outside and burn it."

Without a word, he did as I asked. I watched him in his sister's yard, building a small fire. He sang some unidentified song as he tore the notebook apart, making sure each page burned to ash, and he did not stop until it was gone. Afterwards, he said, "You made the right choice."

I thanked him and asked, "What is your spirit animal?"

He laughed and howled like a wolf. That was my first inkling that Jim Winder, though spiritual, was a sexy man.

However, sexy men were the last things on my mind. I still hadn't called a lawyer, and Carole phoned to say there was a special school board meeting going at that very moment with me as the top and only topic of interest. It was possible I would be suspended the very next day.

Perhaps I should not have been so hasty to get rid of that notebook? I thrashed in my bed and berated myself for hours, but towards morning, a feeling of peace came over me, and I felt as if invisible beings had wrapped me in a blanket of love. Dimly, I understood that something, somewhere, had turned in my favor.

Theo called at 6:30. "You're damned lucky, Gwen," he said. "The Board has decided to let you off with just a warning this time. You are not to permit any discussion of a philosophical, religious, or remotely sexual nature to occur in your classroom. If students ask you question about these matters, you will tell them they are not up for discussion and to ask their parents at home."

"I see," I replied coldly. I was naturally relieved I was not going to be fired, but by no means satisfied with my mental imprisonment.

"I assume that everyone else in the school is allowed to discuss their religious beliefs any time they choose. Is that correct?"

He paused. "Well, if you attended a church like most everyone else—"

I cut him off. "And I suppose your intimate friend, Vera, is permitted freedom of speech in her classroom."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked.

"Just wondering," I said, my voice insinuating.

He was silent. Finally he muttered, "Well, you can come back to work today." What on earth had I ever seen in him?

"I'm taking the rest of the week off, Theo. Call it sick days because I need time to recover." I hung up, and then it hit me how utterly blissful it was to be free of prosecution, and after that it struck me how things had moved in my favor without the use of negative magic. However, I was still uneasy. I did not know how I could go on if I had to watch everything I said, had to hide my way of relating to the world.

There was only one person who I felt could really understand this, and so I asked Jim over to dinner. First, he graciously received my profuse thanks for the elegant spiritual guidance. "What would have happened if I had done a dark spell?" I asked him.

He swallowed a bite of salad and said, "Maybe nothing. Maybe terrible things. Whatever the case, if you put that energy into the Web, sometime, someday it will return to you with added interest, if not in this life then in some other."

"Does a person just sit there and take things, then?"

"A person can trust the Universe and know that it will work in her best interest if she does not give in to Fear." He smiled, his black eyes dancing.

"Alright, I have remained pure," I said. "But the fact remains that I am left alone in a place where I cannot be myself."

"I have a proposition to make," he said, and I jumped. "No, not that kind," he laughed. "I live on Fort Apache Reservation in eastern Arizona and work in several communities, with my headquarters in Whiteriver. While being a shaman is my vocation, building houses is my profession. I also serve on the school board. The district is in need of an art teacher at the middle school level. Would you be interested in applying?"

I was stunned. But then, suddenly, things seemed to fall into place—the feeling I'd always had that I belonged somewhere else, the tumbleweed that might come to rest.

"I'd live on the reservation?"

"It's a pretty big area, Gwen. Your job would be in Whiteriver and your students mostly Apache. Because of my position, I could get them to take a longer look at your application."

 

Well, I miss Carole, but it feels right to be here. It took me most of the summer to tie up loose ends and move, but now I've got three weeks before school starts to settle into my apartment and be shown around by the shaman. I take one last look out that kitchen window, blow a kiss to the vast blue sky and the wide horizon, then turn and head toward the door to my new life. I feel like I have lived here before, when my hair, like Jim's, was long and black—when my work with the earth, sky, wind and rain was the way things were.

 

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