I walked to work. It wasn't some socio-environmental statement but rather more of a cash flow reality. Gas was priced for the middle class, not the poor. I didn't qualify as real poor but was broke nevertheless. Not ready to have a kid for social and food benefits, I was stuck sludging my way in the muck and mire of the streets because I'd rather eat than fill my gas tank this month. The recent rainfall hadn't cleaned the air, just stirred up the piles of crap and added dirt and small rocks to the pathway. My Doc Martins were used and slightly large, so I found every stray stone and my ankles took turns popping in and out.
I was trying to watch my steps when I plowed into the old witch.
"What the hell?" I rubbed my shoulder and glared at the bent over old crone.
"Why don't you watch where you're going?" I hissed.
She cackled and said, "I was. You weren't. You were too busy watching your feet."
She sneered at my footwear. Like hers was any better? The gray haired woman had on pink laced up leather boots. I sneered back.
"Fancy footwear for an old woman."
She smiled, a slight gap in her front two teeth nearly rendering her grin harmless, then said, "Glad you like."
She didn't mean it. I stood there wondering why I was even bothering talking with her. She was like ancient. Sixty if a day.
"Child, you need to learn some humility! One day, goddess willing, you too shall be older. I wouldn't want you to miss out on being wiser!" I kid you not, she pulled out a conductor's baton and waved it in my face while mumbling something about walking a mile in her shoes for an hour in which she picked and destiny would choose. Or some such rhyming muttering.
I laughed and left her waving her wand at my back in the middle of the sidewalk. I picked up my speed because my boss wouldn't care why I was late, she'd just fire me without giving me a chance to explain. There were tons of kids who'd kill to have my position, I was reminded daily. The shop door was unlocked but the hanging sign said closed. I checked my watch I had a full minute to get behind the counter once I clocked in so I hurried up and punched the clock.
"You were nearly late." The shrill voice was nails on the chalkboard. I looked around the shop and saw nothing redeeming to make me show up early. The shop cat was on top a bookcase licking spots only an agile cat can reach. The clothing needed to be tagged in back but that was a never-ending chore since we got shipments daily. With the economic downswing we weren't exactly getting tons of customers busting down the doors to buy overpriced trendy steam punk clothing and accessories that would be out of fashion in six months. Minimum wage with no over time and no health care -- yeah, it was a lovely job.
"Yes, Miss Wanda. Is there something I can do something for you?" The large grandfather clock in the shop began to chime the hour drowning out any reply. When the final sound rang out, I fell to the floor. I felt like my feet had suddenly disappeared and my heart skipped a beat. Miss Wanda was screaming at me and I felt like the world was suddenly a bit blue.
I fumbled to get up and found my hands weren't helping any and my clothes were falling off me. I stepped forward and saw a pile on the floor and my shoes empty. I drifted up and looked down to my boss screaming, "My god, she's just disappeared! Carl, get your scrawny ass out here. Mandy just disappeared before my eyes!"
Carl came out and said, "Wanda, what the hell are you caterwauling about now? Mandy late? Hell, woman, the way you ride that poor girl you are lucky she ever shows up. She's the best salesgirl you've ever hired." He was mumbling and looking around for the cause of all the screaming. He looked at my empty clothes and said, "Ah, fuck, what happened?"
That was a good question. I drifted up and found myself near the ceiling. I shouted, "Hey, I'm here." Neither of them blinked. The store cat still on top of the bookshelf on the other hand, arched her back and hissed with a loud angry sound. She saw me and bolted. My eyes followed her and I instinctively trailed after her. She leaped onto the mirrored armoire and I saw her reflection. What I didn't see was mine. I wasn't in the mirror.
I rethought that old woman and her baton and it dawned on me that maybe she had been a real witch. The cat turned and hissed again, then slunk out of sight. I didn't know what to do. Carl was trying to keep Wanda from calling the police saying, "Geeze, woman. Get a hold of yourself. Put those clothes in the storage room and let's figure this out." She looked stunned and did what Carl asked while I faded further from them.
Drifting through the walls was weird at first. But after the initial oddness I settled in for the feeling. The pull in my stomach and the dizziness soon seemed normal. I went back to where I'd run into that witch and saw a white business card on the spot. It had been dropped there recently because it was still pristine. It hadn't been there when I encountered the old woman. I bent down and read the name and address on the card. I tried to pick it up but found my fingers went right through the paper. I kept repeating the address and drifted over to the street.
Stepping off the curb when the light turned green I was shocked when a car blazed through the intersection and me. I felt the driver's emotions as he flew through me. Men really did think about sex all the time, I concluded, feeling slimed. I drifted more and watched people do odd things when they thought they were unobserved. In this day and age of the Internet and satellite photography, I was amazed.
I walked up the steps of the house and saw the door was slightly open. Knocking didn't do me any good since my hand went right through the door. I went inside. The room was quite lovely if old fashioned. The witch sat by the fireplace petting a rather large dog. The black dog growled softly.
"That you?" She sounded smug. A clock ticked off the hour on the mantle and she rose and turned.
"Yes," I said and was surprised to see her large grin. Just like that I knew that she could see me. Then I looked down and I could see me. All of me.
She tossed me a robe and said, "Well, did you learn anything?"
I was happy to put the robe on and saw my reflection pale and drawn in the mirror on the mantle. I patted my face, happy to feel my skin beneath my hand and looked at her.
"What'd you do to me?"
"Taught you a lesson."
Gulping I said, "Because I bumped into you?"
"Because you sneered at me and judged me less than you. Just 'an old woman' wasn't that what you thought of me? In your way?" She slowly shifted and was stunning. No longer aged or even bent. She was pretty and young. The witch laughed.
"What do you think now?" Her voice was sultry and soft.
"I think I owe you an apology." And I did. The feelings of being barely inside my skin lingered, as did the emotions from the driver. I dropped my head and said, "I am sorry."
I wanted to crawl inside a hole and pull robe over me. The witch said, "Well, keep that memory with you, Child. Live in the sun for a while and come back in the winter. I think you have some potential."
The door opened up without her moving and she waved me out. Stunned, I walked back to the shop with the robe drawn around me like a dress. I held my head high and pretended it was a new fashion statement. I snuck in the backdoor and dressed quickly before going back to the counter. Miss Wanda shrieked when she saw me.
"What are you doing here?"
"Working. I clocked in over an hour ago. I've been in the storage room straightening up the recycling. Why, do you need some help?"
She screamed and ran out yelling for Carl. I flipped the sign in the door to open and went back to dusting. The cat had returned to the top of the bookcase and puffed up when she saw me. I smiled while greeting the first customer of the day, and wondered what the winter would hold.