About the Author

Ami McKay

Ami McKay was born and raised in Indiana. She moved to Scot’s Bay, Nova Scotia, in 2000. Her first novel, The Birth House, is a Canadian bestseller and was nominated for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She is currently at work on her second novel.

Books by this Author
Daughter of Family G

Daughter of Family G

A Memoir of Cancer Genes, Love and Fate
edition:Hardcover
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Half Spent Was the Night
Excerpt

 
December 29, 1881

Christmas Day has come and gone, the New Year lies ahead. Strange things happen Between the Years, in the days outside of time. Minutes go wild, hours vanish. Idleness becomes a clever thief, stealing the names of the days of the week, muting the steady tick of watches and clocks. These are the hours when angels, ghosts, demons and meddlers ride howling wind and flickering candlelight, keen to stir unguarded hearts and restless minds.

Tonight, the three Witches of New York, swathed in dressing gowns of velvet and silk, are seated on tasseled pillows before a crackling fire.
 
 
They’ve set the business of potions, spells and con­sultations aside, in favour of quiet contemplation. The youngest, Beatrice, touchstone of spirits, is curious and bright-eyed. The eldest, Eleanor, keeper of spells, is watchful, regal and wise. Adelaide, seer of fate, sits between them, ever ready to speak her mind. Bellies full of honey cake and hot cider, they seek comfort, warmth, companionship and glimpses of the future.

Beatrice scores a chestnut with a small knife to prepare it for roasting. “My aunt Lydia always said a cracked nut means ‘yes,’ and one that burns without cracking means ‘no.’” The fire hisses and pops. A spark flies into the air and lands on the hearth where it pulses, then dies. After placing her chestnut in a shallow pan, she sets the pan on the fire and waits for an answer.

Eleanor watches with anticipation. So does Perdu, her raven familiar.

The bird is keen for the sweet roasted meat of the nut. Eleanor, for a morsel of truth. She knows Beatrice is keeping a secret.

A faint yessss sounds before the chestnut squeals and its shell blossoms in an attempt to turn itself inside out.

Eleanor stares at her young apprentice. Is she happy, sad or indifferent at these portents?
Tugging at her braid, Beatrice bites her lip, then smiles when she realizes how closely she’s being watched.

“Pleased?” Adelaide asks, fishing for the truth she knows Eleanor wants to uncover.

Beatrice doesn’t answer. Nor does she meet the eyes of her companions.

Distracted or determined, Eleanor wonders. Which is it?
Neither. The girl is mulling over the answer she’s received. Yes, she thinks, but when? For weeks she’s been ravenous with longing for a stranger she’s only seen in her dreams. It isn’t love, exactly. How could it be? It’s more a relent­less curiosity. She would follow the Stranger any­where. And she has, on many nights, chasing his dark figure through dimly lit corridors and graveyards bathed in moonlight. In the morning she wakes exhausted, wishing she could go back
to sleep, desperate to return to the last place she saw him. Even if she could explain her state to her friends, she wouldn’t. She’s afraid that once she gives voice to her vision, the Stranger will disappear from her mind forever. Whenever she attempts to write an account of her dreams, his voice sounds in her head: Don’t break the spell. It leaves her puzzled, intrigued. Are the fay-folk Eleanor so often speaks of the source of these visions? Or do they come from someplace else? The girl has plied herself with many cups of dream tea, offered countless trinkets made of mother-of-pearl and coloured glass in order to persuade the fickle creatures to bring her answers, all to no avail. How long must I continue the chase? At least now (if the humble chestnut is to be believed), she knows she’s des­tined to meet the Stranger in the flesh. Even if I don’t know the how or why of it.
Picking the chestnut from the pan, she deftly peels the shell from the meat. It’s piping hot but she’s not concerned with getting burned. She’s thinking instead of the Stranger, of how soon she can go to sleep and find him in her dreams.

Holding the fleshy heart of the nut in the palm of her hand until it cools, she offers it to Perdu.

“Who’s a good bird?” the raven coos before snatching the treat in his beak.

“What if yes or no isn’t enough?” Eleanor asks. She wants Beatrice to perform another divi­nation. Maybe then she’ll be able to figure out what’s on the girl’s mind.

“If you need to choose between different situ­ations,” Beatrice replies, “you must name each chestnut according to your choices, then kiss them for luck before putting them into the fire. The order in which they burst is either the order in which you must address the issues or the way in which things will ultimately come to pass.”

“Situations, or suitors?” Adelaide teases. She’s noticed Beatrice growing more preoccupied by the day—moving about like a sleepwalker, twirl­ing her hair with absent-minded vigour. She’s convinced the girl is having a secret affair. She knows the blush of lust when she sees it. Good for her, she thinks. If only Eleanor would stop worry­ing and leave Beatrice to it.

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Jerome

Jerome

The Historical Spectacle
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
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The Birth House

The Birth House

edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

Prologue

My house stands at the edge of the earth. Together, the house and I have held strong against the churning tides of Fundy. Two sisters, stubborn in our bones.

My father, Judah Rare, built this farmhouse in 1917. It was my wedding gift. A strong house for a Rare woman, he said. I was eighteen. He and his five brothers, shipbuilders by trade, raised her worthy from timbers born on my grand­father’s land. Oak for stability and certainty, yellow birch for new life and change, spruce for protection from the world outside. Father was an intuitive carpenter, carrying out his work like holy ritual. His callused hands, veined with pride, had a memory for measure and a knowing of what it takes to withstand the sea.

Strength and a sense of knowing, that’s what you have to have to live in the Bay. Each morning you set your sights on the tasks ahead and hope that when the day is done you’re farther along than when you started. Our little village, perched on the crook of God’s finger, has always been ruled by storm and season. The men did whatever they had to do to get by. They joked with one another in fire-warmed kitchens after sunset, smoking their pipes, someone bringing out a fiddle . . . laughing as they chorused, no matter how rough, we can take it. The seasons were reflected in their faces, and in the movement of their bodies. When it was time for the shad, herring and cod to come in, they were fishermen, dark with tiresome wet from the sea. When the deer began to huddle on the back of the mountain, they became hunters and woodsmen. When spring came, they worked the green-scented earth, planting crops that would keep, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnips. Summer saw their weathered hands building ships and haying fields, and sunsets that ribboned over the water, daring the skies to turn night. The long days were filled with pride and ceremony as mighty sailing ships were launched from the shore. The Lauretta, The Reward, The Nordica, The Bluebird, The Huntley. My father said he’d scour two hundred acres of forest just to find the perfect trees to build a three-masted schooner. Tall yellow birch, gently arched by northwesterly winds, was highly prized. He could spot the keel in a tree’s curve and shadow, the return of the tide set in the grain.

Men wagered their lives with the sea for the honour of these vessels. Each morning they watched for the signs. Red skies in morning, sailors take warning. Each night they looked to the heavens, spotting starry creatures, or the point of a dragon’s tail. They told themselves that these were promises from God, that He would keep the wiry cold fingers of the sea from grabbing at them, from taking their lives. Sometimes men were taken. On those dark days the men who were left behind sat down together and made conversation of every detail, hitching truth to wives’ tales while mending their nets.

As the men bargained with the elements, the women tended to matters at home. They bartered with each other to fill their pantries and clothe their children. Grandmothers, aunts and sisters taught one another to stitch and cook and spin. On Sunday mornings mothers bent their knees between the stalwart pews at the Union Church, praying they would have enough. With hymnals clutched against their breasts, they told the Lord they would be ever faithful if their husbands were spared.

When husbands, fathers and sons were kept out in the fog longer than was safe, the women stood at their windows, holding their lamps, a chorus of lady moons beckoning their lovers back to shore. Waiting, they hushed their children to sleep and listened for the voice of the moon in the crashing waves. In the secret of the night, mothers whispered to their daughters that only the moon could force the waters to submit. It was the moon’s voice that called the men home, her voice that turned the tides of womanhood, her voice that pulled their babies into the light of birth.

My house became the birth house. That’s what the women came to call it, knocking on the door, ripe with child, water breaking on the porch. First-time mothers full of questions, young girls in trouble and seasoned women with a brood already at home. (I called those babies ”toesies,“ because they were more than their mamas could count on their fingers.) They all came to the house, wailing and keening their babies into the world. I wiped their feverish necks with cool, moist cloths, spooned porridge and hot tea into their tired bodies, talked them back from outside of themselves.

Ginny, she had two . . .

Sadie Loomer, she had a girl here.

Precious, she had twins . . . twice.

Celia had six boys, but she was married to my brother Albert . . . Rare men always have boys.

Iris Rose, she had Wrennie . . .

All I ever wanted was to keep them safe.

Part One

Around the year 1760, a ship of Scotch immigrants came to be wrecked on the shores of this place. Although the vessel was lost, her passengers and crew managed to find shelter here. They struggled through the winter – many taking ill, the women losing their children, the men making the difficult journey down North Mountain to the valley below, carrying sacks of potatoes and other goods back to their temporary home, now called Scots Bay.
In the spring, when all who had been stranded chose to make their way to more established communities, the daughter of the ship’s captain, Annie MacIssac, stayed behind. She had fallen in love with a Mi’kmaq man she called Silent Rare.
On the evening of a full moon in June, Silent went out in his canoe to catch the shad that were spawning around the tip of Cape Split. As the night wore on, Annie began to worry that some ill had befallen her love. She looked across the water for signs of him but found nothing. She walked to the cove where they had first met and began to call out to him, promising her heart, her fidelity and a thousand sons to his name. The moon, seeing Annie’s sadness, began to sing, forcing the waves inland, strong and fast, bringing Silent safely back to his lover.
Since that time, every child born from the Rare name has been male, and even now, when the moon is full, you can hear her voice, the voice of the moon, singing the sailors home.
A Rare Family History, 1850

1

Ever since I can remember, people have had more than enough to say about me. As the only daughter in five generations of Rares, most figure I was changed by faeries or not my father’s child. Mother works and prays too hard to have anyone but those with the cruellest of tongues doubt her devotion to my father. When there’s no good explanation for something, people of the Bay find it easier to believe in mermaids and moss babies, to call it witchery and be done with it. Long after the New England Planters’ seed wore the Mi’kmaq out of my family’s blood, I was born with coal black hair, cinnamon skin and a caul over my face. A foretelling. A sign. A gift that supposedly allows me to talk to animals, see people’s deaths and hear the whisperings of spirits. A charm for protection against drowning.

When one of Laird Jessup’s Highland heifers gave birth to a three-legged albino calf, talk followed and people tried to guess what could have made such a creature. In the end, most people blamed me for it. I had witnessed the cow bawling her calf onto the ground. I had been the one who ran to the Jessups’ to tell the young farmer about the strange thing that had happened. Dora talked to ghosts, Dora ate bat soup, Dora slit the Devil’s throat and flew over the chicken coop. My classmates chanted that verse between the slats of the garden gate, along with all the other words their parents taught them not to say. Of course, there are plenty of schoolyard stories about Miss B. too, most of them ending with, if your cat or your baby goes missing, you’ll know where to find the bones. It’s talk like that that’s made us such good friends. Miss B. says she’s glad for gossip. ”It keep folks from comin’ to places they don’t belong.“

Most days I wake up and say a prayer. I want, I wish, I wait for something to happen to me. While I thank God for all good things, I don’t say this verse to Him, or to Jesus or even to Mary. They are far too busy to be worrying about the affairs and wishes of my heart. No, I say my prayer more to the air than anything else, hoping it might catch on the wind and find its way to anything, to something that’s mine. Mother says, a young lady should take care with what she wishes for. I’m beginning to think she’s right.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Virgin Cure
Excerpt

I am Moth, a girl from the lowest part of Chrystie Street, born to a slum-house mystic and the man who broke her heart.
 
My father ran off when I was three years old. He emptied the rent money out of the biscuit tin and took my mother’s only piece of silver—a tarnished sugar bowl she’d found in the rubble of a Third Avenue fire.
 
“Don’t go . . .” Mama would call out in her sleep, begging and pulling at the blanket we shared as if it were the sleeve of my father’s coat. Lying next to her, I’d wish for morning and the hours when she’d go back to hating him. At least then her bitterness would be awake enough to keep her alive.
 
She never held my hand in hers or let me kiss her cheeks. If I asked to sit on her lap, she’d pout and push me away and say, “When you were a baby, I held you until I thought my arms would fall off. Oh, Child, that should be enough.”
 
I didn’t mind. I loved her.
 
I loved the way she’d tie her silk scarf around her head and then bring the ends of it to trail down her neck. I loved how she’d grin, baring her teeth all the way up to the top of her gums when she looked at herself in the mirror, how she’d toss her shawl around her shoulders and run her fingers through the black fringe of it before setting her fortuneteller’s sign in the window for the day. The sign had a pretty, long-fingered hand painted right in the middle, with lines and arrows and words criss-crossing the palm. The Ring of Solomon, The Girdle of Venus. Head, heart, fate, fortune, life. Those were the first words I ever read.
 
It was my father who gave me my name. Mama said it came to him at a place called Pear Tree Corner—“whispered by a tree so old it knew all the secrets of New York.” The apothecary who owned the storefront there told my father that he could ask the tree any question he liked and if he listened hard enough it would answer. My father believed him.
 
“Call the child Moth,” the twisted tree had said, its branches bending low, leaves brushing against my father’s ear. Mama had been there too, round-faced and waddling with me inside her belly, but she didn’t hear it. “It was the strangest, most curious thing,” my father told her. “Like when a pretty girl first tells you she loves you. I swear to God.”
 
Mama said she’d rather call me Ada, after Miss Ada St. Clair, the wealthiest lady she’d ever met, but my father wouldn’t allow it. He didn’t care that Miss St. Clair had a diamond ring for every finger and two pug dogs grunting and panting at her feet. He was sure that going against what the tree had said would bring bad luck.
 
After he left us, Mama tried calling me Ada anyway, but it was too late. I only ever answered to Moth.
 
“Where’s my papa?” I would ask. “Why isn’t he here?”
 
“Wouldn’t I like to know. Maybe you should go and talk to the tree.”
 
“What if I get lost?”
 
“Well, if you do, be sure not to cry about it. There’s wild hogs that run through the city at night, and they’d like nothing better than to eat a scared little girl like you.”
 
My father had thought to put coal in the stove before he walked out the door. Mama held onto that last bit of his kindness until it drove her mad. “Who does such a thing if they don’t mean to come back?” she’d mutter to herself each time she lifted the grate to clean out the ashes.
 
She knew exactly what had happened to him, but it was so common and cruel she didn’t want to believe it. Miss Katie Adams, over on Mott Street, had caught my father’s eye. She was sixteen, childless and mean, with nothing to hold her back. Mrs. Riordan, who lived in the rear tenement, told Mama she’d seen them carrying on together in the alley on more than one occasion.
 
“You’re a liar!” Mama screamed at her, but Mrs. Riordan just shook her head and said, “I’ve nothing to gain from lies.”
 
Standing in front of the girl’s house, Mama yelled up at the windows, “Katie Adams, you whore, give me my husband back!”
 
When Miss Adams’ neighbours complained about all the noise Mama was making, my father came down to quiet her. He kissed her until she cried, but didn’t come home.
 
 “He’s gone for good,” Mrs. Riordan told Mama. “Your man was a first-time man, and that’s just the kind of man who breaks a woman’s heart.”
 
She meant he was only after the firsts of a girl—the first time she smiles at him, their first kiss, the first time he takes her to bed. There was nothing Mama could have done to keep him around. Her first times with him were gone.
 
“God damn Katie Adams . . .” Mama would whisper under her breath whenever something went wrong. Hearing that girl’s name scared me more than when Mama said piss or shit or fuck right to my face.
 
The day my father left was the day the newsboys called out in the streets, “Victory at Shiloh!” They shouted it from every corner as I stood on the stoop watching my father walk away. When he got to the curb, he tipped his hat to me and smiled. There was sugar trailing out of a hole in his pocket where he’d hidden Mama’s silver bowl. It was spilling to the ground at his feet.
 
Some people have grand, important memories of the years when the war was on—like the moment a brother, or lover, or husband returned safe and sound, or the sight of President Lincoln’s funeral hearse being pulled up Broadway by all those beautiful black horses with plumes on their heads.
 
“Victory at Shiloh!” and my father’s smile is all I’ve got.
 
The rooms I shared with Mama were in the middle of a row of four-storey tenements called “the slaughter houses.” There were six of them altogether—three sitting side by side on the street with three more close behind on the back lots. If you lived there, there was every chance you’d die there too. People boiled to death in the summer and froze to death in the winter. They were killed by disease or starvation, by a neighbour’s anger, or by their own hand.
 
Mothers went days without eating so they could afford food for their children. If there was any money left, they put ads in the Evening Star hoping to get their lost husbands back.
 
My Dearest John,
please come home.
We are waiting for you.
 
Searching for Mr. Forrest Lawlor.
Last seen on the corner of Grand and Bowery.
He is the father to four children,
and a coppersmith by trade.
 
Mr. Stephen Knapp, wounded in the war.
I’ll welcome you home with open arms.
Your loving wife, Elizabeth.
 
They stood in the courtyards behind the buildings, pushing stones over the ribs of their washboards and sighing over the men they’d lost. Elbow to elbow they put their wash on the lines that stretched like cat’s cradles over that dark, narrow space.
 
Our back court was especially unlucky, having only three sides instead of four. The main attractions were one leaky pump and the row of five privies that sat across from it. The walls and roof of the outhouses leaned on each other like drunken whores, all tipsy, weeping and foul. Only one of the stall doors would stay shut, while the other four dangled half off their hinges. The landlord’s man, Mr. Cowan, never bothered to fix them and he never bothered to take the trash away either, so all the things people didn’t have a use for anymore got piled up in the court. Rotten scraps, crippled footstools, broken bits of china, a thin, mewling cat with her hungry litter of kittens.
 
The women gossiped and groused while waiting for their turn at the pump, hordes of flies and children crawling all around them. The smallest babes begged to get up to their mama’s teats while the older children made a game picking through boards and bricks, building bridges and stepping-stones over the streams of refuse that cut through the dirt. They’d spend all day that way as their mothers clanged doors open and shut on that little prison.
 
Boys grew into guttersnipes, then pickpockets, then roughs. They roamed the streets living for rare, fist-sized chunks of coal from ash barrels or the sweet hiss of beans running from the burlap bags they wounded with their knives at Tompkins Market. They ran down ladies for handouts and swarmed gentlemen for watches and chains. Kid Yaller, Pie-Eater, Bag o’ Bones, Slobbery Tom, Four-Fingered Nick. Their names were made from body parts and scars, bragging rights and bad luck. Jack the Rake, Paper-Collar Jack, One-Lung Jack, Jack the Oyster, Crazy Jack. They cut their hair short and pinned the ragged ends of their sleeves to their shirts. They left nothing for the shopkeeper’s angry hand to grab hold of, nothing even a nit would desire.
 
Girls sold matches and pins, then flowers and hot corn, and then themselves.

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The Witches of New York
Excerpt

City of Wonders.
In the dusky haze of evening a ruddy-cheeked newsboy strode along Fifth Avenue proclaiming the future. “The great Egyptian obelisk is about to land on our shores! The Brooklyn Bridge set to become the Eighth Wonder of the World! Broadway soon to glow with electric light!” In his wake, a crippled man shuffled, spouting prophecies of his own. “God’s judgement is upon us! The end of the world is nigh!”

New York had become a city of astonishments. Wonders and marvels came so frequent and fast, a day without spec­tacle was cause for concern.

Men involved themselves with the business of making mir­acles. Men in starched collars and suits, men in wool caps and dirty boots. From courtrooms to boardrooms to the news­rooms of Park Row; from dockyards to scaffolds to Mr. Roebling’s Great Bridge—every man to a one had a head full of schemes: to erect a monument to genius, to become a wizard of invention, to discover the unknown. They set their sights on greatness while setting their watches to the drop of the Western Union Time Ball. Their dreams no longer came to them via stardust and angel’s wings, but by tug, train and telegraph. Sleep lost all meaning now that Time was in man’s grasp.

In the building beneath the tower that held the time ball, a mindful order of women sat—side by side, row on row, storey upon storey, one hundred young ladies in all, working round the clock to translate the wishes of men to dots and dashes. Transfixed by the steady click-clack of their task, the ghost of Mr. Samuel Morse hovered near. He’d tried to get to Heaven on numerous occasions, but could never seem to find his way past the tangled canopy of telegraph lines that criss-crossed the skies above Manhattan. What he needed was an angel, or better yet, a witch. Someone to translate the knocks and rappings of his soul, to convey all the things he’d left unsaid. Where could one be found? Were there any left?

In a halo of lamplight near the Western Union Building, a prostitute leaned her aching back against the bricks. Lips rouged, eyes rimmed with charcoal, she was waiting for a man. Puffing on a cigarette she’d begged off a stranger, she blew a steady stream of smoke rings in the air. At the edge of her sight, a shadowy figure in the shape of a fine-dressed gentleman appeared—five feet off the ground, coattails flapping in the breeze. Rubbing her eyes, the girl shook her head, thinking she’d had too much to drink. She swore, hand to God, she’d get off the booze one day, not now, of course, maybe in the spring.

As the ghost dissolved from her view, the girl flicked the stub of her cigarette to the ground and crushed it with the heel of her boot. Hand in her pocket she reached for a trinket she’d been given by her last john. “A lucky rabbit’s foot,” he’d said, “blessed by a bona fide witch.” “Liar,” the girl had com­plained when he’d offered her the charm along with half of what he was supposed to pay. “No, no, no,” the john had insisted. “I tell you, she was real . . . a real witch with a very fine ass.” With that, the girl had grabbed the trinket and sent the john on his way. Something was better than nothing. She needed all the help she could get.

Stroking the soft fur of the rabbit’s foot, the girl thought of all she lacked. She was tired, she needed sleep, but she wanted more booze. When she glanced at the spot where she’d snuffed out the butt, there was a shiny new dime in its place. Picking the coin off the ground, she wondered if maybe the john had been right after all. Maybe the damn foot was lucky. Maybe the witch was real. Maybe her luck had changed because the john had dipped his willy in a witch and then dipped it in her, leaving behind some strange magic. There were worse things she could catch, she guessed.

 
In the shadow of the Great Bridge, a young widow knelt to plead with the river. Just after supper she’d spied something terrible in the soapy murk of her dishwater, a vision she’d seen once before, and she’d just as soon forget. Each time she closed her eyes, it came to her again—a man’s face, bloated and blue, gasping for air. The last time she’d seen it, it’d been her husband’s. This time it was a stranger’s.

“I understand,” the woman said to the river, touching the surface of the water with a finger. “I know how it feels to be slighted.” She also understood that the river required pay­ment from those who wished to cross it. Blood, flesh and bone were what it liked best. The widow didn’t have much of anything to give as an offering—a few pennies, a splash of whiskey, the cheerful tune of an ancient song—but she hoped that if she were gentle, persuasive and kind, the river might change its mind. Was it witchcraft she was plying? She didn’t care so long as it worked. Something had to be done. Something was better than nothing.

 
In the cellar of a modest house on the edge of the Tenderloin, a weary housekeeper lit a candle and said a prayer. Taper in one hand, glass jar in the other, she poured wax around the edge of the jar’s lid to seal it shut. The jar—filled with stale urine, old needles, shards of mirror, brass buttons, bent nails and thirteen drops of blood from her left thumb—was what her wise grandmother had called a “witch’s bottle.” While others might call it humbug, the housekeeper saw the jar and its contents as her last hope to dispel the strange darkness that’d settled in her midst. What else could explain all that’d happened since the master of the house had passed? For weeks she’d been plagued by what she thought was a ghost or, perhaps, a demon, lurking in her room, stealing her sight, shaking her bed, night after night. What did it want? Where had it come from? Why wouldn’t it leave her alone? Prayers, hymns and a desperate stint of almsgiving hadn’t driven it away. She feared the terrible thing wouldn’t rest until it saw her dead. Had she been cursed? Something had to be done. As her grandmother would say, Wo gibt es Hexen, gibt es Geister. Where there are witches there are ghosts.
 
In a quiet corner of a cozy teashop just shy of Madison Square Park, a magnificent raven sat on a perch, preening its feathers. As the bird tugged and fussed at its wing, three women con­versed around a nearby table—one, a lady of considerable wealth, the others a pair of witches, keepers of the bird and the shop. “Can you help?” the lady inquired, worry catching in her throat. “I’m at my wit’s end. Something must be done.”

One witch answered with a confident, “Of course.”
The other humbly replied, “Leave it with us.”

The raven cast an indifferent eye upon them. He’d wit­nessed this sort of thing before—the woman, unable to manage her affairs, needed a witch (or two) to make things right. That was all fine and good, but he was more interested in a faint sound coming from overhead, an enchanting jangle akin to when prisms on a chandelier touch. But how could that be when there was no chandelier to be found in the shop? He was certain unexpected magic was afoot.
Tea was poured, complaints and concerns heard, sympa­thy given. Crystal ball and grimoire consulted. Palms and tea leaves read. How pleased the bird was when he noticed the tray of teacakes in the centre of the table had barely been touched. How pleased the lady was when the witches pre­sented her with a small package tied with red string.
The lady was sure she felt something move within the parcel. A tiny tremor of mystical vibration, perhaps? A sign of things to come? She’d heard rumours from a friend of a friend that these women could work miracles. She prayed it was true. She wanted to believe. Lowering her voice, she said, “You swear this thing has been touched by witchcraft?”

One of the women gave a polite nod and said, “Of course, my dear, of course.”
The other replied with a smile and a shrug. “Call it what you like.”
The raven simply cocked its head. It was all he could do not to laugh.

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