by Caitlin Leong
Art by Chloe Kim
Issue: Aphelion (Spring 2016)
He rips the leaves off the ivy snaking through the ground, clawing a handful at a time. “I thought these were poisonous,” he says.
“Only to certain people,” I say. “Have you finished?”
“Yeah.” His fingers are covered in dirt as he pushes the last of the ivy into the tangled pile. “Are you sure this is all you need?”
“I promise. Break the roots off and let’s go.”
He reaches for the roots and begins shoving them in the bag.
“Careful,” I say sharply. “You’re going to crush them.”
He nods wordlessly, then finishes gathering them, seals the bag, and offers it to me. I cringe away from him. “You carry it. We can go straight to the market.”
The bell tinkles softly as I enter. This would be the most inconspicuous place in this town, wedged between the two most popular stores. The one to the left sells wind chimes, and the one to the right sells glass-blown flowers.
As if this place wasn’t strange enough. This isn’t the only road you’ll find that sells items related to witchcraft.
The lady behind the counter shuts her book as we enter. I shake my head to clear my thoughts. Andromeda, I mean. That was her name. The sash around her waist ripples in the dim lighting as she gets off the stool. It’s emblazoned with the store’s logo, a pentagram, with the edges of it barely brushing the circle it’s encased in.
I pull my coat tighter around me as I stalk up to the counter. I gesture for him to follow.
“Here’s the ivy I promised,” I say.
She holds out her hand for the bag, and he hands it over after a short nod from me.
“Looks good,” she says. “Come in the back for a moment.”
He moves to follow me, but Andromeda gives him a look. As I go with her, I exchange a glance with him, and he gives me a short nod.
Nothing is different from my last visit, years ago. The small room is filled with the musky scent of herbs, and jars line the walls, waiting to be weighed out and stuffed into herb packets. There’s one window, but it’s scratched and dirty, so the image of the street in the back is blurred. But through it, I make out the silhouettes of soldiers packing to leave with the new recruits tomorrow.
She pulls on gloves and takes the ivy out, carefully placing the roots into a bowl, then adding pinches of other ingredients. She sets it over the old fireplace in the corner of the room.
Then she turns to me, and we’re face to face. Her gaze seems to soften, and she shuffles from foot to foot. “How’ve you been?”
“Fine,” I say.
Andromeda puts her hand on the wall next to me, and I flinch. “And your family?” Her eyes search my face.
“Are you okay? Or–”
My eyes sting, and I turn away, blinking hard, twice. But I should be grateful we’re still all together, still in the same house in the rich side of town.
I back away from her and out the door. “That’s enough. I have to leave.”
She looks taken aback, but trails me back outside, where he sits, eyes darting between us. Sweat drips from his forehead, down to his tattered clothing, and onto the floor. This place wasn’t for him. He was for the outdoors and running through ivy.
She walks up to the counter and takes out the cash box, counting out the money with a furrowed brow.
I say, “This is nothing but a one-time thing. We’re not coming back.”
She pauses. “Why?”
I just shrug and shove my hands in my pockets.
She pushes the money across the counter.
I don’t touch it. “Can I get an herb pouch with some of that?”
“You mean one of the ivy ones or…?”
“For sweet dreams and good luck. Are you going somewhere?” She draws one out from the glass display case behind her. “I’ll toss the ivy in there for free.”
I just smile. “Thank you.”
She lowers her voice. “You’re lucky you’ve still got him. It’s rare to find someone that is untouched by magic, and still able to gather the ivy.”
I don’t reply, and instead dangle the strings of the herb pouch on my index finger and roll the money together.
“Bye,” she says.
I stumble out the door, glad to be out of the shop. He stays silent beside me the whole way home, and the only sound is his shuffling footsteps. His eyes search the road ahead, and when I stop, he looks at me questioningly.
“Why are we here?” he asks.
It’s his house. He’s usually the one to escort me home, and I can only imagine how I look on his dusty porch, in the poorer part of the town.
I walk forward and push the hand he holds out away, careful not to touch the ivy oil still on his palms. The wad of cash is heavy in my hands as I reach and push it into his front pocket, along with the herb pouch.
It’ll be useful when he has to leave tomorrow to serve in the military.
“Good luck,” I say.