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By Ellen Klages
Tachyon Publications Copyright © 2017 Ellen Klages
All rights reserved.
The Education of a Witch
Lizzy is an untidy, intelligent child. Her dark hair resists combs, framing her face like thistles. Her clothes do not stay clean or tucked in or pressed. Some days, they do not stay on. Her arms and face are nut-brown, her bare legs sturdy and grimy.
She intends to be a good girl, but shrubs and sheds and unlocked cupboards beckon. In photographs, her eyes sparkle with unspent mischief; the corner of her mouth quirks in a grin. She is energy that cannot abide fences. When she sleeps, her mother smooths a hand over her cheek, in affection and relief.
Before she met the witch, Lizzy was an only child.
The world outside her bedroom is an ordinary suburb. But the stories in the books her mother reads to her, and the ones she is learning to read herself, are full of fairies and witches and magic.
She knows they are only stories, but after the lights are out, she lies awake, wondering about the parts that are real. She was named after a princess, Elizabeth, who became the queen of England. Her father has been there, on a plane. He says that a man's house is his castle, and when he brings her mother flowers, she smiles and proclaims, "You're a prince, Jack Breyer." Under the sink — where she is not supposed to look — many of the cans say M-A-G-IC in big letters. She watches very carefully when her mother sprinkles the powders onto the counter, but has not seen sparkles or a wand. Not yet.
Lizzy sits on the grass in the backyard, in the shade of the very big tree. Her arms are all over sweaty and have made damp, soft places on the newsprint page of her coloring book. The burntumber crayon lies on the asphalt driveway, its point melted to a puddle. It was not her favorite. That is purple, worn down to a little stub, almost too small to hold.
On the patio, a few feet away, her parents sit having drinks. The ice cubes clink like marbles against the glass. Her father has loosened his tie, rolled up the sleeves of his white go-to-theoffice shirt. He opens the evening paper with a crackle.
Her mother sighs. "I wish this baby would hurry up. I don't think I can take another month in this heat. It's only the end of June."
"Can't rush Mother Nature." More crackle, more clinks. "But I can open the windows upstairs. There's a Rock Hudson movie at the drive-in. Should be cool enough to sleep when we get back."
"Oh, that would be lovely! But, what about —" She drops her voice to a whisper. "Iz-ee-lay? It's too late to call the sitter."
Lizzy pays more attention. She does not know what language that is, but she knows her name in most of the secret ways her parents talk.
"Put her in her jammies, throw the quilt in the back of the station wagon, and we'll take her along."
"I don't know. Dr. Spock says movies can be very frightening at her age. We know it's make-believe, but —"
"The first show is just a cartoon, one of those Disney things." He looks back at the paper. "Sleeping Beauty."
"Really? Well, in that case; she loves fairy tales."
Jammies are for after dark, and always in the house. It is confusing, but exciting. Lizzy sits on the front seat, between her parents, her legs straight out in front of her. She can feel the warm vinyl through thin cotton. They drive down Main Street, past the Shell station — S-H-E-L-L — past the dry cleaners that give free cardboard with her father's shirts, past the Methodist church where she goes to Nursery School.
After that, she does not know where they are. Farther than she has ever been on this street. Behind the car, the sun is setting, and even the light looks strange, glowing on the glass and bricks of buildings that have not been in her world before. They drive so far that it is country, flat fields and woods so thick they are all shadow. On either side of her, the windows are rolled down, and the air that moves across her face is soft and smells like grass and barbecue. When they stop at a light, she hears crickets and sees a rising glimmer in the weeds beside the pavement. Lightning bugs.
At the Sky View Drive-In they turn and join a line of cars that creep toward a lighted hut. The wheels bump and clatter over the gravel with each slow rotation. The sky is a pale blue wash now, streaks of red above the dark broccoli of the trees. Beyond the hut where her father pays is a parking lot full of cars and honking and people talking louder than they do indoors.
Her father pulls into a space and turns the engine off. Lizzy wiggles over, ready to get out. Her mother puts a hand on her arm. "We're going to sit right here in the car and watch the movie." She points out the windshield to an enormous white wall. "It'll be dark in just a few minutes, and that's where they'll show the pictures."
"The sound comes out of this." Her father rolls the window halfway up and hangs a big silver box on the edge of the glass. The box squawks with a sharp, loud sound that makes Lizzy put her hands over her ears. Her father turns a knob, and the squawk turns into a man's voice that says "... concession stand right now!" Then there is cartoon music.
"Look, Lizzy." Her mother points again, and where there had been a white wall a minute before is now the biggest Mickey Mouse she has ever seen. A mouse as big as a house. She giggles.
"Can you see okay?" her father asks.
Lizzy nods, then looks again and shakes her head. "Just his head, not his legs." She smiles. "I could sit on Mommy's lap."
"'Fraid not, honey. No room for you until the baby comes."
It's true. Under her sleeveless plaid smock, her stomach is very big and round and the innie part of her lap is outie. Lizzy doesn't know how the baby got in there, or how it's going to come out, but she hopes that will be soon.
"I thought that might be a problem." Her father gets out and opens the back door. "Scoot behind the wheel for a second."
Lizzy scoots, and he puts the little chair from her bedroom right on the seat of the car. Its white painted legs and wicker seat look very wrong there. But he holds it steady, and when she climbs up and sits down, it feels right. Her feet touch flat on the vinyl, and she can see all of Mickey Mouse.
"Better?" He gets back in and shuts his door.
"Uh-huh." She settles in, then remembers. "Thank you, Daddy."
"What a good girl." Her mother kisses her cheek. That is almost as good as a lap.
Sleeping Beauty is Lizzy's first movie. She is not sure what to expect, but it is a lot like TV, only much bigger, and in color. There is a king and queen and a princess who is going to marry the prince, even though she is just a baby. That happens in fairy tales.
Three fairies come to bring presents for the baby. Not very good ones — just beauty and songs. Lizzy is sure the baby would rather have toys. The fairies are short and fat and wear Easter colors. They have round, smiling faces and look like Mrs. Carmichael, her Sunday School teacher, except with pointy hats.
Suddenly the speaker on the window booms with thunder and roaring winds. Bright lightning makes the color pictures go black-and-white for a minute, and a magnificent figure appears in a whoosh of green flames. She is taller than everyone else, and wears shiny black robes lined with purple.
Lizzy leans forward. "Oooh!"
"Don't be scared." Her mother puts a hand on Lizzy's arm. "It's only a cartoon."
"I'm not." She stares at the screen, her mouth open.
"No, honey. She's the witch," her father says.
Lizzy pays no attention. She is enchanted. Witches in books are old and bent over, with ugly warts. The woman on the screen has a smooth, soothing voice, red, red lips, and sparkling eyes, just like Mommy's, with a curving slender figure, no baby inside.
She watches the story unfold, and clenches her hands in outrage for the witch, Maleficent. If the whole kingdom was invited to the party, how could they leave her out? That is not fair!
Some of this she says a little too out loud, and gets Shhh! from both her parents. Lizzy does not like being shh'd, and her lower lip juts forward in defense. When Maleficent disappears, with more wind and green flames, she sits back in her chair and watches to see what will happen next.
Not much. It is just the fairies, and if they want the baby princess, they have to give up magic. Lizzy does not think this is a good trade. All they do is have tea, and call each other "dear," and talk about flowers and cooking and cleaning. Lizzy's chin drops, her hands lie limp in her lap, her breathing slows.
"She's out," her father whispers. "I'll tuck her into the back."
"No," Lizzy says. It is a soft, sleepy no, but very clear. A few minutes later, she hears the music change from sugarsweet to pay-attention-now, and she opens her eyes all the way. Maleficent is back. Her long slender fingers are a pale green, like cream of grass, tipped with bright red nails.
"Her hands are pretty, like yours, Mommy," Lizzy says. It is a nice thing to say, a compliment. She waits for her mother to pat her arm, or kiss her cheek, but hears only a soft pfft of surprise.
For the rest of the movie, Lizzy is wide, wide awake, bouncing in her chair. Maleficent has her own castle, her own mountain! She can turn into a dragon, purple and black, breathing green fire! She fights off the prince, who wants to hurt her. She forces him to the edge of a cliff and then she —
A tear rolls down Lizzy's cheek, then another, and a loud sniffle that lets all the tears loose.
"Oh, Lizzy-Lou. That was a little too scary, huh?" Her mother wipes her face with a tissue. "But there's a happy ending."
"Not. Happy." Lizzy says between sobs.
"He killed her."
"No, no. Look. She's not dead. Just sleeping. Then he kisses her, and they live happily ever after."
"Noooo," Lizzy wails. "Not her. Melficent!" They do not stay for Rock Hudson.
"Lizzy? Put your shoes back on," her mother says.
Her father looks up over Field and Stream.
"Where are you two off to?"
"Town and Country. I'm taking Lizzy to the T-O-Y S-TO-R-E."
"Why? Her birthday's not for months."
"I know. But everyone's going to bring presents for the baby, and Dr. Spock says that it's important for her to have a little something too. So she doesn't feel left out."
"I suppose." He shrugs and reaches for his pipe.
When her mother stops the car right in front of Kiddie Korner, Lizzy is so excited she can barely sit still. It is where Christmas happens. It is the most special place she knows.
"You can pick out a toy for yourself," her mother says when they are inside. "Whatever tickles your fancy."
Lizzy is not sure what part of her is a fancy, but she nods and looks around. Kiddie Korner smells like cardboard and rubber and dreams. Aisle after aisle of dolls and trucks, balls and blocks, games and guns. The first thing she sees is Play-Doh. It is fun to roll into snakes, and it tastes salty. But it is too ordinary for a fancy.
She looks at stuffed animals, at a doll named Barbie who is not a baby but a grown-up lady, at a puzzle of all the United States. Then she sees a Sleeping Beauty coloring book. She opens it to see what pictures it has.
"What fun! Shall we get that one?"
It is too soon to pick. There is a lot more store. Lizzy puts it back on the rack and turns a corner. Sleeping Beauty is everywhere. A Little Golden Book, a packet of View-Master reels, a set of to-cut-out paper dolls, a lunchbox. She stops and considers each one. It is hard to choose. Beside her, she hears an impatient puff from her mother, and knows she is running out of time.
She is about to go back and get the coloring book when she sees a shelf of bright yellow boxes. Each of them says P-U-P-P-E-T in large letters.
"Puppets!" she says, and runs over to them.
"Oh, look at those! Which one shall we get? How about the princess? Isn't she pretty!"
Lizzy does not answer. She is busy looking from one box to the next, at the molded vinyl faces that peer out through cellophane windows. Princess, princess, princess. Prince. King. Fairy, fairy, prince, fairy, princess — and then, at the end of the row, she sees the one that she has not quite known she was looking for. Maleficent!
The green face smiles down at her like a long-lost friend.
"That one!" Lizzy is not tall enough to grab the box; she points as hard as she can, stretching her arm so much it pulls her shoulder.
Her mother's hand reaches out, then stops in mid-air. "Oh." She frowns. "Are you sure? Look, here's Flora, and Fauna, and —" She pauses. "Who's the other one?"
"Merryweather," Lizzy says. "But I want her!" She points again to Maleficent.
"Hmm. Tell you what. I'll get you all three fairies."
That is tempting. But Lizzy knows what she wants now, and she knows how to get it. She does not yell or throw a tantrum. She shakes her head slowly and makes her eyes very sad, then looks up at her mother and says, in her quiet voice, "No thank you, Mommy."
After a moment, her mother sighs. "Oh, all right," she says, and reaches for the witch.
Lizzy opens the box as soon as they get in the car. The soft vinyl head of the puppet is perfect — smiling red lips, yellow eyes, curving black horns. Just as she remembers. Beneath the pale green chin is a red ribbon, tied in a bow. She cannot see anything more, because there is cardboard.
It takes her a minute to tug that out, and then the witch is free. Lizzy stares. She expected flowing purple and black robes, but Maleficent's cotton body is a red plaid mitten with a place for a thumb on each side.
Maybe the black robes are just for dress-up. Maybe this is her bathrobe. Lizzy thinks for a few minutes, and decides that is true. Plaid is what Maleficent wears when she's at home, in her castle, reading the paper and having coffee. It is more comfortable than her work clothes.
On Saturday, Lizzy and her mother go to Granny Atkinson's house on the other side of town. The women talk about baby clothes and doctor things, and Lizzy sits on the couch and plays with her sneaker laces. Granny gets out a big brown book, and shows her a picture of a fat baby in a snowsuit. Mommy says she was that baby, a long time ago, but Lizzy does not think that could be true. Granny laughs and after lunch teaches Lizzy to play gin rummy and lets her have two root beers because it is so hot.
When they pull into their own driveway, late in the afternoon, Lizzy's mother says, "There's a big surprise upstairs!" Her eyes twinkle, like she can hardly wait.
Lizzy can't wait either. She runs in the front door and up to her room, which has yellow walls and a window that looks out onto the driveway so she can see when Daddy comes home. She has slept there her whole life. When she got up that morning, she made most of her bed and put Maleficent on the pillow to guard while she was at Granny's.
When she reaches the doorway, Lizzy stops and stares. Maleficent is gone. Her bed is gone. Her dresser with Bo Peep and her bookcase and her toy chest and her chair. All gone.
"Surprise!" her father says. He is standing in front of another room, across the hall, where people sleep when they are guests. "Come and see."
Lizzy comes and sees blue walls and brown heavy curtains. Her bed is next to a big dark wood dresser with a mirror too high for her to look into. Bo Peep is dwarfed beside it, and looks as lost as her sheep. The toy chest is under a window, Maleficent folded on top.
"Well, what do you think?" Her father mops his face with a bandana and tucks it between his blue jeans and his white t-shirt.
"I liked my room," Lizzy says.
"That's where the baby's going to sleep, now." Her mother gives her a one-arm hug around the shoulders. "You get a big-girl room." She looks around. "We will have to get new curtains. You can help me pick them out. Won't that be fun?"
"Not really." Lizzy stands very still in the room that is not her room. Nothing is hers anymore.
"Well, I'll let you get settled in," her father says in his glad-to-meet-you voice, "and get the grill started." He ruffles his hand on Lizzy's hair. "Hot dogs tonight, just for you."
Lizzy tries to smile, because they are her favorite food, but only part of her mouth goes along. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages. Copyright © 2017 Ellen Klages. Excerpted by permission of Tachyon Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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