Your Grief Has Taken the Form of a Witch!

by Mallory Ortberg

Your grief has taken the form of a witch!

It is less correct to say that she appears than it is to say you are brought into sudden awareness of her presence. You become conscious of the fact that as a host you possess particular duties toward her.

“Hello,” you say.

Hello, she says, and her voice bumbles through the open spaces of your head and lungs. Hello, hello. She has the warmth and heft of a hummingbird as she rests nervously below your throat. It is possible that if you hold completely and entirely still — if you do not move with her movements — she will collect her loose and unformed selves up into a bundle and leave.

“Hello,” you say again.

She flutters and presses against the soft corners of your eyes, then stops moving. She says nothing. You wonder if she is tired.

I don’t know you, she says. You’re a stranger to me. Yes?

“Mostly. To you, yes,” you say.

Then I don’t know anyone here, she says. Nobody knows my name here and I don’t know you at all.

“I could learn your name.”

Are you real? she asks.

Who can answer a question like that intelligently? “Yes.”

Real like I’m real, or in the other way?

She doesn’t wait for you to answer but takes flight from her resting place. She moves. Wherever she travels within you, she burrows, demolishing the core of any red kidney or vertebrate she enters.

I don’t like it here, she says (she is not yet much of a witch, but she is learning). Her voice is thick and you hear the suggestion of stones in it. I liked it where I was before.

“I’m sorry,” you say, and you realize that she has just this minute grown eyes. She opens all of them.

Ahh, she says, and now she is beginning to notice you.

I’ll need to leave soon. I’ll need to take stock. I’ll need to figure out the state of things. I can’t stay here, you know. I can’t possibly.

Your stomach shrinks to the size of a silver dollar as she tapers over it.

No, I don’t like you, she decides. You have poor powers — only kitchen spells — and it isn’t clean in here, your hands are dirty and nothing here is clean. I’ll be lonely here. You can’t make me stay.

It seems as useless now to apologize as it would to ask her to leave. You are crying, of course, as she gorges and grows and totters into thicker substance. She hides herself within your pocket now and grips your leg fiercely in four points. The skin where she pricks you seeps and puckers.

You’ll have to carry me around, she chortles, and you can see how much the idea pleases her. I wouldn’t go back in there for anything. You’ll carry me here.

All of her eyes are gray and also her cheek, which is wattled and high.

And I’ll remember how you treat me, she says in a merry burble as you haul her stiff-leggedly about (she is not a great witch yet, but there are no restrictions on her now). I’ll build a tower for you and you’ll live in it. I’ll see you live in it.

You do not speak to her, the aching clot glommed onto your leg. You walk. Other people — less clear, less foot-heavy than you and your witch — blur in and out, walking quickly toward and then away from you.

If I’d come to you sooner, she says one day, I wouldn’t have taken it as hard. If I’d been younger. Less ugly.

She could go back to where she was before, you suggest. Where she had liked it.

It’s not there now. She grows warm against your skin. Where else. Where else.

You can think of nowhere, of course.

She scuttles forth from your pocket, now the size and density of a rabbit, but she moves like nothing else. The shape of your loss is compact and agile — she slinks and blurs from your sight almost as soon as you can fix your eyes upon her.

She is building you a place to live, she tells you.

Mallory Ortberg is a writer in the Bay Area. Her work has also appeared on Slacktory and Ecosalon.