The Making of Witches

by Paul McQuade

We started out as little girls —
butter-fingered milkmaids
with eyes of fashioned glass,
dresses our fathers bought 
and our mothers mended,
      their fingers wearing to the bone
      on loom-needles and the endless 
      turn of the wheel. 

At fourteen our mothers took us aside
while our fathers whittled wood
and they told us not to be scared
in hoarse, cracking whispers, 
that filled the shadowed kitchen with
the sound of moth wings
and the smell of sweet camellias. 

Then morning broke.
Our fathers took us in the cart
while our hips bounded on the oak
and we held each other's hands in fear. 
There were no songs like before. 
Our fingernails drew blood;
our bones creaked like old wheels.

All the girls gathered skirts a flurry 
and among them briar-thorned and tangled 
moved wizened women with crone-flesh 
and baskets of flowers.

We thrust our skinny arms into the blossoms:
the snow maidens with their raven-hair pulled white roses, 
while we dragged the nun's' hood of aconitus 
from its slumbering toxicity.  

Then we were taken away
in sackcloth robes the colour of cinders. 

With age we were given gifts
to reward us: burns and cuts,
weary arms exhausted 
by the weight of grimoires, 
tongues flaccid 
and powerless beneath
the spell of incantations: 

they gave us a prince and a mirror
and said, One of these is love,
the other only pain.
This will be your final lesson;
this will be your making.

Owl-faced and gimlet-eyed, 
we wise witches knew 
that the princes would love us
above all others —  
we crimson queens. 

We had forgotten the milk-flesh 
of the snowgirls, 
their bloodied mouths. 

Paul McQuade was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but now lives in Tokyo. The thing he misses most is the rain. His short fiction has most recently appeared in Fractured West and Six Sentences. He has a tattoo of a teacup on his left arm and is currently working on his first novel.

His favourite fruit is the lime because it's sweet and sharp at the same time, and is often found with gin.

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