E is for Enchanted
by Natasha Witmer
Jay C. stepped out of the kitchen door and paused on the concrete slab step to take stock of his pockets. He found the usual. A pocket knife, a small coil of sturdy string, several unwrapped paper clips, a bleach spotted handkerchief, the remains of a biscuit, and crumpled paper. Jay C. was content.
He turned his attention to the plate of apple cake Gram had thoughtfully provided him that just now reposed by his side. Jay C. approved of baking as the original business of life. Jay C. knew and guarded all that went into chocolate chip cookies, apple cake, and blueberry muffins. Gram tolerated his interests from a sense that it was not fitting to withhold delights from a child who had lost both parents. Picking up the partially eaten apple cake, Jay C. trotted out to the playhouse.
He had known that it was odd to not have parents as long as he could remember, but since he rarely encountered other children of his age, he did not understand that he felt this absence. Instead, Jay C. took a studied interest in his own ideas of “mother.” Things that belonged only to Jay C., like the strong-smelling sliver of sandalwood soap that he kept in his drawer of treasures, a dried tulip bulb, and the puffy berried muffins, filled him with a sense of maternal presence. Once, he discovered a bit of green ribbon caught between boards at the back wall of his playhouse. With this he tied a bit of soft rag and hung it from one of his four bed posters. The rag, recently descended from the rank of tea towel, revealed a faded “e”.
Jay C. knew that E belonged to elephant and electric. He also once heard Gram refer to a friend of hers as Evelyn. Because the real Evelyn had not appeared to destroy the sound of her name with her fat hands and prodding inquiries into his personal affairs, Jay C. bestowed the name on his favorite thing. Evelyn was an elegant female with a perfectly scalloped shell and wrinkled neck and the most understanding eyes Jay C. had yet seen in flesh. The turtle made her usual slow passage of the playhouse where Jay C. lay, eyeing a clump of ferns. As she passed into his sideways view she paused and turned her head.
Jay C regarded her gravely.
He recognized Evelyn’s silence as the silence of a vow and not of dumbness.
Evelyn’s head dipped ever so slightly, Jay C. felt that this was within the bounds of her vow, and she returned the look before making her ponderous way toward the next-door vicarage. Evelyn was not like other turtles. On one of her pilgrimages toward the church she startled the parish priest who was heading for the same destination with a basin of holy water. Attempting to avoid Evelyn, he stumbled against the edge of the stone wall. A thin sheet of water slid over the edge of the basin and, catching the sunlight like so many glass shards, shattered its blessing over Evelyn. Jay C. knew this about Evelyn through their silent exchanges.
At that moment the kitchen door swung outward, and Gram’s deep tones preceded her person by several seconds. A woman followed her up the concrete walkway toward the garden and Jay C.’s haven. Jay C. sat up, alert. Real women, other than Gram, made him uneasy. They were objects of magnetic attraction to be looked at carefully around a concealing doorframe. None of them seemed like mothers to him. Jay C. was content with the ribbon, the replenishing muffins, and Evelyn.
“My herbs are over this way,” Gram said to the woman.
Eva Thomas moved her tall person easily by the side of Dorothy Clark’s heavier gait. Her day was turning out well and she already anticipated an hour or so of free time. She only wanted some of Dorothy’s herbs to complete her errands. Eva, not quite pretty, was characterized by a restless enthusiasm that found expression in continual movements. In her current state of pleasure the smile that she directed at Jay C. held unusual warmth.
Jay C. froze. No one else could have noticed this because he was already sitting perfectly still. He stared stolidly into Eva’s smile. Puzzled by the lack of response, but also amused, Eva turned toward Dorothy.
“I’m mainly here for sage and rosemary,” Eva said. The undulations of her voice broke over Jay C.’s stillness. Gram nodded and moved toward the rosemary as Jay C. spoke.
“I have an apple cake.”
The women turned. Jay C. had risen and stood clutching the blue plate with its painted circle of sheep. His left palm covered the only chipped part. The apple cake was not as tall as it had been when Gram had bestowed it on him, but what was left was fat and oozy still. Eva smiled again.
“Yes, it looks like a nice cake.”
“You can have some.” Jay C.’s fingers were turning white at the knuckles.
Eva hesitated, both from an uncertainty about the state of the cake and confusion about the child.
Gram said, “that child.”
Eva thought she understood something. Tucking her hand purse under one elbow she folded herself to be level with Jay C.
“I’d like some cake, please.”
Jay C. handed her the plate, aching all over. Eva ate the fat chunk of cake that remained in four quick bites and licked her fingers daintily. He had seen a cat perform a similar function once. He took back the blue sheep plate reflexively. Eva slid herself upright and, knocking a crumb from the corner of her mouth, left Jay C. in the afterglow of a third smile. The two women settled something about the herbs and turned back toward the house. The pad of Gram’s slippers added a soft scuffing to the hard click of Eva’s red heels.
Scccfff. Scccfff. Click. Scccfff. Click. Scccfff. Sccffff. Click. Scccfff. Click.
Jay C. placed the blue sheep plate with its one chip and now consecrated crumbs onto the playhouse shelf next to a smooth rock found the day before and followed the women slowly. As he reached the kitchen screen door, he paused to hear the conversation and decide if he should enter.
“Jay C.’s a funny child.” Gram was saying. “I can’t make sense out of his remarks half the time. And he always goes about collecting the strangest things. I’ve half a mind to have him examined by the pediatrician next time I get over that way. They tell me that testing is all the thing now. Find out young and resign yourself.”
“He struck me as a bit odd,” admitted Eva, “I couldn’t quite decide what to do about the cake.”
“There was no need for you to eat it, just to please him,” rumbled Gram. “But no harm done. I suppose you’ve got as much as you want?”
“Yes, this is about as much as I’ll use. I’ll be around again in a month or two.” The click of her heels retreating toward the front door blurred with Gram’s reply.
Jay C. remained at the door, heavy with shame. His small soul shrank with embarrassment from being casually discussed by a being that he had extended friendship too. Flushing, as the sensation settled further into his stomach, he turned blindly back toward the playhouse refuge. He would find Evelyn.
The sound of tires rolling over gravel came from the driveway and then something that barely registered as a crunch. Jay C. halted. The car turned onto the main road and picked up speed.
Evelyn lay in a mangle of shell and flesh. Her eyes reflected the vicarage and the sky above it.
In the playhouse, Jay C. muffled sobs in his arms that were folded about the blue plate. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by two.
Natasha burrows through books, art and music and is sometimes inspired to return thanks by her own small contribution.