Bewitched, flash fiction by Sholeh Wolpé
You’re strolling through Nick’s Nursery between two rows of roses in gallon-size plastic containers. They have names a child gives invisible ponies: Aloha, Magic Dragon, Ballerina, Hermosa, Bewitched.
Bewitched is in full bloom. Its flowers, pink and buxom, balance above slender emerald stems. You bend, breath in the fragrance of the largest bloom, then run two fingers along its throat lush with fine fuzz. It shivers.
You jump back, adjust your red-rimmed sunglasses, look around. A mockingbird perched high on a pepper tree trills an impressive repertoire of stolen songs; two monarch butterflies flutter over the red geraniums. You reach for the rose again, run your index finger gingerly along her stem. It trembles like a lover kissed after a long absence. Is Nick a warlock and this, his magic garden?
A crow takes off in a clatter.
You make up your mind. Bewitched must be yours. She will ward off the vampires you date, the ghosts that keep rapping on your windows, the midget who lives next door and jumps the fence at night to peer into your bedroom.
You call out to Nick. He sticks his head out from behind the pepper tree, then walks over, limping, his pot belly swaying side to side like a beer-filled balloon.
Nick, you say. This plant is… special, no?
He narrows his eyes and strokes his thick greying mustache, a corner of which is stained with hot sauce. He says, Si, muy bonita. Nice pink.
No, you insist, I mean… really special. You then wink at him.
Ok, he says licking the hot sauce off his mustache.
Here, you say, pointing your finger at Bewitched. Touch her stem.
Nick looks at you as if you’re a popcorn that has just popped right in the middle of his nursery. Still, you’re a paying customer, so he obliges with his calloused fingers, then stands up and stares at you stoically.
Didn’t you feel that? you ask, anxious.
He bends over again, repeats the touch, then laughs.
Si, claro, he says.
You take a deep breath, then say, It shivers, right? Temblar.
Ah! Si, he says smiling and points up.
To Catholics, miracles are almost always the doing of Mother of God. You are so excited you want to dance Egyptian around Bewitched. Nick’s son, José, comes over to see what’s going on. You invite him to touch Bewitched. He does. He too smiles and points up.
La Virgin? You ask.
Chica loca, Nick says to his son, who is now laughing. It suddenly dawns on you that this may be a demonic place. Maybe they water their plants with the blood of virgins, which thankfully, you most definitely are not.
Mira! Look up! says Nick.
They say the devil has many shapes. Here, up high, it was an entwined crisscross of snakes. The moment your eyes register their presence, your ears hear the hum of their hiss, the powerlines’ steady drone behind the musical patchwork of the talented resident mockingbird.
You return your gaze to Nick and José. They’ve stopped laughing. Maybe the eeriness of witnessing a face drain of color has sucked the tickle out of their throats.
After you’ve regained your composure, you ask, I tried the others, but only this one trembles when touched.
Jose picks up the plant, examines its roots and says, Bottom is wet. Do you want it or not?
Sholeh Wolpé was born in Iran and has lived in Trinidad, U.K. and the United States. About her poems, The Poetry Foundation writes, “Wolpé’s concise, unflinching, and often wry free verse explores violence, culture, and gender.” A recipient of the 2014 PEN/Heim, 2013 Midwest Book Award, 2010 Lois Roth Persian Translation prize, among others, her publications include four collections of poetry, a play, three books of translations, and three anthologies. Wolpé ’s modern translation of The Conference of the Birds (W.W. Norton) by the 12th century Iranian mystic poet, Attar, has been hailed by Reza Aslan as “timeless as the masterpiece itself.” Wolpé’s writings have been translated into eleven languages. She is based in Los Angeles. Learn more at www.sholehwolpe.com.