Wednesday 23 May 2018

Someone, somewhere, is suffering horribly

Marilyn Pemberton 


I stand at the counter, my head hardly above the edge, staring at the man with one eye. Luckily it is not in the centre of his forehead, that would be weird, but where his second eye should be there is just smooth skin. His one eye is black and seems to me to gleam with malice.

“Yes? How may I help you, young lady?” His voice is actually quite pleasant, so perhaps his eye is glinting with merriment instead.

I look down at the piece of paper I have clutched tightly all the way from the house and start to read from the top of the list that she has scrawled: “An owl’s eyeball.”

“Blue or brown?”

I squint at some squiggles, “brown.”

“Any other owl parts, whilst I am there?”

“No, the next one is from a lizard.”

“OK, hang on, that is in a different section.”

He rises silently into the air and hovers about five feet above me, scanning the small wooden drawers that fill the whole wall in front of him. He finds the one he wants, opens it, extracts an eyeball and pops it into a brown paper bag. I find it strange that in this day and age he still writes the label by hand.

“What next?”

“A lizard’s gizzard, and also the tip of the same lizard’s tail.”

“Oho! This sounds like a powerful spell. What’s it for?”

I have to admit that I don’t know; she is not one to share with a mere apprentice. 

I continue down the list: the egg of a phoenix, a cuckoo’s heart, three hairs from the back of a black bear, a pound of sugar and a bottle of Chianti.

The shopkeeper laughs, “She does like her wine doesn’t she? How is she?”

What can I say? She is a crabby old witch, literally, who makes my life a living hell. I hate her with all my being, even though she is my mother. It is easier to lie. “She is well thank you. There is just one last item. A kid’s liver.”

“What sort of kid, hairy or human?

“Human?” I screech. “It must be the hairy kind. ...... Mustn’t it?”

“You don’t know what the spell is for, do you? I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you both and you can bring the unused one back, as long as it is still fresh. There isn’t much call these days for a dried up kid’s liver, whichever the type.”

He disappears for a few minutes then returns with two more labelled brown paper bags, one also with a big black X marked on it.

“The one with the X is the human liver, just to be sure. Hang on and I’ll just make sure all this lot stays cool until you get back.”

He puts everything into one large Co-op bag, waves a hand - wands are so last century - and the contents are soon covered in a thick frost, which will keep everything fresh until I reach home. I am not trusted with money so the shopkeeper puts it all on account. As I leave through the door only a small number of people know exists, he blinks, or maybe he winks, it is hard to tell.

When I get home she is standing at the Aga cooker stirring the contents of a large saucepan with a long wooden spoon. She is wearing a brightly coloured apron, covered in small white ducklings and sweet yellow chicks. I notice she is still wearing her slippers that look like the heads of innocent puppy dogs. Anyone looking through the window would think she is making soup for the family lunch; how wrong they would be!

She glances at me quickly but says nothing, merely beckons. I hand her each of the brown bags, reading out the labels until I come to the last two.

“I didn’t know what you meant by kid’s liver. The man gave me both sorts but I assume you mean the goaty kind?” 

“Of course not! What would I need a young goat’s liver for? Give me the other one!”

She takes the slimy dark-red organ out of the bag and holds it reverently in the palm of her hand. It is so small! I feel the vomit rise in my throat at the thought of where it has come from. I squeeze my eyes shut and try to think of kittens and sandcastles and ice cream until I am sure that I won’t embarrass myself by throwing up. I open my eyes in time to see her putting the final ingredient into the ghastly stew that is now bubbling merrily, emitting a green, noxious fume. She hums tunelessly to herself; here is someone happy in her work.

She then starts to mumble an incantation in a language I have only just started to learn. With a sinking heart I recognise the word “BxƾɝͽѦ" and I know that someone, somewhere, is suffering horribly.

About the author

Buy "The Jewel Garden" now at  or

Member of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists
Member of the Historical Novel Society
Member of the Society of Authors

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