by Tiffany Renee Harmon
a drink of unsweetened tea when you were expecting sweet
We await the dawn. I stand with my sisters, all cloaked in white, staring at the ruins of our ancestors. Slabs of stone encircle us. A henge.
Once, magic lived in this circle. Our grandmothers, many generations past, used this circle to protect themselves, guarantee safe childbirth, heal the earth and themselves. Wars were waged and presented and over time the magic faded.
Some people think the magic never existed and we were merely superstitious. Some believe that unbelief made the magic end. But I know better. The magic dried up. That's what we humans do - we destroy, deplete resources. We're not content with what's just enough. No, we want absolutely everything.
I look at the darkness, a shape is moving near me. 'Claire, is that you?' I speak into the void.
A pale hand reaches out and grabs mine. 'I'm scared, Saskia.'
'It's okay,' I whisper to Claire, 'You'll see, this will all be worth it.'
My quest to restore magic began five years ago when my grandmother Saskia took me on a trip to Mexico. Yes, I'm named after her and she was named after her mother and named her own daughter the same. As long as we can trace back, there's been a Saskia in our family. Each generation brings a new one. In Slavic, our name means 'protector of mankind' and in Danish we are the 'valley of light.' When there was still magic, we were the guardians, but we failed.
Anyway, there we were, standing atop a crumbling grey pyramid when my grandmother breathed deeply and asked, 'Do you smell it?'
I inhaled too, a little unsure, and responded, 'Yeah, it smells like fresh air.'
'No, child,' she chided, amusement in her voice. 'The remnants of magic. All great ruins hide traces of magic.'
I inhaled again and nodded, but in truth, I smelled nothing but the morning dew of the jungle. I was a disappointment to every Saskia that came before me.
After that trip, I'd casually asked my grandmother more questions about her past - about the past. I think she was grateful that I was showing an interest. Mom sure never did.
My mother died when I was 12, but I still remember how she lived her life, desperate to displease her own mother. She refused to work in her mom's apothecary shop citing the moral high-ground of not wanting to swindle tourists with charming charlatanry. No, her life would not revolve around herbs and peasant skirts. She would become something else, something anti-magic. And so she became a bank manager. She wore a pantsuit each day and cut her hair short. She rolled her eyes when her mother invited her to Mabon and other equinox festivals. She even refused to pass out Halloween candy.
When she died suddenly, though, my grandmother mourned privately. Publicly, she allowed for the non-religious, non-magic ceremony Mom would have wanted, but death is as sacred a rite as birth to the Saskias, and I knew my grandmother still chanted and burned herbs to guide her daughter's soul into the next life.
After Mexico, I saw my grandmother differently. She wasn't the eccentric old woman who sold all-natural cold remedied to tourists anymore. She was the key to unlocking everything.
'Saskia, please,' Claire whispered, bringing me out of my reverie. 'How much longer is this going to take?'
I couldn't look at my phone - it was locked safely in my car. My grandmother had always said that modern technology could only work against magic. After all, it was invented by humans as a paltry replacement. I looked at the night sky, searching for the horizon of dawn. 'Not too much longer,' I lied.
Claire and the other girls, all robed in white, were never friends if that was the right word. We'd all met up through the local site I'd started, 'Midland Magic,' as a way to connect with like-minded people, preserve our heritage, and plan the resurgence of magic. Claire was from an extremely repressive religious background that feared magic. Genevieve was a Wiccan driven by love of the environment and horror movies. Sarah was a historian who'd written her dissertation on medieval magic. Of us all, I was the only one with real background. But I welcomed them still, my spiritual sisters, the ones lost without magic in the world.
I'd begged my grandmother to come with us for the ceremony, but she'd declined. 'I'm just too old,' she said. I'd disagreed. Magic was for everyone, but the youngest and most elderly were especially sacred. Still, she'd refused.
Finally, it was time - the moon was full, looming over us with hope. 'It's time,' I announced, sounding far more confident than I felt. We grabbed hands, and formed a circle inside the henge. Slowly, we circled clockwise while chanting our Latin plea for the return of magic, then the Celtic, Sanskrit, and finally English.
I breathed in the air. It was finally real, I could smell the magic. We sat on the ground and reached for the chalices of red liquid before us. We drank the spicy liquid and not one of us vomited even though it was truly disgusting. We danced and laughed for hours afterwards. It was as if even in my dizziness, the moonlight was enough. Everything was illuminated.
But as the dawn finally came, my head throbbed so much it seemed ready to split in two. I rolled onto my back as the others kept dancing, closed my eyes, and let the world fade to black.
The next afternoon, after a few feverish hours in bed, I descended the wooden staircase and found my grandmother sitting at the kitchen table.
'Well, my child?' she asked as she pushed a mug of hot tea in my direction.
I wasn't sure how to answer. I felt as ruined as the crumbling pyramids we'd spied in Mexico. Magic had not returned, and I felt as silly as I felt angry. How could I respond? I sighed, sat, and sipped the coffee in silence.
'You know,' my grandmother began, 'Every Saskia before you has tried to bring magic back. It's why your mother rejected the lifestyle after she did the same ritual.'
That was new. I thought of my pragmatic mother and marveled that she might have been just like me once, desperate to uncover magic, angry that it wasn't meant to be. And now we shared in this failure too.
'So it was all for nothing?' I whispered.
'No,' she responded. 'Now you get to decide your own path. There is no storybook magic in the world, no special cure for all our troubles. But you can still choose a magical life: to see beauty where others can't, to show kindness even when it's not returned, to trust in the wisdom of nature.'
I stared at her, some of my anger dissipating. For once, I was in on the family secret. I was bonded with all the other Saskia's from the past, and now it was time to shine differently.