The Pink House With Green Trim, by Jake Buckholz
A squat pink house with a forest green door and forest green trim. It has shudders, too. Sometimes they are open, but right now they are closed. The front yard is not fenced. It is, however, perfectly manicured with flower beds which run the length of the front of the house. A sidewalk cuts through the dead center of the yard and connects the front porch to the city’s sidewalk. An old oak occupies the grass on the right side of the sidewalk. There are hedges on either side of the sidewalk. They are never overgrown, but none of the neighbors can recall ever seeing anyone trim them. The backyard is enclosed by a high wooden fence. In the fence, there is a small cutout window where a dog sometimes stands and watches the going ons of the world beyond his yard. He never barks, but he watches everyone passing with something like suspicion.
The front porch features two rocking chairs and a small table between them. There is nothing else on the front porch besides a number of potted ferns and palms. A woman sometimes sits in one of the rocking chairs and sips lemonade and sometimes tea. No one sits with her nor does she ever switch rocking chairs nor does anyone else come and sit alone in the other rocking chair.
The children in the neighborhood claim that this woman is a witch. No, they swear it.
The woman is a witch.
The witch enjoys listening to a band called The Penguin Cafe Orchestra. She first heard of them through an NPR Tiny Desk Concert which she watched on Youtube. The founder of the group once suffered from a horrendous bout of food poisoning. He dropped into a feverish state for days and hallucinated a cruel future of a sad human race living in concrete blocks. In this dystopia, he envisioned one last haven: The Penguin Cafe. He did his best to bring to life the music he thought would play in such a place.
Just like a cafe might be, the witch’s kitchen is stocked with small pastries and boxes of tea. She bakes the pastries with a charmed oven, but the tea she brews with no magic as she finds the act calming. Sometimes she serves her dog a batch of cool chamomile in place of water and he falls into a sort of happy trance. The witch feels better able to communicate with her dog in this state. Plus, the dog sleeps better after a bowl of chamomile shortly before bedtime.
Bedtime in the witch’s house changes sporadically. Some witches acquire their power from the moon and sleep during the day so that they can make use of the moon at night. Others get their powers from water and must live on the coast or near a lake or river. Some few require blood. But this witch, we will call her our witch for clarity’s sake, but in reality she is no one’s witch, she is her own witch...our witch gains her power from plants, which is why she has so many. Likewise, the plants receive their health from her.
The plants whisper to her. They tell her of their special properties and then she is able to make potions and powders, teas and other herbal concoctions. She avoids suspicion of being a witch simply by dressing as a hippie, driving a van, and only selling to the town’s abundant affluent population of college students who dress and act as hippies and spend their days bouncing between coffee shops, the river, and living on the large allowances from their parents.
Our witch doesn’t mind the hippies, but she prefers to be alone. To the contrary, the hippies love our witch and want to be with her. The men and women are all in love with her. When she arrives with her wares, they go out to her van and give her flowers and crystals, they give her gifts they have shaped by hand. They invite her to yoga. They offer her a hit off a joint; they offer her other drugs which society has deemed insidious. Our witch knows better. Still, she declines. She has some books she needs to return to the library, she says. She needs to get to the colony of like-minded people in the next town to sell the rest of her stock. Her dog is in the van, so she can’t stay for long.
Before leaving, our witch goes inside to buy a drink or snack and tip generously. She does not want to upset the proprietors of the grounds where she does such lucrative business.
When it comes time for her to send in her taxes, our witch coats the papers with a combination of pollens which cause the IRS employee to become euphoric and confused. They enter the information without questioning it and whoever comes after her also receives a free ride, whether they need it or not. And the employee’s spouse and family receive with good grace a wife or husband, a father or mother, in the highest spirits of recent memory. The effects of the pollen, unfortunately, wear off by the next morning, but by then her taxes have been filed and forgotten.
One night, after a long day of making her rounds, our witch has managed to sell her entire stock and is returning home flush with cash. The van creaks through the old neighborhood. It is capable of driving itself, but she still sits in the driver’s seat and does her best to appear as if she is driving, lest she attract the attention of the local highway patrol. Her dog, a grey german shepherd, sits obediently in the backseat and watches out the window.
As she pulls into the driveway and the van sighs with relief, our witch notices that something feels off. None of the plants greet her and the shepherd flips its lips into a snarl. She tries to peek into the interior of the house with her mind’s eye, but all the lights are off. A few of the lamps have automated timers, so it is off putting that even these remain dim. Even if the power on the block is out, it is not from the city’s power plant that the pink house with green trim receives its electricity, but instead from the large tree in the front yard which long ago agreed to lend some of its energy to the house and attached a root to the foundation. The house runs on photosynthesis.
Our witch enters her house with caution.
“Hello,” she calls out. “Whoever you are, you are not welcome here!” If anyone remains in the house after that, they’d have to be a more powerful enchantress than she.
The lights do not come on. The plants keep their silence. The canine remains on edge.
“I live here in peace,” she calls out nervously. “I am but a gentle gardener!”
Our witch knows of others out there, of course, but she has no contact with them, and wants none. She searches bravely. With the help of her dog, they search the whole house and find nothing. The house is empty. There is no evil blood witch, no representative of some faceless bureaucracy, no hippie stalker, no IRS agent, no evil spirit.
The witch is as confused as I am. Where is the monster? What happened to the lights? the plants?
Suddenly, it dawns on me…
“I am sorry for scaring you,” I say.
Our witch whirls around to face me and the dog goes wild, so I put my hands up and say I come in peace.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“That is a bit difficult to explain, but please allow me to try. I am a writer. I made you up. Don’t be alarmed. You still exist as truly as you ever did. Made you up is a false explanation. Let me try again. I often find it difficult to explain myself speaking, which is perhaps why I write, so bear with me.”
Our witch looks on with concern.
“Please, go on. Would you like some tea?”
“Sure,” I say and take a seat at the table and attempt to explain myself. Our witch goes to her gas stove and places a tea kettle on one of the burners. A few minutes later she joins me at the table with two cups of tea.
“I am sorry for rambling. You are just easy to talk to. I feel comfortable here. I guess, because, in a way, I am inside my own head.”
“Many of the plants I grow have calming properties. Perhaps you are feeling that. Please, go on.”
“Well,” I say, “I began writing when I was pretty young. A teenager. I don’t know when exactly I started, but it was pretty raw in the beginning. I had read some books and thought highly of my abilities. By now, I’ve written a lot. Hundreds of characters. Many of them weak, many of them basically me with a few tweaks, but none have poured out of me like you did. You came dancing out of my pen and I struggled to keep up and then just as things were getting exciting, it stopped. Someone turned off the faucet.
“I had sat down without an idea of what to write. You see, I’ve been in a slump of sorts. More than that, I haven’t even been trying and have been very discouraged about the whole thing. So today I forced myself to sit down and for hours I stared at a blank screen and then, suddenly, I started writing. First it was just your house. I’d just watched a movie that took place in the suburbs, and, in a way, I liked the aesthetic. That’s what I meant to write. That’s what I saw in my head at first. And then all these plants started appearing. And suddenly it wasn’t a suburb anymore. The house was in an old neighborhood and there were plants everywhere, and a huge oak tree in your front yard.”
“This morning? But I have always lived here.”
“Yes. Yes, you have. I just didn’t see it clearly at first. But then I did! First I wrote the house and then I couldn’t stop. You appeared and gave reason to the plants and I saw your life unfolding and just wrote what I saw. It was a simple life, a gentle life. A good life. So I wrote about it. I didn’t make any of it up, I just recorded what I knew to be. But the story wasn’t exactly going anywhere and so I tried to force something. I didn’t want it to just end. Not when it had started so naturally.”
“Well, why didn’t you just make something up? Put a blood witch in the house or something.”
“You’d face a blood witch for me?”
“Would you make me win?”
“I can’t promise that.”
“But you didn’t want to face a blood witch. You were a peaceful gardner who wanted to go about her business. Nothing I can do can alter that. Besides, even if I did find a way to have you fight and defeat a blood witch, what would I have? A story of a young witch rising to the occasion, good triumphing over evil, a badass sorceress battle. None of that would be what I want to write, cool as it might sound.”
“I am sorry.”
“Please, don’t be. I have crossed a line coming here and talking to you like this. Besides, meta fiction isn’t what I want to be writing either.”
“What is going to happen to me now?”
“You’ll go on with your life.”
“Will I remember this?”
“Sure. It happened.”
“I wish my life had been more exciting for you.”
“Don’t say that. You are perfect the way you are. Besides, I wouldn’t know how to even begin writing a witch battle.”