A Witch in Long Beach

Some night’s simply steeping out from my door propels me across a strange stage of mysteries, horrors, and delights; where the performers pull me into a world entirely apart from where I thought I was and what I thought I was doing. Other nights I’m just looking for a taco. Tonight was one of the former, and what I did not realize at the onset, was that I wasn’t actually looking for taco at all. Please yield to all impending doom.

My first clue that I was after something more than delicious warm meat-bean colloid in a tortilla tube was a peculiar house I stopped in front of. True, my experience there was nothing more than a strange feeling that caught my attention in the houses presence, but I always try and indulge these nonsensical urges. As I stood there, in the back of my mind I could hear someone singing, though when I stopped and listened closer there was nothing. The only strange detail I noticed upon scrutiny was the stained glass shutters adorning all the second story windows. Curious, but that detail alone was not what set this house apart.
Several blocks later I was on a street almost entirely shops, but again I was drawn to a peculiar residential building, apartments this time. The building was roughly in the shape of a rectangular donut, with a courtyard lush with ferns and rubber trees. I say roughly rectangular, because the lot this building was built to fit was far from square, despite it being in the middle of the block. The building seemed to cut at odd angles huge wedges from its neighbors, who obviously we squished a bit to accommodate. The building was old, mission revival style with huge red tile stairs that ascended like ladders in the front and back. Odd. Most building this old have slightly smaller stairs than I’m used to, but these were immense, incredibly steep, and with a hand rail so high it bisected my torso, and I’m 6’2.” At the top of these irregular stairs a bundle of willow switches, 8 feet tall and two arms lengths around leaned against a closed door. Curious. I found an odd star case leading to the back. I was hoping for a vantage point, but the building was surrounded on all sides, though I could now see its lot had not a straight edge or a ninety degree angle to it. Foot paths ran its circumference clinging to the building as though it we the edge of a high and craggy cliff. The fence pressed against the path and followed its odd meander. Leaving the apartments, I looked at the willows and thought of the first house, were there witches here I wondered, but quickly I decided I was just under the influence of this ghoulish season and it’s decorations.
The third building I stopped at had one of those chrome balls for your garden that make your reflection look all fish-eyey, so of course I started doing my Beastie-Boys dance. By this point it was nearly nine 0’clock and most stores were closed. I peered behind the window decorations and saw the lights were on and the shelves were cluttered with scarboroughs of all kinds of herbs. The sign on the door said “open,” and I stepped in expecting to find some friendly hippies or young-for-their-age eastern medicine types whom I could buy the necessary ingredients for “brain brandy” (an alcoholic tonic containing herbs meant to stimulate creativity, memory, etc) from.

When I stepped in the shop keeper looked at me and scuttled towards the door. “I must change that sign,” the woman said. She was 60, as I later learned, with a head like a pumpkin—wider than it is tall, and oddly wrinkled.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “is the shop closed?”
“It is now that you’re here,” she said, and cackled as she flipped over the sign. Yep, cackled. I wondered if she practiced that. When she opened her mouth I could see she was missing a handful of teeth. I looked around the room and noticed a black cat sprawled across the counter, a rack of black velvet robes and capes, and in case all the clues so far had been lost on me, a bumper sticker stuck to the counter that read “yes, I’m a Witch, get over it!”

I looked around her herb shop and stumbled across a 60 year old man relaxing in a folding chair by the counter. Without a word, he left, chair and all, for the back room shortly after I saw him. “What brings you here tonight,” the witch asked.
“Curiosity,” said I. The room smelled of allspice and everyherb. Many of the scarboroughs contained items I had not run across before.
“What’s your sign?” she asked.
Is she coming on to me? I wondered. Whenever I’m meeting people for the first time I undergo an intricate shadow play with them, what will I reveal of my true self, what will I conceal? I feel them out this way, but often I’m too reserved, I don’t show enough of myself. This is something I want to work on. So, I wondered, Ophuscian or Sagittarian, what to answer? Since I’m curious what she’s up to, I’ll go with the straight forward answer. “Sagittarian.”
“Me too!” said the old lady, “Perhaps we can beat each other up!”
Curious. I cocked an eyebrow and gave her a one-eyed look. Was she psychic too? How did she know about my little kink? And I really think she’s coming on to me. II said nothing, but continued examining her herbs.
“Are you in a relationship?” she asked.
“Are you coming on to me?” I asked back. I’m not used to such interrogation from a shop keeper.
She cackled again, showing her pumpkin grin. “Deary, I’m sixty years old, and you’re what…” she stopped; she wasn’t going to quit interrogating me just to make a point.
“24! A baby! No, I’m not. So tell me, are you in a relationship?”
“Up until a week ago I was.”
“For how long?”
“four years.” I’m not sure why I was talking, I doubt I would have taken this from a man, but there was something so perfect about this setting. About this time I started wondering if scenes like this happen all the time in Los Angeles, that’s why they get represented in movies.
“Is family an issue?”
“Is family an issue?” I repeated. “No, well, not my family. Her family is moving out of the country. My family is doing what it’s done for years. It’s static.”
We talked a while longer, and she began urging me to get back together with Sofia, but after talking a while longer, she urged me to leave her. I realized then that she wasn’t psychic, just perceptive, but what was interesting was her advi8se was always to take the most drastic measures, one way or the other—marry, settle down, or leave and do my career. Perhaps it was because I mentioned stagnation and lack of growth twice, once with my family, and once with my relationship. Or perhaps she was just a fan of the extreme path.
Around this time another man, younger than the first stepped into the closed store, and walked straight for the back room without a word. I scarcely noticed him, though he piqued my curiosity after I left.
She asked me if I had recently been offered an out of town job.
“I’m meeting with the president of the company tomorrow.” I said.
“You’ve been looking for an excuse to leave her haven’t you?”
“Maybe I have.” I said.
“Do you want me to hit you?” she asked, she didn’t sound as though she was making an idle comment or being rhetorical.
“Hit me?” I pondered a moment, considering her offer. The scene was getting intense. A hit might feel good, but I still had the unsettling feeling this witch might be more into playing with “babies” than she led on. “I’d rather you didn’t.”
“Thank you. So you’re going to go to this job?” She was demanding, not asking.
“Good. You should go. Leave.”
“I will.”
“Go.” I realized she wasn’t talking about my relationship or work anymore. The time had come to leave the shop. She said her name was Jade (same as my nephew!) but her card said Cynthia. She didn’t hustle me for any money, this was neither my fortune being read nor therapy, but something strange and real. Strange things happen everyday…er, even at night.

When I got home I asked Chris if he’d met any witches in Long Beach.
“Naw,” he said, “They all no better than to mess with me.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Chris has had more than his fair share of supernatural encounters too, after all.
“Nothing,” he said, “I thought it was funny.”