The Wizard's Wife

The wizard’s wife is tired. The ring on her hand heavy. She sits on the porch and thinks of small things.

Small things, small things, small things. She looks at a yellow butterfly crossing from one side of the garden to the other. It flies like a drunken eel swims, graceful but herky-jerky. But how does she know how a drunken eel swims? Maybe she saw it in a storybook, or in one of the wizard’s illusions.

The wizard is never home. He is away doing staggering works of might and wonder. She is not sure he remembers her all the time. Sometimes, she barely remembers him. He has a handsome face, she thinks, but not a remarkable one. That is why she is always forgetting it.

Is she shrinking? The butterfly seems larger than it did yesterday.

The pink and white roses used to give off a sweet smell. But now there’s a whiff of the crypt, a mix of dust and decay and traces of metal beneath the candied scent. Something about the furled-open blooms makes her remember blood, her own blood in the soil. She cut herself with the gardening shears when she last pruned the rose bushes. That’s it. The pearl-inlaid shears that the neighboring hedgewitch gave her are by her side now; close at hand where she likes them.

The wizard purchased her from her father. At first, she felt pathetic gratitude for the slightest kindness he showed her. What a slavering thing she must have been. Now, she sits in her house-coat on the porch and tries to remember his face so that she will recognize him when he comes home.

Sometimes, she feels the memory of a kiss pressing against her face like a sniffing dog nudging her for attention. A sweet, clearwater kiss, tasting of grass and mint.

It cannot be the wizard’s kiss. His lips pressed against hers at the wedding were old-books dry. Dry hands, dry eyes, dry lips.

Her silk house-coat is heavy. It is embroidered with golden peonies and fraying at the sleeves. The ring is very heavy. She does not think she has ever taken it off. It sits, burdensome, on her hand even while she bathes, dragging her down into the bathing pool like a mermaid’s greedy claws.

When they wed, he told her not to remove the ring. That it would protect her always. Sometimes, she thinks it is watching her. The big green stone quivers the same way an eye in motion does, the yellow flecks within darting this way and that.

The butterfly is dying now. She watches its wings shrivel and curl into brown dead-leaf things. It clutches the red yarrow blossoms with its tiny butterfly legs until it curls up into nothing and falls off. The rotted stink of the roses grows stronger. The weight of the ring hurts her hand—a dull and throbbing bruise.

Her pain unlocks a memory: the hedgewitch’s laugh was loud and bright. A red laugh. Her skin tasted of lemon soap and sweat and a hint of rosemary. For a shattering instant, the wizard’s wife remembers a summer-hot whirl of secret notes and sneak-away nights until, for once, the wizard came home.

The crumbling butterfly fractures into the witch’s remembered scream of rage and frustration. The wizard’s bone-dry grip. Dry hands that wove spells into the garden. Cages made of iron and yarrow and pink and white roses.   

Always the roses, smelling of sugar and the grave.

Why must she wear this ring? She cannot remember. She tries to slide it down her finger, just to rest her hand a while. The ring will not move. She feels like she is trying to pull off her own finger, or like she is tugging out her own heart, as though there’s a string running from the jewel all the way to her breastbone.  

During a flashing moment her mind is crystal-bright: she must get rid of it. She cannot live another moment with its oppressive heft on her hand, snaking into her bones and her breath.

She pulls harder but the ring just gets tighter and tighter. Her finger buzzes and throbs while the blood flow halts. Perhaps the ring will become so tight her finger will just fall off altogether.  

That’s an idea. The garden shears are still close at hand, next to her chair. They feel cool and perfect in her grip. She closes the twin blades around the ring and squeezes as hard as she can. The thick band bends bends bends inward and she thinks she may have to shatter her finger bone to win this until the gold finally breaks into sharp metal shards. The green stone falls onto the ground and cracks like hot glass in cold water. Its yellow eye-spots spin wildly. Her grip on the shears slips as the ring fails and she cuts her finger down to the bone anyways.

The garden smells like fresh flowers again. The butterfly is alive, fluttering over the yarrow. She leaves the green and golden pieces of the cabochon under her feet and walks off the porch.  Her house-coat slides off her shoulders and bares her old chemise. She clutches the garden shears with her good hand.

The pain in her finger is vivid and immense. Fat drops of blood slip off her fingertips, fall to the ground, and catch fire where they land. The smell of burning flowers follows her as she passes under the jagged iron gate—open now—and starts towards the hedgewitch’s cottage.

 

Ellen (she/they) is a queer researcher, writer, and artist based in Chicago who loves libraries, dragons, and creepy folk songs. More of her fiction can be found in Exponent magazine and her poetry can be found in Pussy Magic, Bi Women Quarterly, and Coffin Bell Journal. Follow them on Twitter @bookpriestess or on Instagram @thebookpriestess.

Ellen McCammon