And now, my cooing doves, we come to the part of the story where the Stranger really must begin, in all earnestness (at least if we are to have a real story), where the Stranger must begin to come to town. Let us face this with all of the courage that we possess, for this is, after all, “just” a “story.”
So, and, of course, my bright boy, of course, my clever girl, the reason for Gemmy’s moan will already have been obvious to you, listening, as you are, with your hearts. The ground was cold, and soggy, even soft. Through the worn soles of her sneakers, Gemmy could feel the icy water that would, before she was through moving boxes out of the truck and into the house, soak the canvas sides of her shoes and leave her shivering. She had, it was true, few heavy items — really just Aunt Jen’s hand-me-down oaken dresser, which Gemmy had only managed to wrangle into the truck by removing all of the drawers and then rolling the dresser frame on top of the rolled-up carpet that she hoped would fit in her new bedroom. Oh, and her grandfather’s old, pine roll-top desk, which she had gotten into the truck by, well, by sheer force of will. It was where grandpa had written his farm journals and she had refused to leave it behind for Tim to dispose of on Craig’s List. Still, the soggy ground meant that everything would have to go straight from the truck into the house — no leaving the heavy things on the grass as she unloaded the rest of the truck.
Yes, yes, I’m going to tell you, sweetheart, but the land’s moan — now that requires you to know a bit more about Gemmy than you know, just yet, my impatient inamorata. Because while Gemmy was feeling the cold seep up through the worn soles of her sneakers, the land, don’t you know, was feeling the cold seep down from Gemmy, as well. The land knew, in the way that land always knows, that Gemmy had shut down the very bits of herself that would have made her a pretty good Witch of this Place. And the land had had such high hopes. “Never mind,” it said to the oak tree struggling to survive at the corner where the bus stopped five times a day. “Never mind,” it said to the urban fox and her kit, searching for food inside an old WaWa clamshell underneath the big man’s permanently-parked truck. “False alarm,” the land said to the breeze that kept rattling an old plastic bag, hung from the cable wires outside Mrs. Bottswell’s townhouse. “This is not the Witch we’ve been looking for.”
“Well,” Gemmy might have answered if she’d been listening to the land instead of calculating the best way to move a dozen boxes, a futon, a card table, two wooden chairs, an oak dresser, some cheap bookcases, and a roll-top desk, “I had such high hopes, too, once upon a place.
“I hoped that my degrees in Botany and Natural Resources Management and my job at Promised Land State Park would turn into my life’s work: reintroducing strong American Chestnut trees into national parks. I hoped that Tim and I would be married forever and have a tow-headed little girl who would love trees and history as much as I do. I hoped that the little cottage we bought just outside the park would be our home when we retired and that the coven I finally found and liked would be my spiritual home.
“Hell, if I’d know to worry about it, I’d have hoped that Tim and I wouldn’t both lose our jobs in the same week and find it impossible to get new ones for over a year. I’d have hoped that we wouldn’t grow further and further apart as we burned through all of our savings, sold our cottage, and then Tim’s truck, and then my car, and then used the last of our money for a divorce. I’d have hoped that Aunt Jen wouldn’t die suddenly, leaving me with almost no family at all, even if her small bequest did give me just enough money for a down payment on this McTownhouse, on the outskirts of a city I don’t know, where I’ve had to take a job writing technical manuals for naturalists shutting down parks due to budget cuts. I’d have hoped that I wouldn’t have to leave my coven, but, you know, I did have to leave.
“I hoped that Carla could have come down with me and helped me unload the truck, but she got a chance to pull some overtime on the NICU, and I can’t blame anyone for choosing time-and-a-half over helping me move. And I hoped that Deena, old as she is, could have taken the train down tomorrow, just to help me set up my kitchen and sewing room, even if she can’t help move boxes. But she wound up having to code all weekend, and, besides, she’ll come down near Beltane and I’ll have things humming by then; I can show her my new city.
“I had high hopes, too, and well, here I am in East Falls Church, in the spitting rain, standing on soggy ground, with student loans to pay. I guess you’ll just have to get used to me, land. I guess that you will.”
But Gemmy wasn’t listening to the land, nor was she telling the land her story. Instead, my cardamom-scented sugar lump, Gemmy had, in her very practical way, opened the front door and stepped into her new home. Let’s follow her, shall we?
It was cold; the heat hadn’t been turned on in over a year and it was, unsurprisingly, empty. It smelled a little bit stale and Gemmy debated whether to turn on the heat or to throw open the windows. She flipped a switch; the electricity was on. She walked into the kitchen and turned a dial; the gas was on. She checked the kitchen sink; the water was on. Gemmy reached into her purse and pulled out three small sage bundles — the very last ones from the herb bed she’d tended for over a year in Pennsylvania. “Sage will make the place smell like home,” she thought and turned on the heat.
Gemmy shivered, it was too cold to do a good grounding, but walking around would help her to warm up and loosen her muscles after the long drive. She lit the first bundle of sage and climbed to the top floor of the townhouse. No way to tell on this gray day which direction was was East, so Gemmy began in the front of the house, walking widdershins to remove any negative energies from the large room that took up the entire third floor. She moved down through the second and first floors, being careful to smudge even the closets and cabinets, spending extra time in the second-floor bedroom that would be her library and ritual room. Too worried and tired to invoke anyone, Gemmy finished up in front of her oven and said, “Well, Hestia, here I am. Help me to make this a home.” Lighting another bundle of sage, Gemmy began to walk deosil around the ground floor, through the kitchen, living room, dining room, and hall, trying to focus on the kind of energy that she wanted to call into the house. She kept finding herself thinking about the logistics of moving boxes, not to mention opening a local bank account, getting internet service, figuring out the bus lines, and . . . “Oh, damn. Focus! I want this room to attract friends to eat with me, to be a warm place where I can relax, and . . . I wonder why they asked me to start the new job on Wednesday instead of . . . Hestia, I will make an altar to you here on the third floor, above the other rooms, and . . . I’d better stop with the woo-woo and unload that truck before this rain gets serious.”
Gemmy returned to the kitchen for the keys to the U-Haul and, now, do not be too frightened, my warm kitten, my snuggly puppy, my chirping canary, but, at that moment, Gemmy looked out the window over the sink and into her “back yard.” She’d known that it was risky to buy a house over the internet. But, after her trip to DC for the interview, there’d been no money for another trip from Pennsylvania to Virginia, and foreclosed homes, while cheap, tended to sell fast. And, so, Gemmy had taken the “internet tour,” and read the description, talked to the agent, calculated the distance to her new office, pulled a Tarot card, and bought the house. The description had said, “enclosed back patio,” and Gemmy had somehow imagined a cross between The Secret Garden and a deck with hot-tub potential. She had not imagined a cracked and crumbling piece of concrete completely covering an area smaller than the inside of her U-Haul, surrounded by bleached slatted fencing and almost half-way filled by two large trash bins, one for recycling and one for “other” trash. “I’m going to need curtains for that window,” Gemmy thought, refusing to let herself cry this early in the game. “I can buy some tea towels and make curtains. I’ll be too busy working to see that mess.”
/To be continued.
Picture found here.