The truth is, if you want to know how it happened, I angered a witch and she put this hex on me. See, I wrote this review of her play, and look, it wasn’t my fault, it just wasn’t very good, the play, and now I have this stupid curse on my head. She made it so I fall in love with the first thing I see every day, and usually it’s not the tenderest specimen if you know what I mean. The truth is, I’m having a lot of sex and it’s beginning to hurt.
I had to see the witch doctor. It was the only thing for it. The other morning I made the mistake of removing my eye mask too soon and, faced with the image of a nettle plant outside my window, fell madly in love. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to be intimate with a nettle plant, but I can’t recommend it. It’s strange, because usually I’m not a very sexual person. I’ve been in love, sure, a few times, but it never really connects for me. The sex part? I don’t know, I was just born broken I guess. Sometimes I can’t stand to have a person touch me or even look at me, and sometimes all I want in the world is to be sexually taxidermied and hung on somebody’s wall. I tell you, I’m screwed up.
But it was a bad play, I couldn’t very well say It was a good play, could I, when it was bad? I mean in retrospect, I see how I could have lied, but it was just trash, this play. It was about a witch who has feelings, and everybody comes to her for spells and stuff but she gets tired of it and just wants to be seen for who she is: a real person. It was a one-woman show. At the end, she threw a pack of Keebler’s fudge cookies into the audience and it hit some guy who was asleep. He was so startled he shouted “mother!” Now personally, for me, that was the best part of the show and I said as much in my review.
I guess I shouldn’t even be talking about this, because she’ll probably find out about it and probably cast another spell that’s just as painful and shitty, but I don’t care anymore. Life sucks whatever you do, doesn’t it?
Anyway, I went to the witch doctor to see what could be done, if anything. The witch doctor is this old guy who’s kind of past his prime, he doesn’t get a lot of work anymore because there’s only one witch in town, so when she’s not sick he’s basically out of the job. And the witch has mostly been good, she’s kept her promise to not wreak too much havoc in the town. I mean, you know, not counting what happened to me, because I get the sense that most of the people here kind of feel like I had it coming. I guess I did. But Jesus, doesn’t anybody care about real theater anymore?
“You realize this wouldn’t have happened,” the witch doctor told me, mixing some Splenda into his mugwort tea, “if you’d have kept your fool mouth shut.”
“It was an article for the Gazette!” I said.
“That’s the same damn thing!” He grabbed my wrist and splashed something hot against it.
“Ouch!” I said.
“You’re a goddamn baby. It’s like that with all you humans.”
I figured I should just keep my mouth shut. He did some spell and told me to close my eyes and when I opened them, I still couldn’t see anything.
“Um,” I said, “I think it didn’t work.”
“Of course it worked,” he said. “You can’t see, can you?”
“Well if you can’t see, you can’t fall in love with the first thing you see, right?” He said with what I imagine was a gesture of pointing to his brain and grinning.
“I mean…that’s true but,”
“Okay, off you go. I got others waiting.”
“I don’t see anybody,”
“I said get out.”
I stumbled out of there, trying to feel my way around in cold daylight. There I was, on my hands and knees, probably looking pretty goddamned stupid if you ask me, just hoping not to run into anybody I knew. Of course if I did, I reflected, it wouldn’t matter because I couldn’t see them, and if I couldn’t see them I could just ignore them, and that would be—
“Hey is that you? Hey Dave, what are you doing down there on the ground?”
I recognized the thistledown voice of my drinking buddy, aka the one guy who I could ever convince to spend any time with me in this burg.
“Hiya Dave, I was just—Hey watch out, don’t you know where you’re going? Here,” he turned me in the right direction. “Hey are you sure you’re alright buddy?”
“Yes, I’m fine,”
“See, I don’t think you are fine, Dave.”
“Dave you’re staring directly at my penis.”
“Look, there’s a reason, I can explain–”
“Listen Dave, I’ve known you’ve had these feelings for awhile,”
“No, it’s absolutely not like that, Bill. Now listen, I’m not saying I’m not gay–”
He put his clammy hand over my mouth.
“Don’t speak,” he said. “Don’t say a word. I value our friendship too much.”
Bill left, and it was dark (I think) before I found my way back home. Luckily, I knew the inside of my fridge by heart: three packets of soy sauce on the upper shelf, a stick of butter with the top smooshed open from when I was trying to make pancakes the other day, a week-old container of optimistically-purchased greens (who the fuck was I kidding) and some Ho-Hos and vodka in the freezer. I sucked down the soy sauce packets with the vodka and called it a night.
“Look Dave, I heard about what happened,” Bill said. This was at the bar the next evening. I called a cab to take me there even though I live across the street from the one bar in town. It was pretty much the reason I took the place.
“I feel so stupid,” he said.
“Please don’t,” I said, trying to flag down the bartender with a hand in the air. My fingers brushed against one of the many small, coke-glass lampshades dangling above the bar.
“Gosh Dave, I feel like an awful fool,” Bill was saying. “Making it all about me, imagine. Me and my dick.”
“I’m sure your dick is very nice, Bill,” I said. “Look, would you mind ordering me a beer?”
“Oh my God, how stupid of me! Of course. Smitty! Hey Smitty! A beer for my friend here.”
“Make it whiskey.”
“A whiskey for my friend here, to go with the beer.”
“It doesn’t matter what kind, shitty, whatever” I said, “well whiskey is fine.”
I heard the sudden creak of an old chair relieved of its sitter.
A booming voice said: “Did I hear somebody say something bad about wells?”
“Jesus,” I said.
“Dave,” said Bill, “don’t look now, but that troll is coming over here.”
“Don’t tell me—the one who lives in the well?”
“That’s the one, Davey. Do you want me to tell him you’re not available to talk?”
“Somehow I think he won’t believe you.”
I don’t remember what happened next, I know that I hit the floor and felt some warm, iron-tasting venom in my mouth. I must have passed out, because I woke up in my own bed with some sticky shit on my forehead. The phone rang. I tried to find it on my bed. Usually I fall asleep looking at my phone and have to fish it out of the sheets in the morning or whenever I wake up. Of course, not being able to see anything, this was harder to do than usual. I found it when it started buzzing under my thigh.
“Dave? Bill here.”
“Look I just wanted to make sure you got home ok.”
“Wouldn’t the time for this call have been last night?”
“Yes, but I fell asleep.”
“Oh. Well listen Bill, will you do me a favor? A big one.”
“Drive me to the witch.”
We were in the car and I was feeling the nice breeze through my hair like an Australian sheepdog.
“Pull your head in Dave, there’s a big mailbox coming up.”
“Good tip, Bill. Thank you.”
It was a nice day, or anyway it felt like one. We pulled up to the witch’s hut, which was actually in the center of town, unlike most witch’s huts. She was something of a legend in town. People from all over had, at one time, come to see her experimental theater, which was considered daring in the 70s. It was now just out of touch, which is what I said in my original review, and probably was the line that got me into this whole mess, now that I think about it.
“Well, here we are,” Bill said.
“You don’t need to sound so chipper.”
“Dave, I’m just naturally optimistic.”
“You might say I’m your total opposite, Dave.”
“I’ve considered that.”
Bill took me by the wrist and placed my hand on the door so I could feel the knocker. I knocked twice, loudly.
“I figured you should be the one to do it.”
We waited for a minute and heard soft footsteps. The witch opened the door. I can’t tell you what she looked like or what her expression was, obviously, but I’m guessing she wasn’t that surprised, because she said:
“Oh, it’s you.”
She didn’t slam the door as I’d expected.
I said: “It’s me, from the paper?”
“I know who you are.”
“I’m sorry to bother you like this,”
“No you’re not.” She snorted. “Well?”
“I’m not bothering you or I’m not sorry?”
“What do you want, Dave?”
“Well, it’s kind of a long–”
I felt a kind of shifting beneath my feet, and we were now inside the house, me and Bill. I could smell something cooking on the stove. It smelled like boil-in-the-bag rice.
“I suppose you want me to take the curse away,” she said from the far side of the room.
“Well it’s a little more complicated than that,” I said, trying to find my footing. There was something weird about her hut, like gravity didn’t really work there—or maybe it was working overtime.
“The fuck’s wrong with him?”
“It’s the curse,” Bill said.
“I cast a love spell, I didn’t make him dyspraxic.”
“We don’t use that language anymore,” I said from the floor.
“See here’s what happened,” Bill said, and he laid it out for her. I can’t tell you what her expression was but I’m guessing it was quizzical.
“Jesus,” she said, “what you burnout townie assholes get up to.”
There was a brief pause, and we wondered if it had been the greatest idea, coming to her house.
“Would you boys like to stay for lunch?” She said. “I’ve accidentally made a lot of food.”
“I actually have to get going,” Bill said. “Look Dave, I’ll catch up with you later. Cool?”
“Cool,” I said from the floor.
I heard the closing of a door and knew I was alone with a woman who truly hated me. I made no attempt to get back on the chair. Maybe she’ll take pity on me, I thought.
“Why are you still on the floor?” She said. “Get up.”
“I’m trying. It’s hard.”
She helped me up and placed a steaming bowl of something in front of me. It felt like a kind of gross, savory facial. I could hear her holding back laughter.
“So you can’t see now? Well, I could have told you that would happen.”
“You could have?”
“Don’t go to that old witch doctor, he’s a quack. That’s what I would have told you if you’d come to me.”
“Why would I have come to you? You did this.”
“I did,” she said proudly.
“I can only assume you hate me.”
“I don’t hate you,” she said. “Now eat your rice.”
“Why don’t you hate me?” I said. “I mean…you don’t? I mean, how, why don’t you?”
“No, I feel bad for you.”
I was so confused by this point, I wasn’t even worried about offending her anymore.
“Wait a minute,” I said, “you’re telling me you’re not pissed at me for panning your play?”
“No,” she said, “I am. Or I was.”
“So you’re not anymore.”
She thought about it.
“No I’m still mad.” She said. I could hear her stirring her cauldron. She started laughing again.
“What.” I said. By this point, I’ll admit, I was getting a little ticked off.
“I just think it’s funny.”
“You’re so… allergic to love.”
I didn’t say anything.
“I read your reviews a lot and you’re so down on everything, everybody. You’re like a pissed-off little kid who can’t understand why everybody’s playing in the playground without him.”
“Yes. Take your review of the show before mine.”
“‘You Can’t Take It With You?’”
“That play,” she said, “was supposed to have a five-week run. You closed it after three days with your review.”
“Yes. Don’t you remember? You hated it. You said: ‘it’s no surprise that in this moment of whimsy and insistence on easy good feeling, a revival of Kaufman’s shlockiest play would bring down the house in the bigger metropolitan areas. In our charming little hamlet, however, such unalloyed optimism feels not only unwarranted, but mocking.”
“You read my reviews?”
“Of course I do.” She said, getting up from the table with a sharp creak. “I always read them. I like them. When my play came out I thought, ‘finally, a REAL critic is going to review my work .”
“So imagine my surprise when I open the paper to find,”
“That you… lets see… “only enjoyed the denouement, in which a snoozing audience member was loudly awoken only to rightfully heckle the entertainer off the stage for interrupting his nap.”
“Don’t be sorry.” She spat. “Be a critic! Be consistent.”
“Risk something.” She said.
“That’s why I did it.”
“I’m not sure I…follow.”
“Don’t you see?” She said. “I wasn’t punishing you.”
“I was giving you a gift,” she said.
“What?” I said.
“The gift of love.”
“Oh brother” I said.
The tea kettle went off.
“I could tell you loved things in the past. Remember that revival of As You Like It? The one that took place in a Japanese office building in the 80s”
“Ecstasy,” I mumbled, remembering.
“I loved it too.”
“I can’t love everything.”
“But you see, you can, now. Now you can wake up and fall in love instantly, with the world.”
“Yuck.” I said.
“Well obviously not anymore, because you’ve gone and fucked it all up. But that was my intention, anyway.”
“I had sex with a plant,” I shouted.
“That’s unfortunate.” She said. “But it still stands. I was trying to help you. As an artist!”
I felt sheepish so I didn’t say anything.
“I didn’t think anybody read my reviews,” I said.
“They don’t.” She said. “I do.”
I felt her hand shoot out toward me–I could hear it speeding toward me through the air. It rested on my shoulder. I started to cry.
“Come on now,” she said tenderly. “It’s not all that bad, is it?” She rubbed my back. I sobbed.
“No it’s not.” I said. “It’s worse.”
When I woke up, I could see again. It was morning. The light was breaking through the tall pines, and there was a smell of Lysol and chicory in the air, not entirely unpleasant. I felt a little bit hungover, but not from booze. It was the kind of hangover a spell gave you, where you feel all woozy and not quite awake. Someone was in the apartment, and they could be heard, if not seen. I heard footsteps in the kitchen, the opening of a cold can of seltzer with a bajing-POP. I stumbled into the kitchen to see the witch putzing around in my slippers, wearing my bathrobe.
She looked at me with tired eyes, as if we’d already gone through all this before.
“Don’t you remember?” She said.
“We decided that I should live here now.”
“Oh,” I said. I didn’t remember that from last night, but I didn’t remember much to begin with.
“Have a seat,” she said. I did.
She puttered around the kitchen, pulling out expired crap from the fridge, rearranging things. My phone buzzed.
“Pick it up,” she said. “I sent you something.”
“What’s this,” I asked, scrolling through it.
“A new play I’m working on.” She said. “I’d like to get your thoughts on it.”
I scrolled through to the first page. It started with a monologue. A town witch was misunderstood and in order to redeem herself she had to find a soul in need of redemption and put him through something awful. The prose, I had to admit, was tight. In the play, the witch put a curse on this boob, who wrote for the local paper, and then it became about all about him.
“Keep reading,” she said.
“This is clearly plagiarized,” I sniffled. I kept going.
The man in the play wants to love everything but he keeps hurting himself. Everything is too prickly to touch. Finally he comes back to the witch and she says “now you understand, don’t you?” In the final scene, they both throw bags of Utz potato chips into the audience.
“How do you like it?” She asked.
I couldn’t answer, because I was still reading. I read until I couldn’t anymore, until the tears filled and covered my eyes like a greasy film and I couldn’t see a thing in front of me. I cried and cried, and when I was done she came over and held me.
“This play,” I sobbed, “will run forever.”