Bernadette

Published October 2019.

One silvery winter afternoon,

the week after school got out for Christmas,

we knelt in the soft, perfect snow

frantically drowning Bernadette

in the cold skin of the lake.

Bernadette the witch.

For science, we told ourselves.

But Archimedes would not shout

were he watching.

Bernadette would shout if she could;

Bernadette’s parents would do more than shout.

Or perhaps they would join us.

She wasn’t floating much.

As I held on to Ignacio

to keep him from toppling over

and joining the experiment,

I thought about Bernadette.

A girl; my age, freckles,

ink black hair, green eyes,

a disposition given to consorting

with demons,

an inclination toward frolicking

with corpses,

an indenture irredeemably binding her

with unholy Lucifer himself.

As bubbles punctured the surface,

I recalled Bernadette’s questions

in calculus and chemistry.

Questions that had been nesting

in my head too.

I thought about prom and

—with a blush—

about Bernadette’s scandalous red dress.

The same dress, I now remembered,

that Valentina had worn.

Bernadette the girl.

The only difference, really, was

the witchery.

A frown crawled onto my face,

like the beetles Bernadette kept

in her sock drawer.

The frown tugged behind it

a feeling,

a notion, that

maybe, just maybe, this was

worse

than the witchcraft.

The feeling blew up like a balloon

and pulled my heart up

up

into the sky

where I could see more clearly.

Later,

after a frantic tussle,

a bruised thigh,

two black eyes,

and a mouth with fewer teeth in the way,

I had become a rescuer of witches—

a witch spluttering but alive

and recovering quickly enough

to curse the ordinary kind of cursing.

Outcast together,

we trudged home through the snow,

clearly in league with the

terrible and dreadful forces of darkness,

but mostly just hungry and tired.

Bernadette made fire in her hands

to keep us warm,

and I found that witches

—some witches, anyway—

make good friends.