STEPHANIE CHAN #4: They Hang Witches Here, Don’t They?

Artwork by Priya Vunaki
Artwork by Priya Vunaki

They used to carry out public executions of women in your town.

The ones they considered too strange or dangerous to exist.


Seven women. Two villages: Hadleigh. Leigh On Sea, Essex. Villages

whose names stopped being legends the night I took that train to yours.


In my version, I introduce myself first. I liked how you moved at the open mic. You say you have a 20-page novella about 15th century witch hunts.


In your version, I was the stuck up Chinese girl with dreadlocks
who never got round to reading it.


In our version you tell me we could be space opera art terrorists if I would sit in your room and write with you, maybe let you align my chakras for me.


You gave me a chemical too new for a name in exchange for three hours of stories of tiptoeing around joss sticks, hungry ghost toilet suicides, that one girl in my high school who got possessed.


I knew if I kept talking we wouldn’t have to do anything else.


In your town they had special words for women with too big a sense of adventure. They said they had extra nipples, killed cows, ruined harvests.


Dangled them off trees, built churchyards around them that you would one day sit in tab under your lip, wait until they told of where they lived, and start to dig.


Where I’m from we don’t fuck with spirits like that.
I said, where I’m from, they call that asking for it.


As we peaked you told me you’d read the Bible the Quran the Torah back to back, all you got out of them was violence and sex, and what did I believe in?


‘Ummm…I’m Catholic?’
You said, ‘For some reason I thought you were Buddhist.’


For some reason I assumed you wouldn’t be the kind of guy who would assume.


My mother thought you were sweet.


You said, ‘I think she has a crush on me.’


I said, ‘Nahh, she thinks your hair’s too messy.’


You said, ‘That bitch.’


But most days were pure magic: we screamed poems over William Blake’s tomb, turned London into a Holy Grail labyrinth: every street name a clue, every ancient statue a symbol, tripped by the ruins of a haunted castle to summon the ghost of Wryneck Sally,


I said I don’t really know how I feel about this, you said but we have to write down her story. You said, come on, tell me another myth from your country. So I let you come in my mouth, let you laugh when I gagged and told you of a woman who jumped from the fifth storey in a red dress.


You always suspected those 15th century women would have laughed at how safely you lived. You would tell them your bedroom contained enough powders to have you put in a cage for years.


Except you were a nice blond boy who got his highs legal off this one website: your own invisible force field of safety, forced to guinea pig yourself with chemicals, camped in haunted castles and laughed at NO TRESPASSING signs to convince yourself you were free.


My body meant all I needed was to show up at your house alone to look reckless and foolhardy. If they had found me in your garbage can, who would believe I was just there to write poetry?


You wanted visions, talking spirits, Eastern wisdom, gods with hard-to-spell-names, prayers you could barely pronounce, one more Asian girl to teach English to—


I wanted witches, Mayan calendars, ancient runes in side streets, my very own manic pixie dream quarter-life crisis, magic between greasy fish & chip shops, something medieval and maybe profound—


but what did I expect: we both came from towns built on the bones and half-forgotten stories of dead girls, digging them up to make ourselves sound more interesting, continuing to listen long after they’d started rotting.


So we shackled our ankles together, drank enough potions to believe we had wings, recited enough spells to taste the myths in one another’s mouths, held hands and threw ourselves off a cliff to find something at the bottom worth writing trilogies about—


we found human flesh: your last email about how I was a hypocrite, shaving my head but still acting like a girl, demanding payment for the potions and a jumper of yours I lost—writhing and kicking, trembling and gasping, a sea too shallow to swim in.