Canto Seven – Of Witches in Little Iowa Townships
Old Missus Rubelmacher was most definitely a witch in Valerie’s estimation. Miss Rubelmacher had been teaching Science forever at Belle City. She taught it in both the Elementary and the Junior High. Valerie had the extreme bad luck to have her for the one and only fifth-grade class she taught. And single old maid teachers who taught Science were definitely witches when they made you learn the scientific names of ten butterflies and recite them by memory. Ten Lepidoptera! Who in their right minds was ever going to need to know that a Danaus Plexippus was a Monarch Butterfly? She ought to get an F on purpose just to let the old witch know how stupid that was. Homework on a holiday weekend on top of it all.
But Valerie always made A’s in Science. That wasn’t about to change.
Still, after hating the old witch all the way home on Milo’s bus, she rode on into town with Danny Murphy. Milo, the crotchety old bus driver, never seemed to mind carrying her on into town when he stopped at the end of her family’s lane… as long as she told him she was going with Danny. Milo probably thought she was Danny’s girlfriend, the way he always smirked when she told him about going into town. But that was no never-mind… She had no interest in Danny as a boy. Only as a friend. Only as the one person in the world that she could really tell secrets to because she had seen him naked and could embarrass him royally if he ever told anyone else.
“Why are you coming into town today, Val?” Danny asked. They were sharing a seat in the middle of the bus, as they often did. Val waited until they were both off the bus to answer. They walked past the Post Office together.
“Well, I’m a Norwall Pirate, now. I have responsibilities. We are going to try to get Billy Martin into the gang, right?”
“Yeah. Billy needs some friends. He has a sorta tough life.”
Valerie nodded. Church ladies were always tutting their tongues about the horrible, sinful Martin family. Victor Martin, the head of the family, owned the bar that was once the Uptown Café in the middle of Norwall’s Main Street. Sinful things happened there. There was drinking beer, playing pool, a lot of bad language, drinking beer, women who couldn’t be trusted around other peoples’ husbands, and did drinking beer come up already? In the middle of it all was a long-haired, mostly unwashed boy who was made of spindly sticks and always looked like a lost puppy that someone had recently kicked. Billy was the son of Richard Martin, the extra-lazy brother of Victor. The sister of the two Martin brothers, Kelly Martin, was the closest thing that Billy had to a mother in the house, though Valerie was pretty sure that she was not the boy’s real mother.
“We need to do some research about Billy,” Val said like an expert. “We need to find out more about him. He doesn’t talk to you much, does he?”
“I don’t think he talks much to anybody.”
“How do we ask him to be a Pirate, then?” Valerie asked.
“You go right up to him, introduce yourself politely, and just ask,” said a grating voice from behind Valerie. The girl immediately turned to catch the amused glint in the glittering eyes of the dreaded Mazie Haire.
“You were listening to our conversation?” Valerie asked as a sort of justified accusation.
“Of course I was,” said the gray-haired, gimlet-eyed hag. Truth be told, Valerie was deathly afraid of the old Haire woman. She was as scary as Dracula’s coffin on Halloween. Of course, everyone had her pegged as a real witch… a thing that Mazie Haire took no trouble to deny.
“What business is it of yours?”
The old woman bored holes in both kids’ souls with her eyes. She was a scary and formidable woman.
“I am an old woman who doesn’t tell lies. I have a lot of knowing. I see things, and I don’t forget. This boy you are talking about does indeed need your help. But it’s not for the reasons you think. You need to forget about these stupid little kids’ games you and these other little Pirates keep playing. You need to actually see what you are looking at.”
Valerie was completely at a loss for what to say. She just nodded at the old crone stupidly, like she agreed to whatever was being asked of her.
Apparently that satisfied old witch Mazie Haire. She nodded. Smiled a tight-lipped and thoroughly scary smile, and walked away.
“What was that about?” Valerie asked Danny.
“She’s mysterious,” Danny said. “It is hard to know what she is really up to. They say she spends most of her waking hours in the attic room of that gingerbread house of hers and looks out the window at us all through her little telescope. She watches people. She creeps me out.”
“Do you suppose she’s right about just going up to Billy and introducing ourselves… and say what we want?”
“Well… she has a good point about the direct approach… but she’s a witch, you know. Do you really want to do what a witch wants? Especially if she’s a wicked witch. Do you want to do what a wicked witch wants?”
Valerie grinned at her awkward, silly-sounding friend. “What a witch wants? You sound silly when you say that.”
“Yeah. I guess I do.”
“But silly or not… I think you are right.”