There’s an old lady sitting on the corner of the street.
She appears at dawn and is gone at dusk.
‘Hag‘, ‘crazy‘, ‘witch‘. All whispers that float past her.
Still, she smiles.
She has no one to keep her company except a small, piping bird,
And rows of glass bottles.
They say she spins curses. Sells them for a few cents- and by ‘cents’ they mean ‘centuries’, of course.
They say she can put a hex on your worst enemy. But it never works on anyone but yourself.
They say her bird is someone she transmogrified out of spite. But it has never whistled her an unhappy tune.
They say she can poison people. But there are no potions or poisons in her glass bottles.
Only the perfect distillation of sunshine.
They say many things about the old lady on the corner of the street.
But the only truth is this:
If you ask her for a sip from one of her bottles, she will smile.
She will ask you to choose carefully, for though sunshine can bring warmth, warmth can turn to heat, and heat can turn to burning.
You will choose a bottle-
- the red of dawn breaking
- the blue of a cloudless sky
- the gold of a sunset afternoon
- the purple stillness of dusk
- the indigo of a moonless midnight
- and all the ineffable colours in between
(You will always be drawn to red.)
You will pop the cork, hear the fizz of a sizzling sidewalk.
A puff of air will dry your lips and in an instant, you are parched.
Without thinking, you will take a sip.
At first, there is an effervescence; just the tingle of the sun on your skin on a winter’s day.
Your tongue detects a hint of heat, but nothing you cannot handle.
Your eyes are closed to the light glinting off of the bottle. Or is it coming from within?
A second sip now, this time with a slight stinging sensation.
The sizzle is louder now, water hissing at burning asphalt.
Even as you swallow, you can feel it prickling down your throat.
A third sip, and your tongue becomes leaden.
You can hear the crackling of a roaring fire ripping through your head.
And is it just you, or can the old lady smell that smoke?
Swallowing is near impossible; you fight as it beats down your throat.
You pant, holding the bottle away from you.
Still, the old lady smiles. Her bird twitters a challenge.
Steeling yourself, you bring the bottle to your lips once more.
A tentative sip settles on your tongue
Slips down your throat as smoothly as a bird soaring home
The crackling fire has dulled to the sound of cicadas, buzzing as you sigh in relief.
“One last taste for the road?” the old lady suggests.
You consider putting the bottle down and running while you still have the chance
You hesitate. The bottle is cool to touch. Your lips are still dry.
Besides, one more couldn’t hurt, right?
Taking a deep breathe, you take one last sip.
A chill slides down your throat, sending a shiver down your spine
The air is filled with the scent of dew, as it settles around you
There is nothing but the sound of your own breathing
You lower the bottle and exhale deeply, ready to relinquish your grasp on the red bottle-
Only, the bottle is no longer red.
It is the indigo of a midnight sky.
You turn to the old lady to demand an explanation
But she is gone.
In the sky, the stars twinkle with laughter
And the moon smiles down at you.