She preferred night.
Its shadows and fearless colors said what she could not. Midnight blues shot through with shafts of silver matched the complex terrain of her emotional chiaroscuro. Relaxing on her lounge chair in her backyard garden, she was safe to feel either misery or mystery.
It was time to open the padded envelope resting on her belly. For courage, she took in her surroundings once more: Fireflies lit a life-size, white statue of Diana in an unpredictable pattern – darkle light, darkle light. Lunar rays shone through the clouds. Hints of jasmine hovered in swathes of mist. The evening pulsed with omens gentle to the eyes, and Valentina had a romantic crush on it all, like every good witch should.
Taking the envelope in her hand she absentmindedly traced the shape of a figure eight through the pale white trumpets of her moonflowers. They had grown high enough on either side of the chair that they caressed her body every evening when she sat in it. Now they caressed her legacy, her birthright. What fate awaited her in it? She raised her face to the night sky. Unexpectedly, she experienced a memory so distinct that she knew it was more than a vision.
Identical twin fetuses unfurled in slow motion among the stars. One breach, one not – they fit together like two pieces of a yin-yang puzzle. But it was the fetus who seemed more innocent, the one who sucked her thumb, that had the spirit of a ravenous tiger. A desperate weakness in her soul pulled at her sister. She reached out a well-intended, but weak hand to save her. It was as if her sister were dangling from a cliff, clutching her, slipping through her fingers. But her sister let go, a willing sacrifice.
Valentina let the moonlight hit the letter and said those three little words she had said every night looking into the stars for as long as she could remember, please forgive me.
Then, she tore the envelope open with the spirit of a ravenous tiger.
A small glass vial fell out along with two letters. They were from grandfather, her last surviving family member. He was born in a hilltop village in Naples, Italy. Devout Catholic tourists awaiting miracles would travel to his village to visit the birthplace of mystic Padre Pio, who bore the wounds of the cross and a crown of thorns. Instead, they somehow ended up in grandfather’s small office. Revered for his wisdom yet feared for the strength of his revenge, he would give them a message, a warning, or a potion, and then send them on their way. Upon his death, this letter and vial made up the entirety of his estate. And he left them to Valentina.
She lay on her back with the first of two letters extended in her left hand and began to read it in her grandfather’s voice, strong and loving:
Valentina, I imagine you reading this letter with it pressed against the stars. And yes, my granddaughter, on any given night the stars are endless losses or endless gains. One for the love you experience and one for the love you lose. One for the unfulfilled wish and one for the wish yet to come. But I have left you an elixir that will enable you to choose one or the other. It is an elixir that unveils Reality. You will create freely rather than remain stuck in the folds of a dream. Do so with forethought and read the instructions from the magician whose hands concocted it. But do not drink more than half or you will soon join me in the constellations surrounding this letter. One last thing my little witch: all my love.
How she craved his affection, to hear him speak those three little words he fondly called her one last time, my little witch.
The second letter was formal and frightening:
What you seek awaits in the recesses of your unconscious mind. This potion will take you on a journey inward to the boundary where light ceases to exist. There you will meet the Guardian of the Edge of Darkness. Vengeful and deceptive it will try to usurp the highest payment to let you pass. Lightning will strike and the blood in your veins will run cold. At your deepest moment of fear, the Guardian will exhale a freezing breath into your mind. All will become silent except for its request, swirling and whispering above the lake of ice that was once your thoughts – Relinquish Your Soul! In order to pass safely, remember this answer, and at once you will return to normal: I will only give what is necessary.
Bound by the rules of the universe, the Guardian had to obey. With a rush of air Valentina moved forward, leaving the toll far behind. And there, hidden in the darkness, she found what she needed.
Do not be surprised. For the treasure will not be gold or any other precious metal, but words of power grouped in threes.
Out of control, a voluptuous, black-haired rebel. At her core, however, Valentina was analytical, artistic, and sensitive. A precocious child and teen, her personality had taken on a verecund twist in her early twenties, and she became shy and introverted. It wasn’t that she didn’t like talking. Just the opposite. It was that she felt invisible, passed by, overlooked. At best she felt like an eidolon hovering about whose essence was momentarily acknowledged and then kindly dismissed.
Given this, it was a richer texture that she desired. There was a meaning to her life, a deeper purpose that needed to be uncovered. If only she could have articulated that before she drank the potion. Instead, out of the lounge chair and ready for action, she could think of only two things – love and revenge.
You could hear the fates whispering to one another as Valentina drank the bottle down, “We suppose on some nights you can see the stars more clearly than others.” Caught in her bloodlust Valentina could not cry, but instead laughed nervously. Perhaps she was happiest when she was out of control. She looked at the fates and said three little words, not one regret.
The magic created a purposeful delay in her speech. Words basked in precognitive victory on the end of her breath before falling out of her mouth and seizing complete and utter control of her surroundings. As if waiting for an unknown flower to blossom, her anticipation would once again be rewarded. For a blossom of such beauty could move her to tears or, unexpectedly, release deadly pollen into the air she breathed.
Night became day. She found herself trapped with her own thoughts. Shamed, they scolded her viciously:
As if the person adjacent could escape the oscillation of your vocal folds. As if the air’s vibrations manipulated by your lips would not reach their tympanum. As if they could dodge the bullet shot from your tongue. Maybe you didn’t mean what you said. Or maybe you experienced a split second of insanity. Does it matter now? The target writhed in pain. And a priest nonetheless! Three little words, upon escaping the mouth, sharpened themselves for lethal penetration, lodging deep into the mind’s heart, of course death would be certain. Keep your mouth closed now Valentina. Accept your punishment in silence. Guilty. What have you done?
They loved one another, the priest and Valentina. The urge to be together became so strong that they could never be apart for long. Why didn’t they say those three little words? He would have broken his vows, left his God, his church, and all he believed in. Instead, they left their love nailed to the cross, like the one hanging in his office, where they both lay on the floor near death.
All that remained in the wake of her destruction was the humming of the fluorescent light bulbs and a viscous honey colored substance dripping from the corner of her mouth. Three drops too many and the elixir had turned into a lethal poison. The magician had given his warning, but she was willing to sacrifice her life, her love, and even her soul to win back his affection.
She lay on the floor unable to move with her eyes locked open. Everything was happening in slow motion. Mercifully, the priest was able to move in close to her, his face blocking out the harsh lighting of the fluorescent bulbs. “Ah, his face, so beautiful,” she thought, “even after all this time. He is finally staring into my eyes.” And he ate up all her vision, as he had done the first day she saw him so long ago.
And there, on her mind, were three little words, return to me. Is it too late? Dare she consider this, as her soul began to sail off to the other side of the universe? Those were the words she had meant to say. But somehow they got lost with her spirit, left behind in that dark space where she retreated.
The priest felt himself dying and took her hands. He bent down and kissed the corner of her mouth taking the last drop of potion with his tongue. Holding her, he could feel their souls struggling, swimming. They had capsized into a sea of light. The magic worked quickly. An eerie wisdom fired his synapses. Their souls left all pain behind.
And there they were, three little words, as if they had dropped from the stars above. He whispered them in her ear for them both, wash ashore safely.
A new star was born, and a new conversation had begun. They whispered to each other in words of three, but light years muffled the sounds and constellations obscured their meaning:
Please forgive me
My little witch
Relinquish your soul
Not one regret
Return to me
Wash ashore safely