Good Neighbors

My neighbors are good people. My neighbors

know how to find monsters in the dark.

They have welcomed me to the neighborhood.

John Sinclair, my neighbor, asked me what I think

about witches. He asked over a glass of wine the color of a moon

drowned in a creek. I drowned the wine with more wine

& the moon floated dead in my belly.

What should I say?

My neighbors are good people.

My neighbors are fearing people; they are good

builders of fences and bridges and walls.

Fear is good for my neighbors. They draw as close together

as the mouth of a purse when the string is pulled. They

say when they gossip, when they let their eyes

go gritty and gleaming with salt, they say such things.

Such things like we will crack—they say—

the witch’s skin like a nut. We’ll get to the meat

inside and see what is black rot and what is still

sweet.

My neighbors are people like I am and I am afraid

of what might happen if we connect. What live–

wire quiver of lightning might surge and crest

and turn me into something other. Make me

sick, too. I am good people. Or am I a witch?

No. No. Not I.

But when I open my door, the grass green enough

to stop someone’s growing,

and I see my shadow dropping heavy on the drive,

dense on the asphalt and grass,

it is different. It wears a bull’s arcing harp of horns

and I don’t know what I should do. Am I people

or am I a witch? I do not want

to be alone, but I do not want to be with them.

What should I say to John Sinclair? I don’t want

to be cracked open. I don’t want to feel their teeth

on my meat. Do I dare to speak or dare I just let them be?

My neighbors make comment on the voices of witches.

Their voices, they say, are like whispery moths or rat toenails,

like old coins or vintage instructional pamphlets.

They are like analog white noise. They are ghosts!

They are not welcome in the walls of my neighbor’s homes.

It is a curiosity, the witch’s voice: sometimes lovely—

but quick to die. They sizzle just like bacon fat. Best not to speak

of a witch’s voice. Like Bloody Mary and the Big Bad Wolf,

it will catch you. Eat you up. Eat your neighbors up.

Do you want that? John Sinclair, my neighbor, says

he knows I am a witch.

He says he can hear the witch’s rot rattle in my lungs

and that he will say nothing. There is a price. My shadow

is very fat on the wall. My shadow is very

black where it tears at the daylight.

He says that I, too, should say nothing.

Now is not a time to be alone, he says. Do you want to be alone?

Nobody ever has to know.

Am I a witch or am I good people?

I want the difference. The more they say, my neighbors, the more fear

rises in me: water in a sewer after a rainfall. The more they say the more

bewitched I am. I’ll put an iron bar against my door

and wear St. John’s wort. I’ll look askance at those who don’t.

Don’t they know that any one of them might know one of Them?

My neighbors might curdle my milk and make me sick too. They

might be the weak link: anything could break through

and get in. Get us. I put up a fence. I wear the wood

splinters of it in the palms of my hands and hide

how they go black. I ring bells, enthusiastically. John finds me

far from iron bars and bells and herbs of protection. His voice

crawls over me like a seethe of eels. He says let me

look at you. Let me see whether you are sweet.

What more can I do? I have tried nothing, but he still comes

‘round. He still says did you hear what the witches did now

and his eyes are bright as firelight, a chip of flame

in some unknown thing’s eye. My shadow wants to devour

that light. It rises up, panic chasing echoes, and

it is my shadow that has a voice. No, I say.

No, again. I want to be a witch but I don’t remember

how to speak. I want to bewitch my neighbors, hex them. I want

to be my neighbors: I want to crack them open like a nut

and see what there is to see. I do not think it will always

be sweet. John Sinclair, I say. It’s time for you to leave.

(Editors’ Note: “Good Neighbors” is read by Amal El–Mohtar in the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 11A.)

Jessica P. Wick

Jessica P. Wick is a writer, poet, and an editor of poetry at Goblin Fruit. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Mythic Delirium, Cabinet des Fees, and Jabberwocky. She has recently moved from the West Coast to the East, and when she isn’t dipping her toes in the sea she is regarding the first snow flurries with smug recognition and wide–eyed wariness.

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