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
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.)
© 2016 by Jessica P. Wick