Abi Latham has written a short story for Hanna. Read the spellbinding tale – ‘A Touch of Magic’ – right here:
The piebald mare digs her hooves into the soft, muddy ground and, leaning her weight forward, pulls with all her strength. The old man sits, hunched at the front of the gypsy caravan, reins in hand, leather whip clutched between arthritic fingers. “Onwards,” he bellows. The hand-painted wagon shudders to life as the mare picks up a steady pace.
The smell of incense wafts from the caravan, and the rhythmic motion causes the glass jars of herbs and spices to clink together. The travelling show slowly trundles from the field; wagons, vans and horses follow the winding lanes.
“Let’s make some potions, Mum,” says Emmie, dragging the large copper pot from the shelf. Her little sister Jayne balances precariously on a chair and reaches for the wooden spoons.
Emmie flicks through the thick, worn, leather book – dog-eared and stained from years of use. Her grandmother’s loopy writing covers the pages. Each page has been lovingly illustrated; spirits dance across the pages and the margins are decorated with sketches of the ingredients for each potion. There are potions for every occasion: love potions, cures and good luck potions.
“Good luck potions,” reads Emmie theatrically, “can be used for many situations; the start of a new job, travel or new business ventures.”
“That’s just what we need, isn’t it Mum?” pipes up Jayne. “We can make that for Jasmine, to bring her luck with her sculpture business.”
Mindy sighs as she ties back her long auburn hair. Her girls had made their minds up. It was time to make some more potions. “What are the ingredients?”
“Lemon balm, sage, sandal wood………”
“And don’t forget……..a touch of magic.” chorus the girls, giggling.
“Ok, first we need to get some water on the boil,” Mindy says, bringing the pot to the sink. “Jayne, fill that saucepan.”
As the water bubbles away, Emmie reads from the recipe book. “A drop of lemon balm should be added at pre…..pre……presss…..Mum, what does that word say?”
“Precisely the right moment. It is very important that it is added at just the right time, so that the potion will work.”
“How do we know when is the right time?” asks Jayne, bewildered.
“Well, your grandmother taught me and now I will teach you,” explains Mindy.
The little family gather round the saucepan, watching intently. “Now picture Jasmine,” Mindy tells the girls. “Can you see her?”
“Now, watch the water. Soon you will see a change. Emmie, get ready with the lemon balm……….there…..now….. the water has a glazed effect.”
“That’s it, just one drop,” Mindy says, pulling back her daughters hand, just in time to prevent her adding an extra dose.
“Emmie, what’s next?”
“Add the sage and sandal wood. Then stir quickly in a clockwise direction, creating a bubbling whirlpool.”
“Wow, a whirlpool,” Jayne says; a look of wonder crosses her face.
The girls take turns splishing and sploshing the potion around the saucepan, creating a bigger and bigger whirlpool, until they are content that it has been mixed enough.
“Now time for bottling,” declares Emmie. “Do we have any more of those wee blue bottles?”
Mindy hands the girls a small, round bottle in pale blue glass, and a copper ladle; she tears a small square of paper from her notebook and, with a flurry of her fountain pen, makes a label which reads: ‘good luck potion, take four drops daily’.
The wagon comes to a halt; Emmie peers through the window, watches Bob unfasten the horse. “Good girl,” he murmurs quietly, as he brushes her long mane and gives her a generous pile of hay. The sun is shining brightly; the blue sky is decorated with a few fluffy white clouds. A light wind whips the long marram grass at the top of the beach; white horses dance and crash against the rocks and the sea glistens as the sun’s rays catch the cool, blue water.
“Wow,” Emmie exclaims as she opens the door. A long, white, sandy beach stretches out in front of them. The girls, having been cooped up all morning, are eager to explore. They leap from the van and run, giggling, towards the sea.
Mindy heads across the field to collect water from the farmhouse; she watches an assortment of vans and caravans trundle up the track and park on the windy headland. The travellers have camped in the same field for a week every year for the past 10 years. As Mindy approaches the farmhouse, she sees her old friend Jasmine leaning on a gate post, waiting to greet her. An energetic collie bounds towards her, wagging its tail. Mindy is shocked by the appearance of her old friend; the year hasn’t been kind to her. Jasmine looks older, her hair is greying, there are bags under her eyes, she is tired and stooped slightly under the weight of a bag of cattle feed she has just humped across the field.
“Hi Jasmine, how are things?”
“Not bad. Yourself? Come inside, I’ll put the kettle on.”
Inside the cottage, the fire glows in the grate, creating a warm, homely atmosphere. Shadows flicker and dance around the small room. A black cat sits in the hearth, purring contentedly.
“How’s Jimmy?” Mindy asks, sipping her hot, sweet tea.
“Oh he’s fine, working away on the farm.”
“Is he still working at the fire station as well?”
“No…he, um, lost his job. Government cutbacks, they’ve let a lot of the men go.”
Mindy nods. She knows the farm doesn’t bring the couple much income and they had relied on Jimmy’s job to put food on the table and pay the bills.
“Yeah, well…there’s nothing any of us can do. I’ll get us some biscuits,” Jasmine says, rising from her squashy armchair.
Mindy knows Jasmine’s avoiding the conversation and, as the old woman leaves, Mindy’s eyes skirt the small dingy room and fall upon an unpaid bill. “Final demand,” the letter states in bold red lettering.
Mindy sighs. She hopes the potion will work and Jasmine will be able to make a profit from her sculptures at this week’s fair.
“Here we go, help yourself,” Jasmine says, returning to the room with a plate full of chocolate digestives.
“How’s the sculpture business going?” asks Mindy casually.
“I’m not sure it is. I’ve made lots of driftwood sculptures, animals and the like……..haven’t sold many though……..I’m hoping that will change tomorrow, what with the fair being here. Tourists will want something to take home.”
Mindy slips the small, glass bottle from her pocket and places it on the table in front of Jasmine. A grin forms on Jasmines face as she holds the bottle to the light and examines it. “Ahhhhaaa! A good luck potion,” she exclaims.
“The girls made it for you this afternoon.”
“I’ll have no problems then,” Jasmine cackles. “That’s just what I need, a bit of your magic!”
Jasmine carefully adds four drops of the potion to her tea. She has had Mindy’s potions before and knows she must start taking it straight away for it to work by tomorrow’s fair. She desperately wants to believe in the magic.
“I have 25 large sculptures and a basketful of smaller ones…….birds……..robins, thrushes, that sort of thing.”
The women hear a gentle tap, tapping on the window and turn to see two smudgy faces peering through the glass. Outside, the collie whines and pulls on its chain, eager to play with the girls. Jasmine hurries to the door and beckons the girls inside. “Come in, come in.”
“Did mum give you the potion?” Emmie asks.
“Of course, I have some in my tea now,” Jasmine says, winking.
“Can we see your sculptures?”
“Do you know where you’re selling them, Jasmine?” asks Mindy.
“I think I have to take them down to the other side of the fields. I’ll take the Land Rover tomorrow morning; fill the trailer up.”
“I have a better idea,” Mindy says, a smile forming on her lips. “Why don’t you open a sculpture garden?”
“Tell me more; you are full of bright ideas!”
“You can arrange the sculptures around your garden, so they look like real animals. A pig sculpture drinking from a water trough and a horse eating hay; chickens pecking round the front door; that kind of thing.”
Everyone heads to the garden and works hard to prepare the sculpture garden for the public. They cut the grass and rake it into piles, which the girls wheelbarrow away. They are excited by the prospect of creating a mini farmyard. Mindy sits in the warm afternoon sunshine and watches her children eagerly help Jasmine arrange the sculptures in the most imaginative ways possible. They carefully arrange the little bird sculptures along the branch of a tree. A blue tit hangs from the bird feeder and could almost be mistaken for a real bird.
“I have a great idea,” Mindy hears Jasmine tell the girls. “If I peg a towel on the washing line, one of the goats could be eating it.”
The goat sculpture is moved into position. The soft white towel blows gently in the wind, while the goat pulls at one of the corners. As the children arrange the last of the sculptures, Mindy sneaks back to her caravan and returns with decorations for the garden. Long, colourful ribbons of bunting are suspended from the trees, and fairy lights decorate the windows. The girls each paint brightly-coloured signs, saying ‘Sculpture Garden This Way; Handmade Animal Sculptures by Local Artist Jasmine McKenzie’. One is hung on the garden gate; the other nailed to a post near Mindy’s caravan, where the main fair will be held.
“It looks wonderful,” Jasmine replied, happy with the final result. “I don’t know how I can ever thank you. This potion is already working.”
“Wait until tomorrow,” laughs Mindy.
The girls run ahead, eager to tell their grandfather about their day. Mindy and Jasmine stand at the front gate chatting. Strands of the older woman’s greying hair whip against her face in the cool evening breeze.
“I have a glass of wine if you’d like one,” she offers Mindy.
“Thank you, but I think we should wait until tomorrow night, then we might have something to celebrate. I had better go and make the girls’ dinner. Good luck for tomorrow!”
The sky had begun to darken; black clouds spreading across the horizon, threatening to burst. It will be night time soon. As Mindy walks back to her caravan, she watches the travellers set up camp. Tomorrow will be another day of haggling, trading and selling their crafts.
The day of the fair: there’s a general hustle and bustle of people – browsing stalls, pointing things out to their friends, making purchases. Kids chasing each other, giggling with excitement and eating fluffy, pink candy floss. A band can be heard playing in the background and the air is thick with the smell of baking. A small cafe has been set up, brightly-coloured picnic benches arranged around a caravan, where a girl with dreadlocks flips crepes, and a coffee machine whirs to life. Brightly-coloured awnings cover stalls selling jewellery, pots, bric-a-brac and dolls. The stallholders call to each other in an assortment of languages.
As the fair comes to an end, the last cars pull away from the temporary carpark. Mindy walks towards Jasmine’s house.
“So, how about that glass of wine?” Mindy asks. “Do we have something to celebrate?”
“Come with me!” Jasmine says, taking Mindy’s arm and pulling her towards the garden. A lone goat remains.
“You sold nearly everything!” Mindy exclaims.
“I knew that potion would work!” Jasmine says, “And I bet its working in other ways as well.” Jasmine stares out to sea, contemplating life. A fishing boat trundles past, pitching from side to side in the rough water, making its way home with the day’s catch.
Words and images: Abi Latham