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After the First Comes the Last

Holly Lyn Walrath's poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Luna Station Quarterly, Liminality, and elsewhere. Her chapbook of words and images, Glimmerglass Girl, will be published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master's in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. She is a freelance editor and host of The Weird Circular, an e-newsletter for writers containing submission calls and writing prompts. You can find her canoeing the bayou in Seabrook, Texas, on Twitter @HollyLynWalrath, or at hlwalrath.com.

When Aria cast the first spell, it was like filling a quarry in her belly she never knew existed. Saying the words and knowing they would work filled her with a sensation of wholeness, with the utter totality of truth. And hot on the heels of this came the rush of excitement, the startled joy of discovery, the blush of success. Sure, she was only trying to lift the stain from the carpet so her mother wouldn't find out about her clumsy attempt at smoking, but it was something, right? Later, at breakfast, she absentmindedly cursed and levitated the milk.
Her mother cried out in delight, "Your first spell!"
Aria didn't have the heart to tell her the truth.
There were so many spells after that first one. Spells to hide herself when the cops came to break up parties. Spells to knock down fences when she got angry at the neighbor for trimming back the oak tree on the property line, the one she used to go climb when she needed to be alone, to stop the itch under her nails and behind her eyes from the spells wanting to escape. Spells to stop zits on the night before prom. Spells that wanted to be free of her but were still a part of her so each one felt like a little loss as the words fell away from her lips. Spells to make the beat-up Honda she got for her birthday start again after it broke down on the side of the highway at night, in the country, coming back from her boyfriend's house.
Spells to get boyfriends to love her. Spells to stop boyfriends from loving her. Spells that couldn't stop the boyfriend in college who didn't believe in the power of the word "no." Spells to give the word "no" the power it deserved, bestowed on the girls in her dorm and then every girl on campus and then women who found her in the little boutique she set up on Sixth Street, women who stumbled upon it drunk or broken or faceless or numb. I just need a spell for him, they said or sometimes for her, and once, for them, the pronouns dripping with meaning but none could solve the bigger problem. Spells to make cops see the women were telling the truth, to make people believe.
And if she counted up the spells in her life she might have saved that first one for something better, something more meaningful, something less adolescent and foolish. Aria knew too late that each spell was nothing if not a Band-Aid. She should've been spelling Senators and Presidents and Judges. When she looked back on that girl she used to be, she didn't regret her mistakes, only the spells. At thirty-five she felt them squeaking out of her, growing thin. Her belly felt tight, empty. And she sunk a wish in her heart, a stone of a wish that seemed to stick in the back of her throat, that she hadn't helped all those women. But that was a mean, hard thought and she swept it from her mind before it got too close to her, before it tried to whisper in her ear, before it fell from her lips.
Aria tried to tell herself the need to have a child wasn't the need to fill the emptiness. She felt the last spell coming when her daughter kicked beneath her hand in her belly. It was expectant, that spell. And when the nurses wrapped her daughter up and deposited the squirming, so-very-pink baby in her arms, Aria closed her eyes and cast the last spell. She tried to make it count; she wrapped all the memories of all those women up in her words and wished for a better way for this, her baby girl, and every baby girl to come.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, August 13th, 2018

Author Comments

I wrote this story from a prompt by Kathy Fish about firsts and lasts. The first idea that came to mind was spells--what if the number of spells a witch had in her life was finite? What would her last spell be? This wove into the narrative about child-rearing in today's world and how hard it is to protect our children. For me, this story is about passing hope onto the next generation--a hope that one day the world will be a better place.

- Holly Lyn Walrath
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