By Scarlett Mosher, TIWP Student
Oddly enough, people tend to assume that kitchen witches are always women.
While the feet that pace the cobblestone floor may belong to my mother and sisters and friends stopping by for a cup of tea, I pace the kitchen as well, sifting flour and balancing too many eggs in my hands. I should really stop carrying eggs like that.
In my family, it’s a tradition for the men to take up something “manly,” as my father describes it, like learning to blast fire from their hands or shake mountains free of boulders. But no “manly” occupation ever really attracted me. Since I was young, I preferred to learn the way the small pumpkin cakes were shaped, and how something as rough as human hands can mold smooth, warm cookies.
My mother didn’t have a problem with this. My father, however, did.
Now, he would be the laughingstock of the family, instead of one of my younger uncles. His only son, a kitchen witch? Was the boy not interested in fire and wood and all the other things that made my young cousins men? These are the things my father imagines they’d say. My mom says he’s being silly. I don’t think so.
I also think my father doesn’t understand that I understand perfectly what I’m doing. Of course I know I’ll be laughed at, mocked, probably pushed into the lake to sleep among the seaweed and big-eyed bass. And I’ve made peace with it.
I’ve also made peace knowing that I’ll probably never live up to my father’s expectations. I’ve sworn to the moon and back that I would never feel the need to impress him. But the moon isn’t very good to swear to, as Juliet once said, “don’t swear by the moon, thy inconsistent moon.” I found that out the hard way.
Part of me still craves that attention. It’s why I drown myself in plumes of flour, trying to repress the feeling of regret as I knead and push into the cookie dough. It’s worked so far, and I don’t plan to change anything. So, I just keep swearing to the moon, because the sun hurts to look at, and the twilight sky is so empty I feel like my words would just endlessly bounce between the stars, never reaching godly ears.
My sisters snickered amongst themselves when I first tied the apron around my neck, but as the months passed my presence became so familiar that I was no longer a topic of their whispers. Instead of flicking dough into my hair like they used to, they help me clean it, running their soup-stained fingers through the mess of brown curls on my head. For the rest of the day, I’d smell like broth, carrots, and a hint of parsley if you got close enough.
I couldn’t ask for more.
Our family dinners are forgettable, as always, but there’s one I can remember, the night I stood a little taller.
My inseparable twin brothers sat opposite my equally inseparable sisters, and joyously bickered in a typical sibling fashion. Over what, I can’t exactly remember, but mid-way through, fire shot out of my brother’s nose and that quickly wrapped up their conversation. I sat with my sisters, across from an empty spot with no familiar wood-carved seat, with special notches made by my kitchen knife when I was five. When I was forced to move, my father had insisted he take my seat. He didn’t want to leave a seat open and invite in any otherworldly guests. Old superstitions. But I understood, once I saw the telltale flicker in his eye. His eye color always flickers when he lies.
I helped my mom set out the steaming pots and pans, scented with the best herbs I’d plucked from the garden earlier in the day. This was my magnum opus. My mother had barred my sisters from the kitchen, leaving just the two of us breathlessly whipping and beating and stirring for hours. I swear I carved a path in the kitchen floor, with how much I ran back and forth.
My sisters clapped happily. They smiled like wolves when I started to bring the food out, expecting charred stalks, and that I would have spent my time making smokestacks instead of mac-and-cheese.
But they turned to drooling sheep once the smell of the food reached their pink-dipped noses. They leaned forward, hands gripping the serving spoons, ready to attack the feast with vigor. For a moment, I was scared they wouldn’t leave any for the rest of us.
But my father, bellowing and jamming his fork into the parsnip pie, proclaimed that my mother had made it all, and that I, as his son, would never be able to cook like this. It’s in the genes, he said, as he sniffed the stalk. The words may have been coming out of a pig, as he grunted and mumbled something about witches and pots.
“I made this,” I strained the words through my teeth, the sentence flowing out of my mouth like pasta water into the sink.
“Like Merlin you did.” He shakes his head, motioning for my brothers to silently agree. They don’t notice, their focus on the food.
“I did, dad!”
“Like. Merlin. You. Did.” Stubbornness. I’m telling you, he’s probably a boar in a human suit.
Without another word, I threw my apron down, and stormed into the kitchen. To my father, I may have well just hung my head and produced a white flag. He laughed from somewhere deep inside, making a side remark to my mother about taking me out to the woods tomorrow.
And though shame burned my cheeks, and I could barely quench the anger rising in my throat, I silently grabbed as many spices as I could carry, putting the rest of the ingredients into a terracotta pot.
He seemed surprised when I returned from the kitchen, carrying the ingredients to his favorite meal—a pork and spice dish—topped with a dollop of pumpkin cream.
“Boy-what?” Confusion passed over his face. A little victory felt nice.
I kept my vow of silence, slamming the pot down onto the kitchen table, and moving aside the rest of the food. Whimpers of protest came from my brother’s side of the table.
And so, despite the confusion and stuttering protest from my father, I started to cook. Mixing the cream with a cream-mixing spell, while using my other hand to bake the pork chop, I slid my palm over the slimy meat, a warm, oven glow casting dancing shadows across my face. The spice and herbs were easy enough to mix. It was just partitioning them while I tried to get the meat to its juicy medium-rareness that proved difficult.
I could feel the sweat starting to drip down my face. Whether it was from the nervousness, the warmth of my palm, or a mix of both, I’m still not sure.
The cream was whipped perfectly, and the pork chop—despite a couple burns that I hid under the cream—came out from under my palm in perfect form. I grabbed the plate I hid under the pot and slid the slab of meat onto it, sprinkling the spices on it’s juicy flesh and topping it off with a dollop of cream.
“There—” I huffed, sliding it towards my father. A frown tugged at his lips, but the wafting smell of the meat quickly raised the corners of his mouth.
“I told you I can cook.”
The shame he feels is never going to go away. And if he wants me to pretend I can burn down trees with the flick of a wrist like, and I quote, “a real man,” then sure, I’ll indulge him. But after that dinner, he never really bothered me about my kitchen-witchery again.