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Cabinet of Chic Curiosities

Witches of Paris

The war started in the summer and this was the first day that Paris had finally, blessedly, started to move after a fall of hibernation. 

There were few cars on the road that day, as access was still limited, but the little freedom we were given was sweet like sugar. We’d all been trapped in our homes, each in our dusty little universes, as the fighting came closer. 

Some families were able to flee to the countryside, but we had nowhere to go, so we stayed in our dark apartment for months. 

I’d been home with my husband and the baby, but it had been so long since I’d been together with my kin. There was little opportunity until that brisk December evening, so when the opportunity came, we took it. 

If you don’t understand magic, you might make yourself crazy trying to figure out how we knew it was time to come together, but to those that practice, it’s the most natural thing. They try to distract us with the washing, the cooking, the never-ending drudgery. We can’t escape it, that is true, but it is also true that we have our ways. 

We knew because we listened when no one would pay attention. Women, we listen to each other. That is how we know. 

Words are spells; we cast them because it is the power we have. We know this, we feel it just as we feel when a second pulse beats inside of us. Our power is magic, passed down in words. 

Men fear women’s magic. They fear our words.

So we share those words with each other as we stand in the markets. We hear the words travel as we hang the wash to dry. We tell stories to the children. Words feed us, they keep the embers of power warm until it is time to release that power.

On that December day, we did.

That evening the women left their homes after preparing early dinners. The pretences were mundane, mostly dutiful fretting about going to the newly opened market before they closed for the night. A way to get ahead for the chores to come tomorrow. 

Shopping for provisions is a practical cover. So to the market I went.

Now, there are limits to how much we could communicate without a plan. We knew it was the night to meet, the moon told us so, but we didn’t know where we were meeting or how many of us were left. 

How would we find each other? We knew, and yet we didn’t know.

I searched for fresh bread and candles but had no luck so far in finding any, and then I saw her on Rue de la Paix. She was dressed in black furs, silky and elegant, and wore a hat topped with two black ostrich feathers. How did I know she and I were the same? In normal days a woman like her would never even look my way; me, the simple wife of a shoemaker and she, a lady of elegance. But this was no normal day. 

Her eyes floated above a delicate veil of black lace and invited me to follow. 

So I did.

We didn’t exchange a word. I followed from a respectable distance. She entered the Jardin de Tuileries, never once turning back. She didn’t have to. I knew.

The women of Paris are witches and it was our time.

The crowd was a black river of aristocratic dames and nurses and washerwomen moving silently until it stopped.  

I was beneath the statue of the nymphe and her snarling dog, near the large pool where my husband and I courted, watching the paper boats.

Tonight, the pool reflected the rising moon. The dancing began to music no one but us could hear.  

They say we lose our minds for loving the moon. That we are possessed. But the moon, she sings to us. 

Roxanna Sarmiento is a writer and unapologetically Gen X but instead of a ‘zine she writes emails that feed your creativity.