I put my hand on the worktop, letting it take my weight as I studied the mixture in the steel pot. It was not a magically-stereotypical shade of chartreuse or mauve, but rather an attractive glossy brown, suggestive of treacle.
It also wasn’t bubbling, but that was fine. It would when I put the lid on and pressurised the container. A bit of a cheat, yes, but it’s the twenty-first century after all – why leave things stewing in cauldrons for hours when electric pressure cookers exist? Particularly when there’s so much to do. So many people that need help.
I reached for my long-handled silver spoon, and found a gap where it should be, in between the spoon made out of intricately twisted copper and the one carved out of black walnut. I closed my eyes, trying to feel. It was somewhere. It just… wasn’t here.
I suddenly felt very tired. My shoulders burned almost permanently these days with an unpleasant sort of buzzing sensation. The large muscles in my thighs often ached, and when I tipped my head to stretch my neck, it crackled as though full of tiny pieces of broken glass.
The potion wasn’t finished – I couldn’t just sit down. Not yet. It needed to be stirred with the silver spoon, and then it needed some blood of Hestia, a declaration of love and a pinch of heartfelt gratitude. Three finger clicks, two bars of hummed music and then stir once clockwise with the black walnut spoon – which I had – and thirteen minutes under pressure. This last part I knew from experiment since, funnily enough, ancient grimoires don’t mention Instant Pots.
So, I needed the silver spoon. But it wasn’t there.
I moved to the drawer on the other side of the room, wincing as pain from an old injury stabbed the heel of my right foot. I didn’t really think the silver spoon would be there, and it wasn’t. This was the drawer for standard cutlery – stainless steel knives and forks, and ordinary curved spoons that would work for both dessert and soup, saving the average household the need to acquire two different types.
My grandmother would not have approved. Round spoons for soup, oval ones for dessert. Don’t use the wrong tool just because it’s in the right place, she’d have said.
Why did I waste time looking? I limped back to the pot. I knew I could find the dammed spoon, but not quickly. I couldn’t leave the ingredients too long or the mixture would spoil. It had to be right.
I felt my throat tighten, and my first thought was to grab a tiny glass phial and a cork, because one shouldn’t waste perfectly good tears. My second thought was that was ridiculous, and my third thought was that crying was a waste of important time, and my fourth…
‘Stop,’ I said to the empty kitchen. ‘And before you think that, Felicity, talking to yourself is fine. Everyone does it.’
I made a conscious effort to breathe out, counting to five as I did so, and let the in-breath come naturally. Then I did it again. It’s taken time to learn these skills, but then, it takes time to learn everything.
Feeling a little calmer, my scattered thoughts beginning to settle, I inhaled again, focusing this time on smell. Nutmeg, honey, a hint of old leaves and a trace of sweet woodsmoke – but not the thick, bitter scent of sugars turning too dark. I still had a few minutes.
I considered the pot. Steel and plastic. LED lights. A long way from copper and cast iron hung over flames. I thought of Gran again, and remembered the time I’d seen her struggling with one of those old-fashioned ice cream scoops with a little lever. It had been too flimsy to cope with hard ice cream straight from the freezer, so I’d bought her one of those new, chunky ones with a thick, rubber handle.
She’d loved it.
She hadn’t lived to see this sort of digital pressure cooker, and I wondered what she’d have thought of it. Would she have frowned, or would she have been excited?
More to the point, did it matter?
‘You’re not her, Felicity,’ I told myself, tipping my head from side to side so that my neck cracked and popped again. ‘But for all that you’re not, you’re still a damn good witch. Because you’ve spent a lot of time learning how to be.’
I looked again at the mixture. Did the precise nature of the atoms in the spoon really matter? Hasn’t it always been more about the hand holding it? Besides, sometimes there aren’t enough spoons, and good enough has be… good enough.
I lifted my chin and picked up my nylon cooking spoon. I gave the potion two turns counter-clockwise before reaching for the blood of Hestia, which was in a pretty yellow tin labelled ‘pure chamomile flowers,’ because that’s another thing – no one calls it blood of Hestia these days.
I added a pinch of the sweet-smelling leaves. ‘You’re good at this,’ I whispered to myself, and ‘thanks, Gran. You taught me a lot. I’ve just… added to it.’
I clicked my fingers three times, and began to hum.
In an earlier draft of this piece, her partner arrived and sorted out the silver shortage. That wasn’t right, though. Felicity needed to learn that what she had was enough.