FOR EVERY TOWN A WITCH
by Kristin Bonilla
A burning witch on midsummer eve smells like campfire, like tobacco, like men standing in a circle as they smile and sing. She is only an effigy, a cartoon, with her green skin painted onto her plywood face, her body a sack of coarse black fabric scraps stitched together and overstuffed with hay. She rides a broom and has a long warty nose that was carved by hand. The time it took to give her two warts instead of one.
Bless this land, they sing. Their voices are warm and robust, the kind of singing only a day’s worth of drinking can provide. The entire town has turned out to thank the patron saint, to bless the bounty of summer. There is white fish and roast pork, greens and berries and cucumbers, fresh bread, beer and wine. Table after table laden with food. There is enough for everyone, and this alone is reason to celebrate.
“We make these fires to keep evil away,” a man tells me. “It is a very old tradition tied to the harvest.” It’s true that a bonfire has been lit on this night annually for centuries. But only since his grandfather’s generation have they burned the figure of a witch. Aside from those they burned for real, centuries before. I do not say any of this.
Someone passes a bottle of wine. I raise it to my lips, drink, swallow, and hand it on.
Next to me, holding the man’s hand, is a girl. She is no more than four years old, her cheeks glowing from the radiating warmth of the fire. Her eyes are wet, one hand raised to cover her mouth. She moves her hand and pulls on one of her buttery curls until it is completely straight, taut in her tiny fingertips. When she lets go, it springs back into a ringlet, resilient and strong.
On my tongue is the acidic, toasty aftertaste of the wine. I am reminded that the process of fermentation is the systematic work of turning sweet into sour.
Kristin Bonilla is a fiction writer from northern California. Her work has appeared in NPR: Three Minute Fiction, NANO Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, online at Gulf Coast Magazine, and others. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and currently lives in Houston. Follow her on Twitter @kbonilla.