I hated Zoney Jenkins. He was the bully of our school and somehow I had become the target of his wrath.
It was a cold December day when I was walking home from school behind the other kids. Zoney ran back and grabbed my hat. Again. He started playing Keep Away, tossing it to the other kids, who were all much taller than I. Okay, who am I kidding here; a second grader was probably taller than me. I had to get it back because this was the third one I had lost this year and I knew my mother would not be pleased to have to replace my hat yet again.
My mother didn’t know about Zoney Jenkins. None of the mothers did. In my pre-adolescent mind, ratting out somebody twice your size who you had to spend the rest of the school year sitting behind made no sense.
Then Zoney really did it. He flung my hat far into a neighbor’s yard. Not just any neighbor though, into the witch’s yard. I’m sure she had another name but none of us knew it. It was always, the witch. She was old and wrinkled, sort of like how your dungarees looked when you dropped them on your floor at night and decided to wear them the next morning.
The bunch of us were silent as we stared through the wrought iron fence at the hat which taunted me from the bush near the door. “Now who’s going to go get my hat?” I said to Zoney stomping my foot.
“Don’t look at me mouse, I’ve got to leave.” he said “but if I were you I’d be careful of that witch there, I hear she makes stews and no one is exactly sure of the ingredients.” Zoney and his gang laughed as they turned the corner and walked out of my sight.
There I stood with a real dilemma on my hands and getting colder by the minute. Finally I decided that since I was indeed the size of a mouse, I might be able to sneak to the bush, grab my hat and leave, long before the witch looked for new stew ingredients.
Stealthily I crept toward the bush, with snow crunching under my every step. Once close, I stretched my hand up as high as I could and as my hand brushed against the edge of the hat I felt another hand slap down over mine.
“What do you want child?” said the wretched old witch.
“I just n-n-n-need my hat.” I stammered.
“Well it looks pretty wet and you look pretty cold. I’ll just take it inside and dry it with an iron for you. You can come too of course.”
I reluctantly followed, quietly observing my surroundings. This place was even bigger than it looked from the outside, I thought as I stood in the hallway. A witch could hide all kinds of potions in here, probably even have a dungeon with prisoners and no one would know! I gulped when I thought that I might never see my family again. I was even beginning to miss Zoney Jenkins.
She opened the door to a bright living room. “You sit down right over there and I’ll just go make us a snack. I have some stew I just made last night if you’d like a bowl.” .My eyes felt like they were enlarging four times there size as I politely refused. “Well, hot chocolate and cookies it is then.”
I sat quietly and a large tiger cat with double paws jumped into my lap and fell asleep. Strange, I thought, I thought witches cats were supposed to be black.
The witch was soon returned with snacks.” That’s Bertram, I named him after my little brother. You got a little brother?” she asked. I nodded.
“Well Bertram and I, we had the best times when we were about your age. We were both fascinated with flying, it was new to the world then, and we were crazy. We would constantly be daring each other to do the craziest stunts. I remember once I dared him to go down all three flights of stairs, walking on the banister. He made it to the second floor before he fell off and broke his arm. He’s gone now, lost in an air battle during the war.”
We were both quiet for a minute as we sipped our cocoa.
Suddenly she began speaking again. “See that picture over there, I was a wing walker. That’s my Omar, I never let anyone else pilot a plane. We traveled the Midwest barnstorming. What a life it was, traveling from town to town. My parents were a bit upset at my choice of careers. They wanted me to settle down and teach school.”
“So if you loved it, why did you quit?” I asked. Being 12 it never occurred to me that fun things might someday have to end.
“We were in Nebraska and there was bad weather. Omar always had a fascination with storms; I couldn’t keep him from watching them. A funnel cloud appeared on the edge of the field and before I knew it Omar was in the plane heading right for the center of it. That was the day I grew up. I came back here and did as my parents advised. So here sits Agatha, prim, proper and lonely.”
I didn’t ask anymore questions. Tears were forming in her eyes and she looked almost heartbreakingly human. She quietly headed toward the kitchen and was soon back with my hat dry and warm from being run under the iron.
Before I knew it I was opening my own kitchen door and my mother called out “Benjamin is that you? You haven’t lost your hat again have you?”
That word, lost, I would never see it in the same way again. It was too deep, too hollow, too Agatha.