| April 2012
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The Flower Bowl Spell
By Olivia Boler
Editor’s Note: Olivia Boler, a longtime contributor to the Noe Valley Voice, has just published her second novel, The Flower Bowl Spell. So we thought what better way to bring it to light than to print an excerpt in Other Voices. The book’s heroine is “What else? A journalist,” Boler says. But here’s the catch. Memphis Zhang is also a witch.
“Memphis isn’t ashamed of her Wiccan upbringing—in fact, she’s proud to be one of a few Chinese American witches in San Francisco, and maybe the world. Unlike the well-meaning but basically powerless Wiccans in her disbanded coven, Memphis can see fairies, read auras, and cast spells that actually work,” the book’s promo reads.
As the novel opens, Memphis is avoiding the practice of “magick,” because she feels guilty about the death of a friend whom she’d tried to protect. Still, the sudden appearance of her friend’s brother—and a brush with a fairy in a BART tunnel—make her want to reconsider.
Following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Flower Bowl Spell.
Contrary to what Sir J. M. Barrie professed, fairies were not created by the scattering of the first baby’s first laugh, although it’s a nice little bit of poetry. Fairies originated from the same quagmires of water, dirt, and simple-celled organisms that every other organic and inorganic being on this planet did. It’s biology and O-chem. I’ve read they’re closely related to bats.
I think about this as I walk up the stairs of my building. Cooper is inside our apartment, drinking coffee and correcting quizzes. The man never seems to be without a red pencil in hand. I watch the way his fingers curl around it. The tanned muscles in his arm flex as he writes, an involuntary spasm. He’s wearing a sage green T-shirt and the gold rims of his glasses give him something of a leafy touch, as if he had been born in a forest, one of its creatures.
He does a slight double take when he sees me—work absorbs him—and says as he puts down the pencil, “Is it that time already?”
We kiss and I touch his clean-shaven chin, his sideburns going silver beneath the wheat of his hair. With my round face, dark hair, and short stature, I think we don’t look at all like a couple. I look like a charity case, a refugee with hazel eyes, thanks to my father’s European genes. But whenever Cooper and I stand side by side and I see us reflected in a mirror or shop window, I’m always surprised by how well we actually do work.
I answer his question by nodding, feeling a bit like one of his high school students in his classroom for some after-school tutoring. Which, just a few years ago, I was.
He stands up and places his glasses on the kitchen table with a sigh. I busy myself by hanging my fleece on its hook, hanging my keys on theirs. Everything put away, everything tidy. Then I remember we’re supposed to be going out. Where is my brain? I take my things back and sling my messenger bag over my shoulder....
“Did you do the picnic stuff?” I ask, and the corner of his mouth twitches. Neither of us cooks. We’re lazy and disinterested—we have that in common—so it’s takeout or cheap restaurants all the way. He takes my hand and kisses my palm.
“We’re going to miss the sunset,” I say. “Mr. Funny Business.”
“Now, now.” He kisses the inside of my wrist. He doesn’t let go as he leads me down the hallway towards the back of our flat.
Once we are in our bedroom, he releases my wrist and faces me. There’s a smile fixed to his face as he unbuttons my cardigan, removes my blouse, unzips my pants. I tug at the green T-shirt while loosening his leather belt. He lets me struggle for a while, then takes it out of my hands, unbuckling it as his eyes stay put on mine....
I wake from a light doze, no more than 10 minutes. Outside, the sun has barely shifted. Cooper lies by my side watching me, a smile on his lips, his eyes a little confused with love.
“Time for the sunset now?” I yawn.
“Yes, by all means. The sunset.”
He rolls to the edge of our bed and I watch him walk out the door to the bathroom. I hear him turn on the shower and start to mumble-sing “Toréador” from Carmen, his favorite shower song.
Cooper knows about my Wiccan upbringing and refers to me and Auntie Tess as the Asian Pagan Invasion. I’ve even shared tales of some of the more far-out stuff, like the green glow that would suddenly emanate from candles when our former coven would chant around a pentacle circle. But we don’t talk about fairies. Or inanimate objects coming to life. I tried to once, and he told me I had a very active imagination as a child, a sure sign of greatness of mind. Who am I to argue?
Besides, I knew he’d say something like that. Cooper is supportive and easy to read. It’s why I chose him. But he’s not able to handle the fact that my imagination only gets me so far. For reasons I don’t even understand, I can see and do things other witches can’t, things you read about in fairy tales. Only two others know about me. One is Auntie Tess, yet we never talk about it. Something stops me from sharing too much, and something stops her from asking. The other person—well, we haven’t spoken in a long, long time.
I study the ceiling, my old friend. There’s a crack that’s been there forever, before I moved into this place. I’ve never liked the ceiling light fixture and pretty much ignore it, even though each time I pass a lamp store I study the possibilities. Cooper tells me to wait until we buy a place of our own. But I doubt we’ll ever leave this apartment. Still, that lamp with its 1950s design of starbursts and boomerang angles just does not fit with the Edwardian crown molding and—Something behind it moves.
My breath catches. I blink. What could it be? A mouse? A giant spider? Something small. Something that darts. With wings.
A face peeks over the rim of the lamp. As I sit up it ducks away, disappearing from my view. I feel something, almost like a raindrop, hit my belly, and I jump low into a crouch. Slowly I stand up on the bed, trying to balance on the lumpy old mattress. I reach for the lamp. I’m too short.
“Did you just spit on me?” I holler. “What do you want?” And where, I wonder,have you been?
Footfalls pound down the hall. Cooper stands in the doorway of our room, dripping wet and naked. He looks me up and down. The shower is still running.
“Why are you yelling? What’s wrong?” he asks.
“Nothing. There’s something there.”
I point. “The light. The lamp.”
For a second, I don’t think he’s heard me. He continues to stare at me like maybe this is the moment where he sees the truth about me and it all ends between us. It’s only a fraction of a second and then he steps onto the bed—he’s a good foot taller than I—and unscrews the knob that holds the shade in place. Carefully, he removes it before peering inside. He raises his eyes to me.
“You’re right. There’s something here.”
I open my mouth but don’t say what I’m thinking: Are you magickal after all? He pauses, making sure I’m ready. I nod. He holds the shade toward me like—I can’t help thinking with a wee shiver—it’s a sacrifice.
Inside are bits of asbestos. Dead flies. Lots and lots of dust.
“Oh,” I say. “Oh.”
“Confess.” He wipes the dripping water from his wet hair out of his eyes. “You just wanted me to pull the ugly lampshade down. Am I right?”
I look up at the glaringly bright light bulbs in their sockets. There’s a hole next to them—a swallow could fit through it, or something of that ilk.
“Yeah, big C,” I say. “You caught me.”
“You are a piece of work, Memphis Zhang.”
“You mean a control freak.”
“Comme tu veux.”
Cooper goes back to the bathroom. He turns off the shower and I hear him toweling off. I stretch out on the bed and study my bod. The spot where I felt something drip on my skin is dry, clean as a whistle. Cooper comes back into our room and starts to dress.
“What did you think was there, anyway?” he asks.
I raise my hands in a helpless shrug. “A squirrel?”
He snorts. “A squirrel.”
“Yeah, you’re right. That’s crazy talk. It was probably a fairy.”
“Or the ghost of Columbus.”
Yet, I know it was a fairy because he smiled at me.
Olivia Boler, 40, is a native San Franciscan. She’s written and edited for the Noe Valley Voice for “12 wonderful years,” and since 1996 has lived on Diamond Street with her husband, Paul Marshall. They have two adorable kids, Lulu and Renzo, “plus a crazy poodle and a 22-year-old cat.” In 2000, she published her first novel, Year of the Smoke Girl. Her short stories have appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies, including Cheers to Muses, The Lyon Review, and MARY. If you’d like to download the rest of The Flower Bowl Spell, it’s available at major e-book retailers, including Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords. A paperback version should be out in early May. Boler says you can check her website, www.oliviaboler.com, for the latest Flower Bowl news, or follow her on Twitter (@oliviaboler) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/OliviaBolerAuthor).
The Noe Valley Voice invites you to submit fiction, creative nonfiction, photographs, or poetry for possible publication in Other Voices. Email OtherVoices@noevalleyvoice.com or write Other Voices, Noe Valley Voice, P.O. Box 460249, San Francisco, CA 94146. Please include your name, address, and phone number, and a self-addressed stamped envelope if you want items returned. We look forward to hearing from you.