Small Spells by Jane Kim

I.  

In real life she was a witch, but these days she was having strange dreams. One of those nights she was called a bitch three times, once by herself; then the friend she missed came back to life and kissed her knees tender, and she cried before her arms grew limp and empty, and she remembered that if she was trying to let go she was holding on, still. She fell from her broomstick and she was not sure if this had happened in real life or in one of her strange dreams, because she had that feeling of her guts soaring upwards in her cold torso that she only got when she tumbled from up high, a giddy fright—or frightful giddiness, if she gently, innocently, and very intentionally let her hands slip from the handle that would keep her from falling. Then she had to remind herself that she was in fact a witch so that the shock of the fall wouldn’t hit her too hard, and her eyes grew soft before they opened—or closed?—spotting a daisy flower blooming in the cracks of the asphalt street, and we are not sure if she died in her dreams or lived in her life, but she smiled from her bed either before she cried herself to sleep or after she woke up in a puddle of tear-soaked pillows.

II.

She knew words had physical weight, but only because she had tried swallowing them. She was getting better, they no longer threatened to fight their way out her eyes in tears instead, but she could feel their weight gather like stones in the wolf’s stomach in Little Red Riding Hood.

She wonders if this is punishment for deception—because, wasn’t not-saying a form of lying too?—after all, the wolf had been a trickster too. She wonders when she will drown.

III.

i)

There are spells she had believed she had mastered.

Like letting go.

She’d had a lot of practice. On a day she was feeling particularly arrogant she might even say, more than most. Practice leaving things, places, people, indefinitely, turning sad, moving on, turning back, and giving up, turning sad again, and letting go. Why was it that attachment has always been cheap and easy? So quick, she’d never have realized, she’d had no warning, and they refused to part. Sometimes she didn’t even expect to have to let them go, but she did, and she watched them leave before she could, and there is no point running backwards, like there is no point gripping a knife.

Letting go. If believing and practice didn’t work their spell—

Let go. Like cutting out pieces of her own flesh. Scattering them in place of moonstones to find her way back home, as she follows an unknown trail, not knowing where she’s headed, not knowing if she’d be able to return, not knowing, just hoping.

But flesh festers and it hurts where she’s cut it. It hurts until she’s not sure it’s been worth carving them out, maybe the gingerbread house will be nothing grand, maybe she will find nothing worth the things she left behind, maybe it will really only be an oven and a witch eager to eat her half alive, maybe she shouldn’t have left at all.

ii) (Or, Take 2)

And this time she learns maybe she hadn’t let them go, any of them, not really. She turns each invisible stone in her hand, feeling each smooth gleam and rough edge, turn them too often, grip them too tight, let them cut into her palms till there is blood in the crease of her fingers and tears leaking from her eyes. Yes. It is beautiful and it hurts like hell, and she missed everything she’d lost. Don’t pretend you didn’t know.

As much as she longs for it, as much as she misses it till her battered heart beats like a broken radio, she knows turning back will promise nothing. Has any of your homes been home? Has everyone home loved you so? Have you not met strangers who held you better than the things you tried to let go, have you not learned there are things too beautiful to have missed, even if it cost you a limb.

She’d thought she’d been letting go.

They’d only been cutting deeper. She never realized.

Or maybe they are wounds she neglected until they festered into something worse, far worse, and they’ll always hurt in ways she didn’t expect, at times she didn’t expect. Cuts she’d taken, she thinks of Shylock, you can’t carve out flesh without shedding blood. Her rough bare feet, she’s lost or given away her childhood shoes at some point she doesn’t remember, now she is in red slippers heading onwards into an unknown forest trail and her spell is wearing out, she hasn’t let go and maybe she never will, and she is heading onwards, the last of her small spells.


Originally from Seoul, South Korea, Jane published a 400-page novel, Fallen, with Creative Writing for Children’s Society on Amazon Kindle in 2014. Her short story Broken has been featured in STORGY magazine in 2018, and her personal essay, “Umma, How You Break My Heart,” was published in Cherry Tree Literary Journal Issue V in 2019. A flash fiction series, “Ten Bad Feelings,” has been featured in Cutbank Literary Magazine in 2020. Part of her poetry series to support the Black Lives Matter movement has also been featured in the We Don’t Break, We Burn anthology with Mindwell Poetry. After receiving her BA in Literary Arts and History of Art and Architecture at Brown University, she completed her master’s degree in English at St. Peters College, Oxford.