She said things like “Everyone wants to belong to a witch,” and
“A name is a carnivorous animal.” Her penmanship lifted off and
vibrated. She had incredibly long toes and she’d killed a lot of
In this life (and perhaps others) she’d been called murderer
and pimp. She’d been called Freak-Witch and Hard Woman
and Candlestick and Mrs. Sometimes and Nancy-Witch and
Creepwitch and Cupcake, Tom-Witch and half and half and
Superwitch and Mistress Forobosco and Knife-Wife and the
Green Witch and Tiptoe Killer and White Witch and Girl-Unit
and Fish Doctor.
She’d been called bad names and all names and some names I won’t
repeat and names no one else had been called.
She’d been called too many names and she kept track of these
names, kept track of them with a scrupulousness.
For there on the houseboat Veronica, beneath the huge white bed
in the black-haired woman’s sleeping quarters, lurked a batwingbound
black book, a book into which she’d written every bad name
she’d been called in her life.
Josh Bell teaches at Harvard, is the recipient of an NEA grant, and is the author of two poetry collections, Alamo Theory and No Planets Strike.