image of watercress, the dry spoon

Watercress, the Dry Spoon

You are a WITCH with eyes that hold oceans. You dance in the rain, tango and fox-trot in the shower. Your magic spawns from the taming of chaos. You live in a cottage made of bamboo and bear pelts. HIKE UP YOUR SKIRT AND TRAMPLE!

THE WITCH WATERCRESS HAD NEVER SMELLED A VILLAGE before one settled on her stream. Villages were faraway things, mirages to be observed through shifting water or caterpillar-punched leaves. WATERCRESS had avoided them like the thinnest wafer of ice on the pond — fragile, new, not yet grown into anything of use.

Usefulness she understood. In every plant was a poultice, every plume, a protectant. She was a HAG of foraging, foresting, forecasting. She knew which branches would hold egg-laden nests in the spring, which flowers would blossom and breathe in the fall. She made the acquaintances of spiders, friends of beavers, tentative, awestruck allies with the swelling mob of mushrooms that pulsed beneath the forest floor. But a village? What kind of use could a village serve to a WITCH so in tune with each wisp of smoke and tuft of grass?

It smelled mostly of sawdust, at first. Cooked meat, horse manure, sweat. It took a while for the houses to be constructed — first skeletal frames, then plastered walls, thatched roofs. The building team was organized, their materials stacked in neat piles and schedule well-kept. They knew enough of local plant life to separate the edible from the poison, knew enough of THE WOODS to take only enough to satisfy their need. Watercress approved. She decided to journey south for a time, to return with interest when the settlement was complete.

After only a few moon cycles, the village hummed with activity. The population of villagers, entirely unattuned, had tripled. Watercress swam upriver, squinting hazily at laundry lines and log fences. The long rope of her hair twisted in her wake like a golden eel. She reached water that tasted silty, clouded with dirt. Through the waves, a stretch of cattail, no, a blooming water lily, no — a girl. Her peach ringlets came into focus through ripples and fish bubbles, distorted like a distant sunset. She sat on the riverbank, her eyes closed, forehead resting on her knees. There was some sort of call from behind her, then a sigh. Her breath blew wrinkles in the surface of the river, just inches from Watercress’s face.

As the girl turned back to her work, Watercress raised just her eyes above water. The girl held a shovel that almost reached her chin at the center of a wide rectangle of dirt. She turned the earth with hesitation, often backtracking to her previous work to poke at it hopelessly with her spade. Sometimes she nudged the dirt with her foot as if crops were a cat to be gently persuaded from the path of a door. Watercress felt the presence of seedlings itching at the ground, surviving in spite of the girl’s poor efforts.

Of course the plants could not grow. They sat beneath the earth, petulant and prodded. Half were drowned and the other desiccated, the rows uneven and too tightly packed to be parted by hearty roots. Watercress floated like a gator, her shifting irises reflecting each ripple in the river. When the girl bent to pack the dirt even tighter with her palms, she couldn’t help but burst onto land.

“No, no, no, no, no,” she groaned, falling to her knees to claw at the plot with her hands. “That’s not right at all. My apologies, I can’t watch this.”

The girl yelped with surprise, ducking behind her shovel as if she could hide her entire frame behind a beam only three inches wide. “A witch!” she exclaimed, stuttering on the foreign sound of the word.

Watercress was not paying attention. “This, here, and this here,” she muttered, pointing at each seedling until they breached the ground and crawled to a new position. The hair around her face curled with each flick of her finger. “And that one there, and this here.” If she noticed the girl cowering in fear it did not affect her focus. “If you shift this like this,” she scooped canals at an incline between each row, “the water will flow back to the river. Water doesn’t flow uphill, you know.” She looked the girl up and down. “At least, not for you. I’ve done it and it’s a huge pain in the neck, hours of negotiations. Messy stuff. Until it’s not,” she grinned, reminiscing. “That’s the fun part.”

“Are you going to burn down our village?” The girl squeaked from behind her shovel.

”What? Who would do that?”

“Mother says the village to the north was burned down by witches.” She was pleased with herself for knowing so, privy to the knowledge of adults like a grown-up.

“Ah, north of here. They must have disrespected the grounds of the occultists there.”

“Are we disrespecting your grounds here?” She was sharper than she looked, now observing Watercress with curiosity.

“You are a bit, to be honest.” The girl shuddered, her face blanching. Watercress looked at her fully now, laughing. “But I’m not that kind of witch, I promise. Let me help you.”


“We can get these plants sprouting by the time the sun touches those trees.” Watercress gestured at the horizon, already dusting itself lilac as the night prepared to set.

The girl looked at the dirt she had been tending for the last hour, newly rearranged and strange. “Really?”

“Really. All of nature is a big song, you see. Counts. Like music.” Watercress raised her arms, first one, then the other. She rolled her head back on her neck before shaking the last of the river water from her legs.

“Like music?”

”Yes, like music. Do you dance?”

The girl looked down at her plain cotton skirt, muddied at the ankle. She kicked out a foot half heartedly, her motion restricted by the fabric.

“Well, that won’t do.” Watercress gathered the garment and knotted it at the girl’s hip. “Try again.” This time her leg kicked spectacularly, shooting dirt into the air.

“Yes, you’ve got it! Like me, now.”

Watercress planted one foot at the edge of the farm plot, then kicked her other to pivot and twirl. First one step, then two, three, and four, two and two and three and four, three and two and three and four — she sashayed, jumped, twisted, and split. She splayed her arms, her legs, bent backwards then front whenever she felt the call of the sky or the ground. The little girl followed behind her, giggling as she spun and leaped. They circled the plot, dancing to the sound of the water rushing, old trees sighing, earth churning, Grow! Grow! Grow!

Rain began to fall. Fat, round droplets of rain punctuated each beat of their dance. Neither WITCH nor girl stopped their dancing, rather, they sped up, hair and clothes heavying with rain and gasping lungs and joy.

Rain began to fall. Fat, round droplets of rain punctuated each beat of their dance. Neither WITCH nor girl stopped their dancing, rather, they sped up, hair and clothes heavying with rain and gasping lungs and joy.

As they stepped, the seedlings shimmied out of their holes — roots curling and uncurling down, down, down. Green stalks unfolded green leaves, red buds unfolded red fruits, vines jumped upwards, writhing with each step of their enchanted, frantic waltz.

By the time Watercress pulled to a stop, the girl was dizzy with laughter. She struggled to focus as the WITCH checked each of the new leaves, whistling with satisfaction.

“Perfectly tamed. They’ll behave from now on.”

The girl gasped in delight and astonishment, poking the nearest plant to feel it spring back, whole and healthy.

“At the end of your harvest, float a basket of the bounty down the river and we’ll call us even,” Watercress mused. The girl nodded vigorously. “Remember, to dance, first you must listen.”


“That’s right. Close your eyes.” She did.

Nearby, the girl’s mother dozed, snoring and rocking beneath the weight of another child. At her window, a robin called to a nest of hungry, chirping brood. A dog barked, far away, farther than the setting sun could reach. Nearest the farm, the reeds hissed as if sucking air through their teeth. The river gushed a deeper, darker bass — churning, changing. The new plants of the harvest swayed, shiny freshness rubbing together like cricket legs, chiming like bells. Stepping delicately between them, tying the sounds together with pointed toes, Watercress the Dry Spoon parted the music of the evening and dove.