I didn’t realize it at the time, but she must have bewitched me even before we met. The night I almost passed by her inconspicuous, brownstone coop building, I’d been ready to abandon my search for a quiet apartment in the heart of the city. Something made me stop and hand my card to the doorman who gave it to Wanda. When she called the next day, we arranged to meet at her apartment Sunday.
The gleaming white marble floors and a few well-placed, highly polished antique tables decorated with porcelain vases filled with fresh tulips and lilacs announced old world elegance, which I liked in a lobby. The ancient manual elevator manned by an elderly uniformed attendant clanged me up to the tenth floor where Wanda waited at her doorway. Two of her seven cats were draped around her swollen feet like fluffy slippers. She was two hundred and fifty pounds with reddened checks, a welcoming smile and shiny, straight black hair in a neat bob. Her black frilly shirt and mid-calf, plum-colored skirt slimmed her short figure. I followed her into a kitchen, smelling of pumpkins, cinnamon and cloves. With that Halloween-kiddie-party smell I was ready to buy any property. How pleasant to watch her diamonded fingers pop a roast out of the oven to baste. Then she led me into a giant living room containing a baby boy in a high chair and a small girl in a pink dress surrounded by two stuffed bears and three live cats. They were watching cartoons. Tinkling tunes swirled through my head. She seemed like nothing but an honest housewife. I followed Wanda into the bedroom and admired the ample, many-pillowed bed overlooking a rose garden. Her husband was a tall, handsome, blond, Paul-Bunyon-type in a red-plaid shirt. I wanted this domestic bliss.
Eight months later, the property was mine. It was hard to believe that these cavernous, bare rooms once contained Wanda and her lovely brood. The only thing I’d found odd about the whole transaction was that she tried to convince me to take one of her cats, Heinz, the gray Maltese. I refused. From the beginning everything went wrong. The noise from the elevator that had seemed so charmingly old-fashioned, rattled and vibrated my apartment walls so that I was unable to rest. The giant Tibetan rug I purchased for the living room floor was infested with worms that swarmed all over the apartment and then turned into hideous beetles. Wooden tables and chairs wobbled on uneven parquet no matter what positions they were in. My stereo and TV both went on the blink, days after they were installed. Food grew mold even in the refrigerator. Water took forever to boil. My sleep was poor and I blamed it on my new bed that seemed unnaturally hard. Whenever I would drift off, I’d have nightmares of decaying cellars and rotting corpses. At first I didn’t think much of any of these signs. I figured I was just having a run of bad luck and things would straighten out.
One evening when I stepped out, I saw Wanda sitting in her Mercedes Benz, waiting for her children and husband.
“How do you like the apartment?” she asked, her huge hands resting on the leather steering wheel, diamonds gleaming under the street lamps. I noticed how sharp and feline her eyeteeth looked as she grinned. It was then that I realized that Wanda was a witch!! How else would such a fat, unattractive woman be able to have such a husband, children and apartment? She had put a spell on me so I wouldn’t notice any of this and would buy her old apartment so she could move into the penthouse of our building. Instead of revealing my fear, I decided to play along with her.
“It’s fine, couldn’t be better. How’s your new place?” I asked.
“The people downstairs were complaining about noise from us. That was a bother, but suddenly they’ve decided to move,” she said slyly.
I didn’t comment, because I felt she was testing me to see if I knew about her ability to bewitch people.
After we said goodbye, everything became clear. All my troubles were due to Wanda. Later when my boyfriend Todd came over, he said, “It’s weird but I feel like there’s a third person in the apartment with us.” I thought it must be Wanda sending her spirit back into the place. Witches do that all the time. Or they send a familiar, like a cat. Even though I hadn’t accepted her cat Heinz as a present, she was still able to get in.
The question was why would she want to haunt me? I had read about witches feeding off people’s energy, the way vampires drank blood. It kept them alive. She wasn’t interested in just causing petty disturbances, she needed to hook her claws into innocents like me, her husband, the children.
As I straddled Todd in bed, I too felt the presence of a third party. I quickly turned my head and from the corner of my eye glimpsed an old, dumpy-looking woman wearing brightly colored rags, staring at us. She disappeared when I looked at her directly. Maybe that was Wanda’s true form, instead of the glamorous one she assumed daily. I told Todd about Wanda, but once he had sex he was usually too sleepy to hear anything. I curled up and to my surprise, fell asleep.
About an hour later I woke, feeling uneasy. Looking around I could see nothing out of the ordinary. Todd was snoring, snuggled under the blankets. My purpose in trying to find a peaceful apartment in the first place was to improve my mental health, which had been plummeting. Noises irritated me and made me manic and sleepless. I didn’t want to wind up hospitalized again. If only I could write my novels in peace and of course, publish another. The last one, SENDING SARA HOME, about a high school girl jailed for killing her mother had bombed. Seven years later at 41, it was hard to find any publisher who would accept a second novel from me. It was “one strike you’re out” in the publishing world. I was lucky that my deceased father had left me money enough to afford an apartment and some basics, although I supplemented my income with clerical work in a law firm. The last thing I needed was to have a witch like Wanda draining my energy.
The next morning I reached for Todd, but he’d already left. I must have fallen so deeply asleep that I never heard him slip out. Whenever I had trouble getting up in the morning I worried about falling back into a depression. Being bipolar, cycling up or down was a problem.
At my psychiatrist’s, I complained about being bewitched by Wanda. Dr. Kaminski and I had been together ever since my first novel was published. He’d picked me up at the hospital where I’d been treated for depression after my novel bombed. Dr. Kaminski reminded me of a plump cat, maybe Wanda’s Maltese, Heinz, with long fine grayish hair and a few whiskers that made him seem to be perpetually smiling. His eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses were green too. Sometimes I thought I heard him purring when we reached a satisfying conclusion.
He sat up abruptly when I described Wanda. “You really think she’s a witch?” he asked.
“What else could I think?” I countered.
“Most people wouldn’t come to that conclusion,” he said, looking at me intensely. I knew he was thinking I was headed for another manic episode.
“Let me assure you, Dr. Kaminski, there are witches in this world.” I fidgeted in my seat as I stared at him. Then it occurred to me that Wanda must have bewitched him too!
Out on the streets the winds were chilling, so I pulled up the collar of my trench coat and walked as quickly as I could to the subway. As I stood on the West Fourth St. platform waiting to go uptown, I glanced to my left and spotted Wanda. Then I looked to my right and saw her there too. As I turned my head back and forth, I saw at least thirty copies of her on both sides of the platform. She was sending herself out in multiples so I wouldn’t be able to escape her. She wouldn’t rattle me though. I played it cool and stepped casually in when the subway door opened.
One of the Wandas squeezed in next to me on the seat. This one was more obese than the original and her hair was artificially blond, but still in a neat bob. I turned in the other direction and saw five more copies of Wanda, all slightly different, but I knew they were all her. The blonde squashed me further by wedging her large black purse between us.
Something broke in me – – like a twig against the rocks in a raging river. “Get your fucking bag off me, you witch!” I shouted. I didn’t really mean to scream like that. I wanted to speak in my usual, composed manner, but I couldn’t. The Wanda woman yanked her bag out from between us and muttered something in a low voice.
“What are you calling me?” I asked. The other Wandas all stared at me, up and down the subway car. Things got worse after that. I vaguely remember getting off at some stop and screaming at more Wandas passing by. Wandas in blue uniforms eventually came and forced me to go with them in an ambulance to the hospital.