Rat-tail Tea and Buttermilk Biscuits

This short story was originally published in Constelación Magazine on Oct. 4, 2021.

It was translated into Spanish by Natasha Besoky. Read the translation here: Té de cola de rata y galletitas de suero de leche

The illustration is by Gutti Barrios.


Rat-tail Tea and Buttermilk Biscuits

by R. P. Sand


My dear little Spiviteth,

I trust this letter finds you well, that your award-winning warts are ever taut and unrelenting, and that you are not actually as little as my salutation would imply; I’ve always said, “skinny witches are duplicitous bitches.” Or was it slippery? Questionably crooked?

No matter now. I won’t dawdle any further—presume that I have ticked all boxes under ‘pleasantries’—and simply dive into the matter at hand.

Spiviteth, my perfectly treacherous confidante, I have encountered what one may call a lemon. A horrible sour snag in your dear old friend’s life. Why, I’d finally reserved myself to a humdrum existence, settling down in this town with a name so bland and unremarkable so as to be forgotten the moment one hears it.

“A quiet life will suit you in time,” you very gallantly advised after our final escapade handling that band of bawdy hobgoblins with their penchant for disrupting tea parties. (I pulled a hip on that campaign, and I regret to say that I still experience whenever I twist to my left an odd creak so stubborn that no poultice, curse, or spell seems to dissuade it.)

I agreed with you that my retirement could be gloriously mundane, and it absolutely was, until very recently.

My dear Spiviteth, none of our thousands of adventures filching dragon treasure from Babylonian depths, propelling centurions into unsuspecting Gaul, instigating quakes ‘neath sun-kissed Los Angeles, could have prepared me to face the misfortune of The Effervescently Generous Neighbor.

It is my fault, really, that I made her acquaintance at all. Isabeth is the dire creature’s name. She wears all white, you know the sort. But I get ahead of myself.

A truck pulled up on what would have been forgotten as an ordinary summer afternoon had I not made the unfortunate mistake of harboring a curiosity about the new occupant of the neighboring cottage. I watched as a nicely plump and heavily-warted figure with a sharp nose (that I’m not exactly envious of but would not complain about were it mine) directed a pliable group of young non-magical movers. I instantly identified the symbol on her ivory shawl as that of a coven nearly as old as ours.

At first, as you can imagine, I was affronted that another witch could have elected to retire in this rather quotidian town that I unconsciously claimed as my domain. And then I became excited.

Hmm. Well. Excited isn’t really the correct word for this context. You see, Spiviteth, as much as I adore these little demon-scroll correspondences with you, it occurred to me that it may be emancipating to become privy to another witch’s affairs. I’m not one to poke my nose in anyone’s business, as you are well aware, but I take great satisfaction in knowing where my neighbors go, with whom they consort, whether they’ve paid their dues, the practical sort of thing, you know?

Once the movers left, I endeavored to look past such a glaring shortcoming as white attire (I would never be caught dead in anything but a hot black, of course) for the sake of being a dutiful neighbor, and hopped on over with my famous rattail tea and buttermilk biscuits by way of greeting.

Isabeth was, unsurprisingly, quite over the moon to meet me, and I found myself being whisked unceremoniously into the kitchen where she not only regaled me with starry anecdotes of saving children, volcanic healing, and hippogryff flights, but piled me with things freshly unboxed.

In no time was I back on my front porch, arms stuffed with expensive ingredients including the very-difficult-to-retrieve eye of monk, reeling from the whirlwind. Naturally, I went inside and cheered myself up with a fresh buttermilk biscuit topped with monk eye.

Now, Spiviteth, you know that I’m not one to complain, but even at that moment I thought her to be utterly stifling. I embarked on a fervent rampage around my cozy little haven, even disturbing the delightful cobwebs draped over sacred chests, though I apologized profusely to the spiders and encouraged them in their endeavors to make even better ones. I searched for something of equal or greater worth to gift the vexatious Isabeth.

I went so far as to pull out the rhenish we procured in the 18th century, do you remember that? And by ‘remember’ I mean do you recall that time having occurred at all, seeing as rhenish toys with memory? It is very good for, among other things, making cats sing.

I did then test a drop or two on my wee Confucius, and he proceeded to knock out, in totality, a flawless rendition of the Waltzing Matilda. Not that I’d doubted the rhenish wouldn’t remain as potent as it was when we acquired it, but it always does one good to double check such things, you know.

And so, I left a vial on Isabeth’s doorstep with a rather glitter-infested card and the words: “Thanks a million for the eye of monk and all, you are simply too kind! Kisses!” I sickened myself but was convinced I’d evened things out and that I could revert to the prosaic life I had carved for myself.

Hoo boy, Spiviteth. How very wrong I was. Thence ensued over a span of weeks what I can only describe as “aggressive out-gifting.” In return for my rhenish, at least a ton of Pixie Vine was gleefully stuffed through the front windows I’d left open for Confucius to go about his business. The vines were ancient and unblemished and perfectly effulgent. It was as though Isabeth had gazed upon some celestial wish list privy to every witch’s innermost desires, including my own. I was furious.

Not to be outdone, I conjured up for her my very best yet elvish summoning crystal, which allows elves to slip into this world and assist whomever wields it. Luckily, I still had the bones of that Atlas bear we slayed.

A few days later, I was jolted from my devouring a delectably detailed romance novel by a reverberating symphony of what sugar would sound like, had it a voice. I stumbled my way to the front door and came face-to-face with a string of silverhorned unicorns, which I can only assume Isabeth enlisted the help of elves to procure. It is a good thing that non-magicals cannot see these glorious creatures, for their capering about my porch and front lawn would have drawn unwanted attention.

From what I have outlined here I trust you now possess a reasonable idea of what transpired. I’d rival Homer himself had I any inclination to detail the quite possibly by now dozens of exchanges, each more grandiose than the one prior.

Which brings me to today. I woke up this morning only to find myself in a golden castle. In the clouds. Should I leave through the front door it is as though I exit my humble cottage onto our very ordinary street with not a cloud or castle in sight. But every other exit leads to a magnificent rolling valley of cumulus from which I can observe the world below in a way that I find most optimal: utterly removed from the grafts and gurgles of human civilization. I am as delighted as a little girl on the eve of her initiation and as appalled as a little girl, upon her initiation, discovering that witching is, in fact, very hard work.

And so, I implore you for assistance, my dear Spiviteth, for I would much rather have the skin sucked from my bones by devil-leeches than be socially indebted to a witch of the Good persuasion. I lamentably yearn for an idea, be it charm, periapt, or hexcraft, anything extraordinary you have the gall to conceive, as I do not know how I’m ever going to top this.

With love and objurgations,

Portitia Wimbleduck


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