Fixation: Episode Eight

The eighth installment in our ongoing short fiction…

This thing with Arabella, whatever it was, seemed to be insidiously taking over my free time. Not that I was complaining. A permanent scent of essential oils hung around my head, from the hours in both Arabella’s library of magical objects, and her bedroom. Whenever I turned up, Hattie greeted me with a feline glare, before turning her back on me and stalking off towards the kitchen.
My latest task, as a trainee witch, involved a chart of mystical symbols, seemingly unrelated – no evidence they came from the same alphabet as each other, or even the same planet – which Arabella wanted me to research. The process was straightforward, if dull: take a book from the Symbology section of the shelf, scan the contents page, flick through the remainder, and note down any reference to any symbol from the sheet. The question of whether it was quicker to search every book for the first symbol, or the first book for every symbol, was one I hadn’t quite cracked, and Arabella had been impervious to my suggestion that a combination of photo recognition and Google would be a million times more efficient.
‘The internet has no place in our work,’ she had said, running her hand along the side of my face, and the secret satisfaction I got when she described it as ‘our work’ had helped me to suppress my irritation.
I was seeing less of Robbie now that he was dating Yasmin. I’d finally got a chance to speak to him alone, when he’d told me his side of the story about how they’d met. It had mostly been the same as Yasmin’s version, though he went into more detail about their wander back towards her shop after lunch. He had been steeling himself to ask her out for dinner when they pulled up outside Ann Summers, and she made a joke about the staff discounts. I could already picture the dismay on Robbie’s face – he couldn’t seem to help falling far too quickly for people he’d only known for a matter of hours.
‘But it was okay,’ he said, sounding surprised even now. ‘She was disappointed when she saw my face, she’d seen bad reactions before, had a pre-prepared list of things it didn’t mean about her – God, some people are horrible.’
I could imagine. Doubtless Yasmin had faced plenty of people calling her offensive names, or asking, for all the wrong reasons, if she was into threesomes.
‘I think she was relieved to hear I was only ace.’
‘Ace? Robbie, you’re absolutely awesome!’ It was an old joke, reminiscent of our teenage years. We both laughed.
Now, distracted from the tedious symbol-searching by a gleam of light shining through a chink in the black curtains at the back of the room, I wandered towards a corner cabinet I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Behind the dusty glass, a clutter of trinkets fought for attention. These seemed to be the ones Arabella hadn’t yet singled out as the focus of her magical experiments. Of course, she still denied that these experiments actually took place, but I wasn’t fooled. Why else had she trained Hattie to sit on demand, and trace out a neat circle while swishing her tail? And for that matter, how had she trained Hattie to do those things? Plus there were so many bits of chalk and ribbon lying around.
I prised the door to the cabinet open, the hinges creaking, and began to poke at the stuff on the shelves. A miniature silver cup, a wolf from a charm bracelet, a twist of wire and tissue paper in the shape of a rose. And there, at the back, something else, tucked carefully behind the rest, but clearly a more recent addition to the heap. A circlet of metal, with spokes extending to spikes – like a ship’s wheel – and a few links of anchor chain attached.
The missing piece of Pop’s calibrometer.
Kirsti