i. The Coven
'He was a meikle blak roch man, werie cold.' - Isobel Gowdie, in 1662
'Now efter that the deuell had endit his admonitions, he cam down out of the pulpit, and caused all the company to com and kiss his ers, quhilk they said was cauld Iyk yce; his body was hard Iyk ym, as they thocht that handled him.' -Agnes Sampson, in 1590
'And oh yes,' Jane Smart said in her hasty yet purposeful way; each s seemed the black tip of a just extinguished match held in playful hurt, as children do, against the skin. 'Sukie said a man has bought the Lenox mansion.'
'A man?' Alexandra Spofford asked, feeling off-centre, her peaceful aura that morning splayed by the assertive word.
'From New York,' Jane hurried on, the last syllable almost barked, its r dropped in Massachusetts style. 'No wife and family, evidently.'
'Oh. One of those.' Hearing Jane's northern voice bring her this rumour of a homosexual come up from Manhattan to invade them, Alexandra felt intersected where she was, in this mysterious crabbed state of Rhode Island. She had been born in the West, where white and violet mountains lift in pursuit of the delicate tall clouds, and tumbleweed rolls in pursuit of the horizon.
'Sukie wasn't so sure,' Jane said swiftly, her s's chastening. 'He appeared quite burly. She was struck by how hairy the backs of his hands were. He told the people at Perley Realty he needed all that space because he was an inventor with a lab. And he owns a number of pianos.'
Alexandra giggled; the noise, little changed since her Colorado girlhood, seemed produced not out of her throat but by a birdlike familiar perched on her shoulder. In fact the telephone was aching at her ear. And her forearm tingled' going numb. 'How many pianos can a man have?'
This seemed to offend Jane. Her voice bristled like a black cat's fur, iridescent. She said defensively, 'Well Sukie's only going by what Marge Perley told her at last night's meeting of the Horse Trough Committee.' This committee supervised the planting and, after vandalism, the replanting of a big blue marble trough for watering horses that historically stood at the centre of Eastwick, where the two main streets met; the town was shaped like an L, fitted around its ragged bit of Narragansett Bay. Dock Street held the downtown businesses, and Oak Street at right angles to it was where the lovely big old homes were. Marge Perley, whose horrid canary-yellow For Sale signs leaped up and down on trees and fences as on the tides of economics and fashion (Eastwick had for decades been semi-depressed and semi-fashionable) people moved in and out of the town, was a heavily made-up, go-getting woman who, if one at all, was a witch on a different wavelength from Jane, Alexandra, and Sukie. There was a husband, a tiny fussy Homer Perley always trimming their forsythia hedge back to stubble, and this made a difference. 'The papers were passed in Providence,' Jane explained, pressing the nce hard into Alexandra's ear.
'And with hairy backs to his hands,' Alexandra mused. Near her face floated the faintly scratched and flecked and often repainted blankness of a wooden kitchen-cabinet door; she was conscious of the atomic fury spinning and skidding beneath such a surface, like an eddy of weary eyesight. As if in a crystal ball she saw that she would meet and fall in love with this man and that little good would come of it. 'Didn't he have a name?' she asked.
'That's the stupidest thing,' Jane Smart said. 'Marge told Sukie and Sukie told me but something's scared it right out of my head. One of those names with a 'van' or a 'von' or a 'de' in it.'
'How very swell,' Alexandra answered, already dilating, diffusing herself to be invaded. A tall dark European, ousted from his ancient heraldic inheritance, travelling under a curse . . . 'When is he supposed to move in?'
'She said he said soon. He could be in there now!' Jane sounded alarmed. Alexandra pictured the other woman's rather too full (for the rest of her pinched face) eyebrows lifting to make half-circles above her dark resentful eyes, whose brown was always a shade paler than one's memory of it. If Alexandra was the large, drifting style of witch, always spreading herself thin to invite impressions and merge with the landscape, and in her heart rather lazy and entropically cool, Jane was hot, short, concentrated like a pencil point, and Sukie Rougemont, busy downtown all day long gathering news and smiling hello, had an oscillating essence. So Alexandra reflected, hanging up. Things fall into threes. And magic occurs all around us as nature seeks and finds the inevitable forms, things crystalline and organic falling together at angles of sixty degrees, the equilateral triangle being the mother of structure.