She reaches the house at dusk, unfashionably late for the party.
The venue is illuminated and noisy. As she approaches the front door a cocktail glass is thrown from above, shattering on the driveway behind her. Laughter comes from the rooftop terrace, followed by further objects that all miss her as she walks.
On the front porch she waits without knocking. A member of staff invites her inside without question. He is handsome, with pale features not unlike her own. When he offers to take her coat she refuses, etiquette nor temperature able to change her mind.
The entrance hall is long and uninviting. Portraits cover every wall – photographs of family and founding members, all glaring down at her intrusion. As she follows the doorman she touches every photo with her index finger, hushing the dusty smiles of those who watch.
In the ballroom she is presented to the hosts, who are unable to hide their surprise at her arrival. The open invite was not intended for her, an assumption hidden between the lines.
She is not invited to their party. Not invited because they, and the rest of the guests, believe her to be a witch.
They greet her with a mumble and some discomfort. Her response is to produce a gift from her coat, handing it over at arm’s length. The package is soft and wrapped in brown linen, prompting a reluctant thank-you from the hosts.
A member of staff takes the gift away, the hosts giving the witch one final glare before moving on to the real guests waiting behind her.
A waiter offers her a drink, oblivious to her stigma. The air is sticky with the scent of cocktails and wicker. A ceiling fan rotates overhead, covered in fairy lights that drift like the heavens. She moves through the room ignored, her black dress repelling the beige suits and pale frocks in her path.
Every time she hears the word witch, it is spoken behind her back, a wake of glares behind her.
Outside on the terrace the air is stale.
Many of the guests sit by an empty swimming pool, watching a group of children who play in the deep end, chasing an object kicked across the tiles. She recognises many of the children – the ones from school who would call her boy a witch, the ones from town who would lock her boy up, protecting themselves from his craft.
She takes a seat by the pool and dangles her legs into the invisible waters. From here the entire plantation is visible, stretching into the valley. Once again she attempts to attract the attention of others. Many of the children fail to recognise her. The adults hide behind shades and feigned conversation, unable to recognise their chance of redemption.
Thirty minutes later she decides to leave.
Walking back to the house she recognises the object being played with in the pool. It is the gift she brought to the house, now being used as a plaything. It slowly unwraps with every kick of the game, one of the children occasionally stamping on it for the amusement of others.
Back in the entrance hall she takes off her coat and hands it to the doorman as a souvenir of her visit. He stands with it in his arms, unsure of the process working in reverse. She takes a final look at the portraits on the walls. The lights of the party flicker across their faces, revealing her fingerprint on every pane of glass.
The many faces glare down at her, the many people who will now all be dead.
Buoyed by this thought she steps outside, still able to hear children playing in the pool, delighted to hear them playing nicely with her boy at last.
PAUL THOMPSON lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Literally Stories, The Drabble and Ellipsis Zine. You can find more at http://www.hombrehompson.com