“Your name is Mary?” she asked as if this were a joke.
Mary O’Steen stepped back and to the side, widening the door opening. “Please, come inside, Mrs. Perry.”
The younger woman, wrapped in a smoke-blue silk and wool coat trimmed with chinchilla, a chinchilla box-hat nestled on her blonde head, clasped her purse and quickly glanced up and down Commerce Avenue, at the other brownstones with their wrought-iron railings and elaborate architraves and lintels. She spun in place to make sure no one was on the sidewalk below her.
“Mrs. Perry, won’t you please come in,” Mary repeated. She closed the polished mahogany door as her customer finally passed into the foyer. “Can I take your coat?” She reached out both arms.
Helen Perry ignored her, clutching the furry front of her coat together at her throat. She craned her head, her breathing rapid, her face shiny under her makeup. “I’ve never done this before. I’m a good Catholic,” she muttered.
“So am I,” Mary replied. “Come this way, please.” And she gestured politely as she walked ahead, not looking back as she made her way from the foyer to her front parlor.
“Your place is nice,” Helen said as they emerged into the spacious sitting room-parlor with the lofty ceiling and the mahogany trimmed bay-window panes.
Mary smiled. That was a compliment coming from one of Boston’s wealthy Brahmin matrons. “Please, have a seat.” She indicated a comfortable, clean sofa on one side of a coffee-table. “This building was completed seventy years ago, in 1888. Turned into three condominium apartments after the war. All the original woodwork, crown molding, cherry-wood floors, even the chandeliers….” She swept a graceful hand above her head to indicate the porcelain and crystal six-light fixture that was hanging above them.
“Yes, it’s very nice,” Helen Perry removed her smoke-blue kid gloves. “Let’s get down to business, shall we?”
“Why of course,” Mary said, and settled into the cushion of the slightly smaller sofa on the other side of the table.
She studied Mary O’Steen’s cropped black velvet slacks, her Capezio flats, the way her blouse hung loose almost like a maternity top. “I thought you’d be …. you know, older … different…..” She pushed her knees together angled to the side, one smoke-blue high-heeled pump wrapped around the other ankle.
Mary laughed. “A crone? In a long black dress with a tall pointy hat?” She was in fact a plump, middle-aged, cheery-faced lady with sparkling blue eyes and salt-and-pepper hair pulled back into a ponytail, bangs brushing her eyebrows. “I do like to wear black though. Black is all the light, not the absence of light; it’s the ultimate color, and heightens our abilities.” She reached over and indicated a beautiful tea pot beside two tea cups and saucers sitting on a matching tray. “Tea?”
“That is a lovely set. But … I thought … I was going to drink some kind of concoction that tastes and smells disgusting.”
“Royal Tara, bone china all the way from Ireland. Was my mother’s. This too,” she indicated a gleaming silver tea strainer, the handle of which was formed by twining, tiny vines and flowers which continued around the rim, the design matching and seeming to flow directly into the silver drip tray.
Helen Perry seemed mesmerized by the strainer. “That is … quite exquisite,” she said. “Tea the old fashioned way?”
Mary laughed lightly. “This is your potion. The leaves of jasmine green tea and the royal jelly of bees for fertility, Valerian to bring your husband to you, a pinch of ginger for success and the passion of Mars, ginseng for conception, honey for health, and blackberry to seal the charm.”
She seemed to deflate, her shoulders sagging as a blush rose up her neck. She bowed her head, stared at the floor. “I … I could have made that myself….” Her voice was unsteady, almost ready to break for tears.
“Ah, but no, my dear. That’s why you need a witch. Now let me fix you some tea.” And she shifted off the cushion a bit, placed the strainer on top of one of the delicate tea cups, then lifted the tea pot by the handle and began to pour. “Hush now, everything is going to be fine.” Her voice was calm and soothing. She removed the strainer–now filled with aromatic and steaming bits of herbs and leaves–and placed it in the drip tray. She raised the cup and saucer with both hands. “Blessed Mother, let your sweet love shine on this woman, cover her in your light and glory!” She watched as Helen Perry, streaks of tears now running over her cheeks, took the saucer and cup in one upturned palm, her hands slightly shaking. “By this time next year, a fine baby boy,” Mary said with certainty.