Ode to Three

by Wiebo Grobler

Leonor breathed in the heady perfume of Autumn. Mulled wine, pumpkin spiced pie and baked cinnamon apples. Dusk came quickly within the shadows of the mountains looming over their village.

She lit the old oil lamp with a flame that’d been burning all year and pulled her kitchen curtains. The soft orange glow from the weak flame was needed, fire with memory, but also far better than the harsh white of modern lights for the eye and the soul.

She stepped into her back garden and bent down, knees popping and back creaking. Evening dew glistened off the mushroom caps, reflecting her lamp and beckoning like tiny golden eyes.

She gently added all of them to her basket, careful not to damage the soft gills underneath. Nothing was more earthy than mushrooms. The colour, the scent, and it was alive. Dirt was not.

She walked to her woodshed at the rear of the garden. Inside was the clutter of a lifetime of good intentions and get-round-to-its, gathering dust and rust.

Across the window, a spider’s web glinted like gossamer thread, and nestled inside the arachnid architecture hung the hollowed-out husks of two Japanese beetles, their glossy green backs like polished peridot.

“Apologies weaver.” Leonor picked the husks from the web and the spider scuttled off into the darkness as her delicate home disintegrated.

Placing it all carefully into her basket, Leonor walked to the oak tree on her neighbours’ side and pulled handfuls of Spanish moss from the low-hanging branches. It would serve nicely as stuffing.

There was a sharp crack beneath her shoe. She bent down and picked up a couple of unbroken acorn cups. The perfect button nose. Everything had to be natural, or it wouldn’t work.

Back in the kitchen, she neatly laid her collection out on the table next to an old handmade Inuit doll. The doll was constructed from rabbit fur and was carefully sewn together with sinew decades ago. Belonging to her dear departed mother, the doll’s face had long since faded. It was a blank slate and the hands were lovingly carved from wood by her grandfather.

She took a copper pot from a shelf and popped it on top the wood burning stove. Inside was a chunk of pine resin she’d collected yesterday along with rainwater. Whilst the resin melted, she stuffed the doll with the moss and gently placed the mushrooms inside, gills up, to be the lungs. She sowed it all shut with thin, dried sinew. The heating resin filled the kitchen with the scent of pine. Using a cloth to pick up the hot pot, she dabbed sticky resin on the doll face, carefully placing the beetle husks as the eyes and the acorn cup for the nose.

She scraped charcoal into a mortar, made a small cut on her finger, and, mixing her blood with the charcoal, she ground it into a paste with the pestle. She snipped a small lock of hair from her head and tied it tightly together to form a small brush. Using the dark scarlet paste, she painted the contours of a face onto the doll, drawing a delicate mouth and chin.

She stepped back to admire her work. It would terrify a child, but it wasn’t meant for one. Leonor carefully placed the doll inside an old pig bladder before filling it with a mixture of honey, blood and herbs acquired over several years of full moons and eclipses. Three decades worth.

This spell had been one of the most complicated and tedious she’d ever attempted. This wasn’t her first try but it would be her last. She was getting too old and each failure broke her heart. After sewing up the bladder, she carried it outside and gently laid it down into a hole she’d dug earlier.

From the stove, she gathered hot ash and covered the bladder to keep it warm, layering soft earth back on top. The wait was the worst. Three days after Hallows’ Eve. The Holy Trinity. Three days for Jesus to rise from the dead. Three wishes. Three little pigs. Three billy goats gruff. Three; an incredibly special number in magic. After a final glance towards the dark patch of earth, she went to bed.


It was the third day, in the third season of the year after Halloween, when trees exchanged green coats for fall reds and orange browns. The wind was picking, up blowing chill, down from the mountains.

Leonor sat on the back porch. Woolen shawl draped across her shoulders and a cup of coffee warming her hands. Liquid suddenly bubbled up from the hole where the bladder was buried.

Leonor rushed down the steps and franticly dug into the soggy ground. Two tiny arms reached for her. Sobbing, she gently lifted her baby from the hole, brushing dirt from its tiny body and planting butterfly kisses on its scrunched-up little face. So many failed attempts and now finally, finally, she was whole.

Its breath smelled like earth and moss and it mewled with hunger. She placed it to her breast. Instead of suckling, it burrowed, parting skin and bone like it was clay. The wound didn’t bleed and sealed like it never existed. There it would slowly feed, whispering to her, warming her soul, touching her heart, until eventually, it would emerge as something else. A mother’s love is unconditional.

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