This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during April. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, and a number of small edits have been added to improve narrative flow.
They meet at an audition for kids to star in a West-End production of ‘Oliver.’ Lizzie is 11, Marcus is 12. Their mothers bond over science fiction and Star Wars. It is a match made in a draughty East London rehearsal room.
The pair tentatively holds hands after an hour.
Over five years, Liz and Marc become inseparable, despite living on different sides of London. The Circle line acts as both backdrop and setting for the performance: Hammersmith to Moorgate fuses mothers as friends, shifting offspring progressively closer until they collide. The pair loses their virginities to each other on the weekend before Lizzie is due to begin her BA degree in Acting at the Guildhall School. Marcus will be returning to a second year at RADA: as a symbol of continued devotion, they symbolically exchange Russian wedding bands.
This is the moment where Marc becomes obsessed with the instant of sexual release, and Liz the joy of being loved and respected. It becomes almost immediately obvious that the pair is unable to successfully combine these two concepts into a long-term, prosperous relationship. However, for close to a decade they try. Through numerous infidelities on Marc’s part, Liz remains staunchly devoted to care and consideration. One evening in 1992 she returns to their flat to find him sleeping with another man: a final straw which destroys intimacy for good.
Except that is not the end of the relationship. For the next 20 years, Marc drifts in and out of Liz’s life, becoming increasingly controlling and demanding. He remains the oldest friend she has, but as time goes on comes understanding this entire situation is increasingly toxic. New friends suggest starting fresh, so she does. Despite Marc being both well-known and popular as an actor, he’s finally removed from her life for good. Stubbornly, one legacy remains. However hard she tries, Liz cannot remove the Russian Wedding band from right middle finger.
On an extended lunch-break from the Barbican, Liz is struggling to locate an address in Covent Garden. Edwin, who she’s been seeing for a month, has suggested a place capable of removing her ring without damage to either it or finger. However, it does not seem to exist. She’s walked up and down this tiny street three times, and nowhere can ‘Semper Femina’ be seen, despite knowing this is the location. About to give up and go back to work, she turns suddenly and is presented with a pale cream shopfront accompanied with faintest whiff of jasmine.
Pushing open the door, ‘As Long as He Needs Me’ plays inside, a song consciously avoided for over thirty years. An already anxious Liz finds herself wanting to turn around and leave, were it not for the woman standing behind the cluttered, disorganised counter, smiling warmly. The shop is a disaster area; child’s room not properly cleaned or organised except in gentle, pastel shades. The shopkeeper is the most attractive woman Liz has ever seen: dark skin, jade eyes, hair so black it is impossible to see where it begins and ends against the skintight dress.
In fact, if Liz didn’t know better the long, flowing and incredibly figure-hugging outfit is part of her own body…when the woman speaks, the air around them both seems to move of its own accord.
“Your friend sent you: you wish to let go of the past but still hold it as a souvenir.”
A hand is extended, talon-like nails painted purple with thin, black streaks. It holds a small, glass bottle, inside which is a tiny, white seed.
‘Take this before bedtime tonight, your ring will fall off in the morning. Say the words on the bottle. You’ll know what to do next.’
Blinking, Liz finds herself back in the alley. The shop remains, but a sign has appeared in the window stating, in Gothic script: ‘Gone for Long Lunch.’ Looking down, tiny bottle is clutched in her hand. On its front is a label, stating:
‘A Spell to Re-Unite Two Lost Objects.’
The front label unfolds: on Tube back to work, contents are summarily digested. Any spell, once cast, becomes the soul obligation of the user, and by swallowing their tablet an individual takes full responsibility for any consequences arising. Most importantly, results will vary. ‘How bad could it be?’ Liz thinks, rattling tiny white speck inside thick glass, size of a sesame seed. ‘Perhaps I should do some research online, just to check.’ Being her own boss ought to have some advantages…
The rest of the afternoon becomes a transformative experience.
Internet search after search brings forth glowing reviews of Semper Femina’s products: happy souls who used the place as the means to start journeys to enlightenment and self-discovery. There’s even a Guardian review which calls the place ‘an antidote to traditional witchcraft.’ The shop’s own (very impressively produced) website reminds her that ‘magic is as much about belief as results. Only by truly wishing to change our lives for the better, does the Nirvana we individually search for come to pass. You are, in effect, your spells’ own catalyst.’
By bedtime, Liz is convinced, desperate to remove the ring before her next scheduled date with Edwin. She will tell him over dinner she’s not interested in seeing him anymore regardless: his constant assessment, often during sex, of her shortcomings has become a deal breaker. However, he was right. This physical connection to her past is toxic and negative, so needs to go. Getting into bed, the seed is placed on back of tongue before being washed down with a swig of water. Sleep hits with surprising speed, Liz lost to dreams almost immediately.
Saturday is warm and welcoming: she’d be hours late for work if this were a weekday. Taking a second after waking to feel for her finger, ring appears to have finally been dislodged: but where has it gone? A frantic search of the duvet begins, but Russian band cannot be located. In increasing desperation covers are removed, pillowcases taken off until Liz’ foot treads on something hard. The ring’s on the floor: hand must have slipped out of bed during the night, or the disturbance of covers caused it to fall there… the spell has indeed done its job.
Taking the ring, placing it in her palm, bottle is retrieved from dressing table before words on label are recited:
“Woman is ever a fickle and changeable thing.”
The bands are suddenly so hot Liz recoils in shock, making them fly upwards. Unexpectedly the room seems to pivot. It’s the same unmistakeably odd feeling experienced at the shop: a small and perfectly formed black hole then appears from thin air at eye level. Its gravity is immediate and apparent: before there is time to react, the Russian wedding band has been swallowed into nothingness.
Liz is coughing, sudden and violent before the swallowed seed shoots out of her mouth, also sucked into non-existence before hole shudders, folds into itself, through and round into a vortex, before completely vanishing. The doorbell rings but woman is far too shocked to move. Finally, awareness prompts movement: walking downstairs to see if the person who rang still remains, a sumptuous vellum envelope awaits, resting on the doormat. It is wax sealed with the Semper Femina crest, and on the front is hand-written a message in lush, purple script.
‘Your spell has only been partially successful. If you wish to complete the incantation, now break the seal on this missive. However, BE WARNED. Please ensure this outcome is EXACTLY what is required for your own particular situation.’
Without thought, Liz opens the envelope.
She’s about to leave the house to dump Edwin six hours later when Liz remembers she’s left the TV on in the bedroom. As the BBC News titles fade, the woman is suddenly staring with mounting horror as Marcus’ beaming image appears on-screen, newscaster looking distinctly spooked. Ex-boyfriend had been doing live TV on a popular morning cookery programme when there had been an ‘incident’: as video plays, Liz scrabbles for the spell bottle, reading its label with mounting panic, before the true horror of consequences captured on multiple cameras registers.
As Marcus is bodily sucked into a perfectly formed, man-sized black hole at head height between the cookery corner and guest sofa, Liz realises that his ring must still be being worn somewhere, even if it wasn’t obvious on his finger. The spell, undoubtedly, had done its job.