I’ve stretched myself to six whole characters!
Greta approached her daughter’s room and cautiously knocked on the door.
‘What? I’m busy.’
‘I need to talk to you about something.’ Greta slowly opened the door and peered around the corner.
Sal sighed and removed her headphones, turning to face her mother. ‘What is it? I have homework.’
Greta walked around her daughter’s desk and stood behind her, looking at the computer screen.
‘Does your homework involve Pinterest?’
‘Well, I didn’t say I was doing my homework, just that I had it.’
Greta huffed and sat on the edge of Sal’s bed.
‘How are things with Lucas?’
Lucas was Sal’s extremely good-looking but otherwise disappointing first boyfriend, and Greta wished he would just disappear from her daughter’s life. But Sal had to work through it herself, and Greta was giving her as much freedom as she comfortably could to let Sal reach her own conclusion: that Lucas might be gorgeous, but he would always be disappointing.
‘Things are good. He held my hand today, and he offered to take me his friend’s birthday party. It’s a pretty big deal, although the party was tonight so I didn’t have time to make actual plans for it. But the thought is what counts.’
Greta groaned inwardly, hating the little teenage brat more by the second.
‘Mhmm…’ There was a moment’s awkward silence.
‘You aunts are downstairs.’
‘Yeah I heard them pull up. Family dinner night isn’t ‘till next week.’
‘I know. They’re here for something else. I have to talk to you about something.’
‘You said that. What is it?’
Greta patted the bed beside her and Sal dragged herself from her computer chair and flopped onto the bed.
‘If this is the sex talk, fifteen is a little too late. I already know it all.’
Greta laughed. ‘No, it’s not the sex talk. I already tried to talk to you about that and you did not respond well, if you recall.’
Sal widened her eyes but wouldn’t look at Greta.
‘Sal… you haven’t asked about your dad in a while.’
‘So? I know the deal, heaps of my friends don’t have their dad around. It’s not that weird to have divorced parents any more mum.’
‘That’s sort of what I wanted to talk to you about. Your father and I aren’t divorced. He doesn’t exist.’
Sal stopped picking at her fingernail and frowned at Greta.
‘You don’t have a father.’
‘You mean I’m like… a sperm bank baby or something?’
‘No. There was no sperm. I became pregnant asexually. The women in our family can do that-’
‘What? Are you serious? What the fuck mum?’
‘Don’t swear at me, I’m telling you this because I think you’re old enough-’
‘Uh uh, no way. This is some fucked up sci-fi bullshit. What the hell do you mean I don’t have a dad? How can I have just come from you? Humans can’t do that shit! That’s like lizards or something isn’t it? No way.’
‘Sal, calm down, it’s not that weird. Well, it is, but only because you think we’re human.’
‘What?? We aren’t human? Have you lost your nut? What the fuck are we if we aren’t fucking human??’
‘Civilised, first of all, so stop swearing at me.’
Sal stood from the bed and moved towards the door.
‘Aw hell no, this is not for real. I’m gonna go talk to your sisters, they can get you help or something mum.’
‘Haven’t you ever wondered why the five of us all look almost exactly the same? Your aunties and I were all reproduced asexually as well.’
‘What? What about Grandpa? Didn’t he get a look in? Oh my God I can’t believe I just asked that…’
‘Your Grandma met your Grandpa after she’d had all of us, and she didn’t want any more kids, so they just raised us together.’
Sal sat back down again, running her hands through her hair.
‘Ok. Well… ok. I guess this is just as weird as being a sperm bank baby. What do you mean we aren’t human though? What are we?’
‘Oh we are human, I was just trying to freak you out with that.’
Sal threw her hands in the air. ‘I was already pretty freaked out mum! How come I’ve never heard of this? Is it normal?’
‘Just as normal as sticking body parts inside each other and bleeding from orifices. Nothing to do with reproduction is “normal”.’ Greta made air-quotes around ‘normal’, settling into the speech she had rehearsed in her head for years.
‘There are other things we can do, but I’ll get to that. Auntie Louise, Bridie and Clare want to talk to you about this too; I just said I’d break the initial ice.’
‘Oh so I’m a project for the four of you now?’
‘No, they just thought it would be best if we did this as a family.’
Sal tried not to roll her eyes and Greta led her out into the kitchen, where her aunts were sitting around chatting and drinking various beverages. Louise had her usual ginger beer and dark rum, Bridie had a mug of Darjeeling and Clare had a cold lemonade, all the drinks Greta kept well-stocked in every house they’d ever lived in.
The aunts greeted Sal warmly, making room around the open fire in the lounge room.
‘So you’ve had the one-sided sex talk.’ Said Clare giggling.
‘You mean the sex was one-sided, not the talk.’ Winked Louise, and Sal tried not to pull a disgusted face.
‘We wanted to explain the history of this… family thing together. As a family.’ Said Bridie, reaching over to touch Sal’s knee. Sal tried not to sit defensively, but she hated being the centre of attention, even among people she knew, loved and trusted. She rose, offering to top up everyone’s drinks.
‘Another Storm tha-’
‘No Louise, she’s trying to derail us. We need to dive right in.’ Greta frowned at her youngest sister, who was unabashed.
‘We’ said Bridie with gravity ‘are descendants of clan witches.’
Sal blinked, laughter threatening to bubble from her chest, and Clare took over. ‘It sounds weird, we know. Our mum and her sisters had a similar talk with us when we were teenagers, but they did it with all of us at the same time. Probably a mistake…’ She trailed off and all the sisters nodded, momentarily lost in memory.
‘Anyway,’ said Greta. ‘We are descended from witches. Not the green-faced, broomstick riding, devil-worshipping kind, although I’m not judging any of those things. Witches who lived alone, were independent, had independent incomes and means of survival, could reproduce without men, could live for hundreds of years. Basically everything that was demonised by those who were jealous: Christians, men, ordinary people.’
‘Whoa wait, could live for hundreds of years? That can’t be right.’
‘Oh yeah, sorry I was going to ease you into that one.’ Greta wiped her hands over her face; she looked very tired.
‘Your Grandma is eight hundred years old. She says things are much the same by the way, in case you thought the world was worse than at any other time.’
Sal was shocked and mouthed wordlessly for a few seconds. Then sound seemed to speed through her and she burst out suddenly ‘EIGHT HUNDRED YEARS OLD?? NOPE. Nah, nope, this is crap, you’re making fun of me. It’s really shit of you to do this en mass by the way. Just one of you I could have taken, but four at once is just fucking mean.’
Sal rose to leave, a little worried in the back of her mind that she had just yelled and sworn at her mum and aunts. Bridie stood and pushed her back into her seat with surprising strength.
‘No. This is true, you need to listen.’ She said in the quiet, terrible voice she used when she was deadly serious. Sal had only heard that voice a few times and it shook her to her bones every time. She sat back down, upset, but calmer. There was silence for a few moments, then Clare cleared her throat.
‘There are some other, more immediate perks.’ She said quietly. ‘We may be able to reproduce asexually, but I can show you a potent love potion or two.’ She winked at Sal, hoping her attempt at humour was appreciated. Greta tensed, her mind flying to the thought of Lucas being in their lives forever. But Sal laughed and said ‘Oh I definitely don’t need that kind of complication. I’ve read fairy tales you know!’
After that the mood lightened considerably and Sal asked them all many questions. Greta showed her the ancient leather-bound books that were always given pride of place in the study, but Sal had never seen opened. They contained family lore: lists, genealogy, historical involvements, memories, letters, recipes, photographs and sketches stretching back almost three thousand years. Sal was fascinated and promised to read every single volume, even though her aunts insisted it wasn’t necessary.
Louise, Bridie and Clare stayed until late, and after Louise had fallen asleep in front of the fire the remaining aunts found their coats and bags and headed for the front door.
‘Bye love, take your time adjusting to all this. It’s normal to be overwhelmed for a while.’ Bridie kissed Sal on the cheek, then hugged Greta.
‘Good luck.’ Clare whispered into Greta’s ear, then hugged Sal and followed Bridie out the door.
Greta and Sal stood by the door waving them goodbye, then turned inside.
‘How are you feeling?’ Greta whispered as she put another blanket around Louise’s feet on the couch.
‘I’m ok. I’m glad to know all this, and I have a lot more to learn.’ Sal whispered back, gathering the dirty cups and mugs left by their visitors. Then she brightened a little more and added ‘Actually, this is fantastic.’
‘Well… the women in our family don’t need men to reproduce.’
‘So what do I need a beautiful idiot like Lucas for?’
Greta’s eyes widened, and Sal burst out laughing. Greta shook her head and laughed with her daughter.
‘I do not understand you my dear.’ She said, and they hugged standing in the kitchen, then Sal went upstairs to finish her homework. And hopefully, thought Greta, dump that beautiful idiot.