The sun seemed to rise especially early. Mara slipped into her dressing robe and opened the curtains. She blinked at the light that flooded into the room and lifted the window. Lush, green leaves blew inside, tangling in her hair.

The door flew open. Standing in its frame was Fa Switch in her black coat, her eyes shining with an energy that said she’d been awake and running about for hours.

“Well,” her mother said, “I hope you’re happy.”

Mara picked the leaves from her hair and laid them on her bedside table.

“I am,” she said, “It really couldn’t be a more perfect day.”

Fa closed the double doors with both hands and swept her coat around to face her oldest daughter.

“I suppose you didn’t think it necessary,” she said, walking towards the table where Mara had sat and started to comb her hair, “to inform your mother of the details of this event.”

Fa took the comb out of Mara’s hand and pulled it through her hair, yanking on hard knots. Mara winced but kept her head still.

“I’ve been all around town, making preparations, finalizing the menu,” Ms. Switch said. “The streets are buzzing with talk. Excited people everywhere, whispering, throwing sideways glances at me and running off to gossip to their neighbor. Can you guess what they are saying?”

Mara closed her eyes. “I suppose they’re talking about the wedding?”

“Yes,” Fa said. “And what do you suppose they’re saying?” Fa didn’t give her daughter a chance to respond. “They’re saying they’re so excited to see what will happen, they’re guessing this and guessing that, they’re saying it’s going to be the largest event in the history of the town.” Fa put down the comb. Mara’s hair gleamed in the mirror like a polished stone surface.

“Now when were you supposing to inform me,” Ms. Switch continued, her voice rising as she braided Mara’s hair into a perfect knot on the top of her head, “When were you planning on telling your mother that the entire town would be attending the wedding?” She slipped one bobby pin into the intricate bun she’d woven—miraculously, it stayed in place—and let out a deep breath. The window slammed shut and cut off the light spring breeze that had been gently playing inside. The air in the room stilled and became silent.

“I thought you, of all the girls, would know the importance of discretion.” Fa’s hand’s held onto Mara’s shoulders as she spoke, and Mara looked forward at her reflection. “You’re the one who has never once slipped in public, who blends so well into the crowd that sometimes I wonder if you’re the same daughter I carried into this town. Now not only are you marrying the son of the mayor, you have invited the entire town of Ambrose to the ceremony. What am I to make of this? Where has your head gone?”

Mara spoke only after she saw her mother had finished. “I only invited you and my sisters. The rest of the guests must be Graham’s.”

At the mention of Graham, Fa Switch strode to the bed and sat at its edge, containing her discontent in a heavy silence. Mara knew that her mother had disapproved of the match from the start. She understood: she, too, had been surprised to find herself in such a situation, wary of her feelings and scared of losing control.

Mara had been waitressing at Fa’s Foods the summer prior—her mother’s famous restaurant—when the Hunter family had dropped in to dine. Fa Switch had straightened her apron, grabbed her shoulders and strode her out of the kitchen, whispering furiously. “The mayor’s family is here,” she said. “Table 17. Do not make any mistakes.”

Mara had made no mistakes. Charming and personable, she recommended the best dishes and brought the orders out simultaneously, steaming hot on a tray that would have toppled precariously in any other hands but glided gracefully across the busy dining room in Mara’s. From there the work was completed by the food: despite the Switches’ shadowed reputation Fa’s Food was always bustling. There was something indescribably delicious in Fa’s dishes that made her customers unable to resist coming back for more.

Graham Hunter came back for more, more of Fa’s food and more of Mara. He was returning to Ambrose after spending his childhood years in New England, first in prep school, then a prestigious college and law school. For his homecoming celebration his father, Mayor Hunter, had decided in an uncharacteristic move to take him to dine at the most talked-about restaurant in town, which he had yet to visit. And so, Graham met Mara, and untainted by years of whispered rumors of what the family became at night, he saw only her beauty and tranquil, earthly grace. A covert courtship ensued, and soon despite her reservations Mara found herself wholeheartedly attached to him, unable to say no to his proposal of marriage.

She had convinced herself that it would be a wonderful opportunity to refute the Swithes’ reputation, and that was what she said to her mother now. “Maybe it’ll be a good thing,” she said, taking Ms. Switch’s hand and holding it between her own. “If the whole town sees me marry Graham, the whole town will see that we are not so different after all. This could be our chance to change everything. Imagine it, mother! All those words behind closed doors, about how we’re just not like them, how we can concoct strange spells, how we’re dangerous, imagine all of that disappearing into air.” Mara stood up and looked into her mother’s eyes, pleading.

“This is our chance to prove we’re not what they think we are,” she said.

Fa Switch took her hands out of Mara’s grasp and strode towards the doors. They swung open, and she stopped briefly in the frame before they closed in front of her, her eyes cold and unyielding.

“The problem is,” she said, “we are.”

Advertisements