When I was younger the witches next door took our dog. It was a young dog, almost a puppy, and it came home one day with the witches chickens’ feathers clinging to its jaw, and the next day it was gone.
My mother said the dog probably ran away, but for a week she kept looking up the hill at the diner with her mouth tight like when she accidentally grated her knuckles into the bolognese, and I knew the dog wouldn’t have run away from us, not after we’d fed it and loved it, even if it was quite young.
Anyway I had reasons to think the witches took our dog. Not that I ever knew for sure that they were witches, only that there were two of them and they lived in the diner on top of the hill next door, and who lives in a diner? I never saw them mow their grass but it stayed short and soft all the time. I remember looking at the boundary between our properties, at our long and coarse grass, the spiky wide blades of it, and then at their fine grass that was like hairs or threads — and when the guttering of the diner blew off during a storm — I saw it and I heard it clatter to the ground-it was fixed the next day, and I remember doubting myself for the first time.
They had a lot of chickens, I assumed for the eggs for the diner, and we used to hear them all the time, the weird swallowing sounds and the sounds that were eerie in their familiarity, rising in pitch like my little brother after stubbing his toe. I didn’t think they’d even notice a couple missing, but then our dog disappeared. I remember feeling angry. It wasn’t our dog’s fault. It was just being natural, a natural dog.
It was the time of year when the twilights were long and even after dinner I could still see up the hill to the diner. I remember it like this: there’s one light on in the back room and every now and then a shadow crosses the window and I know it’s one or the other of them. I don’t know anyone who’s ever been invited into the part of the diner where they live. Sometimes I imagine it’s painted red and black like the inside of a mouth, and there’s a pit in the floor where they’re keeping our dog and other dogs that have gone missing from the neighbourhood, and maybe the kid who drowned two years ago in the floods, keeping them down there and looking at them from the lip, crouched like crows.
I remember thinking: if I were a witch, I wouldn’t stay here. Or in a diner on top of the hill next door. If I were a witch with a house like the inside of a mouth and a pit in the floor where I kept children, I mean, why would I stay in a town with mosquito plagues and a broken sugar mill, when I could probably magic up the whole diner and hitch it to the back of my broom and fly off to a city or an island or the moon. I remember thinking that, wistfully, looking up the hill at the diner with the shadows moving across the window, and for a moment I wished with all my heart that I was a witch, too, and then the light in the witches’ room went out, and the hens were silent in the blue dusk, and I took it all back.
Still, it wasn’t long after that that Mum inherited the diamond, and after we left I didn’t think about the witches for a long time, though I assume, somehow, they are still there.
Sam George-Allen is a Brisbane writer and musician who has been described as ‘scrappy’. She is a founding editor of Scum magazine.