‘Witches Sail in Eggshells’ is a quote from Meg, a character in a story of the same name, but also a playful aside from Keiza, the bewitcher of the unnamed protagonist. It bookends a collection of seventeen short stories of around 150 pages. I think the first story in the collection, ‘Hagstone,’ is the best short-story in the collection, and the last, ‘Witches Sail in Eggshells’, next best—you may think differently. Short-stories bewitch in different ways.
The subject of both my favourite stories is witchcraft. ‘Witches Sail in Eggshells’ gives it a more side-long look. The protagonist works in a bar in Baggot Street, in which Meg, an older woman, is chef. When Keiza breezes in the narrator’s life changes. Love and lust at first sight.
There was a silver charm on the belt of her jeans; we’d barely even spoken, and already I was burning to look closer.
Keiza was the kind of girl ‘who’d batter your heart like a thrush like a snail on a stone’ and come back for more. Expect more.
Meg says nothing about the bruises on the young barmaid’s arm, the scratches.
When Keiza leaves her on a whim, Meg’s waiting, but it’s two years later. But Keiza kept a house key and turns up to whip up a storm while Meg whips up an omelette.
‘Christ she’s not still trying is she? she said, gesturing to Meg. ‘Give up girl, she’s just not into you.’
In comparison, Leda, the narrator in ‘Hagstone’ is an involuntary witch, or is she a witch, or is it just coincidence the way some things happen? That’s a theme in most of the stories in the collection. Always something else, someone else waiting.
Leda lifted the necklace from the mirror’s shoulder, letting the knotted strings tumble across the back of her hand.
A minor character on a boat explains that hagstones, ‘Are just stones with a hole. The sea digs it out. Or the river.’
Leda, a bored adolescent, on holiday starts collecting them and makes them into a necklace.
‘From the first day she wore the necklace, there was a shift. Tiny things: two slices of bread left of the loaf, just enough for her sandwiches, and the bus rounding the corner just as she reached the stop. The old guy in her preferred seat had to stand to stretch his back. A free period after break because Miss Vine had gone home with cramps.’
The new normal changes Leda’s world, but the reader is aware that there is always a price to pay and waits to find out what it is. She secretly likes Alice’s boyfriend, Robbie. He’s dumb and muscular, but with nice plump lips she’d like to kiss and tease. Robbie drifts away from Alice and suddenly he’d like that too. Spiked dreams and desires pick up casualties. Payment becomes due. What does Leda do?
There’s grit in the other stories, close, but I’m not sure they turn into story pearls. Taste and see.