Chapter Twenty-Two

As I walk home from work later that evening, I can’t stop thinking about Magda. Despite her rallying cry and cheery optimism that the gallery will be saved and everything will be wonderful, I’m worried.

Maybe it’s the Manchester in me. The Northern pessimism instilled into me as a child that if things can go wrong, they bloody well will. Maybe it’s the call I took from the Department of Water and Power, complaining that a payment was long overdue and we had twenty-one days to settle the account or be cut off. Or maybe it’s that sometimes during the day I’d catch Magda, when she thought I wasn’t looking, and despite her heavy-handed blusher she looked pale and frightened.

On my way home I stop to pick up laundry. After my huge clear-out at the weekend, I filled a large bin liner with crumpled clothes and, along with some of Robyn’s stuff, dragged it to my local Fluff and Fold. I love Fluff and Fold. They’re the New York version of our British launderettes, but they’re so much more. It’s a bit like comparing an Aston Martin to a Fiat Panda: they both do the job, but one does it with a super-fancy five-star service wash that includes fluffing, folding, ironing and giving it that delicious freshly washed scent.

Which is pretty amazing, considering next door is a Chinese restaurant, I muse, picking up a takeaway for me and Robyn.

‘Food’s up,’ I yell, as I walk into the apartment. Slamming the door behind me, I’m hit by a sweet, pungent aroma. What’s that smell? Following my nose, I wander into the kitchen to find it bathed in candlelight and Robyn sitting at the kitchen table, bent low over a large hardback book, the size of a telephone directory. In her right hand is a bunch of burning sage, which she’s waving above her head.

To think I used to come home to find my flatmates watching Coronation Street.

Hearing me, she suddenly looks up, wild-eyed and with her hair all over the place.

‘I’ve found a spell!’

Rewind a few weeks and I would have dropped my vegetable chow mein all over the kitchen lino in shock at such a statement, but now I’m fast beginning to get used to Robyn and her wacky ways. Saying that, a vision board is one thing, but this?

A spell?’ I repeat, for want of anything else to say.

Well, it was either that or, ‘Ooh, what is it?’ and I’m not officially crazy just yet.

‘Yes! In here!’ she says triumphantly, holding up the book, which has a deep red velvet cover and has the words ‘Spells and Charms’ embossed across the front in gold lettering. ‘I borrowed it from my friend Wicker, who’s part of this drumming circle I used to go to,’ she continues in excitement. ‘Well, I had to do something. I know your sister thinks the Strategy will work, but I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that when you’re talking about the power of the universe.’

Dumping my laundry on the side, I clear a space on the table for the takeaway and begin unpacking the little red and white cartons of food.

‘So I’ve been thinking, I don’t want to disagree with Kate,’ she says, disagreeing, ‘but when it comes to forces you don’t understand, you need more than a document.’ She wrinkles her nose sniffily. ‘We’re not talking law now – we’re talking legends!’

There’s a pause and I realise this is my chance to say something. Anything. Only, to be quite truthful, I haven’t a clue what to say.

‘It’s called “the Good-Riddance Spell” and it’s for getting rid of an unwanted suitor.’ She looks at me, her eyes flashing. ‘Can you believe it?’

‘No, I can’t believe it,’ I say, finding my tongue. ‘That’s because it’s completely crazy!’ I waggle a napkin. ‘Honestly, Robyn, magic spells? What is this, Harry Potter? It’s insane!’

Robyn raises her eyebrows. ‘I think it’s a bit late for all that, don’t you?’ she says tetchily.

I open my mouth to reply, then fall silent. She has a point.

‘So do you want to hear this spell or not?’ she continues sulkily.

I sigh resignedly. ‘Go on.’

‘OK, well, it’s a banishing spell, and banishing spells are powerful, intricate ritual spells, designed to break or undo spells or curses.’

‘Like the legend,’ I point out. Well, let’s not be scornful. I’m the one walking around with a four-page, twenty-five-point document in my pocket because I kissed my soulmate under some bridge and now I’m stuck with him.

‘Exactly,’ says Robyn. ‘They can also banish people away from you.’ She thumps the table. ‘Perfect! A double whammy!’

‘Perfect.’ I nod, playing along. ‘Do we have any soy sauce?’

After all, if legends can come true, maybe there is something in this magic-spell business.

‘In the cupboard on the right, middle shelf,’ she instructs, turning back to her book. ‘It says here that all banishing rituals are carried out at night using special magical ingredients . . .’

‘Speaking of ingredients, I got you vegetable chow mein and spring rolls. Is that OK?’

‘Mmm, perfect.’ She nods.

I pull up a stool and sit down next to her.

‘Whereas candle magic is a strong yet gentle magic, banishing and binding spells pack a faster, more powerful punch.’ Dipping her spring roll in chilli sauce, she jabs it at an imaginary Nate like a spear. ‘A powerful punch, atta girl!’

Flecks of sweet chilli sauce go everywhere and I pass her a paper napkin.

‘So this is what you need to do . . .’ Taking a bite, she chews furiously, then clears her throat. ‘“On a piece of parchment or recycled paper, write the name and date of birth of the person you are wishing ‘away’. Use black ink for this. Many gypsies also say that it is best to use one of the old ‘dip’ pens and ink, rather than a modern ballpoint.”’ She breaks off. ‘Shoot, I don’t have one. Do you?’

‘Um . . . yeah, I think so.’ I nod, munching on a mouthful of chow mein, ‘from when I used to do a lot of pen-and-ink drawings.’

‘Great.’ She nods, then pauses. ‘You did pen-and-ink drawings?’ She looks intrigued. ‘Wow. Can I see them?’

‘Oh, it was ages ago.’ I shrug. ‘I’m not sure where they are.’

‘Huh.’ She studies me hard for a moment, as if about to say something, then appears to think better of it and turns back to her spell book.

‘OK, where was I . . .? Oh, yeah . . .“Let the ink dry – don’t blot it. Then wrap a piece of his clothing round a hambone.”’

I stop eating and pull a face. ‘Eugh! Yuck.’

‘Oh, that’s easy. I have them in the freezer,’ she says matter-of-factly.

I look at her in astonishment. ‘I thought you were a vegetarian.’

‘They’re for the dogs,’ she says, getting up and pulling open the freezer door. A little cloud of dry ice appears, and rummaging around, she pulls out a large frozen bone, wrapped in a plastic bag. Jenny and Simon start yapping frantically, thinking they are going to get a treat, but she shoos them away with a ‘It’s not for you. It’s for Lucy, to get rid of the love of her life.’

They bark and start salivating. Memories of stories of people being found in their apartments half eaten by their German shepherds suddenly spring to mind. I make a mental note to keep my bedroom door firmly closed tonight.

‘“Put the hambone in a plastic bag with two black feathers, ravens or crows preferably, add a pinch of one or more of the magical herbs – ash-tree leaves, clover, lovage, lilac, garlic – then take the paper with his name on it, fold it three times and pop that in too. Then tie the end tightly with red string.”’ She looks across at me and frowns. ‘Are you making a list of all these ingredients?’ she says crossly.

‘Um . . .’ Having been totally absorbed in eating the most delicious spring roll, I sheepishly grab a pen and a piece of paper.

‘“Then take the bundle outside to a patch of earth, untie it and remove the piece of paper. Light a white candle and burn the piece of paper in its flame while thinking of the name of the person running away from you and saying . . .”’ She pauses and affects a serious voice. ‘“‘Winds of the North, East, South and West, carry these affections to where they’ll be best. Let his heart be open and free, and let his mind be away from me.’”’

‘And that’s it?’ Scribbling furiously, I glance up.

‘No, then you have to bury the hambone.’

‘Gosh, it’s quite complicated, isn’t it?’ I groan. ‘Maybe the restraining order might have been easier.’

‘Oh, and you have to do this at exactly ten o’clock at night.’

‘Why ten o’clock?’

‘Because that’s what the spell says,’ she responds matter-of-factly. Scooping up a mouthful of chow mein with her chopsticks, she chews thoughtfully. ‘There’s one other thing.’

I throw her a strangled look.

‘This spell must be performed during a waning moon.’

There’s a pause as we both glance out of the open window. Mostly all we see is the brick wall with the graffiti, but there’s a tiny sliver of a gap. Through it a crescent-shaped moon glows back at us.

‘It’s waning!’ exclaims Robyn excitedly.

Panic stabs. I suddenly have an awful feeling I’m really going to go through with this.

‘Have you finished?’ Changing the subject, I go to clear away our cartons and chopsticks.

Robyn eyes me. ‘Tomorrow night,’ she says decisively.

‘What about tomorrow night?’ I say, trying to play dumb.

‘That’s when you need to do the spell!’ she gasps, as if it’s perfectly obvious that’s what I should be doing on a Tuesday night in Manhattan.

I look at her for a moment and it’s suddenly like sanity comes flying in through the window and wallops me on the side of the head. ‘I’m not doing it tomorrow night! Or the next night! Or any night!’ I cry, shaking my head as if shaking the sense back into it. ‘I’m not doing any of this hocus-pocus nonsense.’

‘It’s not hocus-pocus,’ says Robyn, looking offended.

‘Whatever,’ I gasp, then take a deep breath. ‘I’m not doing it.’

‘But if you don’t get rid of Nate, you’re never going to make room in your love cup for anyone else,’ she tries to reason.

‘My love cup?’

‘It’s how they describe it in the book I’m reading,’ she says defensively, her cheeks pinking up. ‘It has to be empty before it can be filled up again by anyone else. Like, for example, Adam.’

She raises her eyebrows and now I feel my cheeks pinking up. I’d told her all about Adam at lunchtime. Well, it was more a case of me showing her our email exchange and, her being the loyal good friend that she is, dutifully and carefully analysing each word until she came to the conclusion ‘He likes you.’ Which was hardly ground-breaking, but still.

‘Look, I think we just need to get a grip here,’ I say, trying to remain calm. ‘My name’s Lucy. I’m from Manchester. I wear knickers from Marks and Spencer. I don’t do spells.’

‘It’s only a teeny-weeny one,’ cajoles Robyn.

‘Burying bones, lighting candles and chanting?’ Pressing my foot on the pedal bin, I chuck the cartons in the recycling. ‘No, I’m not doing it.’

Robyn’s cheeks flush and she falls silent. For a few moments neither of us speak.

‘I picked up our laundry,’ I say eventually, to break the awkward atmosphere.

‘Thanks,’ she says mutely.

Then it’s back to the awkward silence as I untie the plastic bag containing our laundry and begin unpacking it.  

‘Lucy, I really think you should reconsider,’ she says after a moment. ‘Don’t dismiss the things you don’t understand.’

‘You didn’t say that when you were trying to do your taxes,’ I point out, piling the laundry up on the table. That’s funny, I don’t remember us having white towels with monograms.

‘That’s different,’ she replies touchily.

‘I don’t care.’ I shake my head. ‘I’m not going out at the dead of night to bury a bone and do some ridiculous rhyme in order to get rid of my ex-boyfriend.’

Hmm, I really don’t recognise these T-shirts either. Gosh, they do look rather large. I hold one up. ‘Is this yours?’

Robyn shakes her head. ‘But you have to fight magic with magic,’ she argues.

I roll my eyes. ‘OK, Dumbledore.’

‘I’m serious!’

‘I know.’ I nod. ‘That’s what worries me.’

Hang on a minute, men’s shirts? And trousers? I frown.

‘I’m not the one who can’t break up with their soulmate,’ says Robyn tartly.

‘Look, I’m not doing a magic spell,’ I gasp. ‘So that’s that. Full stop.’

‘Well, I think you’re making a big mistake. There are greater forces than us out there, forces that we don’t understand . . .’

I can hear Robyn talking, but it’s like white noise. A buzz in the background. I’ve tuned out. I’m not listening. Instead I’m staring at my laundry.

Only it’s not my laundry.

Astonishment mixes with confusion, mixes with resignation. I let out a loud groan.

‘It’s his.’

‘What?’ Breaking off from her speech, Robyn frowns in confusion. ‘What’s his?’

I hold up a pair of pineapple boxer shorts and wave them at Robyn. ‘About that spell . . .’

‘Do you have any white candles?’

Fast-forward to the next evening after work and I’m standing in the cluttered confines of Burt’s Hardware Store with my shopping list. The sane, rational part of me that pooh-poohs horoscopes and strides determinedly under ladders still can’t quite believe I’m going ahead with this, but the other part of me that dragged all of Nate’s laundry back to Fluff and Fold is desperate.

Brenda, the assistant manager, couldn’t understand how there’d been a mix-up. ‘We have branches all over Manhattan, but I have no idea how this could have happened,’ she gasped in bewilderment. Apologising profusely, she poked the computer keyboard as if it was personally responsible. ‘Mr Kennedy is registered at an address over fifty blocks away!’

I actually felt a bit sorry for Brenda, and for a moment I was almost tempted to offer her an explanation. I say almost, but I decided that one involving centuries-old legends, Italian bridges and soulmates would only complicate things. Better that I play the role of the dissatisfied customer than that of the lunatic.

In the end it all got sorted out. If I had his clothes, then he must have mine. And sure enough, in the middle of Brenda jabbing at the computer, a text from Nate popped up on my mobile.

         Let me guess. You have my laundry.

I text back.

         Let me guess. You have mine.

‘Here you go. Anything else?’

I zone back to see Burt scampering back down the ladder, clutching a pack of candles. For a man who looks to be in his eighties, he’s exceedingly agile.

I glance back at my list. Robyn provided the hambone, garlic and all the exotic-sounding herbs. I already had some string. Now I’ve got candles. Which leaves . . .

‘Do you sell feathers?’

‘Feathers?’ he grunts brusquely. ‘What kind of feathers?’

‘Black ones, preferably from a raven or a crow.’

Scraping his bristly chin with his fingernails, he peers at me mistrustfully. ‘Did you not read the sign? This is a hardware store, not a pet store.’

‘Oh, yes, sorry, of course,’ I stammer, and I hastily pay and leave the shop. How embarrassing. I sound like a total fruit loop.

I set off walking back to the apartment. Well, that’s that, then. If I can’t find the feathers, I won’t be able to do the spell. Feeling a secret beat of relief at being let off the hook, I turn the corner, where I’m hit by an unexpected gust of warm summer wind. Litter blows all around me, a plastic bag gets whipped up and twirls like a ballerina, and then I notice something flutter past and fall in front of me on the pavement. I glance down.

Two feathers. Two black feathers.

I’m not superstitious, but that’s what I’d call a sign.

At nine thirty I’m all packed and ready to go. Well, almost.

‘Feathers?’ asks Robyn. Armed with a list of everything I need, she’s going through a final check to make sure I have everything.

I tug them out of my bag and wave them.

‘Check.’ Robyn solemnly ticks them off her list. She’s taking it all super seriously. It’s almost like a military operation: Operation Good Riddance.

‘Red string?’

I do the same again.



I dig it out of my backpack. It’s wrapped in his boxer shorts. I’d returned Nate’s dry-cleaning, but those I’d kept. Partly because I needed an item of his clothing for the spell, but mostly because Nate has no business wearing those boxer shorts. Not with me. Not with any girl. They have to go. I’m thinking of it as a strike for all womankind. Like getting the vote, or equal rights: no woman after me will ever have to suffer the horror of the novelty pineapple boxer shorts.

‘Awesome!’ Having finished her checklist, Robyn beams broadly. ‘Well, good luck!’

‘Thanks.’ I smile uncertainly. Something tells me I’m going to need it.

I’d wanted Robyn to come with me, but she couldn’t, as she was going to her reiki healing class. Plus she said that I had to do this alone, otherwise the spell wouldn’t work. ‘Magic demands that,’ she’d informed me.

Magic, it seemed, demanded rather a lot.

I leave the apartment and set off towards a tiny park a few streets away. Well, it’s not even a park, more a small triangle with a couple of benches, some flowerbeds and a patch of grass. In the daytime it’s usually filled with people sitting on the benches eating their lunch, or sprawled on the grass chatting, reading the paper or just delighted to be soaking up a tiny spot of nature amid the steel skyscrapers, the flowers bright splashes of colour against the grey concrete.

But now, at night, it’s completely empty and in darkness. Not that anywhere in Manhattan every really gets dark, with all the city lights. It’s dark enough, though, I think, with a tremor of apprehension.

I try the gate. It’s locked. I’m going to need to climb over.

Not for the first time I question my sanity, but like my sister instructed, I have to keep my eye on the bigger picture. ‘Forget it’s the journey, not the destination,’ she’d barked. ‘It’s all about the destination! The journey is immaterial.’

A couple stroll past and I drop to the ground and pretend to be tying my shoelace. It’s totally instinctive. I’m not even wearing shoelaces; I’m wearing slip-on ballet pumps. Gosh, I’m obviously a natural at this, I muse, feeling pretty impressed with myself. I stay crouched and wait until they’ve moved further ahead up the street. Then, taking a quick look around to make sure the coast is clear, I clamber over the gate.

There’s a brief moment when I think I might get impaled and my sex life flashes before my eyes, but then I’m over and down the other side. I feel a flash of triumph. I’m in! Jittery with nerves and excitement, I quickly make my way over to the flowerbeds. OK, I need to get this over and done with as quickly as possible, then get out of here. Lighting my candle, I hold the flame to the piece of paper with Nate’s name and date of birth on it. It immediately catches alight. Much faster than I thought it would, in fact.

Shit, where’s the poem? I mean chant. Shit.

Frantically I dig around for another scrap of paper – and for a brief second there’s a panic that I’m burning the wrong piece of paper – fuck – but then I find it. Thank God. I take a deep breath. Heavens, I’m like a nervous wreck.

‘“Winds of the North, East, South and West . . .”’I begin rattling through it. Robyn told me I had to close my eyes and breathe in every word, but I race through it as quickly as I can. ‘“ . . . and let his mind be away from me.”’

I watch as the piece of paper disintegrates into ash and is carried away into the night air.

Brilliant. That bit’s done. Now I just have to bury the hambone. I feel myself relaxing. See, it wasn’t so hard, was it? All that worrying for nothing. In fact, this magic stuff is pretty easy-peasy, I reflect, grabbing the ladle – we didn’t have a trowel – and digging myself a hole.

Quite literally.

Because at that moment there’s suddenly a loud whooping siren and I’m bathed in a harsh light. I twirl round, blinking in the brightness.

What the . . .?

And then a voice booms from a megaphone, ‘Stay where you are and put your hands in the air. This is the New York Police Department.’

You're the One That I Don't Want