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Authors: Helen Oyeyemi

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary

White Is for Witching

BOOK: White Is for Witching
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White Is





lso by


The Opposite House

The Icarus Girl



White Is








Published by the Penguin Group


Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3
(a division of Pearson Canada Inc.)


Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England


Published in Canada by Penguin Group (Canada), a division of Pearson Canada Inc., 2009.
Simultaneously published in the United States by Nan A. Talese,
an imprint of The Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York,
and in Great Britain by Picador, London, under the title Pie-kah.


1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10   (RRD)


Copyright © Helen Oyeyemi, 2009


All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.


Publisher’s note: This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Manufactured in the U.S.A.



Oyeyemi, Helen
White is for witching / Helen Oyeyemi.


ISBN 978-0-670-06857-9


I. Title.


PR6115.Y49W47 2009   823’.92   C2009-902103-X

American Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data available
British Library Cataloguing in Publication data available


Visit the Penguin Group (Canada) website at


Special and corporate bulk purchase rates available; please see
or call 1-800-810-3104, ext. 477 or 474




I hold my honey and I store my bread

In little jars and cabinets of my will.

I label clearly, and each latch and lid

I bid, Be firm till I return from Hell.

Selected Poems





White Is








Miranda Silver is in Dover, in the ground beneath her mother’s house.

Her throat is blocked with a slice of apple

(to stop her speaking words that may betray her)

her ears are filled with earth

(to keep her from hearing sounds that will confuse her)

her eyes are closed, but

her heart thrums hard like hummingbird wings.

Does she remember me at all I miss her I miss the way her eyes are the same shade of grey no matter the strength or weakness of the light I miss the taste of her I see her in my sleep, a star planted seed-deep, her arms outstretched, her fists clenched, her black dress clinging to her like mud.

She chose this as the only way to fight the soucouyant.



Miri is gone.

Just gone. We’d had an argument. It was dark outside. Gusts of wind tangled in the apple trees around our house and dropped fruit onto the roof, made it sound like someone was tapping on the walls in the attic, Morse code for
let me out
, or something weirder. The argument was a stupid one that opened up a murky little mouth to take in other things. Principally it was about this pie I’d baked for her. She wouldn’t eat any of it, and she wouldn’t let me.

“Why did you use the winter apples?” She asked it over and over. Nothing I replied could break her monotone.

She said: “You’ve done too much now. I can’t trust you anymore.”

She shook her head and dropped to the disappointed hiss of a primary-school teacher, or a kid trying to borrow the authority of one: “Bad! You are

(My sister turned seventeen in a mental health clinic; I brought our birthday cake to her there.)

Miri’s accusations, her whole manner that night scared the shit out of me. She looked in my direction but she couldn’t seem to focus on me. She was the thinnest I’d ever seen her. Her hands and head were the heaviest parts of her. Her neck drooped. She hugged herself, her fingers pinning her dress to her ribs. There was an odd smell to her, heavy and thick. It was clear to me that she was slipping again, down a new slide. When she said she didn’t trust me, I turned away rather than let myself get angrier.

I went up to my room. Miri didn’t call after me. I don’t think she came upstairs again. Or she may have, without my hearing. I’m not sure. I heard the front door slam, but I thought it was just one of the guests coming home late. I stayed where I was, knelt on my window seat, smoking, seeing shapes in the rain, listening to all the apples in the world bouncing off our roof.

That last time I saw Miri, she wasn’t wearing any shoes. Five months
ago I took that as security that she would come back. And now I keep coming back to that in my mind, the fact that she was barefoot. That her running away was a heat-of-the-moment thing, unplanned.

A part of me knows that we can’t find her because something has happened to her.


29 barton road:

Miranda is at

(homesick, home

Miranda can’t come in today Miranda has a
called pica she has

eaten a great deal of chalk—she really can’t help herself—she has been

very ill—
Miranda has pica she can’t come in
today, she is stretched out

inside a wall she is feasting on plaster she has pica


try again:





Probably not—



I’ve been dialling her phone, the phone she lost months ago, as if she might have caught up with it somewhere. I wrote her a note and folded it in four and slipped it under her door.

I know she’s not there.

But I wrote,
Miri I’m lonely

I dropped the words onto the paper so hard that they’re doubled by the thin perforations around them.

I wouldn’t have bothered trying to tell her, I wouldn’t have written to her if

What I mean is, each act of speech stands on the belief that someone will hear. My note to Miri says more than just I’m lonely. Invisibly it says that I know she will see this, and that when she sees this it will turn her, turn her back, return her.

Miri I conjure you.


29 barton road:

She has

me I will not allow her to live


try a different way:





Miranda lay beside me on the grass that circled the mill pond, her lecture notebook opened up on her stomach. Bicycles kept passing by, their wheels groaning against the wooden bridge. The sun shone through clouds swollen with the smell of wet bark, and there were bees around us.

Miranda spoke so quietly I had to move closer to her, my ear to her lips. “It’s Eliot’s fault,” she said.

When I looked at her, she smiled brightly. Incongruous smiles were a sort of nervous thing with Miranda, a way of protecting herself from consequences, I think. Just like putting sunglasses on, or opening up an umbrella.


I spent Lily’s second night in Haiti on Miri’s bedroom floor. Miri switched off the light and folded herself into her bed in her usual way, so that every part of her was covered and the bedsheets set around her curled body as if she was fixed in wax. I never knew how she managed to breathe. She said she slept like that so her dreams wouldn’t escape.

I leaned my back against her desk, wrapped blankets around my shoulders and tried to read with a flashlight.

The weird thing started when I said to Miri, “Don’t fall asleep yet.” The “please” hugged the roof of my mouth and refused to go out to meet her.

Miri said, “You’re scared about Lily.”

I didn’t answer. I tried to picture our mother in Haiti and I saw her in a tower built of guns, heaving with voodoo, creepy gods and white feathers tipped with blood.

Lily’s eye transformed places. She looked at structures and they turned inside out and offered her their desolate jigsaw patterns. Once Lily pointed out a photo of hers in a magazine, a picture of a tundra with a ball of ice at noon in the sky. What was this place? My mother gave me three guesses. My best and most desperate guess was that truckloads of sand had been poured onto a simulation of the surface of the moon. “Nope,” she said. “Gobi desert.”

Lily was the changer who came home the same. But that last time the signs were bad. When she left, she had forgotten her watch on the telephone stand in the hallway, a brass body with thin leather arms, ticking away Haitian time, six hours behind ours. How could she have forgotten her watch? She never had before. Miri and I had debated leaving it where it was (that seemed luckier), then Miri had confiscated it for safekeeping in case one of the houseguests stole it or broke it or something.

Miri said sleepily, “The goodlady will take care of Lily. She promised.”

BOOK: White Is for Witching
12.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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