I hefted the slow cooker off the table and inspected it. It seemed to be in fine condition.
“Can I plug this in?” I asked the woman counting change. She’d just sold a huge amethyst crystal to someone for less than ten bucks and had a dozen more lovely rocks on a nearby table draped with silk scarves.
“Absolutely,” she smiled. “There’s an outlet on the left side of the garage there, right next to the snow blower.”
I squeezed between a table of books and a smaller table studded with dozens of Celtic medallions. Several of the books caught my eye and I paused. It was obvious that someone had made a serious study of astrology, pagan religions, lucid dreaming, and animal totems. I repressed my curiosity and continued to make my way towards the electrical outlet. The last thing I needed was more books. No, what I needed, if anything, was the slow cooker I held tucked under my arm. I pushed past several more tables, wedged myself behind the snow blower, plugged in the slow cooker, and waited for it to warm up. Sure enough, it was in fine working order.
“Sort of a strange garage sale,” I said as I counted out eight dollars.
“All of this belonged to my Aunt Liza,” the hostess said, waving her arm in a grand gesture that seemed to include, not just the garage sale, but the house and property, as well. “She passed away a couple weeks ago and we’re just starting to sort everything out.”
That was more than I wanted to know and her chipper tone in the face of recent death made me uneasy. I nodded, tried to look sympathetic, and held my hand out for my change.
“She was a little screwy, if you know what I mean,” the woman volunteered. She twirled her hand next to her head when she said ‘screwy’. I frowned. “Oh, she wasn’t even my real aunt, just one of my mom’s gal-pals, you know?” Did I hear a note of defensiveness in her tone? I hoped so. I disapproved of her attitude.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” I said as I accepted my change. I didn’t mean it, though. I was sorry for late Aunt Liza, who surely didn’t deserve such casual disrespect.
I returned to my car and set out on a series of weekend errands, but I couldn’t shake Aunt Liza from my thoughts. I imagined her as a free-spirited, grey-haired hippie. She probably hadn’t had any children of her own, I decided, and her friend’s disrespectful daughter must have been the closest thing she had to “next of kin”. It seemed sad to me that all of her crystals, books, and jewelry held no sentimental value for anyone. If I’d had an Aunt Liza, I would have kept three quarters of what was being sold on the card tables and shelves filling the garage and driveway.
The next morning, I washed and dried Aunt Liza’s slow cooker and set it on the counter. I couldn’t wait to come home from work to eat a hot, home cooked meal! I loaded the inner crock of the cooker with vegetables, seasonings, and water. I wished I had stew meat, but I’d pick some up the next time I went to the store. Ten hours later, I opened the door to my apartment, weary from a long day, and walked into a cloud of mouth-watering, beefy aroma. I’d never had better stew! The vegetables were toothsome, the flavor was rich and satisfying, and the beef was tender and succulent. It wasn’t until I’d finished my second bowl of stew and settled in with a novel, that I remembered I hadn’t had any beef to put in the slow cooker that morning. Could that be right? I shook my head, trying to clear my fuzzy memory. Had I put beef in the stew? Well, there was beef in the stew, so I must’ve put it in, I decided, and went back to reading.
Three days later I loaded boneless pork ribs in the slow cooker and, remembering my confusion over the beef stew wondered how I could’ve been so absent minded. I made a point of focusing on my task as I washed and prepared vegetables then layered them over the pork. I shook in several herbs and spices, but wouldn’t add the barbeque sauce until I was nearly ready to eat. My mindful focus carried into my work day and I felt less harried and frantic than usual. The day passed pleasantly and when I returned home, the aroma of slow cooked pork made my stomach rumble. Before taking my coat off, I fetched the barbeque sauce from my refrigerator and prepared to pour it over the contents of the slow cooker, but when I lifted the lid and the steam cleared, I saw that the meat was already heavily basted with sauce. I put the lid back on more firmly than was strictly necessary, backed away from the slow cooker and stared. What the heck? This time, I was certain that my food had been tampered with. This wasn’t a symptom of my absent-mindedness. My food preparation that morning was still vivid in my memory, and besides, if I had been the one to add the barbeque sauce this morning, it would be charred black along the sides of the crock by now. It wasn’t charred and probably hadn’t been in the cooker for more than two hours. Who had been in my home, I wondered, and why were they adding things to my dinner, but leaving no other evidence of their presence? I glanced around the kitchen, then stomped around, examining every room, every door, and every window for evidence. Nothing was damaged. Nothing was missing. There was no sign of a forced entry. I stomped back to the kitchen, lifted the lid from the slow cooker and double-checked. Yep. There was barbeque sauce on my pork ribs. I set the lid back on my dinner and toyed with the idea of calling the police. I could just imagine that call. Hello, I’d like to report an intruder who’s helping me cook. Yes, sir, whoever it is put beef in my stew and sauce on my pork ribs. Right. That wasn’t happening.
“Something weird is happening, Aunt Liza,” I said, pointing at the slow cooker with the bottled barbeque sauce that I still held. I almost giggled, then, but took a ragged breath instead.
“Of course something weird is happening, dear.” I jumped, startled, as a transparent woman took shape in front of me.
“What the…” I stumbled back a few steps and bumped into the counter behind me. The apparition chuckled. She had long, grey hair that she wore in thick braid pulled over one shoulder and there were tiny, bright flowers embroidered down the front of her peasant blouse. I couldn’t see her feet, but she wore a long tie-dyed skirt that swirled as though blown by a gentle breeze.
“You have to expect weird things when you cook dinner in a witch’s cauldron,” Aunt Liza said.