“Can I read your hand?”
Time seems to be suspended, while demanding eyes fall on Bernie, the soft tinkle of some bracelets audible over the roaring of the bonfire and the shrieks of kids’ laughter around them. The other woman seems to have materialised from thin air right beside her, parting her way through the crowd on the piazza, her palm gently lifted up in the blonde’s direction. Bernie is feeling strange under the look of the brunette, who’s now standing in front of her, her palm still raised.
“Why would you want to do that?” Bernie finally manages to say, sounding rougher than she intended.
“Maybe I’m a witch? Travelling along the coast while I earn my living with fortune tellings and blessings? Living in an abandoned small villa in the hills, brewing potions and salves for all kind of ailments?” There’s a twinkle in the eye of the other woman and her voice, while lovingly deep and alluring, is decidedly not Italian. Bernie can’t help herself and just snorts.
“I’m sorry, but I think that you are neither strega cattiva nor strega buona,” she says with a small smile.
“Aren’t you a clever one? Knowing the difference between the bad and the good, the dark and the light. If I’m not a witch, you can give me your hand without worry, don’t you think?”
Bernie lifts her hand almost like on auto-pilot, her eyes still firmly locked with the brown eyes in front of her. The other woman is a bit smaller than her, a bit fuller figured, too. Her brown hair shines in the light of the bonfire, the flames drawing ever changing shapes on both of them. Her hand is warm, the skin a bit rough, but warm, so warm and her grip soft but sure nonetheless.
Bernie feels like the heat suddenly rising through her body might outdo the bonfire soon. Hopes desperately that her hand won’t turn sweaty, because she doesn’t want the other woman to notice the effect some simple handholding has on her.
“Let’s see...” The other woman finally lets her eyes fall to the upraised hand, now safely ensconced in her own. Her other hand comes up and almost caresses Bernie’s palm with her fingertips. “Let’s see...” Bernie has to keep herself from fidgeting, feels equally rooted to the spot and curiously detached from her own body. “You will have...” and suddenly a small pendant on a chain is being whirled in circles above her palm. The circles become smaller and smaller, seemingly unguided, but getting closer and closer to the heart line, where the pendant comes to a standstill. Bernie feels herself trapped between the pendant and dark eyes. Suddenly she can’t hold the feeling anymore and roughly whips her hand out of the stranger’s grip. The other woman raises an eyebrow at that, but doesn’t make another move to hold her hand again. In a split second, Bernie misses the warmth of her hand, feels like she lost something she didn’t even knew she had.
“I’m sorry,” she finds herself apologising to a stranger who insisted on holding her hand, right in front of a bonfire on the night of witches, when the veil is thin between the worlds of logic and the worlds of superstitions and fairy tales.
“Don’t be,” the other woman smiles at her. “I’ve got what I wanted.”
“And what would that be?” Bernie asks, trepidation colouring her voice.
“I’ve got to hold your hand.” The brunette winks at her. “Have a lovely night - enjoy the bonfire and the wine,” and with this the other woman steps away from Bernie and back into the crowd around the fire. Suddenly she’s gone as fast as she appeared at Bernie’s side and even though the blonde tries to stand as tall as she can, she’s not able to catch sight of the other woman again. She feels restless, unsettled. “You can’t just become a witch in the blink of an eye.” runs through her head. She doesn’t know where she heard this before, probably something her landlady or one of the other women always coming and going told her before bonfire night. Just like they told her the differences between witches. Nevertheless she feels... bewitched. Spends the rest of the night walking around the piazza, always searching, searching for a witch she is still pretty sure wasn’t one.
The bonfire burns down, most of the townspeople turn in for the night. Only a few of them remain to take care of the glowing embers. No witches among them. Finally Bernie has to admit defeat. There’s no real chance that the other woman will suddenly turn back up again in an almost empty piazza in the middle of the night. The whole encounter suddenly seems so unreal, so unlike everything Bernie expected from today’s evening, that she has to reassure herself that she didn’t just dream up all of it. She continues to reassure herself until she’s at the house she rents a room in, then in her room and finally in her bed. Tells herself that what she experienced was quite real and decidedly not a dream at all until she finally falls asleep, dreaming of curious brown eyes and warm hands caressing hers.