Night Witch

Scent Notes: Expensive lipstick and beauty cream play against a backdrop of fallen autumn leaves, with whiffs of smoke, gunpowder, and cedarwood linger in the air.

It was Halloween, Nina’s favorite holiday. She stepped out of the shower carefully, and wrapped her hair in an old cotton t-shirt. Her grandma had taught her this trick as a child. It was less damaging to the hair than your average towel, even the ones marketed specifically as hair towels. It was only part of the reason, but Nina credited it to why she had such great hair and almost never had split ends. Her grandma, Antonina (after whom she was named) had been Nina’s favorite person. Even though she had passed years ago, Nina still felt her presence almost every day. She lived on in the memories Nina carried, and the little tips and tricks she had taught Nina.

For example, Nina hardly ever left the house without lipstick on, which was one of grandma’s personal rules. Hell, Antonina was hardly ever without lipstick on. In her day, during the war, wearing lipstick was a sign of patriotism, and it was a habit she never gave up. The shade that Nina wore most often was a deep red, very similar to her grandma’s favorite shade. Of course, lipstick technology had advanced significantly since her grandma’s time, and Nina didn’t have to constantly reapply, as stay-all-day matte lipstick was readily available, so the trick of putting a thin piece of tissue over her lips and applying powder over the tissue to make the lipstick stay longer wasn’t really necessary anymore.

But before any lipstick could be applied, Nina always made sure she had a clean face and used a generous amount of beauty cream to keep her skin soft and hydrated. It was also what she used to remove all her makeup every night. Sometimes, when she applied the cream late at night, she could swear it was her grandma looking back at her in the mirror. But not her grandma as she knew her; the younger version, the one that fought in WWII without fear or remorse, still wearing her signature lipstick. They really did have an incredible resemblance to one another. Nina didn’t look like either of her parents, but she could’ve been Antonina reincarnated, albeit in a different country and a very different century, and with hair color that couldn’t have been achieved when her grandma was her age. 

Halloween was her grandma’s favorite holiday as well. They didn’t celebrate it before she immigrated to America, but once she lived here, it was all systems go. Her grandma always dressed up as a witch, a tradition that Nina kept alive. Antonina never said exactly what she’d done in the war, claiming that a woman should be allowed to keep her secrets, and that she had begun a fresh new life when she came to America. Which was true, in a lot of ways. Her life in America was completely different from the one she had left behind, and it’s where she fell in love, got married, had two kids in quick succession, and lived the rest of her life happily. But occasionally, Nina was able to get some details out of her. She’d definitely been somehow involved in whatever the Russian equivalent of the Air Force was, and Nina had the sneaking suspicion that her grandma had been one of the Night Witches, though Antonina would never confirm nor deny her full involvement. “You know a lady must keep her secrets,” she would say, before pinching Nina’s cheek and changing the subject by passing her a bowl of ice cream, which quickly made little Nina forget about what she was trying to discover in the first place. 

Nina finished her makeup, and for the briefest of moments, she looked exactly like her grandma. Which made sense as she was wearing her grandma’s witch “costume,” aka a black velvet dress Antonina had sewn and bejeweled herself years ago. Nina had fixed it up in places, but it was still in gorgeous condition, as she made sure to store it carefully until Halloween. She gathered up the last few things she needed and plopped them in her tote bag before rushing out the door and down to her Broomstick. Yes, she named her bike Broomstick, and had hand painted it with intricate flowers as an ode to her grandma. She unlocked it and hopped aboard, virtually flying across the city. The moon was full overhead, illuminating the world in its eerie glow. Children roamed in groups, running up to houses and coming back screaming, their buckets overflowing with candy of all sorts. Nina took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. The wind whipped her hair, and she suddenly felt herself transported back in time. She was in the cockpit of a deathly quiet airplane, flying stealthily, her hand waiting for the signal to push the button. But until that moment came, she was alert and also dreamy, enjoying the feeling of flying unobserved, looking to her right and seeing her friend flying next to her, waving, giggling like children to defuse the tension. There was the smell of smoke in the air, notes of metal and warfare that she didn’t altogether hate, to be honest. But what happens when the signal comes in? What was she supposed to do….

Nina snapped back to reality and found herself at her destination: her grandma’s grave. Every year, she and her friends dressed up as witches and celebrated the loved ones they’d lost. This year, they’d agreed to meet at Antonina’s grave. They technically weren’t supposed to be in the cemetery so late, but who would tattle on them? Plus, her grandma’s grave was basically in the middle of a copse of woods on the outskirts of the cemetery, bordering a forest. Nobody else would be around. Her friends had already arrived. Her own Night Witches. Nina squealed, hopped off her bike, and went to her coven for a big group hug. Nina pulled away and knelt down on the fallen leaves to caress the headstone. “Happy Halloween, my love,” she said.

Scent Notes: Expensive lipstick and beauty cream play against a backdrop of fallen autumn leaves, with whiffs of smoke, gunpowder, and cedarwood linger in the air.