I knew she was watching me before I turned around. She was throwing mental pebbles at me, wanting my attention but too afraid to speak to gain it. I smiled as I picked up a can of tuna and turned. She couldn’t have been more than eight or nine, with that cherub glow in her checks and eyes. Long silky brown hair draped her shoulders. She was wearing her Sunday best—literally. The frilly, fluffy dress was like dozens of others I’d seen young girls wearing as they were shepherded through church doors. Her fingers tightened on the little pink purse in her hands and her eyes immediately fixed on my chest.
A child after my own heart. I smiled wider and said hello. I knew what she was staring at, because, years ago, I had been the one to stare.
“Hello,” she replied, now a little shy with the word spoken.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Elise,” she said, tucking her chin into her chest a little, hiding behind her lashes. So coy, I thought, and wondered who had taught her that.
I reached up to touch the pendant that hung against my T-shirt. “You like my pendant, don’t you?”
Elise seemed relieved that I’d guessed, and nodded, smiling again. “It’s sparkly! Can I… Can I touch it?”
“Of course you may touch it,” I said, kneeling down so she could reach. “Thank you for asking.”
She came to me, and reached out, wrapping her hand around the pentacle. I could not stop the sense of déjà vu that overcame me. It had been in a moment so like this that my life had changed, that I had found the hidden path I now walked. I was giddy with the idea of pulling aside the foliage and revealing the lesser traveled road to her, of giving her a choice not many children had.
“It’s so sparkly,” she said again as she traced the five points with her finger. “What does it mean? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“It’s a pentacle,” I told her. “It’s a symbol of a way of life, like your cross,” I said with a slight indication of the little gold necklace she wore.
One of her hands went back to her cross, but her focus stayed with my pentacle. “Mine is supposed to be for Jesus, because he died on the cross to save me. What’s yours supposed to be?”
“One of many symbols for the Mother Goddess,” I said, a warm feeling spreading through me, remembering how hearing another say Mother Goddess had so changed me.
“How dare you?” a voice suddenly demanded. “What do you think you’re doing?”
I looked beyond the girl and found her mother. There was no mistaking her, for the child had the same brown hair and high cheekbones. The woman’s eyes blazed with a righteous rage I had come to easily recognize and despise. I steeled myself against any feeling that I might have done something wrong.
“Mama?” Elise asked, her brow furred with confusion as she faced her mother, her little hand still holding my pendant.
“What do you think you’re doing?” The mother demanded again, more pointedly, obviously wanting an actual answer.
“She asked to touch my necklace,” I told her.
“I’m sure she did,” she replied with disbelief, “Elise, come here.” The child took a step back from me, but there was regret in her eyes as they darted back down to the sparkling pendant.
With her child’s hand grasped firmly in her own, the mother bent down and commanded in soft fury. “Do not ever do anything like that again, do you understand me? Women who wear those… those things are witches.”
Elise’s confusion grew. She looked back at me, assessed me with her youthful understanding, and started to protest. But the look in her mother’s eye silenced her, robbing her of the chance to try and understand.
The mother stood up straight, squared her shoulders, tilted her nose just so, and said to me, “You must be new here. You won’t last long. But in the meantime, stay away from our children. We won’t allow you to poison their minds with your witchcraft.”
The woman’s vocabulary seemed rather limited, I reflected sadly. With her rude words hanging in the air, she turned and pulled little Elise behind her. I smiled for her, and waved my fingers in a good-bye gesture. I was pleased to see that the confusion cleared just before she rounded the corner, for she smiled and waved back. Children understood kindness when adults mistook it for veiled animosity. It had always been so, and no doubt always would be. But perhaps, with the memory of a sparkly pentacle hovering on the fringes of recollection, there would be one less who harbored hatred in her heart.