Marigold took a deep, steadying breath, closed her eyes, and pictured Comfort. She held the image of being at ease and soothed in her mind: wrapped in warm blankets on cold winter nights, settling into the soft curves of a caring lover amidst the steady sound of rain pattering on the window pane, watching fireflies from her porch in evening twilight while cicadas sang, the smell of freshly poured tea mixing with old spices and herbs in her mother’s kitchen and workshop. Some memories were much, much older than others, but they were still fresh in her mind even all these decades later.
Opening her eyes, Marigold observed her tea bags, prepared and almost ready to be set out for sale. Inside the handcrafted bags she’d mixed Chamomile and Skullcap herbs, spiced with her own blend of seasonings and marketed as a heavy duty stress reliever. Now Marigold set to adding the final and most secret ingredient. Memories held firmly in her mind, she took a small pen loaded with a dark, non-toxic ink. With a steady and practiced hand, Marigold drew the sigil for Communication on each bag. With her memories clear and present at the forefront of her mind while she wrote, the message was clear. A small taste of power glowed from the sygills, shining in the early morning light for a glorious moment before fading into the background hum of everyday magic.
Marigold placed the pen back in its carefully crafted and well-loved case on her kitchen table and allowed herself a moment to lean back in her chair and regather herself.
“A simple spell like that wearing me out…” she said to herself. “Aging is certainly no task for the weak.” Marigold smiled.
The peace of early morning reflection was nudged away by the soft and quietly insistent chime of Marigold’s smartphone. Glancing over to the counter where her phone charged overnight, Marigold caught sight of the time on her hanging wall clock. It was a well-crafted wooden piece, a gift from an old friend. The handsome face informed her eyes what the phone had informed her ears; it was half past seven and time to open her store front.
Marigold stood and gathered her things from the small wooden table. The kitchen around her was still, lit a warm yellow by sunlight peeking in through the eastern facing window. A brass tea kettle sat cooling on the stovetop from her breakfast cup, shining bright against the dull practicality of the old stove. Her sink was much more modern, shiny and chrome from when Marigold had been forced to replace the original the space had been built with. A vital pipe had finally rusted beyond the point of no return.
Her Council had been baffled by her choice to replace it the old fashioned way, she remembered. ‘Marigold, a simple sygill for Remembering and the pipe will be good as new! Why bother with hiring a plumber and tearing out the whole sink?’ Marigold remembered what she’d placated them with – something about the landlord knowing the pipe had been troubling her and the problem suddenly vanishing would have cast eyes where they shouldn’t be, easily understood and entirely logical caution for the sake of cover.
Marigold’s actual reason was significantly more complicated and close to her heart. If she’d been forced to put into words, Marigold might describe it as the same reason she had purchased a smartphone and tried to keep on top of how it worked. A desire to have common ground, perhaps.
But that was entirely too melancholy a train of thought for such a fine, bright morning. Placing the box of tea carefully under one arm and her phone in her apron pocket, Marigold left her kitchen and walked through the tight, light green hallway of the flat. Past her tiny bedroom and the cozy sitting room were the steep stairs to her shop below, which Marigold descended with practiced ease even at her age. Once at the bottom, Marigold reached up with her right hand and felt for the sygill precisely carved into the doorframe. The feeling of Protection and Alarm at the Ready still rang in her mind as strong as ever. No ne’er-do-well was getting in without Marigold’s knowledge and swift retribution.
Marigold opened the door. Her shop greeted her nose first, tea leaves and herbs from the world over mixing into an intoxicating aroma entirely unique to her space. Marigold Tea House was the official name, though most of her customers couldn’t help tacking a possessive ‘s’ onto it. Marigold’s Tea House really wasn’t that different at the end of the day, so she rarely bothered correcting it. She smiled as her eyes swept over the space, cleaned and prepped for facing another day of thirsty customers.
Unfortunately, Marigold’s gaze caught onto her most hated enemy. How she despised it, how she loathed it, how even the look of the thing threatened to sour her mood. It crouched on her countertop like a giant cockroach. Marigold frowned at the offending black menace while laying out the basket of tea bags.
“Now,” she calmly said to the pest. “Are you going to be cooperative this morning, or are we going to have issues?”
The cash register said nothing. Marigold wasn’t expecting it to; it was only a cash register. She calmly and steadily marched to her spot behind the counter and confidently keyed in the sequence for opening the store. The register paused for a moment, thinking over Marigold’s simple request as though it was a monumental task.
Beep Beep! The register chirped. Marigold sighed through her nose and looked at the display with a slow curl of dread.
Err//Op Not Valid
“Ah. This again. I admit it has been a long while since your opening volley has been the literal opening.” Marigold keyed in the sequence again, more slowly this time and carefully ensuring that each button press was inputted correctly.
Err//Op Not Valid
“What pray tell is not valid about the sequence that has opened your drawer for customers every single day for the past 35 years?!” Marigold tried again, more forcefully that necessary.
Err//Op Not Valid
“Technical support isn’t taking my morning calls anymore, you beast. I am going to enter this code one final time, and if you do not cooperate I swear on all the sygils known and not that I will end you. Most likely with a baseball bat.”
The register mulled things over for a while, and though Marigold knew it could not have actually heard or understood anything she said, it was very satisfying to see it finally accept her code. The cash drawer popped open with a merry ching! Battle won but war far from over, Marigold quickly counted the cash and noted the sum in the books. As she removed the various piles of bills, sygils were revealed. Smooth Workings and Sensitivity and Clean were the most obvious ones, but countless attempts at enacting her will on the stubborn machine were visible if you knew how to look for them. Marigold hardly remembered what problem she had initially been trying to fix after all this time, and she had a sneaking suspicion her continued attempts were only making it worse.
“One of these days,” Marigold muttered to herself, “one of these days I will finally grow sick enough to replace you entirely, and what a fine day that will be!”
The cash register said nothing, but Marigold knew the fiend was being smug again.