Clair McFarland: I Am A Swamp Hag At The Brink Of Madness

Clair McFarland writes: "Reporting on brutal crimes and cultural controversies is just my pastime; plunging toilets while people wreck my kitchen is my day job." 

Clair McFarland

October 21, 20226 min read

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I’m still magic.  

To be honest, sometimes it’s hard to find the magic, even in this vibrant Wyoming fall while the ash trees crumble like wraiths in the gooey sunrise. That’s because reporting on brutal crimes and cultural controversies is just my pastime; plunging toilets while people wreck my kitchen is my day job.  

“Out! Out you savages,” I roar as I charge through the house with a toilet plunger. The boys are into cooking, which is a fancy word for “cramming frozen chocolate milk in a blender and boiling carrots and apples in a vat.” Chocolate milk crystals fling from the unsealed blender onto every cupboard door and slide, mockingly, into crevices behind the wooden trim.  

My forehead cinches like a venetian blind. I smack it with the heel of my hand and shove it back down to neutral position.   

“Hey Mom, what’s cookin’?” asks my middle-born son, who is standing on a stool next to a cauldron of boiling sludge, holding a dripping ladle over the floor.  

“NOTHING should be cookin’,” I grumble.  

Middleborn shrugs. “Well. You’re gonna love my stew.”  

I exhale. I inhale. It’s amazing how often I have to re-learn breathing.  

Meanwhile, a toilet sings. I plunge to the rhythm of “Staying Alive.” The clog culprit is incredible – a dazzling subject for medical textbooks.  

“Jiggle the handle,” calls Middleborn, helpfully, from his perch at the stove.  

The big, sweet twin checks on me. I am not a polished housewife: I am a swamp hag at the brink of madness, begging gravity to purge my world of filth.    

“Lookin’ good, Mom,” says Big-Sweet. He jogs back into the kitchen to ram a chocolate glacier with a bread knife.  

The little, feisty twin senses that I’m stressed. He tip-toes toward me, pulls a Mento candy from his pocket and offers it to me. I’m still gripping the plunger with both hands. The bathroom smells of sulfur and Mentos.  

“Did you have P.E. today?” I ask Little-Feisty.  

He nods. P.E. is his favorite class, but it makes his pockets too balmy for candy storage.  

I gulp. “I don’t need a Mento today. Thanks sweetie.”  

Little-Feisty smiles, pops the Mento into his mouth, and wanders off in search of his nun chucks.  

I exhale. I inhale.  

After I clear the toilet, clean the bathroom, scrub the kitchen cupboards and ladle chocolate-milk smoothies out for my four little rogues, it’s time to fix dinner.  

“But my apple STEW is supposed to be the dinner,” protests Middleborn.  

I bite my lip. “That will be a lovely side dish,” I say. “But we are also having chili and cornbread.”  

“Why? Why always chili? What is this about? Who voted on that?” asks my first-born son, whose every word has a sequel.  

“Because – “ 

“Because it’s fall, and that’s what Mom makes in the fall,” says Middleborn. “It’s her instincts, erupting.”  

I frown. “I am not governed by INSTINCTS. I’m governed by whatever is in the freezer.”  

Firstborn and Middleborn roll their eyes. They learned to do that this year, and when I find whoever taught them to roll their eyes, I’m going to break into that person’s house and switch their salt and sugar.  

I love cooking chili though.  

It hasn’t been a cold fall, but its colors still call for sauteed onions, homemade tomato sauce, spongy ground beef and chili powder to swirl together like maple and cottonwood leaves in a bereft, muddy canal bed.  

Middleborn sniffs the savory air. “Like I said. Instincts.”  

Night descends. The star-pierced darkness sighs. Everyone brushes their teeth. They don their pajamas, except for Firstborn, who believes real men sleep shirtless and in jeans.  

But Little-Feisty won’t stay in bed.  

“Um, Mom?” says Little-Feisty.  


“I need you to stay with me.”  

Earlier this month, we took the boys to a Spirit Halloween store. There, a mechanical skeleton jumped at Little-Feisty from behind a headstone, and the thing haunts his mind’s eye still.  

I bundle Little-Feisty and Big-Sweet into their blankets on their shared bed, then seat myself at the foot of the bed and stretch my weary legs out between them.  

It’s odd that Little-Feisty would feel safer with a swamp hag in his bed than without one, but that’s his problem, not mine.  

Suddenly, he sits bolt upright, his eyes wide and blazing.  

“What if there are SPIDERS?” he asks.  

“I don’t think there are any – “ 

“Nuh-UH,” interrupts Big-Sweet. “I saw one in here earlier.”  

I slap my forehead, causing an idea to hit my brain.  

“Hey,” I say, craftily. “Why don’t I spider-proof you?” 

Little-Feisty raises an eyebrow.  

“I’ll be right back,” I say, and dart off to the bathroom, which I conquered earlier. I bring back some peppermint essential oil. “Let’s just dab this behind your ears, and no spider will come near you.”  

Little-Feisty beams.  

I dab his ears and ankles with peppermint oil. Our eyes water.  

I snuggle back into bed with the twins. Little Feisty relaxes against my legs.  

He exhales. He inhales.  

The night takes over. The seasons change. But in spite of all the chaos and the year’s untrammeled galloping, I know by that boy’s relaxed breathing that, for now, I’m still magic.  

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter