A Double Jointed Tale

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His mother referred to him as The Special One.  Other islanders referred to her as Mother of God.  This was not a compliment.  Usually unable to contain herself, she did have the presence of mind to keep one of his many attributes a secret.  He was born double jointed, as was his older sister.  And she suffered a lifetime of painful teasing.

The boy possessed outstanding hearing, and sensitivity to vibrational shifts in the earth, a talent much needed on their vulnerable island.  But because of the mother’s bragging about her son being the second coming, the islanders did their best to reject him along with his skills.  

When he detected an impending belch from the belly of the ocean, not entirely trusting their fragile location, the islanders heeded his warning.  Everyone fled to higher ground.  Of the bodies of land overcome by the wall of water, theirs’ was the only one to escape human casualties.  

The houses, however, were flattened, leaving only sticks and scattered debris.  As they rebuilt, the villagers’ meanness toward the boy heightened.  Since their dogs were the first ones up the mountain before the quake erupted, they whistled for the boy as if he were less than human.  The losses, their grief, all horrible feelings had to land on something, or in this case, someone.  A big job for a little boy, he became the island’s grief eater.  

In order to turn around the hatred poured on her boy, his mother invited all the pregnant girls, babies being the result of many a disaster, to a group shower.  As if performing in a theatrical production directed by the mother, he confidently predicted in-coming genders.  A good time was had by all until he went into details of the sexual orientations of their future children. 

When the manly men heard of these forecasts, just thinking their seeds might contribute to an ‘other,’ they were driven into action.  Only one cure for this latest affront: that boy had to go.  

For weeks, he managed to elude their advances.  But when the worse-than-usual red tide interfered with his senses, the men corralled him in the lane just feet from his front door.  A hapless posse of testosterone, they hadn’t planned beyond the capture.  So they tied him to a chair in a derelict house and went outside to discuss their options.

As his captors sat under a starry night sky drinking and arguing, the boy used his secret ability to shimmy free of the ropes and chair, and contorted himself out the tiny rear window.  Exhaling like a hunted panther, he wound through dark alleys, ducking his way under windows, back to his fretful mother.  She took him up the mountain to his aunt, who had protected the sister too.  There, he was hidden in the only cellar on the island, a secret room.

The men reached the single conclusion on which they could all agree: by tying the boy to an oarless canoe and depositing him in the ocean, the tide would perform their dirty work.  But upon discovering the empty chair, a brawl ensued.  Like another natural disaster, their roars were heard all over the island.  Families followed the sounds to a pile of big heads, little minds, muddy arms, twisted legs, bare torsos, burning hatred: the ruins of inebriated men.  Treated like naughty children, they were untangled from each other and escorted home.  The episode was handled as if a good night’s sleep would cure the troubles of their little world. 

Text and photo by Stephanie Urdang

 

Fable #1: Peaches and Silk

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It was July and the peaches were green.  Usually somewhat predictable, the natural world was in the process of changing her mind.

In the quiet order of their lives, the community noticed additional oddities. These were filed into categories: some were good omens, and others, dreadful.  Interpretations depended on the disposition and age of the various people of the land.

Jamie witnessed thousands of walking sticks making their way up his favorite walking path.  He quit counting at four hundred eighty-four.  That was the month and year of his birth.  The parade went on for days, ‘Like an exodus,’ he claimed.

Over a single night, Mary’s roses went from full-blown blousy, sweet smelling, county-famous ruffles, to looking fake and dusty, like old paper.

Lightening bugs blinked in tandem, turning night into a throbbing stage.

Bullfrogs, absent for years, converged into a song that woke the children from their sleep, all of them in panic.  The common thread of their collective nightmare: a background of screeching.

In broad daylight, feminine garments were stolen from clotheslines.  A teeming gossip-fest erupted, worse than the one the year before when a husband ran off with a neighbor’s son.  Theories on who might be the thief spilled like poison from the town’s tongues.

Men accused the poor woman whose husband took the teenage boy.  They assumed she was out for vengeance for the town turning on her.  The women worried themselves sick over what was happening and began suspecting each others’ husbands, sure each was guilty of unspeakable desire.  Then they turned against each other, and in no time, the mostly peaceful village was in war with itself. 

Even the children had their theory: one boy made the mistake of telling his closest friends in school, and they told their mothers who thought it sounded like incest, that he wished his sister had beautiful things to wear. 

The constable said it was the Almighty stripping away their finery, ruining the land that supported them, laying bare their selfish souls. A line formed around the back of his stone station, scared citizens seeking support, making reports.  The one thing everyone agreed on was that all signs pointed to something worse about to rain down on their heads.

Sitting and weeping at his grand desk in the center of a nearly empty room, a young girl said her matching underwear went missing, as if it walked off on legs.  He took notes on her opinion about the culprit, a jealous boyfriend.  Like a flattened honeybee, his yellow phone vibrated across the desk.  

With commanding countenance, he excused himself from the girl to take the call.  Her eyes roamed the immediate landscape.  On his windowsill, her gaze settled on the biggest book she’d ever seen.   

As if the book were a magnet, she left her chair and floated to the window.  Surprisingly light when she picked it up, the girl discovered it was not a book of vast knowledge, but a box made to look like one.  

She heard the constable’s voice growing faint, talking and walking in the opposite direction of his office.  Knowing better, she told herself the world was already falling apart: still-green summer fruits, converging insects, returning amphibians, the fate of flowers, a fighting village, this wave of undergarment thievery.  What damage could a little peek cause, she asked herself.  One finger lifting the cover of the box, an eye on the door, the other inside the lid, she discovered a stack of unmentionable silks.  On top lay her favorite peach camisole.

So Many Footprints

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October, Malibu

Dear Readers:

New followers continue to sign up, thank you very much, so it’s time for an update.  I am alive, well, and still writing.

With so many footprints on every grain of the collective mind, from myself and other writers and bloggers bloggers, visual artists, and talented or not, social media hounds, these last five months have been about cultivating space in my brain for new territory in Wild Nature of New York.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on short stories, a downright thrilling endeavor.  Thanks to a recent writing class prompt, and a visual artist who wants to collaborate, a new blog project is in the works: dark and earthy fables.  Hopefully,  life experience will qualify me like no other.

Please stay tuned.  Stephanie

8: Jugaad

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From the Oxford English dictionary: jugaad, n.                                                    [‘A makeshift automobile constructed from inexpensive materials.’]

Because of my mother’s need to lighten her burden after my dad left, Melanie and I rented a house alone.  I was just out of high school and Mel was fifteen.  I drove a Honda scooter that could barely carry two up a slight incline.  Still too young for a driver’s license, Mel bought a ’51 Dodge for two hundred fifty dollars. 

Its humped contour, combined with the brush-painted lilac exterior looked like a lurid Easter egg rolling down the streets.  The driver’s door handle and latch were broken, and exiting meant Melanie had to coax her window open and undo a brass slide bolt screwed to the outside of the car.  

Every night that summer, we cruised Kansas City in her car with an unspoken permit for good girls gone awry.  On one of them, we attracted five boys in a three-tone rumbling jacked-up jugaad.   While they followed us down Main Street, our friend hung her torso out the front passenger window.  Before long, a dark green sedan with two women materialized beside us.

“Pull over, you little whores,” the Medusa haired passenger yelled.  

Melanie and I looked at her and sang our go-to for disapproving adults: ‘What a drag it is getting old.’

“If you know what’s good for you, stop your car.”  Mel sped up.  The Dodge sputtered.  The driver forced her to jump the curb onto the empty sidewalk.  The only thing The Dodge’s tires had in common was baldness, and within seconds, two were flat.

She hit the brakes and I said, “Keep going, Mel.”

“I can’t drive on the rims!”  We learned that from our mother.

“Who cares about the rims if we’re dead!  Go.  Go!”

By then, Medusa was outside our window.  “Get out of that heap.”

Nearly petrified, I managed to lean toward the window and say,  “What could you possibly want.”

“I want you to get out of that car.”  In an unfamiliar work type uniform, she stood taller than our mom who was six feet, one inch.  “Where is your mother?”

“None of your beeswax,” Melanie said.

To no avail, the woman grabbed the dead door handle.  Her rage prevented her from noticing the slide bolt right next to it.  I reached across and opened the passenger door, shoved our friend out, and as we scooted across the seat to follow, our tormentor captured a handful of Melanie’s luxurious tresses.  

“Steph, she’s got me!”  Turning back, I gave the woman’s wrist a quick karate chop, she let go, we stumbled onto the sidewalk and into the arms of the boys from the jalopy.  In all the commotion, we’d forgotten about them.

As motley as their car, all five circled us, including a Vietnam vet on crutches, one leg missing.  The oldest, tall, dark, and Buddha soft, grabbed the swinging passenger from behind.  She thrashed and screamed, “Little whores, they don’t know what they’re doing.”  

“They’ve got the message,” he said, barely above a whisper, “You need to stop.”  As if hypnotized, Medusa collapsed and the episode came to a close.  The boys drove us home and Melanie quickly replaced the Dodge with a red Volkswagen Beetle.

Back then, I believed our independence and luck were beyond cool: they were epic.  It took many years to recognize our nocturnal forays for what they were: a need to be seen.  Otherwise, we never would have collided with the viperous Medusa and her particular desperation to exercise adult supervision.   

Photo by Marissa Bridge

 

7: Rejectamenta

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From the Oxford English Dictionary: rejectamenta, n. [‘Seaweed, debris, etc., washed up by sea or tides or floodwaters.’]

On the shore of a Caribbean cruise ship route, my friend owned a diving resort that sat on a half mile of beachfront.  As if never to be seen again, all ship trash was conveniently dumped overboard.  I expected to have to tiptoe across paradise through the sands of rejectamenta, but disembodied doll parts, dead toothbrushes, de-thonged flip-flops, torn beachwear, broken toilets, and worse, went on for otherwise empty miles.

This was in the Yucatan, about an hour above Belize, isolation that attracted a community of  lost or crooked souls: a Norweigan baker who couldn’t buy decent wheat from a culture that lives on corn; the maniac builder of the resort who sold it to John.  Rumor had it, the builder took a couple, his co-owners at the time, on a boat ride. When they returned, the husband was not with them, nor was he ever seen again.

An excellent chef did all the cooking for guests and staff.  Young and strong bodied when I met him, his lungs were compromised by untreated tuberculosis.  He’d tried to procure the necessary treatment drugs but they were not available to the average citizen in Mexico, and he’d accepted his fate.

John hired two girl cousins from Guatemala to help in the kitchen.  While freely practicing Catholicism and tropical herbal medicine, the novelty of living amongst a bunch of bohemians was fine with them, until one unknowingly ate pot brownies baked by the chef.  How many were ingested was unclear, but she loved sweets and ended up on a bad trip.  Suspecting a spell placed on her by a jealous housekeeper who denied the accusations and threatened to quit, full disclosure would have been a simple cure.    Inconsolable beyond the duration of a normal pot induced high, telling her meant possible arrest or losing her help so no one confessed to the cause.

Upon her insistence, John drove her deep into the jungle to a curandero, a shaman.  She explained to the healer that an evil curse left a live snake in her throat.  As if a common complaint, the remedy was immediate: raw eggs in their shells rubbed all over her body.  After the egg rolling, she was driven to her uncles’ to convalesce.  Those guys refused to let her return to the resort unless a ransom was paid.  That did not happen, and in spite of really needing her, she was gone.

Of all the members in this community, the most enduring was an expat named Suze.  Her hair and vocal force were styled after Janis Joplin.  She originally arrived on scene in search of her father, a local, who impregnated her vacationing mother in the late sixties.  Suze lived in a pair of bent trailers near the beach.  For a couple of dollars a night, she rented rooms to stragglers and every penny she made was spent on tequila and beer, the lubrication for her nightly parties.

One afternoon while walking on the beach with her through the minefield of trash, so many stories cycling through our conversation, she said, “What are you doing down here?”

“Spending time with John,”  I said, avoiding the details of our complicated history of love-gone-by and the uncertainty of finding it again.  “What about you, are you planning to stay?”

“It’s not about making plans,”  she said.  “The reason people end up here is because they’re either wanted and unwanted.”

Photo of rejectamenta by Marissa Bridge

Wormwood

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I’m working on a book about a life in herbs, and this excerpt is from a bigger piece on wormwood: Artemisia Absinthium, or absinthe, AKA the Green Fairy.  It was first made as a cough syrup.  The rest is history and some of the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

 *   *   *

On a snowy New Year’s Eve upstate, after a few sips of the bitter concoction of absinthe, I carried my other-worldly-milky-green-fluid upstairs.  Jamie came up with me, leaving Matt alone with the bottle.   When we were both almost ready to leave for a party, we heard him making his way up the stairs, a detectible struggle in every step.  Leaning on the frame of my bedroom door, his consonant-less words spilled in my direction.  “I don’ wanna see you get old, Steph.”

“What in the world, Matt?  Go get dressed.  We should have left an hour ago.”

“I can’t bear to see your teeth fall out and your skin hang on you like a skeleton.”

As I put on my mascara, I said,  “Get out of here now.  You’re freaking me out.”

“I’m not kidding.  It’s just too sad to think about seeing my loved ones go from beautiful to ugly.”

“Oh God, how much ‘Madness in a Bottle’ did you drink?”

“Only two.”  I learned long ago that his capacity to count liquids is impaired.  “But what if you get age spots and your hair goes thin…”

Absinthe is linked to the ruination of a few generations of writers and artists, especially in France.  Thujone, the chemical component once thought to be what drove everyone nuts is much lower in modern formulas, which is what we were drinking.  But now it’s believed it wasn’t thujone causing naked parades in the street, a jailed Oscar Wilde, Van Gogh to cut off his ear, Verlaine to shoot Rimbaud, or Hemingway to commit suicide.  The current belief is they were all suffering from alcohol poisoning: starting in the morning, going deep into the night, seeking new forms of literature and art.

“Of all nights, Matt, God help me.  New Year’s Eve is hard enough.  As long as I can think, I consider myself vital, so leave me out of this crap.”   I slammed the door.

From the hall, I heard, “It’s the Green Fairy talking, Steph.”

I yelled, “You’re morbid.”

“What if your breasts start to hang down to your waist.“

“Shut up, shut up, shut up,”  I said, opening and slamming the door again and again, as if the whoosh of air were capable of changing the course of history.

*   *   *    

Dixie Davis, photographer and artist, lives in Tuscon, Arizona with her husband, Tom, their dogs, fish, flowers, and a life in the desert that she chronicles daily with her beautiful eye and appreciation in the natural world.

 

The Capsicums

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The Capsicums

Cayenne pepper has been an integral part of my medicine cabinet for fifty years.  It’s always been referred to as The Master Herb, and I confer.  Upon discovery of its benefits, I avoided more than one perilous trip to a medical office, especially for sinus, ear, and throat issues, frequent complaints in my youth. Doctors are not above The Harvey Weinstein Syndrome, especially then, and trust in their profession became hard-earned.  But their prurience drove me to a body of knowledge in self-care, and an eventual healing practice.

For emergencies in travels, a bit of cayenne is worth the space it t consumes in a curated-down-to-the-ounce suitcase.  Traveling in the former Yugoslavia, early nineties, my friend and I met a local writer along our unplanned route, and before we gave it much thought, we were sitting on the deck of a freighter, traveling to the pastel island of Cres in the Istrian Sea.  After checking into an austere room in someone’s house, I changed into my swimsuit and jumped in the water.  Within seconds, a blast of wind circled my head and resulted in an earache and a raw throat.

Our new friend possessed a natural ability in languages, and eventually understood I was asking for cayenne for a concoction.  After going into a number of grocery stores on my behalf, he said, “We don’t use cayenne in this country.”

Remembering a chicken dish from nearby Hungary, I said, “I’ll try paprika.”

Also a member of the capsicum (pepper) family, I later learned paprika has many of the same anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant properties as cayenne.  He went back in the store and came out smiling.  I squeezed the juice of a lemon into a water bottle, put in a pinch of paprika and drank it down, repeating hourly until bedtime.  By the next morning, my fellow travelers no longer peered at me from the front seat of the car as if they were plotting a drive-by/drop-off at the nearest hospital.

This series of shorts is not meant to be an herbal medicine guide, so only a few basics of cayenne’s benefits are addressed above.  But in writing this, I recalled that in addition to lowering blood pressure, it can be mixed with water for an effective bug repellent in vegetable gardens.  And cayenne is used in self-defense in the form of pepper spray.

In all these years, I’ve never carried it in my purse, and now I don’t really need it.  Well, maybe for general safety, but it’s certainly no longer necessary to repel unwanted sexual advances.   Personally, at this stage in life, being referred to by a man as wise, glamorous, intelligent, or strong, are all preferable to the minimizing label of ‘hot.’