Photo by Dixie Davis
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.
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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.
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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.