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it changes you



"it changes you," patterson sighed, his nostrils quivering as if impatiently in wait to ask a question of the sky.


i sensed this was true. all summer i had been bewildered and vexed. phantom-limbed. i waited until his words settled, then gazed past them into the sky. a loose collection of grey birds sailed slowly across cotton-white clouds. 

"what does?"

"the severed thing, the thing not there yet still there. are you at that point where you ask yourself if you're to carry it with you always?"

i leaned back, my face relaxing. i could smell the waste from the river. so i imagined the taste of it. sewage on my lips and tongue. considered how hideous the discomfort would need to be to make me forget the thing inside me that had taken root.


its impression hounded me in the wish still, inside empty rooms, to be seen. in any one of a dozen looping remembrances, fragments of gestures, idioms, quirks. all undiminished as if they'd been frozen, captured inside a photograph. 


my spring and summer thus burdened, i wondered if i'd remain this way through fall and winter.

patterson's words pulled me back. "walk with me."

i blinked, shifted, scratched my temple, then stood to meet him.

"you see," he continued, his back to me as he walked toward the garden gate, "it's a kind of haunting."

he led us out of the yard and i fell into step behind him. we walked along the narrow path that wended through his wooded land. moving now in silence, the golden light of early evening coloring the woods around us.


minutes passed this way, then he spoke. i'd grown accustomed to my old friend's habit of returning to an idea as if it were a straight line, unbroken by the detour of time.

"and like any haunting, any unbidden occupation," he said, emphasizing this last word in a way that i took to mean hostile intent, "it must be expelled." 

"why not let it fade over time?"

"and do you feel that happening to you?" 

i took his point. that he already knew the answer. 

"but there's a solution, if you're willing. my family has experience dealing with such matters." 

"willing?" i thought. what matters? 

we were now far enough along that this area of his wooded land was unfamiliar to me. i could see the beginning of evening in the forest, the last minutes of sunlight's traces on the branches. 

patterson stopped, then turned to face me. i nearly walked into him, my face stopping inches from his. 

"do you have plans this evening?" 

he had that glint in his eye that foretold we were on the cusp of something significant. an adventure?

my evenings were perpetually planless, but despite our long years of friendship, pride prevailed and i pretended to consider the question.

"none. why?"

"there's a small building up ahead. it predates the main house and is probably the first structure my ancestors built on these grounds. it's where my grandmother did her work."

the grandmother.


as a boy, even before making the acquaintance of my friend patterson, i'd heard the muttered talk among those in our town of his grandmother, the reputed healer. the one the families of the afflicted turned to when the local doctors, psychiatrists, and priests were unable to help. she helped those who were befallen by maladies of an unclassifiable sort. she had come of age during a time such things were possible, i remember supposing. it seemed like another universe. a different world from my own, growing up as i had in a household informed by science and philosophy. as far in spirit from folkloric healers as if we'd lived in industrialized london.  

"shall we go there?"

"lead the way, you old fool."

he threw back his head and laughed, vigorously rubbing his palms together. 

the game, such as it might be, was beginning.

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