it changes you
"it changes you," patterson sighed, his nostrils quivering as if in wait to ask a question of the sky.
i sensed this was true. all summer each in our own way had been bewildered, vexed. and i, phantom-limbed. i waited until his words settled, then saw past them into the sky, where a loose collection of dull white birds sailed disconsolately across haphazardly placed clouds.
"the severed thing, the thing not there yet still there. my friend, are you at the 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 shift the thing inside me that had taken root.
i had been carrying a severed thing inside of me. its impression hounded me in the wish still, inside empty rooms, to be seen. in any one of a dozen looping remembrances, fragments of conversations and gestures, idioms and quirks. all undiminished as if they'd been frozen, captured inside a photograph.
and i had carried it across two seasons now, my spring and summer thus burdened, my spirit heavied.
patterson pulled me back from the onset of reverie. "walk with me."
i blinked, shifted, scratched at a temple, then stood to meet him.
"you see," he continued, moving away toward the garden gate, "it's a kind of haunting."
he led us out of the yard and i trailed 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 in silence, then he spoke. i'd grown accustomed to my old friend's habit of continuing a line of thought as if it were a straight line, unbroken by 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. and 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. and in what matters, exactly?
we were now far enough along that this area of his wooded land was unfamiliar to me. i could see late evening's onset in the trees around us, the last minutes of sunlight's farewell traces on the branches.
patterson stopped, then turned to face me. i nearly walked into him, my face stopping less a foot from his.
"do you have plans this evening?"
he had that glint in his eye that signalled 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.
"there's a small building up ahead, predating the main house. it's where my grandmother did her work."
even before making the acquaintance of my friend patterson some thirty summers before, 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 had i gathered helped those who were befallen by maladies of an unclassifiable sort. she had come of age at a time when such things were possible, i had thought then in passing. i'd grown up in a house informed by science and philosophy, as far in spirit from folkloric healers as if we'd lived in industrialized london.