My Precious

Tatiana looked forward all day, indeed all week, to this moment; the special time when she could curl up in her easy chair and watch The Antique Road Show. In her lap, she cradled a small dark-blue velvet bag with a woven yellow draw string. She wrapped her hands around it cupping the soft velvet, and letting her thumbs gently trace the content’s shape through the cloth.

During commercial breaks, she loosened the draw string and peered at her treasure inside nestled in the golden sheened satin of the bag’s lining. As the show unfolded, she felt an expected rapport with the purveyors of the articles which the experts examined, after all she too had a strange story and a beloved object of great value. However, she also distained the anxious looks and what she felt, feigned surprise when the experts identified something of value.

She enjoyed forecasting the way that the exchanges would begin. As each was presented, she made private bets with herself, to predict which of the standard stories was coupled with the owner and item on camera. Like a child with a favorite story, she knew most of the introductions by heart. 

“I found it in an old trunk in the attic……”
“I bought it at a garage sale for next to nothing….”
“I inherited it from my grandmother, it has been in the family for years….”  

Today Tatiana’s attention kept wandering for tomorrow was March 15th, 2017, her twenty-fifth birthday, and she had a date with her boyfriend, Peter. She worried about the planned date for, although she loved Peter, she suspected, through various subtle and not so subtle, hints that he had dropped over the past month, that he intended to ask her to marry him. Her dilemma was complex; she knew that she would accept his proposal, and looked forward to becoming his wife, but she also worried about what marriage entails. She didn’t fear the living together and increased intimacy – no, she looked forward to this; what she feared was her belief that there must be no secrets between husband and wife. This meant that she would be obliged to show him her treasure and tell him its story.

When the Antique Road Show ended Tatiana undid the yellow draw-string and emptied the bag’s contents into her hand. Her eyes sparkled with pleasure just as the diamond fractured the evening light and glowed as if on fire. She paused and touched its flawless surfaces, which seemed to her to be accentuated by the contrasting coarse leather necklace from which it hung. She slipped the leather over her head and let her diamond hang on her chest in the exact location that Elizabeth Taylor had worn hers. She walked through her apartment pausing in front of each reflective surface to admire herself wearing this extravagant article. She recalled her mother telling her that she had joined the thousands who viewed the Cartier display of the 69.42 carat Taylor-Burton diamond in 1969. She recalled her mother’s glowing comparison of the two diamonds, and her conclusion that their diamond was of equal quality and size.

As she walked Tatiana mused about how to make her revelation to Peter. Should she start at the beginning or tell about her parents and then work backwards? Of course, Peter already knew most of the details of her parents’ story. He had met her mother and knew that she had raised Tatiana as a single parent. He knew that Tatiana’s father had left her mother a few months after Tatiana was born and later divorced her. Tatiana’s mother had even revealed that for a while, she tracked her exe’s activities. She marveled at his sudden apparent wealth manifested in a new wife, an expensive house, jet-setting, cars, boats, and then, after a few years, an unexpected spiral into obscurity. So, she concluded, it might be better to start from the beginning.

Tatiana wanted her story to impress upon Peter that possession of a beautiful, unusual and valuable item brought its owner inner peace and a sense of superiority. She wanted him to understand, and agree, that ownership far outweighed any temporal riches which they might garner through taking and selling it. She had heard stories about lottery winners whose sudden riches brought misery and speculated that an infusion of several million dollars might, likewise, disrupt and destroy their happiness. Tatiana worked as a beautician cutting hair in a local salon, she was good at her job and made good money. When her wealthy clients talked to her, often unconsciously bragging about their houses, jewelry, expensive cars and lifestyle, she nodded with complaisant pleasure as she whispered to herself,

“And you don’t know what I own!”

****************

After Peter’s proposal and Tatiana’s acceptance they adjourned to Tatiana’s apartment for coffee. She had already alerted him that she needed to tell him a precious secret. He sat beside her, patient and loving, looking at her intently while she sat silent. She held her coffee in her hands and admired her engagement ring. It was a beautiful diamond in a tasteful setting; she would have expected no less from someone who worked in a jewelry store. At last, she began:

“My great-great-grandfather was a Russian serf who lived in the open steppes close to Lake Baikal.”

Peter looked at Tatiana more intently and interrupted, “Isn’t Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake, calculated to hold 20% of the world’s surface freshwater? I recently read about a treasure hunt out there looking for the lost Romanov treasure. I recall that the article got my attention.”

“Yes,” Tatiana was warming up to her narrative, “Lake Baikal is where Admiral Alexander Kolchak is reputed to have lost the majority of the Romanov treasure. Stories differ on how he managed to do this, one tells of a transport derailment and another of carts frozen to the ice and sinking when the spring thaw came. What is important in our family is that my great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother were there.”

“Awesome!” Peter clapped his hands in excitement, “Are you sure, they were there when the Romanov treasure was lost?”

“Well, yes and no. My great-great grandfather witnessed the transport’s passage. It was very cold, and he kept concealed for fear that he would either be conscripted or killed. He was there when one of the carts hit a frozen rut and spilt. Most of the boxes remained intact but one spewed gold on the ground and another, the one of interest, dropped a horde of Romanov crown jewelry on the ground. My great-great-grandfather watched Alexander Kolchak’s men retrieve the fallen treasure, and meticulously scour the area to make sure that they retrieved everything from the snowy ground. He was still there concealed in the undergrowth when they left. Long after they had disappeared, and their voices were swallowed up by the silence of the steppe great-great-grandfather emerged. He stood where they had stood and tried to understand what he had seen. That’s when he saw the gem. It was half concealed in a bank of snow. The snow glistened in the sunlight as each snow crystal caught the light but the diamond shone brighter and more brilliantly. He picked it up. It was set on a golden chain.”

“A Romanov diamond!”

“Yes,” Tatiana hesitated, and drew her velvet bag out of her purse, opened it, and poured the contents into Peter’s hands.

 “Wow! Amazing! A Romanov diamond! This one is huge!” Peter stood in excitement and then sat down again, “So why did he keep it?”

“Simple, for what else could a Russian serf do with a diamond? Great-great-grandfather determined that their only option was to leave Russia. He and great-great-grandmother immediately began to plan a getaway. They had always wanted to escape from the debilitating war between White and Red armies; now, the diamond gave them their final impetus. They left on the day that they heard the miserable rumor that Romanov family deposed on March 15th 1917 had been murdered on July 17th 1918.”

“What a story!” Peter took out his jeweler’s monocle and held the diamond up to the light. Obviously, they made it, but what about the gold chain?”

“Yes, they made it. They took the route described by Ayn Rand in her book ‘We the Living’. When they were clear of Russia, great-great-grandfather sold the gold chain to pay for their continued journey to the US. At first, they thought it too risky to attempt to sell the diamond but soon came to see it as a good-luck talisman. Odd really, because most large diamonds have always been regarded as being cursed. So, they kept it, and in time, passed it on to great-grandmother, and she to grandmother and she to mother. My mother had told me that of all the husbands, the only one who reacted negatively was my father. The others endorsed the concept that the jewel brought an inner peace and sense of confidence and security more valuable than any sudden riches that it might bestow.”

Peter was getting very excited. He stood and drew Tatiana into his arms. He kissed her. Then he murmured, “I hope that I am wrong, but surely, you do realize that this beautiful gem, which I hold in my hands is probably not a diamond, worth, who knows, several millions!”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ll need to verify in the store laboratory, but I think that it is a modern high-grade cubic zirconia worth several thousand, probably a copy of the original made by a specialist copy shop such as The Jewelry Prop Shop.”

Tatiana groaned, “My father, his sudden riches!”

The Accident

Carl and I generally wake up at about the same time. As he gets showered and dressed a lot faster than I do, by the time that I emerge from the master suite, he is sitting reading the Austin American Statesman. That morning was no exception except that he complained that he felt exhausted and a little ‘woozy’. I stared at his familiar face, and decided that he did look grey. His skin had a dank cast and, instead of their usual lively glow, his brown eyes looked dull and listless.
“You OK?” I asked.
 “Like I said, a little woozy, but its passing!”
 “I worry about you Carl. The doctor said that you might have another heart attack at any time. Do you think that this is one of those times? If so you should take it easy, and we should go to the clinic.”
“Nope, please, dear, don’t worry. I tell you, this coffee has done the trick. I feel great. As I mentioned last evening I have some pressing paperwork to attend to. I’m going to drive to the office and take care of it.”  

The hall clock chimed 8:00 as I watched him drive out. I turned into our home office and sat down. Then I was with him in the car. We had already turned from Foster Ranch Road onto the east bound three lanes of Southwest Parkway. The median between us and the west bound traffic was bright green in the morning light. The risen sun was brilliant and, since we drove due East, it almost blinded us. We passed the Boston Lane light and then the one at Travis Country Boulevard. He began to drive erratically. I put my hand on his arm,
“No Carl, no, pull over. You are having a heart attack!” At the point where the road curves to the south he kept driving straight across lanes. We ploughed off the road, through a mound of bluebonnets and made toward a tree.
I shouted “NO” and braced myself for impact. An impact never came. We were still in bed.

 Carl was shaking me, “Calm down Mary, calm down. It is only a dream.”
I relaxed and snuggled up behind his back. I held him in my arms as I drifted off to sleep. How I loved this man! A few minutes later, I decided to get up early and make him his favorite breakfast of pancakes. I crept out of bed leaving him snoring peacefully. In the kitchen, I discovered a shortage of milk and eggs. I decided to make a quick trip to Randall’s to buy these items and berries for a dessert which I planned for our son’s nineteenth birthday celebration that evening. Driving down Foster Ranch road felt like ‘deja vue’, then I turned onto Southwest Parkway and, as in my dream, bright dawn blinded me. The road was empty, and I enjoyed the translucency of the new March leaves on the trees. Everything seemed alive, but I didn’t share in its exuberance. I felt an ominous foreboding. The deer appeared right after I passed the Travis Country Boulevard light. I don’t know why I swerved, instinct, I suppose. Then I was going through the grass and bluebonnets. I saw the tree, already marred by Carl’s car. I screamed as I tried to brake and felt the car gliding toward it. 
Carl had stopped snoring and was shaking me, “Mary, Mary, wake-up. You are having another night-mare.”

Relieved, I snuggled against his back and slept, I think. Soon I heard noises in the kitchen and went to investigate. It was Margaret, our first-born, making herself coffee.
 “Good morning, dear, you are up early for a Saturday?” “I know, Mum, but last night I was called to do a morning fill-in shift at the clinic. They are short staffed.”
“Do be careful dear, at this time in the morning, the rising sun is blinding on Southwest Parkway.”
“I know, Mum, but I’ll be fine. It is not as though this is my first time to make this drive.”
 I watched her reverse out of the drive-way and turned into the study. I sat at my desk examining e-mails, then I was with her. We were stopped for the light at Travis Country Boulevard. She was sipping her coffee. When the light turned, she started with a jerk, coffee spilled out onto her lap.

“Ouch,” she yelled. I knew what was going to happen. As we swerved across the road, I saw the tree already standing a little crooked with its bark marred by the morning’s previous impacts. I knew that she was going to die. This time I screamed. 
Carl had me in his arms, “Mary, Mary, wake-up, wake-up.”
“It’s a recurring dream, or should I say night-mare,” I explained.
“Let’s get up,” he suggested.

Even though it was only 7:30 we did so. When we were seated at the breakfast table reading our newspapers, our son Andy appeared. He wore his biking gear, clinging tight to his body. You would see every lean muscle. I thought that he looked gorgeous, so fit, so healthy, so full of life.
“Good morning,” we chorused,” happy birthday, nineteen today.”
 He bowed in acknowledgement. “Yes, good morning,” he responded, “I’m meeting up with the team. We are going on a twenty miler, be back in plenty of time for the birthday celebration.”
My heart sunk, could my nightmares be a warning? I looked at him with motherly love. I didn’t want to sound overly interfering but had to give my warning.
“Drive carefully, dear! And, please don’t speed, the limit on Southwest Parkway is 55.”
He gave me a dead pan look of resignation. “I’m safe,” he said, “and anyway there is no traffic on Southwest Parkway on a Saturday morning.”
“Good,” was all I could counter, “But please, son, no texting or phone use while you are driving. It is illegal for good reason.”  

He leant over and kissedd me on the forehead and prepared to leave. Carl and I followed him to his car. We stood and watched him drive out onto Foster Ranch Road. He sped off far too fast. I could hear the roar of his engine, even after he had turned onto Southwest Parkway. After a few seconds, I experienced a wave of terror more profound than any that I had experienced in my nightmares, then nothing. 

By 8:45 am Carl and I were on Southwest Parkway driving east to Randalls to get the milk, eggs and berries. At Travis Country Boulevard, the road was blocked by a police car. A policeman directed traffic to U-turn and find another route.
“It’s a fatality!’ I said with sinking heart.
“So early in the morning,” mused Carl, “Who was out so early on a Saturday morning?”  I strained my neck but could see nothing. Carl continued his monologue, “I wonder if it was a heart attack, or someone avoiding a deer, or someone texting, or spilt coffee.”

I wasn’t listening to Carl’s speculations; my nightmares were too vivid. They came back to me striking me in the heart, so that all I could do was worry. I pulled out my phone and called Margaret.
“Good morning dear. Sorry if I woke you up but have you heard from Andy this morning?”
“Come on Mum,” her voice had the tone that you use with a small child, “He is on a ride with his team. Of course, I haven’t heard from him. They don’t let phones distract them.”
“I suppose that you are right, I just wondered,” I explained, “It’s his birthday!”
“Mum, of course I know that it is his birthday,” again her tone was gentle as though she was talking to a small child. “I texted him a birthday wish early this morning.”
It was my turn to be instructive but my foreboding pressed upon me and I couldn’t speak. I rang off.

 By 9:00 am we returned from Randalls and took the short cut up Boston Lane, the two-lane road was full of traffic for the police had now moved their barricade to the Boston Lane light. 

Hours later, when the police arrived, I let Carl talk to them. I didn’t need to hear what I already knew. I refused to look at the body. I let Carl do the identification. Later, much later, in the afternoon, Carl and I drove to the spot, the place that I already knew. We parked, and Carl got out to take pictures. You could see how a moment’s distraction for someone driving way too fast in the middle lane would go straight into the median, across the grass and bluebonnets into the tree. It stood there just as I had seen it in my nightmare, its bark torn and marred. The ground was churned up where the team who cut him out had parked and there were ruts where the tow truck had pulled the car out.

The Tree

There is an oak tree hulk standing on the banks of the River Wear in Durham City. The tree is dead and is black inside. It looks, for all intents and purposes, as though it was burned out after being hit by lightning. At one time there was a plaque on the tree supporting the local folklore that this was the tree in which Charles II hid after his defeat at the 1651 battle of Boscobel. It is true that the Durham tree is hollow and could be used as a hiding place, but as the battle took place near Worchester in the south of England while Durham is in the north; geography doesn’t support the legend. Charles’ epic escape from the battle field across England to find an eventual passage to France is a well recorded narrative; worthy of a Hollywood movie. It involves numerous disguises, many close calls, and imaginative hiding places including an oak tree. Boscobel Park now has a “Son of Royal Oak” grown from an acorn from the ‘original’ Royal Oak which was destroyed by visitors who gradually hacked it to pieces as each took their small souvenir. The tree on the Durham river banks is too large to have been one of those souvenirs although it could be a son or even grand-son of the original Royal Oak.

This tree was the reason that Zoe selected Prebends Bridge as her rendezvous spot. It stood close enough to the bridge to offer a good view of anyone standing on the east end. This point is the confluence of five pathways. There is the river bank path going upstream; the path going downstream, an oblique path climbing the steep river banks to a tunnel under the ancient monastery buildings leading to the cathedral close; the pedestrian only road across the bridge and its continuation up to the ancient city gate leading into the old Bailey. Zoe planned to conceal herself inside the tree’s charred interior so that she could watch whoever came to the bridge head. She had hidden there before and watched lovers ambling arm-in arm along the treed river banks. She had seen tourists, guidebooks in hand, staring up at the Norman cathedral perched on the promontory encircled by the river, and watched an elderly woman, who vaguely reminded her of her mother, with two white corgi dogs walking across the bridge, and then up the oblique steep path to the cathedral cloisters.

The only drawback to her place of concealment was that it smelt of urine; Zoe was not the only one who used the spot. She was careful not to touch the tree fearing that any contact might mar her clothing. She had arrived wearing a red combination summer / rain coat which she had now taken off and folded lining side out. Underneath she wore a pale green and white gingham summer dress with a flounced lace petticoat very much the fashion in 1960. Her brown hair fell to her shoulders with an elegant curl. It shone in the sun and haloed her youthful twenty-three-year-old face. She wore white pumps comfortable enough to walk in for she had walked to this spot from the home on the outskirts of the city where she worked as a live-in nanny. She arrived, several hours before their appointment at which time she didn’t mind being seen but now she felt that concealment was essential She was prepared with mace and a lethal looking kitchen knife both of which she clutched concealed in her purse.

 At about 2:45 pm Alex appeared. He walked through the ancient city gate and ambled to the bridge head. He was a sturdy good looking youth with blond hair and clean complexion. He wore a white shirt and dark pants clearly his Sunday best. He stationed himself at this, their agreed meeting place, and waited. Zoe smiled to herself, this was a good sign. She waited and watched. He carried a blanket. She deduced that, somewhere along the banks, he intended to invite her to sit on it with him. She suspected that he’d start gently moving on to necking or more if she was complaisant. She imagined that he would willingly get her pregnant and the abandon her as her father had abandoned her mother.

 “Men are all the same.” she told herself and clutched her purse tighter. She was waiting until she and Alex were the only people on the banks; for she didn’t wish to be seen with him. By well after 3:00 pm she saw her opportunity. By now Alex was becoming anxious.  While he peered in the opposite direction she stepped out from her hiding place and walked toward him.

When he saw her he started, “Where did you come from?” He held out his hand in greeting. He smiled, “You arose like a nymph out of nowhere. How did you do it?”

 “Oh, Alex,” she said, ignoring his question with a toss of her head, “I’m glad that you came. When we met at the rink I wasn’t sure.” She smiled her best coquettish smile while her hate for men simmered.

 They exchanged a casual embrace and then Alex held her at arm’s length. “You look lovely. When I first saw, you gliding across the ice in your pristine white skates I knew, from your graceful movement, that you are special.” He sighed, “Now I see you clad in white shoes looking like a wood fairy. Will you walk with me along the river banks? If we go around the loop we will end up at Elvet bridge where we can have tea.”

 “So sweet, so innocent; but not really! I know what he is up to, just like my Dad so many years ago. I won’t let myself get distracted by his nice gestures.” thought Zoe. She didn’t comment on his blanket but smiled as she slipped her arm into his. They walked slowly as she let him lead her along the exact path that she wished to take.

 Three days later a jogger found his body wrapped in a blanket hidden in the undergrowth not far from the tow path. The cause of death was a lethal looking kitchen knife thrust up his rib cage into his heart. He appeared to have died without a struggle.

 

 

The Bamboo Floor

For several years, Ralf and Rosie dreamed about replacing the carpet in their bedrooms with wood. The carpet was a white Berber which looked fantastic when they moved in but over the years, the passage of children and pets had made it lose its pristine look and become worn and stained. By the time that they had enough spare cash to make their dream a reality, their pets had died, their two daughters married and moved away, and they were retired empty nesters. One warm fall morning Rosie spilled coffee onto the master bedroom floor. The resultant stain gave them the final nudge, and they went floor shopping. Rosie wanted a light-colored finish to harmonize with the décor which she had assembled to go with the Berber. Ralf was anxious to be environmentally conscious. Their two desires led them to select a bamboo floor.

“The stuff grows like weeds!” said Ralf. “The row that our neighbor, David, planted on his side of our north fence a year ago, is already up to his eaves.” Rosie nodded in agreement, and Ralf continued, “David says that he planted a non-invasive variety, but it is sending up shoots in our yard. I’m convinced that you can see it growing. One day nothing and the next a long shoot pointing straight as an arrow toward the sky. When I missed cutting one off because it was concealed behind a bush, it grew to four feet tall in a week and was stiff as a spear shaft. You could almost have harvested it right there and turned it into flooring!”

The wood flooring salesman confirmed Ralf’s knowledge about Bamboo, “Our supplier,’ he said,” harvests bamboo by cutting off the stacks, or culms, at ground level; the truncated stump then regrows. In about five years this, the ultimate renewable resource, is ready to be harvested again.

Rosie looked at the bamboo flooring sample and traced her finger along the recognizable shapes of bamboo culms. “How do you prevent these stalks from coming alive and re-growing.”

The salesman laughed, “It’s dead!”

“You may laugh;” Rosie responded, “but did you know that in Honduras the branches put into the ground as fence posts grow? The Hondurans like it that way because termites only eat dead wood, it also ensures a good sturdy footing. So, you see, I was thinking that some ‘dead’ wood isn’t really dead.” Rosie studied the salesman’s look of rejection and became apologetic, “and, well you see, bamboo is so invasive and virile, I wondered if maybe ……?” Rosie’s voice trailed off in a question.

The salesman took a sample in his hands and fondly rubbed its smooth surface, “This bamboo will not regrow. As I said, it is dead. It is well treated; let me explain. The split culms are cut into strips and bundled. They are then boiled, yes boiled, in a solution of boric acid and lime to kill insects and to remove sugars and starches.”

“There are insects to kill?”

“Yes, but don’t look for bodies in the final product. After the boiling, it is allowed to dry. If a dark final product is desired it is carbonizing by steaming under pressure and heat. Most bamboo flooring is then laminated using urea-formaldehyde. It pressed to cure the adhesive.”

“Is this when it is beginning to look like wood planks?”

 “You got it! It then has to be planed, sanded and milled. The last step is the application of an ultraviolet curing lacquer to give the floor its final durable finish.”

Rosie felt reassured. Ralf said that the urea-formaldehyde gave him some concern but rationalized that it was a small premium to pay for the ability to utilize such a renewable resource. They contacted an installer and were soon carting furniture into their garage to vacate the bedrooms. The carpet came up easily with a lot of dust. Rosie hoped that their new floor would house less dust and help reduce her allergies. Of course, their floors proved to be irregular obliging the installation team to spend a day grinding and pouring concrete. The dust made Rosie miserable. When the bamboo planks arrived, they proved to be warped and unacceptable. Ralf called their salesman who undertook to try to locate a replacement product. Several hours later, he called back with good news. He had located a new supplier, one with whom he had not worked before, who had enough, slightly less expensive, product in stock. He told Ralf that he would be happy to know that this supplier’s product was reputed to use less boric acid and lime and decidedly less urea-formaldehyde.

The replacement bamboo looked good and wasn’t warped. The installer laid it in one day, and the next-day Ralf and Rosie moved everything back out of their garage. They were delighted with the end product and luxuriated in the new look it gave to their home. The distinct reduction in dust meant that Rosie felt better than she had felt in years. This time of satisfaction might have been the end of our story, but it isn’t.

The problems began the next spring when Rosie began to have nightmares; and to sleep poorly. She told Ralf that she heard tap-tapping, crackling noises, particularly on the north side of the bedroom. At first, even she, dismissed the noises as imaginary, but it seemed to her that each night, they got louder and more intrusive. Ralf suggested that they might have rats in the wall. He inspected the attic – nothing. Just to be sure he placed rat poison in strategic locations. He checked the outside of the house to see if there were any rat entry points – nothing. He did find a row of sturdy bamboo shoots growing like giant spears planted in the ground along the house perimeter and in the area up to the north fence. He suggested to Rosie that, perhaps, the wind had been causing these to tap-tap upon the bedroom window. He meticulously cut them all down. By now, David’s side of the fence was an impenetrable thicket. He and Ralf discussed it as they stood in their respective driveways. David said that the bamboo kept his south wall cool but that his wife wanted him to remove it. He told Ralf, “The ladies have a way of insisting on things! One of these days I know that she will get someone to come in and eradicate it!”

The nocturnal noises continued and became more intrusive, tap-tap, creak, creak, groan, groan, pop, pop. Rosie moved out of the master bedroom into the largest spare room on the south side of the house. About a week later, when she was cleaning Rosie noticed what appeared to be a bamboo shoot under the window, behind the dresser on the master bedroom north wall. At first, she thought that it was an optical illusion and was actually a shoot growing outside. Then she wondered whether it was a shoot placed by Ralf as a joke. Ralf assured Rosie that it was no joke and pulled out the dresser. There to their utter horror were several bamboo shoots apparently growing through their new floor. The floor along the entire north wall was discolored and a little warped. Ralf took photographs and called on David. Together Ralf and David cut off the offending culms, and Rosie patched the floor with wood putty. All agreed that now was the time to call in an expert to eradicate David’s bamboo. They learned that bamboo grows from rhizomes, which spread under the surface of the ground. The eradication team worked from the outside of the patch cutting out the rhizomes followed by cutting the culms. They installed root barriers along the foundations of both houses, although they said that they had never, ever, heard of bamboo pushing through a concrete slab. They warned that no eradication is one hundred percent effective the first time but if David and Ralf diligently dug up shoots as they appeared in a few years they would be bamboo free.

 For a while, things were calm and then Rosie began to hear noises again. She said that they were worse than ever. Ralf was pleased when Easter rolled around, and they left town to visit grand-children. After Easter, they returned, anxious to take up residence again in, ‘the palace,’ as Ralf called it. It was raining when they got home. Ralf the found the house to be eerie and un-naturally quiet, wrapped in the soothing patter of rain on the roof. Rosie paused as she entered; she said that over the music of the rain she heard a chorus of groans, pops, squeaks and crackles; she looked terrified. They trundled their suitcases to the master bedroom which they found to have transformed itself into an impenetrable bamboo grove. Their new bamboo floor was warped into living hills and valleys. Culms even grew through their bed and some of the tallest were already pierced through the roof. Rain dripped in.

 

THE HEALER part 4 of 4

t

I was astonished, and felt weak inside. I couldn’t imagine what Dr. Wendy could tell me that might impact our long-term relationship. I stood before her riveted to the ground until she urged me to sit beside her on the porch. The seat was a rocker, together we rocked back and forth the night air refreshing after the heat of the day. She took her time as if she was seeking for the right words; then she spoke,

“My first secret is my heritage.” She handed me a small framed photograph. “Look at this picture of me with my parents. My mother is Caucasian and my father black. By some fluke, I inherited my mother’s looks and so most people see me as a gringo. That’s fine by me but know that if I were ever to have children they might well inherit my father’s looks. They would be handsome but not white. Some people couldn’t live with this thought. I want you to think about it.”

Wendy’s secret surprised me and I soon bid her “good night”. I walked slowly down the hill to my apartment. I regard myself as open-minded, especially as my mother is Hispanic and father very white American; but I was surprised to find myself hesitating with an uncomfortable admission that I wondered what friends and family would say. I’m glad that these foolish thoughts were soon eclipsed by my yearning for ‘my Wendy.’ By the time that I reached my apartment door I was singing for I had determined that I didn’t care about Wendy’s heritage. Skin color didn’t matter what I wanted was Wendy in my future. That hurdle vanquished, I spent the night speculating what on earth Wendy’s second secret could be.

The following day dragged slowly as I counted the hours, then minutes and finally seconds to the time when we’d be together again. When I finally walked up to her door she emerged looking the most alluring that I had ever seen her. She wore a loose wrap-around dress. On her neck hung the same magnificent amulet that I’d seen that first evening with her. She poured us lemonade made, she told me, from lemons off the tree in her garden. It was sweet with a tart overtone and most refreshing. Again, we sat side-by-side on her patio slowly sipping our lemonade and gazing out into the night. She touched my hand and spoke,

“My second secret is my healing power. I explained to you about body, mind and spirit, that’s my secret. I administer to the mind and activate it to heal the body.”

I took a gulp and tried to be calm as I knew that I was about to hear her second secret. I asked,

“But how? How did you acquire this skill, this mind activation? You are going to tell me that it wasn’t in medical school, right?”

“Yes, you are right, it wasn’t in medical school!” She paused, it was her turn to gulp, “Have you ever heard of a witch doctor?”

I wondered where this was going and nodded, then seeing her look of surprise felt foolish and shook my head,

After a moment’s silence she spoke again, “People always quote stories about debilitating spells cast by witch doctors, but in reality, most of their work in their community was to heal not to cast evil spells. Often they were very effective.”

Wendy had my attention, I murmured “Yes!”

“Now think how powerful one could be if one could combine the knowledge and skill of modern medicine with the ancient powers of the witch doctor and then overlay it all with a Christian message.”

“So?”

“Well, I learnt the skill of a witch doctor from my father who got it from his father all the way back to Africa.”

She paused and took off her amulet. She handed it to me. It was smooth and heavier than I expected. I looked at it closely and saw that it was covered with hierographics and miniature images of plants and animals. I gently ran my fore-finger across its surface. Dr. Wendy smiled,

“The symbol of the power is in this amulet. It is my second secret. It has always been in our family passed down from generation to generation. It dates back to a time in Africa when my many-greats-ago-grandfather was a Juju man, or witch doctor. I always wear it when I heal, generally I wear it hidden under my clothes, You, apart from my mother who was Caucasian, are the first white person to touch it.”

That evening I e-mailed my ‘Honduran Healers’ story to Carl together with my resignation. I’d have to return to the US to wrap things up but I now knew where my long-term future lay. The third night was to be the start of my new life.

The end.

THE HEALER part 3 of 4

Dr. Wendy met me at her door. She had changed from her green doctor scrubs into a loose-fitting floral shift. She wore her hair uncovered, not tied back in a scrub cap as in the clinic. At this moment, seeing her silhouetted in her doorway, I realized that this woman was very beautiful. The insect chorus agreed, and hummed their eternal tropical song; while the bougainvillea, or one of the other tropical flowers, wafted sweet perfume to further immortalize the moment. She served me a simple meal of beans, sausage and rice. It was flavored with tropical spices to tease the palette. We ate outside on her patio. After the meal, she asked me about my back. I was surprised that out of all the doctors whom I had met throughout the last few days, she was the only one to inquire. What was more she seemed more interested and attentive to my symptoms than any of my doctors and chiropractors in the US.  I wondered if this could be the same attention that she had shown to the little boy with the hurt finger the previous day?  I asked myself if this was her secret?

“Maybe I can help.” She said.

She left me momentarily and returned with a towel for me lie on. I noticed that she was now wearing an unusual amulet hanging on a chain. I was about to ask her about it when she had me lie face down and the moment was lost. Then she knelt beside me and began to probe and rub with strong fingers. I was surprised at her strength, which surpassed that of my masseuse. As she worked she named each muscle, joint and bone. Her voice was low and gentle soothing me with its rhythm. This was bliss. She located my pain spots and, without my prompting, knew what to do. Occasionally I groaned, in happy surrender to the sweet pain of her fingers as they probed my body. She lingered and worked each sore ache until the pain dissolved. She located several places in my shoulders and neck which had not been giving me trouble; she gave them the same treatment. She had me roll over and gave my chest a similar work over. She even gave me a head massage working each point with unhurried hands and soothing sing-song voice.

When she had finished, she urged me to get up, and we sat side by side on the patio chairs. Together we gazed out over a field of fireflies to the Caribbean ocean beyond. The scene was moonlit with no human habitation or light to mar the sky-dome with its sparkling starry array. I felt fantastic and let myself drift gently into a place of bliss. When our mutual silence became notable, I pulled himself together and tried to thank her. She brushed me off,

“It’s what I do – I heal.” Her voice sound tired.

 “You OK?”  I asked.

“Yep, I’m OK, don’t get me wrong; it’s just that healing exhausts. I’ll be back to normal in a few minutes.”

We waited soothed by a gentle sea breeze. Then it was her turn to break our mutual silence,

 “Of course, your back was tightened in pain, but I also reactivated your liver back to full function – now you should have no problem with your gluten and lactose intolerances. Your heart arrhythmia is now regular and oh yes, you had a kidney stone which is now dissolving!”

“I’m amazed! Are you sure about all this? If you are right it is a miracle. How can I ever thank you?’

 “I don’t need thanks, this is what I do – I heal.”

“There must be something?” I dared not face her as I asked. I hoped that there might be some way that I could help this a woman who had already spell bound me. Some way that I could help and thereby get closer to her.

“Well, there is a way.” Dr. Wendy turned to face me “There is a way, Lisa needs help. She teaches seven-and-eight-year-olds in our mission school. You were to have dinner with her and her family tomorrow night. The problem is that we are short of teachers at our mission school and now Lisa’s mother in the US has been taken terminally ill and Lisa wants to visit her. You told me that you taught elementary school before you became a journalist. I was wondering if you could extend your stay a few days and fill in for Lisa?”

I was delighted; here was an excuse to stay. A way to extend my association with her. I told her that I’d call my boss and get a few days’ vacation, and, of course I’d help. I called Carl the next morning to report that the clinic was full of healing physicians and intimated that I could write a compelling piece about their collective achievements. I suggested that the clinic was photogenic and asked for a photographer. I told Carl about the school and requested a few days’ vacation to allow me to sub for week or so. To my relief, and astonishment, he acquiesced without argument.

The school was rewarding. I found that I enjoyed teaching more than I remembered. The school children were attentive and anxious to learn. The outside world intervened my pleasure when Carl’s photographer arrived. He took photographs of the tropical setting and images of the clinic with its clientele of sick Hondurans walking up the hill to its front door. He staged a portrait of the doctors standing in a row in the clinic central courtyard with the sun highlighting their heads. Dr. Wendy was notably absent. Just before the photographer left I persuaded her to pose for a photograph standing beside the road up to the clinic. It was a clever shot because it included a trail of Hondurans who appeared to be walking toward her. In addition, we took a “human interest’ photograph of the child whose life had been saved by my AB negative blood.  After all the photographer remarked,

‘You came to investigate healing and your first action was to heal!”

“Now who is the reporter?” I responded, “let’s stick to facts. Could you explain to Carl that when I’ve wrapped up the loose ends I’ll write the piece.”

That evening Wendy and I were together again. By now some of my ailments were returning. I walked slowly to her home. She greeted me at her door from which the aroma of freshly baked bread wafted out onto the evening air.

“Are you hurting?” she asked.

“Well yes,” I admitted “just a little.”

“Don’t worry,” she responded “it happens quite often. The mind is a very powerful instrument.”

“What do you mean?”

“Simple! Western Medicine focuses on the physical. The doctors here focus on both physical and spiritual but there is a third ingredient.”

“What’s that?”

“The third ingredient is what I think of as the mind or intellect. Surely you have heard of body, mind and spirit? Think about it, Jefferson and Adams died on the same day, July 4th 1826, a day selected by each man’s intellect. Or, think about the many stories of married couples dying within weeks of each other.” Dr. Wendy sighed and touched me,

“And you, your mind conceives your ailments and pretty soon your body responds by proving you right. We need to prove your mind wrong! Lie down and I’ll give you another work over!”

I lay down and let Dr. Wendy work her magic. When she had finished, she brought out freshly baked bread and cheese. We ate sitting on her porch and gazing out at the tropical night. I felt at peace. I day-dreamed, for already I wanted to take this dear woman in my arms and propose. I wondered if she would be surprised; and worried that if she refused me I’d be obliged to give up this enjoyable intimacy.

During my second week at the clinic I realized that the mission was against the very idea that there might be an unusual healer in their midst. They staunchly maintained, what Jim’s wife had, so vehemently, told me on my first day on the mainland that they were all doctors and ALL healers. They administered to body and spirit. They went further and had Jim take me aside to advise me they felt that my presence in the hospital interviewing patients was disruptive. I was asked to desist. By now I knew that I had enough material to enable me to write a compelling story about their mission. One afternoon, after school was over I sat down, with an ice-cold drink of water at my side, and wrote a piece. I gave it the title, “Healers in Honduras”. I quoted some of their success stories, so many of which involved trauma not conceivable in the USA. They were stories about people beset by poverty and violence such as: a severely malnourished and dehydrated baby who had been fed on Yucca milk, or the poor woman who, while protecting her daughter from machete wielding intruder was almost decapitated.

When I finished the piece, I re-read it. Although I knew it to be well written and that Carl would like it I knew that I hadn’t been true to myself. Now that I was no longer distracted by my health issues I could afford to focus my mind on other aspects of self-criticism. I was disgusted at myself. I was ashamed that I should take the easy path and abandon the concept of an unusually gifted healer especially when I knew that if it were true my Dr. Wendy was that person. At the time, I didn’t analyze why I thought of her as ‘my Dr. Wendy’. I determined that I’d delay e-mailing the article until I’d done some additional research; even if it would have to be surreptitious.

The next day as I walked home from school I saw my opportunity. The hospital compound was fenced with a guard protected gate. Patients arrived at the gate, by bus, on bicycle, in the backs of dilapidated pick-ups, on donkeys, by foot and some by two-seater three-wheeled “taxi”. After scrutiny by the guards they were directed to walk up the hill to the hospital. Only those unable to walk were taken by vehicle. I took to quietly interviewing the patients as they walked the hill. I armed myself with an umbrella as a sun screen and held it over patients as I walked beside them up the hill. I showered each with friendly dialogue. Many gave personal testimonies relating to Dr. Wendy’s miraculous cures. Some had come a long way at great personal inconvenience merely to see her and to have her place her hands on their bodies. The believers were filled with wonder and gratefulness.

By now I was in perfect health and hopelessly in love with Dr. Wendy. I decided to risk everything and propose. After dinner on her porch I sank to my knees and began to stutter. Dr. Wendy held up her hand,

“Before you say what I think you are about to say I need to tell you two secrets. No, it’s OK I not a lesbian or secretly married or bearer of an incurable or hereditary disease. I would like to tell you one secret tonight, the second tomorrow and on the third night, if you are still here, you may ask your question.”

To be continued

 

THE HEALER part 2 of 4

 On Monday morning, I was on my way. I flew direct from Houston to Roatan and then by taxi to the hotel arranged by Mary. I didn’t scuba because I was concerned about my health. Instead I took a glass-bottomed boat tour of the reef and spent the rest of my time lathered in sunscreen sitting on the beach people watching, or lounging in a deck chair beside the hotel pool. When I boarded the ferry for the mainland, I was ready for my assignment. Fortunately, the crossing was calm and although the crew handed out ‘barf bags’ even I didn’t need one. When I arrived in La Ceiba, a four-wheel drive vehicle from the clinic met me.

My ride was driven by Jim, one of the clinic physicians. He was accompanied by his wife. They explained that they were in La Ceiba on a monthly excursion to purchase groceries. They took me to their grocery store so that I could purchase necessities, including food for my visit as they informed me that I would be fending for myself during my stay in the clinic guest apartment.

Just outside La Ceiba, we came to an ad-hoc police check point with gun-totting, uniformed, youths inspecting traffic. Our truck was waved through without inspection. Jim’s wife explained that they believed that their pale gringo faces combined with the Red Cross on the cab doors gave them a pass. The episode made me anxious, I began to wonder why on earth I had taken this assignment. I leaned back in my seat. I wanted to disappear. From my back-seat vantage point I was able to peep out of my window to take in the evidence of poverty combined with majestic views of mountains, ocean and tropical greenery. By the time that the paved road gave way to a pot-holed dirt road, and we slowed to a bumpy crawl stopping to avoid the occasional group of cows on the road, I felt braver and began to converse with my hosts. We exchanged pleasantries about the weather, my trip, where we all grew up, what brought us all together, the clinic and its mission.

Our friendly banter, coupled with the absence of additional police check-points emboldened me to hazard a question,

“There is a rumor in the US about a gifted Healer at the clinic?” My comment got an instant reaction. Jim swerved and seemed to scowl while his wife laughed nervously. Her laugh was like a disdainful chortle. She turned and gave me an angry look,

“What do you mean?’ she paused and continued with raised voice, “A gifted Healer? It’s a clinic. Of course, there are healers ALL the doctors, Jim, my husband, included, are healers. They are ALL dedicated to their mission. ALL are gifted healers, spiritual and physical!” She then dismissed me by turning to face the front. I meekly recoiled in my seat. I had begun to realize that this assignment was going to be more difficult than I had expected. I shut my eyes and pretended to doze off.

When we arrived, Jim’s wife seemed to have forgotten her ire along the road. She showed me around, helped me get settled in the guest apartment. She concluded with an invitation to join their family for dinner. Half way through dinner an urgent request for a type AB negative blood donor came over the radio. It was Dr. Wendy Heath looking for a donor with this rare blood type for a child who had been hit by a motorcycle. Although I have AB negative blood, I kept quiet.

 “Really,” I thought, “my health isn’t good. I’m too sick to give blood; anyway I’m sure someone else will step forward.”

 Dr. Jim explained that the clinic had no blood bank, and that they relied upon themselves and their visitors to give blood when an inescapable life-threatening need arose. The call came again, Dr. Wendy’s voice was breaking. She asked if a Robert Wright had arrived as his profile indicated that he had AB negative blood. I sighed as if awakened from a deep sleep, my voice was urgent, my heart beating,

“Take me to the clinic. I’m AB negative; I’ll give blood to save this child!”

Hours later, I lay on my bed in my apartment. It had all been easy. I hadn’t experienced the dizziness I had expected; in fact, I felt better than I had felt in weeks. I even wondered whether those blood-letting quacks of the past might have known something overlooked by modern medicine.

I spent the next two days talking to staff, testing my Spanish talking to patients and discretely monitoring clinic activities. My only profound observation was that Dr. Wendy’s clinic always seemed fuller and more active than those of her colleagues.

I also witnessed a telling moment when a small Honduran child, possibly three-years old, pinched a finger in a door and began to cry. His wails were loud and urgent. His mother attempted to console him. Dr. Jim and Dr. Wendy passed by and when I inquired whether the finger might be broken Dr. Jim glanced down at the child and declared that the child was bending the finger and that this confirmed that it wasn’t broken. Dr. Wendy, however, knelt beside the little boy and took the finger in her hands. She gently wiggled it and spoke soothing words. The child stopped crying. Dr. Wendy gave the finger a kiss and she and Dr. Jim passed on.

“Perhaps,” I thought, “this is why her clinics are larger than the others. A simple explanation could be that she empathizes and takes longer than the other doctors to process her patients.”

Each evening a different staff member invited me to dinner. I was enjoying myself but knew that soon I would have to call Carl to give a report. I planned to do so after dinner at Dr. Wendy’s invitation. I’m not sure why I set this deadline except, maybe, because I already felt a special rapport with her and opportunistically hoped that she was the object of my search – the miraculous Honduran Healer.

to be continued