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


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.”


“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

THE HEALER part 1 0f 4

This story is rather longer than my usual work and so I’ve split it into four posts. I hope that you enjoy it

The day that I pinpoint as heralding the change to my health and life began much like any other. That day, I remember that I arrived in the office later than usual. As I rode the elevator to the fourth floor of our building, I planned how I’d sneak in stealthily in the hope that I wouldn’t be noticed. This time my tardiness was not the result of a pressing assignment but to accommodate a visit to a masseuse recommended by my chiropractor. Her strong fingers probed and poked my back and neck for an hour. I told himself that the session helped, but  I was still in acute pain and couldn’t help myself from walking with an unnaturally stiff stance. Truth be told, I felt as though I were my seventy-year-old father rather than a young man of thirty.

Just as the elevator doors opened my stomach cramped. I wanted to clutch it but desisted because that isn’t done in a public space. Instead I paused at the doors and moved even more slowly. I speculated that the pain was either; an ulcer due to work induced worry, or cancer, or could it be the shrimp that I had eaten the evening before? The shrimp had tasted good, at the time, served over linguini and smothered in a light marinara sauce with a hint of garlic. I swore to myself that from this day forward I’d add shrimp to my list of forbidden foods along with gluten, lactose and nuts.

The receptionist, who is always on the lookout, must have noticed my arrival. I caught a glimpse of her blush as I attempted to slip past her desk. Even with my chronic ailments I knew that I struck a handsome figure. I had changed at the spa and now wore Friday casual; pressed blue jeans, polished boots and a black short-sleeved shirt to accentuate my thick black hair. Subconsciously I deduced that the receptionist, along with the bevy of other unmarried women in the office, regarded me as an eligible bachelor, one that they could take in hand and ‘cure”.  I sensed that my very indifference made me more desirable to them. The girl was smiling over her blush and stood up.

“Hey, Robert. Yes, you there, Robert Wright, good morning. Carl called about ten minutes ago; he wants to see you in his office asap.”

Now, as Carl Cole is my editor and boss, the summons worried me. It was good that the directive was immediate because this limited me to a few seconds of soul searching. My stomach began to cramp again as I hastily grabbed my note pad, and hurried, first to the men’s room, and then to Carl’s office. I had several reasons to worry. Had Carl noticed my recent writer’s block, or had he detected my boredom with my assignments? We publish a small specialist monthly magazine with a slant toward health and the environment. The truth is that I took this position because health-care issues interest me, but my heart wasn’t in it. When not preoccupied by my constant ailments I dreamt of writing my own best-selling novel. If I had been fitter I’d have quit the magazine to embrace the life of a full-time novelist. I had a nagging premonition that one day Carl would kick me out; “But not yet, Carl, not yet,” I secretly prayed as I entered his office.

 Carl was standing looking out of his window. He cut a good figure with a slightly bulging waistline, almost a full head of hair and well-tailored clothes. He turned and pointed to the chair in front of his desk as he sat behind it.

“’Morning Rob, take a seat.” Carl was always abrupt and now I found the tone of his voice reassuring and hopefully deduced that I was not about to be fired.

 “Good morning, sir!’ I said as I took a seat.

 As was his custom Carl dispensed with every day pleasantries and got straight to the point; “You speak Spanish, don’t you?”

 “Yes, my mom….” I was about to elaborate, but Carl forged on.

“You scuba dive don’t you?”

“Err yes,” I wondered where this was going. I hastily added, “I don’t get many chances to indulge; the magazine keeps me busy.” I felt pleased to have managed to sneak in this plug for myself.

“What would you say to a trip to Roatan?” Carl raised his hand as I opened my mouth to respond. “Now, Rob, a good reporter listens, so practice that skill.” He shook his finger at me and leaned forward in his chair. He lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “We’ve heard a report from a recent Honduran immigrant family of a missionary clinic in Honduras in which there is a gifted, perhaps miraculous, Healer. I want you to go down to Honduras and take a look; scope it out. You can fly to Roatan, take a few days off to scuba, and put your head in order, then you can travel on to mainland Honduras to see this Healer. If you decide that there is a story you shall notify the office so that we can fly in a photographer to take pictures”

“Sounds interesting!” I managed to blurt out, “Thank you sir! “Honduras Healer” makes a good headline. Can you tell me more?”

“Yes, Mary has the particulars; stop by her office on your way out! I’m glad that you’re game. I expect a stunning story.”

“Thank you, Sir. I won’t let you down! Yes, I can’t thank you enough.” I paused as I stood and walked to the door, then I turned to repeat “Thank you, Sir,” with the thought that, ‘being polite never hurts!’, but Carl already had his head down buried in reading something on his desk.

The next two days I diligently lost myself in research in an attempt to uncover more information about the Honduran mission. I learned that the clinic is located in a remote corner of Honduras. It is a place where the poverty of the people rivals that of the world’s neediest.  In that area, most people live outside with a simple hut for sleep and rain protection. Their homes are built of mud or hand-made concrete block. They have dirt floors and thatched roofs. Electricity and water, available close to the pot-holed dirt access road, are both sporadic and unreliable. I read that worldwide Honduras is ranked fifteenth on the poverty scale, however, parts of the mainland rival the poorest because the country’s overall statistic is moderated by tourist attractions like the ancient pirate haven of the Island of  Roatan.

to be continued.




  I suggest that we let most of the days of our lives pass into blurred oblivion. Of course, some days are remembered due to unusual happenings. Thursday, May 27 1954 is a day from my childhood, which stands out vividly. It was a day packed with events each of which might have slipped into my hazy memories of growing up, but somehow their aggregate marked a day which I recall vividly.

That Thursday was Ascension Day, and as such my Christian School gave it special recognition. We had no classes; instead, we were instructed to go to school later than usual, in order to attend a church service after which we were given the balance of the day off. On a normal day, my father drove my sister and I to school on his way to work. I have vague recollections of these drives with an associated long wait at the Framwellgate Bridge traffic light so that we could drive up winding, narrow, one-way Silver Street. By the time that we got to the bridge Dad was diligently quizzing my sister and I on the dates of the Kings and Queens of England or some other facts which he wished us to memorize. If you look to your right as you cross Framwellgate Bridge going into town you get a stunning view of Durham Castle and Cathedral standing high on their promontory, shrouded in the greenery of the banks of the River Wear. I don’t recall ever having done this on my way to school. Looking back I wonder if it was familiarity or perhaps the view wasn’t good for a child in the left-hand side seat of a car.

For some strange reason, I walked to school on Ascension Day 1954. During my entire childhood, this is the only day that I ever remember walking the two to three miles to school. I was almost nine years old, which explains why my sister, who would have been seven, was not with me. She started at the “Big School” the following academic year. The other odd thing about that morning was that I was accompanied by Robert Mulkerrin. This day is the only day of my entire life that I remember Robert Mulkerrin. He lived with his mother about a block further down our street. Their house always had roses in the garden, but I generally hurried past as quickly as possible because Mrs. Mulkerrin was one of our school teachers. I don’t know why Robert was with me – perhaps it was circumstantial, and he was going to meet his mother at the school or maybe my parents had arranged it; I just don’t know. All I know is that he was there. I recall that we were engrossed in conversation and although only nine I have a vague memory of my being somewhat flirtatious. 

Half-way up Silver Street, crammed onto the sidewalk on the south side of the street, we came to a ladder leaning against one of the ancient buildings. It bridged the sidewalk and had its toe in the gutter. Robert checked the traffic and deftly walked around the ladder. I walked under it.

“Jane, don’t. Walking under a ladder is bad luck!”

“Pooh, that’s just an old wife’s myth.” 

“Maybe,” Robert was staring at me, “but why tempt fate?”

“I’m not afraid. Now if there had been someone up the ladder, I agree that it might not be a good idea to walk under.” I was giggling, thinking of a tool or paint falling down. Today was a propitious day, and I felt exuberant.

My next recollection from that day is when our mother drove my sister and I to go fishing. She had promised to do this as a treat on our afternoon off. It is also a first because our mother had never ever taken us fishing before. She had just learned to drive and drove us in my grandfather’s old red VW. We joked that she bought kangaroo petrol because the car jumped and started every time she changed gear. I vaguely remember the Lake. It was reached by long drive through an avenue of trees and was next to one of the hospitals which my father visited. Apparently, he had obtained permission for us to fish there.

Our equipment was homemade; stakes from the garden, twine, hooks made from hair pins, and bait in the form of chicken parts. We stood on the grass, which I recall is being very green, and cast our lines into the murky water. Within no time, I had a nibble and hauled in a small fish about eight inches long. I hadn’t even got it off my hook before my sister also had a bite. Instead of being a traditional fishing trip, in which one waits and watches the water for hours, the fish rewarded us by taking our bait every time we cast. Within an hour, we had caught twenty fish. By now, I recall that our mother was becoming anxious and declared, “Enough is enough,” and that we needed to go home.

We always ate dinner at about 7:30 PM. That day was not to be an exception. Our mother volunteered to clean and fry the fish so that we would eat them for dinner. My sister and I were becoming boisterous and housebound, and so she sent us out to play on our bicycles in the street. They were always several children outside, and we often played games on our bicycles. That evening Robert Mulkerrin joined us. Of course, I teased him and told him that instead of bad luck the ladder had rewarded us with an incredible fishing trip. He smiled and even then seemed unconvinced.

We played tag. The one who was ‘it’ carried a stick and chased the others to touch someone so that they became ‘it’. Our road was paved for the block near Robert’s house but towards our house, it was narrower, steeper, and unpaved. That’s where I had the accident. I was swerving to avoid being tagged and spilled putting my right arm to the ground to catch myself. It popped. I had dislocated my elbow and was hurriedly driven to the hospital. I remember going in feeling very cold and in pain and being given a sedative. I shall always remember the contrast, for when I awoke I was pain free and cozily warm. To me, it was a miracle.

Mother cooked the fish, but I never ate any. To this day, I wonder what they tasted like. I also wonder if Robert Mulkerrin went home convinced that he had irrefutable proof that walking under ladders is bad luck.