Take Your Medicine
Hannah Carmack © 2018
All Rights Reserved
I got sick the summer of 2010. At first, it was slow. A little fatigue here, a little light-headedness there, but by the time the scorching heat of July settled in over the little town of Echola, Alabama, I was having one or two fainting spells a day. My mother, bless her heart, was always trying to cure what ailed me, though it never quite worked. She was the best cardiothoracic surgeon this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. She was known for the occasional sarcastic quip, wearing braids down to her belly, and a nearly unscathed OR record. They called her the Queen of Hearts.
But, no matter how sick I got, my mother always expected me outside right at seven o’clock, ready to tend the garden. The day I met the witches was no different. We were up and outside a good five minutes early, trying to beat the already record-breaking heat. Barely past six a.m. and we were already pushing ninety. I joined her in the rose bushes, pruning and picking as we talked about our plans for the day.
“And I want you to go over The Odyssey one more time. I don’t feel you got the Cyclops as well as you should have.” Ma was sweating more than a tall glass of tea as she worked those beds.
“I think I got it just fine,” I answered her. “I just didn’t like it.” I worked my dark hands deep into the soil and pulled out an overgrown dandelion. It seemed like no matter how many I plucked, five would grow back in its place by the next morning.
Ma turned to me, her brow finely arched and her lips spread in a smirk. “Give it another read. You’ll appreciate it more the second time ‘round.”
“Why don’t I just read Midsummer again?” I asked, sheepishly avoiding her gaze as I busied myself in the roses. “I mean, it is midsummer.”
“Because you’ve already read that one five times.”
“So?” I kept my expression genial, not wanting to risk my mother thinking I was taking a tone with her.
“It’s important you expand your library.”
“That’s it?” I raised my gloved hands to the sky and pretended to plead with a higher power in hopes of a better reading assignment.
“Well then, fine.” She let out a low hmph and brushed the dirt from her hands. “Let’s just say it’s because I told you to, Al.”
“You’ve always said that’s a lazy reason to give.”
My mother rolled her eyes to the clouds in the sky. “Lord help me.” She huffed. “Fine, don’t read it. When your teachers give you trouble, don’t you come cryin’ to me, ’cause I did all I could to help you.”
Anything sounded better than suffering through Homer again. “Just twenty pages or so then?”
“Twenty.” My mother tsk’d. “Arright, arright. Twenty it is, but don’t go runnin’ off today. We’ve got a lot of work to do when I get home. Your auntie is droppin’ in this weekend and I want the place sparklin’, foyer to the chimney. Collect some of the collard greens from the vegetable patch today, would ya? I’m thinkin’ we’ll make a casserole.”
I assured her I understood and then turned back to uprooting an especially stubborn creeping vine. She’d just brought over a big old tin water can when a little compact car drove up on our gravel drive.
“Guess that’s me.” My mother turned her attention to Jackson. He was a tall man who always looked just a little too big for his ride. He usually struggled to get out of the car in time to get Ma’s door for her. “I’ll be home ‘round supper.”
I wiped my palms on my pants before wrapping her into a hug. The smell of her morning coffee still clung to her blouse.
“And don’t forget to water out back,” she called to me as they were pulling off. “Those river birches need it!”
The car backed out of the driveway, and I waved to them as they left. As soon as she was gone, I tightened my headwrap and turned to my watering duties. I tended to each bush with care and pulled a few stray weeds along the way. Kudzu was coming closer and closer to our little haven, and even if gardening was more Ma’s hobby than mine, I didn’t want to risk losing all our hard work to that tangled-vine devil. After finishing the roses, I went back inside to cool off in front of the fan. I sat there for a little while and let the breeze hit my face.
I still had the back bushes to do, but I decided to treat myself to a couple of speckled eggs and toast before hiking it all the way back to the orchard. If Ma had been there to ask, I’d say I wanted a break from the sun so I wouldn’t burn to a crisp before noon. But on the inside, I knew I was only eating because I wanted to have a full stomach and energy to burn. There was something I loved about that thick brush. The hum of cicadas and june bugs, the lush green forestry, and the shade from the hundred-year-old oaks. I’d go to water the trees, but I’d stay for a chance to roam the land. Times where I could just wander were few and far between since I’d gotten sick. The chance of being out in the woods and having a bad fainting spell was too risky. You could end up seizing if you didn’t fall just right. Luckily, the orchard wasn’t too far, but getting there was always a trip that you had to respect. It was dangerous terrain. Since the spells started, Ma hadn’t wanted me going that far out, but this was day four in a streak of no fainting attacks. She must have had some kind of hope, or she would have told me to wait for her to come home so we could go water them together.
The last trip I took to the river birch, I snuck out our camera to take pictures of the flora and fauna. Between the most beautiful flowers you could find the deadliest of things. Last week, it was a rattler perched in a patch of lilies.
Before leaving, I skimmed through The Odyssey. I know Ma said I didn’t have to keep reading it, but her words got me wondering. Of course, she’d been right. I did appreciate the cyclopes more this time. Ma was always right. It drove me a little crazy but made for some sound advice.
After finishing my reading for the day, I descended, a bulk of water canteens slung around my arms. Eight jugs for the trees. One for me. The path to the orchard was long, twisty, and confusing if you didn’t know the property. But, we’d been living there our whole lives. Same as my mama’s ma, and her ma before her. For me, it was nothing. This was the air I grew up breathing. The trees I grew up climbing. The tilted rocks that I scraped my knees on and the river I’d caught my first crawdaddy in. So for me, this Southern jungle was nothing.