I keep the windows open in the summer, and there aren’t any screens on them. It means I get visitors like the dragonfly that came in and landed on my monitor yesterday while I was reading up on poison ivy. It dipped its head toward the screen, then flew off—I guess information on poison ivy isn’t very relevant for a dragonfly.
Having the windows open also keeps me in touch with the movement of the boundary between this land of hours and days and that other place. You know: elsewhere, the other world—that place. Yesterday the breeze was definitely blowing from elsewhere. The border might have been right up to the edge of my clinic. Maybe my clinic was even elsewhere, yesterday. But the border’s receded since then, the way it always does.
I heard the screen door bang, and Nalanda appeared. She’d been doing watercolors on the porch. “Mom, there’s a patient here, a boy. His mom brought him,” she said.
“Send them both in.” I shooed Sooner and Later off the couch so the woman and her son could have a cat-free place to sit down. The woman looked my age, but rather frazzled, streamers of hair escaping from her pony tail. Her son must have been eight or nine, a skinny kid. She led him in and pointed meaningfully at the couch; he sat down, and she sat down next to him.
“Would you like something to drink? Water? Mint water? I can make tea,” I offered.
“No, no, I’m fine,” the woman said. Her son just stared out the window. She sighed.
“I came because I hear you handle ailments from elsewhere?” She was practically whispering. People are so hesitant to talk about the other side of the border. Personally, I’m not sure I believe that talking about elsewhere makes it more present or more permanent, but a lot of people seem to think it works that way.
“Yeah, I do. I don’t actually have a conventional medical degree,” I confessed. It’s not a full confession. A full confession would be, “I got accepted to a couple of medical schools, but ended up not going.” But the woman wasn’t interested in my conventional medical qualifications.
“I think Karol has cataracts. Not the eye kind, of course. The ear kind.” Then, in the low voice again, “The elsewhere kind.” Abruptly, she clapped her hands twice. Sooner and Later looked up, and so did Now and Never, from their seats on the bookshelf and beside the electric kettle, but Karol just kept staring out the window.
“He was playing in the stream that runs through the pasture over on West Street, the one by Sunflower Farm. When he came home, he just wouldn’t pay attention to anything I said, and then I realized it was because he couldn’t hear anything I said. I checked his ears, and—well, you see what you think.”
I got my otoscope and took a peek. Oh yeah. Cataracts all right. You could see the water flowing and dancing in there; hell, if I put my own ear next to Karol’s I could practically hear the song of it.
“It is cataracts, isn’t it.” she said.
I nodded. “The stream must have been elsewhere when he was playing there, and he’s got two ears full of its melody, now.”
“Can you treat it? I don’t want him deaf for the rest of his life—or pulled elsewhere.”
“Sure; the treatment’s easy—well, pretty easy. Do you know rambling rose? Tons of it grows wild around here. It’s an invasive species, actually. Beautiful fragrant flowers, drifts of them—you’ve probably noticed the scent in June—but truly vicious thorns. Very elsewhere. Anyway, you need to find some growing by the stream where Karol was playing. Once you do, you have to cut off two thorns from the new growth. Then, back at your house, you just put one thorn in each of Karol’s ears. Not too far in; just right at the entrance to the ear canal, so the tip of the thorn pricks the cataracts. They’ll drain right out, and Karol should be able to hear fine.”
“Oh! Well, that doesn’t sound too hard. Does it matter about the type of knife or the time of day or anything like that?”
“No, not really. The rose canes are tough though, so you’ll want the knife to be good and sharp. And any time is okay, but you want to use common sense and avoid elsewhere times like dawn or noon or twilight. Mid-morning’s a good bet, or mid-afternoon.”
Karol’s mom nodded. “I’ll keep safe. Now . . . what about your fee? The ad in the newspaper just said ‘reasonable.’”
Never looked up from his perch next to the electric kettle.
“I usually ask patients to let one of my cats roam about their place for twenty-four hours. Anything the cat catches, it gets to keep. But don’t worry,” I added, “they don’t go after family valuables or anything like that. They mainly bring back things you don’t want hanging around anyway. It’s stuff that’s useful to me in my practice, though.”
Never hopped down and rubbed up against Karol’s mom’s legs. She leaned down and petted him. He’s hard to resist.
“Well, all right then,” she said. “I guess I’d better go home and dig out my Swiss army knife and see about getting those thorns.” She tapped Karol on the shoulder, and they both stood up. Never followed them out, whiskers twitching.
After they left, I stretched. Talking about cataracts made me feel like finding some water myself. I decided to put out the “Be Back Soon” sign and stroll on over to the stream by the railroad tracks. Nalanda could always cut me some rose thorns if I came home with its chatter in my ears.