As friend and wisewoman Nissa Chirstie says, sometimes things can’t be put into a nice neat package with a bow.
The protagonist of the following story is loosely based on the character of Perdita from one of Shakespeare’s most enigmatic and visionary plays, A Winter’s Tale.
(Spoiler Alert) Perdita’s father, the King, orders her to be abandoned on a mountainside in a distant land when she is still an infant because he believes that his queen was unfaithful. Infant Perdita is rescued by farmers and grows up to become an herbalist in her adopted country, developing a deep relationship to the wildflowers, to whom she feels a kinship.
Perdita a la Casa Bruja (Perdita at the Witch House)
The house sits inside a clutch of stones on a low hill in a clearing of Dream.
The scent of beeswax and linden blossoms mixed with blood pulls in wanderers who have been looking for secrets without knowing they were looking.
A grandmother lives inside.
She isn’t anyone’s grandmother in particular.
Her skin is the color of a still pond at noon in midsummer.
Her hair is the color of winter.
Her eyes steam and hiss orange in firelight.
In sunlight they are the color of changing leaves.
In this house there are spiders in all the corners.
There are five rules:
- What is left unsaid is listened to as closely as what is said.
- Liars, storytellers, dream speakers and poets are given pillows and can spend the night.
- Idle chatterers are not offered food until they spend enough time in silence.
- Questions may be asked as long as answers are never demanded.
- Song and dancing precede and follow all other actions.
“Grandmother, tell me about anger,” asks a young girl, Perdita, who doesn’t belong to anyone in particular.
She is breathless from dancing and her voice flutters.
“Tell me something that doesn’t fit into an envelope. I need to know something beaked and feathered and fork-tongued, something rough and misshapen and pulsing. I need to know something with claws.”
The grandmother’s face is tattooed with vines. They snake around her eyes as she smiles.
“Sometimes anger is the birthday cake of a child born without a mouth,” she says.
“It is the fragrant sweat of a pig stuffed with cinnamon before the slaughter.
“It is beet juice and brandy pissed out by a jaundiced old man.
“It is war, darling, ripping through the body in waves.”
Perdita shifts her weight. She stares past the grandmother. She is looking for something with claws.
“Anger is also the life blood of the mother who loses her child by gunfire, her boy taken by ugliness set in the mind like bricks.
“This mother’s anger pries open her mouth to scream, breathing full bellows of air, to be a body pushing for justice, for the survival of some other boy and some other mother.
“Anger is the energy of a child held underwater in a bathtub by a parent twisted and riddled with ants like an old tree grown carelessly in concrete.
“The child’s legs kick, jump up and out of the tub, run! And she hollers truth until someone hears, even if it takes a lifetime.”
Perdita can see the flick of a forked tongue, hear wings beating.
“We need this anger like sunlight. It’s absence is a curse.”
The grandmother of no one in particular falls onto her knees.
She beats her chest. Bows her head.
Her hair fans into the air around her and blows into shapes that break like ice as her gnarled fingers thrust into snarls and pull hard.
“Oh! How many of these curses there are in our world! How many! How many!”
Perdita is feathered and clawed, sucking in long breaths. She lets out a scream of sunlight.
Her grandmother holds out her hand and they dance.
A Herbal Ally for Working With Anger