2.05: Checkup

Henry half stood to chase the Bramble daughters through the kitchen, to explain and apologize, but thought better of it and instead settled back into his chair. The dancing animals on the carpet below looked up at him with judgement in their unblinking eyes. He pored over the interaction, trying to figure out where he’d gone wrong. Was he really that frightening? 

In their wild flight the girls had knocked the door ajar, and it did not completely shut behind them. Teresa’s voice floated into the hallway. “… about that. You know how kids can be.”

“Suppose I don’t.” This was Clint’s rough voice. He sounded the same as he did in the bar, turned down a few notches. “Never got around to that part of life.”

The sound of ripping cloth. “It’s a lot of extra stress, anyway.”

“They keep telling me I need less of that.”

“You do. Since when are you listening?”

Clint laughed, producing a noise like a piece of plywood being torn in half. “Can you fix me up?”

“I can do what I always do. It’ll ease the pain. But the only fix is for you to stop doing this to yourself.”

Two solid thumps of heavy boots hitting the floor.  “That ain’t the fix. When the world’s broken, it can’t be on me to be the solution.”

“If you think the world is your problem, you may need to adjust your perspective. Take this, either way.”

“Thank you.”

“Would you like to go out the back?”

There was silence for a while, punctuated only by the soft echo of footsteps and the creaking of a door somewhere deep in the house. Then Teresa’s face unexpectedly appeared, leaning into the hallway. “I know you weren’t harassing my daughters out here.”

Henry jumped out of his chair. “I wasn’t.”

“I know,” she repeated, “because if you had, you would have been the one running. Come in, Mr. Cauville.”

The Bramble’s kitchen looked substantially the same as it had before. If there was any difference, then it was in the variety and volume of herbs and vegetables scattered about the expansive room. Hanging in the background, there was also the scent of something unpleasant. Faint, but undeniable once noticed. Vomit. “They’ve been under a lot of stress lately. Especially my little one,” Teresa said. She was dressed in a simple white pantsuit that day, in place of her colorful shawl. Her eyes were drawn, but she spoke with energy. “We’ve been busy lately, and you know school doesn’t get any easier.”  

“I remember what that was like,” he said, trying to inconspicuously cover his nose. “Thanks for making time to see me.” 

“That’s what I do. Hop on up. How’s that shoulder looking?”

Henry sat himself on the table, and pulled his shirt over his head. “It’s about the same.”

“No improvement at all?” She clucked at that, removed the bandaging from the wound, and spent several silent minutes examining the area in question. She poked, prodded, and circled him like a bird of prey. “It’s worse,” she announced, stepping back and rubbing her hands together.

“Worse?”

“It is clearly agitated. Producing copious amounts of pus and blood. Have you stressed the area recently?”

He didn’t have to think very hard about that. “Yes.”

Teresa fetched a leather-bound notebook out of a drawer, and began flipping through its thin pages. “Would you listen to me, if I told you to keep weight off the arm?”

“Would you write me a doctor’s note for work?”

“I’m not a doctor.”

“And I still need to pay rent.” She continued to peruse the book, her eyes scanning rapidly down the pages. “Would it help anything if I told you that I know?” he continued. He still felt awkward bringing it up, certain that someone would eventually have no idea what he meant and demand a thorough explanation. Was he supposed to throw around the word ‘magic’ like it was normal? “The Festival, I mean.”

Teresa only nodded. “I might have figured, with that chain around your neck. One of Kara’s?”

“It is.” He absently fingered the charm. “Do other people make them?”

“Not for many years. Not like that.” She spoke out of the corner of her mouth, fully engrossed in finding whatever she was looking for. “I have wards around the house, of course. Several people do. And the tattoos.”

“Does it work better, as a tattoo?”

She shrugged. “Harder to misplace. And they don’t leave the burns.”

Henry’s finger fell into a shallow groove centered above his breastbone, where he knew the skin was still red raw. “There’s one on Emmaline Cass’ headstone.”

“It used to be customary, to leave marks of protection around a grave. Whoever carved that one is long gone. No power left.”

“Kara mentioned that you helped her with the symbols.”

Teresa turned the final pages of the notebook, tossed it down on the counter, and started the process anew with a second, identical notebook. The handwriting inside was spiraling and dense. “The magic of Tortus Bay is old, and stubborn. It has found its favorite shapes, and its favorite numbers.” She spoke in a rote fashion, as though reciting dates from a dry text. “Every thirty days it comes. Every seven, it rests. Circles channel. Divets—or straight lines—direct. There is an incredible amount of theory, as the state of this house might suggest. Magic came easily enough for Kara; she just needed help focusing it.”

“How did you know that it was going to come easy for her?”

At that, she peered at him over the top of her book. “Travelers who find their way to Tortus Bay often discover that they were called for a reason. That is not to say that your destiny will be to wave your hands and produce balls of fire, mind you.”

“Can I come visit again, on the Festival? I want to see what you do.”

Somewhere in the middle of the second book, Teresa seemed to find whatever she was hunting. She exclaimed, brought her palm up to her head, and promptly bustled over to the pantry. “I’m afraid I don’t do much fire throwing myself, but you’re welcome to join. The Bramble house has always been a safe haven during trying times. Oh, and the times sure are getting trying again.”

“You don’t use magic?” There it was. He used the word.

Teresa went after her pantry with a passion, pulling out leeks, berries, bundles of dried Aldounis, and jars of unidentifiable objects floating in viscous liquids. “It’s a subtle thing, deary. There are old stories about people who could stitch wounds together with a touch of their hand, but my expertise is more focused on earthly matters. Everybody needs looking after, regardless of what day of the month it is.”

Henry watched her set about grinding her ingredients into a thick green paste, tasting as she went and adding pinches of various herbs. “Is this another ointment?”

“A different ointment. There are some other old stories,” she nodded her head toward the open book on the far counter, “about people with persistent wounds.”

“And this worked for them?”

She captured the paste in a delicate glass phial, and pressed it into his hand. “No. But it did halt the expansion.”

The expansion. What a purposefully vague and non-medical word to describe what was happening to him. “What’s wrong with me?”

“I don’t know,” she said, “but I promise you that we will figure it out.” He wrapped his fingers around the medicine, and slipped it into his pocket. “It’s a dangerous world out there. We have to look out for one another.”

“I don’t think my shoulder is really all that dangerous.”

Teresa shook her head. “Not the shoulder. It’s everything else. There was a storm in the park. I haven’t heard of reality warping itself that strongly in years. Then there are the rumors about Emmaline Cass—don’t ask me about it, I don’t know. And stories, from several of my patients, about horrific screaming coming from Mathas Bernard’s late estate. Well, I suppose none of that has anything to do with you, does it?” 

 

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