Coffee, Caution, and Thunder

I was puzzled when a stranger knocked on my door and asked if I had any coffee grounds. To my mind, coffee grounds are the wet, used-up stuff left in the filter. I asked if he needed them for his compost, but no, he had run out of coffee. My next question: Why he didn’t buy some? The grocery story is quite close, he had walked from wherever he lived, and he was apparently fit and healthy, a lean man in his late forties or early fifties, clean, sober and normal—or as normal as T or C residents get. “I’m poor,” he said, cheerful and unembarrassed. What could I say? In a neighborhood of retirees, artists, musicians, and low-wage workers, most people are kind of poor.

He’d tried neighbors he knew first, but no one was home, so he progressed further down the street. Since he knew my former landlady, he explained, he felt all right trying for coffee here. Deciding this made him reasonably okay, I ground some beans, and he hunkered down in the yard. At 2:20 in the afternoon, he was wearing a T-shirt and pajama pants and had only now discovered that he’d run out of both cash and coffee. Had he just woken up? I sleep pretty late, since I write until two or three a.m., but it is still morning when I get up. Perhaps he was an artist, so he might keep late hours, too, and occasionally run out money. I gave him a zip lock bag full of freshly ground coffee and told him to go get caffeinated, he thanked me and left, and that was that. But while I ground the coffee, I was aware of the presence of an unfamiliar man outside my door. Though he seemed safe, my guard stayed up.

The next day, I got caught in a thunderstorm. Weather is unpredictable here in the monsoon season. A big blue-gray cloud could hover and do nothing or explode with lightning, thunder and rain. Tiny storms sail through like one slender woman in a long gray dress sweeping through a crowd of larger women in short skirts, only hers touching the earth as she dances past. A tumultuous-looking sky isn’t a reason to stay in. But one patch of clouds got productive while I was running, and I was on the midpoint of the loop of the trail. There was no shorter route back unless I cut through the desert off-trail, dodging thorny plants and various critters’ holes. So, I sped up.

At first, I was fast and attuned to the storm. Then, on the last little uphill stretch, I realized I had gotten so used to the thunder that I’d relaxed my pace as if I couldn’t hear all that rumbling. Funny how the mind works.

Warnings are useful, yet we can get so accustomed to them we stop reacting. With a stranger at my door for five minutes, I stayed alert. With a storm all around me for a longer time, though, I got comfortable. When alarm signals begin to feel normal—alarms about public or private behavior, the state of the planet, or feedback from our own minds and bodies that we need to change—the situation gets more dangerous.

 

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Felt like Fiction

The doctor took my arm and studied it, then examined the other. Still holding my forearms lightly, without making eye contact, he asked, “How do you respond to quartz?”

This was a dermatological exam. I’d driven all the way to Silver City because there were no dermatologists in my insurance network in my vicinity. The choice was either a two-and-a-quarter hour drive to Albuquerque or the same length trip to Silver City. I picked the latter because it would be more of an adventure. I hadn’t been to Silver City for a couple of years, and my nurse practitioner in T or C had recommended the doctor there. Maybe it was that recommendation, or spaciness from getting up early and driving (I’m not a morning person), that made me react with less puzzlement to the question than a dermatologist’s patient normally would. Instead, I simply answered.

“It helps me sleep. Makes me feel grounded.”

“And amethyst?” the doctor asked.

“Intuition,” I replied.

“That makes sense.” He regarded me though his glasses. He was a Hispanic man I guessed to be in his early sixties, though his smooth brown skin—appropriately for his profession—looked youthful compared to his thick silvery hair. “We use those for the direction of the North. The ancestors. You feel protection and guidance.”

We use them? My morning brain fog somehow didn’t clear enough to let me ask who “we” were. He said something about the South being the direction of children and family, and resumed the exam, occasionally mentioning things other than the usual dermatological inquiries and slipping into Spanish a few times as if I should understand it, though he spoke English without any accent. He was into holistic health—nutrition, exercise, meditation—and I was already following a healthy lifestyle along those lines, so he had little need to give me advice. Most of his observations about my skin were identical to those my dermatologist in Virginia had made. Perfectly normal medical conversation. He discussed a new study on a nutrition-and-disease link, and then went on to ask me about having premonitions. “Yes,” I said, “I dream the future.”

He examined my hand. “You have the signs of being a sensitive.”

I knew I was. The surprise was that a medical doctor would bring these things up as if it were as normal as explaining the importance of eating right and using sunscreen. He mentioned what he’d found to be a few other indications of a sensitive and completed the exam. Nothing was wrong, and I should come back in a year.

On my way out, I noticed an intriguing work of art propped on a table, a crucifix with the Christ figure on it crafted from forks and spoons. The circle above the figure’s bowed spoon-bowl head was made from a small ponytail holder, containing a pinch of pink-red dirt under a clear cover, and the word Chimayo was engraved into the wood, following the shape of the circle. This was healing dirt from the chapel in northern New Mexico, the Lourdes of the Southwest.

“That was a gift from a patient,” said the doctor, noticing my pause to admire the artwork. “He was complaining to me about his ‘crazy aunt’ and how she claimed she could tell what was wrong with people just by …” He mimed running a hand over a human aura. “She was curandera and she had people lining up for her limpias.” This was the first time he’d slipped into Spanish that I knew what he was saying. A limpia is a healing and cleansing ritual. The doctor continued, “I explained to him about her gifts, and then told him he too had this gift. He had the signs of a sensitive. An hour later, he came back to give me this. The fork is meaningful. On those special occasions when we had dessert, Grandma would say, ‘keep your fork, the best is yet to come.’ Some people ask to be buried with a fork, because the best is yet to come. The spoon means ‘I will feed my people.’ ”

The patient had been so relieved to understand and accept his gift of healing, he had brought the doctor the gift of the fork-spoon-and-healing-dirt crucifix. I didn’t ask if the patient has made it, still too dazed by the strangeness of the whole encounter to ask questions I later wished I had.

I kept thinking about it, though, as I played tourist in Silver City, passing a sign in a window that said “Dog Grooming and Healing Center.” (You know you’re in New Mexico when you see something like that.) After strolling in a shady park, shopping at a second-hand store, and admiring murals, I followed a series of little purple pig-like outlines stenciled on the sidewalk to the most excellent and badly needed Javelina Coffee shop. After a dose of their light roast, I finally felt awake and clear-headed. And yet, still confused. Had I walked into a Mae Martin mystery or a Selkie Moon mystery? It felt like a bit of both. The doctor’s crystal questions were like something that would happen to Mae in my books, but the way he told me I was a sensitive and that his patient who gave him the unusual crucifix was also one struck as the sort of thing that happens to Virginia King’s synchronicity-prone protagonist, Selkie.

I wonder if I’ll create a curandero-dermatologist character. And what he’ll say during my check-up next year. I know I’ll be more awake and ask more questions.