October Stories

As I was walking to the Charles Spa for a soak the other evening, I spotted what I thought was a purse lying on the sidewalk at the corner of Clancy and Broadway. Concerned, I bent to pick it up, and then stopped. It wasn’t a purse. It was a large pink bra. The cups—double-D, I guessed—were on top of each other, and the straps lined up, making it look like a purse. I left it there in case its owner should realize she lost it. If it had fallen from her spa bag on her way to or from a soak, she would surely miss it. There was no one else using or departing from the women’s hot spring baths, though, when I got there. No one to whom I could say, “Excuse me, did you lose a bra?”

On my way back from my soak, I saw two people approaching up Clancy from the direction of the river, and one of them was shouting something over and over. A thin man with a cane he wasn’t using and a thin woman in tight jeans strolled along, their pace and demeanor out of sync with the fact that she was yelling. As I got closer, I could make out her words. “Jeremy! Jeremy!” I paused and looked at her, puzzled. “I’m trying to find my husband,” she said, and kept walking and hollering. All the dogs for blocks around barked back at her. No Jeremy appeared. I didn’t ask her about cell phones. There are still a few people in the world who don’t have them, and some of us have been known to lose them. How she’d misplaced him, though, is a mystery.

I saw a perfect circle in the sand at Elephant Butte Lake State Park recently, near a trail where I was running the desert. Curious, I had to stop and examine it. The circle had been cut into the sand by animals, their paws and hooves digging deep. The paws ran up the center of the circle and followed the hooves part-way in the arc. On the trail a few feet from the circle was a scuffed and scarred area. Mule deer spring straight up, tucking their legs under them, when they take off. I pictured a deer stotting on the trail, then leaping away in an attempt to escape. The coyote came straight at its prey, but the deer kept running right past and around its enemy. Mysteriously, there were no tracks leading to or from the circle except for the take-off spot, the deer’s stot marks. No other animal tracks, that is. Plenty of humans. Shapeshifters? Eek. I wish I hadn’t thought of that.

But that could explain everything. Jeremy couldn’t answer his phone in his deer shape. The owner of the pink bra discarded it as she felt herself becoming a coyote. This transformation first happened when they met on the trail, and then again when passed each other in town. Anything’s possible at this time of year.

*****

My shapeshifter short fiction, Bearing, is a horror story without gore, as you might expect from the author of mysteries without murder.

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.