vine pawprints
table of

Chapter One


My dog used to think she was a Doberman (I never had the heart to tell her she was a twenty pound Woofnpoot) until late one summer afternoon when a Rottweiler jumped over the fence in her backyard, picked up her back-end in its giant maw, shook her silly in midair, and then dropped her to the ground, distracted, suddenly, by the sound of some other dog barking in the distance. She fell softly, slowly, onto the grass of an earth that was not the one she had left only seconds before, her illusions shattering as she landed, spilling all over the ground.

I had felt the world crack that way before. It is a crack you can feel inside your chest and hear inside your ears and it sucks the breath out of your body and time stops. Just for a second or two or three, but those become the seconds that last the rest of your life, leaving their imprint in the hollowness around your eyes, in the emptiness of your smile. It is a pale imprint, but it can be clearly seen. I stood mute and unmoving, mouth hanging open. Fortunately for my dog, my visiting nurse was standing next to me and saw the whole thing. She flew at the Rottweiler, screaming at it in a language of rage all creatures understand, which served to get the dog's attention focused on the diminutive, ferocious woman in front of it, but failed to move it an inch. Resolute, she broke off a branch from the tree next to her and smacked its butt out the back gate. After removing the beast from the yard, Doris ran back to my dog, picked her up gently and carried her out to her car, which was parked sideways in the short alley driveway leading into my garage. Then she came for me. I still hadn't moved. I still couldn't.

"Lauren, Lauren" she shouted, "C'mon, honey, snap out of it."

She grabbed me by the arm, pulled me to her car, pushed me in the car, shut the door, ran around to the driver's side and fired down the back alley to the vet's, where O'Poo had to have four hours of emergency surgery to put her rear end back together. I sat in the waiting room with my mouth still open and empty of words, while Doris, after having propped me up in a position I could not easily fall out of, made a series of phone calls to clear the rest of her day and reschedule her other patients with different nurses.

Lest you think I am a complete ninny for not having charged to the rescue of my poor little dog, let me explain that I had, only hours before, come out of the hospital after five days of high-dose corticosteroid therapy for an exacerbation of multiple sclerosis, and as a result of this massive infusion of Solumedrol, my mind had shifted just slightly to the right in the space-time continuum, to a place where I could observe, but not participate in, the events taking place around me. I was stupefied. Doris understood that and had acted on my behalf, for which I was extremely grateful.

Already that day, this five-foot-spit, maybe one hundred pound woman, had lowered me into the tub, hosed the hospital off me, scrubbed my head, dried and powdered me, dressed me in clean clothes and pinned up my hair, then fed me breakfast with a spoon before putting me down for a nap while she washed my laundry and started cleaning my house which was a pigsty because I was too sick to clean it for a month before I went into the hospital. I am a big girl, six feet in heels, and just hauling me around is no easy task, much less cleaning up after me, which was obviously not part of her job. She waved off my protest. Had I known her better at the time, I would have understood that sticking around to clean was simply an excuse to keep an eye on a patient she was particularly concerned about.

When the surgery was over and O'Poo was placed in recovery for several days, Doris drove me home and deposited me in my recliner while she searched the cupboards and fridge for something to feed us. As I sat staring at the blank white wall in front of me, the morning's events began flashing on it in a slow-stream cinema: Doris picking me up at the hospital, driving to the kennel to pick up Opostrophie Poo, both of us so happy to be going home, resigned to being tended to like a child until the neuromuscular stun of the chemotherapy wore off and permitted me to be an adult again, my deliriously happy dog free in her own house and her own yard running in and out through her dog door, the walk out into the backyard for some fresh air with Doris and O'Poo and then...

"O'Poo!" I cried.

Doris came running in from the kitchen and stood in front of me, staring down intently. I was able, finally, to focus my eyes on hers and felt tears rolling down my face.


Chapter Two


Doris let herself in at 7:00 a.m. the next morning, with the set of extra keys I had given her, rolled me out of bed and stood me up, walked me into the living room and sat me down in my recliner with a mug of coffee she had pre-set the coffeemaker to have ready for both of us when she arrived. She returned to the kitchen to cook breakfast, before readying herself with long rubber dish gloves, to get after some more of the mess my house was in. I was coming around and could have gotten myself up and into my recliner with a mug of coffee, but I had been up all night talking to God and I was exhausted, so I let her shuffle me around.

Let's not misunderstand each other: I don't pray. I just happen to be Out and About, which is a Celtic thing and I don't want to explain it, you will either understand or you won't. Anyway, while I was Out and About, I bumped into God Almighty and we went for some Evian. I was in a bad mood, and as we sat down I said, "You know, the dumbest, the most cruel and stupid thing You did was to put us on a food chain, which means we have to eat each other to survive down here - predator and prey - which creates some real ugliness. For example. As a member of my species, I have an astounding capacity for complex verbalization, which signifies, of course, a specific type of brain capable of processing loads of information sequentially, which in turn means we end up being a species requiring elaborate notions about structure so we can group all that information into predictable patterns that make some kind of sense, and that, in turn, means we end up imposing those structures onto the world - structures which do not naturally exist - because we have to explain everything to ourselves within the order of that sequential orientation, and because the structures we impose are artificial and reality does not fit neatly into them, we rationalize everything to make it fit. The way we rationalize why it's okay for us to kill another species to eat is by devaluing them and convincing ourselves we aren't, in fact, murdering another entity, it's just lunch, that whatever we had to kill to eat, so we could survive, was not as important as 'Us', so it's okay."

God leaned back in Its chair and stretched.

"Don't worry about it. You'll be worm poop someday. It's not a chain, it's a cycle. It all evens out."

You know, you'd think that God Almighty, at least, would not miss the subtleties.

"No, no, no," I said, "You're missing the point. The ugliness is the devaluing, and the precedent it sets. The rest of it is crap. There is no need to rationalize why we kill to eat: we're carnivores, omnivores. The problem is the thinking. If devaluing is okay in the case of needing to eat lunch, why not devalue anything or anyone for any other reason you can rationalize to yourself?"

"Bad day?"

I tilted my head sideways and frowned, shooting unvoiced thoughts at Itself with my eyes.

"The other bit of ugliness it creates," I said, "is all the behavior born out of assuaging the fear of death because we're on that food chain. The religions formed, the countless wars fought over whose god is the real one and is going to save or damn us all, the minds wasted in fear clinging hysterically to some reeking concept of salvation which is nothing more than prostrating before an imagined Being who is supposed to give them Life Hereafter and Forever, so they can delude themselves into believing they never actually will die."

"Really bad day?"

I wasn't finished.

"Which brings me to my real point, which is that nobody is actually afraid of dying, everybody is really afraid of being eaten alive and we are all in a constant state of repressing, suppressing and distorting out of all recognizability with our rationalizations and self delusions, the conscious awareness of this constant terror. One can be eaten alive by anything that wreaks violence on our bodies. It doesn't have to be another animal. One can be eaten alive by fire or water or lightning or disease or age."

"So what's your question?" asked Itself.

"WHY?" I shouted.

God sat forward, leaned Its elbows on the table, rubbed Its forehead, then sat back, crossed Its ankles, folded Its arms across Its chest and looked directly into my eyes, speaking gently.

"It had to be self-contained and self-sustaining, so for all intents and purposes to be fulfilled, it had to be a terrarium, which means you all live off each other in a constantly reproducing cycle, which, incidentally, the Ones you call Native Americans have a full and complete understanding of, culturally, without any of the rationalizing or hysteria you just described. So do many other cultures around the planet." It squinted Its eyes in thought. "There was a lovely little song several decades ago which I thought summed it up quite nicely. It went like this: 'The World is a Circle that never begins and nobody knows where the Circle ends.'"

I dropped my face into my hands, took a deep breath and exhaled a sigh, while God Its Own Self sat singing the theme from the old musical version of the movie "Lost Horizon." And I have to say, that this has been my general experience with Gods. They never give you a straight answer.

"But how am I ever going to feel safe?" I yelled.

God stopped singing, turned Its head and smiled at me, Its luminescent eyes shining with the lights of the Aurora Borealis, Its hand reaching out to cup my chin.

"Ah, Child, here we are now, at the heart of the matter. What you are feeling, Lauren, is only fear. Who You Are, cannot be eaten alive or in any other way, diminished."

"But I don't understand..."

"We'll talk again," It said softly, suddenly gone.

"Lauren, Lauren honey, wake up, you've spilled your coffee all over you," said Doris, pulling off my pajama pants to look for burns. My cup was on the floor. "You're fine," she said, "but we're going to have to get you up and into the shower and some clean clothes."

I looked up out of my fog and saw her face: Doris looking deeply into my eyes and holding them, smiling, "You okay, honey?"

Chapter Three


O'Poo was a dismal sight when Doris and I picked her up from the veterinarian's. She was shaved from the middle of her back down to her tail and almost halfway down her sides and she had six, two-inch incisions held together with black sutures and wires. It was not pretty. Doris examined the surgical sites carefully, closely, holding up her glasses from their chain around her neck. After finishing her examination, she gave the doctor a curt nod, looked up at me over the top of her glasses and said, "Okay." Doris is a woman of a few well-chosen words. The doctor smiled at me, handed Doris the post-op instructions and medications, and told us to call if we observed any redness or swelling.

O'Poo is a Rat Terrier, a noble breed under the name, bred in Great Britain to kill disease-carrying rats and mice. I have read they were originally bred in the 1820's, when a cross between Smooth Fox Terriers and Manchester Terriers was made, in an effort to create a relatively small, rat hunting dog, but I believe they came into being much earlier, during the Plague. They are a hardy, fearless breed, a little over a foot at the withers, with short, straight hair and most of them are white with large black-brown spots. O'Poo, however, is a rare black, with white tips on her toes and a small white star on her chest. The breed is slightly barrel-chested, with a somewhat delicate face, small pointed nose and large luminous eyes. My observation has been that they seem to have more tapetum lucidum on their retinas than most dogs (the iridescent substance that makes animal's eyes shine in the dark), which would be a natural development since their prey requires them to be night-stalkers. And it was those eyes, those eyes waiting for me, backed into the corner of a cage in the vet's kennel when we arrived, that caught and held my breath for a second or two, leaving their imprint in a hollow of my soul.

She held her nose up and out the window all the way home, sitting lightly on my lap. She did not want to be touched. She did not look at me. It was a long trip for a one mile drive.

When we got home, Doris carried O'Poo in and gently placed her new patient on a made-up bed in the living room, but the Poo was having none of it. She gave Doris a small lick on the inside of her wrist to say, "Thank you," and then gingerly, but with great determination, got up and walked stiffly into the dining room where one wall was tiled with mirrors. Cheap décor, but it had come with the place and I hadn't had an overwhelming notion until that moment to tear it off and paint.

She stood in front of the mirror-tiled wall for some time looking at herself and her wounded body. Gradually, she began to look around at the furniture reflected along with her image. She looked first at herself and then the chair next to her and the table behind it. She looked up and down the height of them in relation to herself. I don't think it had ever occurred to her before that anything was taller than she. It was a whole new world, a short world, a small world. A world in which she saw her image reflected by a cold, fractured facade, replacing the image she had always seen reflected by her heart.

O'Poo turned away from this brittle encounter, carefully passing back through the doorway where I'd stood to one side, watching her. She paused as she passed, to look up at me through a mist of pain and her eyes said, "Stop the rain," as though I could, if only I would.

In the days and weeks that followed, O'Poo's body healed quickly and well under the tender attentions of Doris, who cleaned and inspected her wounds every morning, before running through the daily ritual of peering into my eyes with her small-beam flashlight, thumping me for appropriate reflexes and making me walk a line. As best I could. Multiple sclerosis makes your feet not talk to your brain and without that report, your brain has a difficult time keeping you on them without you wavering and staggering like a drunken fool. That is why we have the canes. Three legs are better than two if staying vertical is your aim. I often admire the natural ease with which babies who are learning how to walk will suddenly plop down on their bums when the fatigue of their efforts momentarily catches up to them.

Although her body healed very nicely, O'Poo's spirit remained tattered and she began to fall into melancholies and fears, simply walking across the room. She would suddenly stop, drop into an invisible depression in the floor, curl up and not move for hours no matter how much we tempted or cajoled her, and she began to fear the loss of my presence from her sight, and would not go outside alone. Every time I started to put shoes on, she would sit down squarely in front of me and her raised eyebrows would ask, "Are those going someplace without me shoes?"

She started sitting next to me in my recliner during the day and sleeping fitfully in my bed at night, often crying in her sleep. After a couple of weeks of this, exhaustion began to show in the circles under my eyes and the lethargy of the Poo and Doris intervened. My view was that time would heal all her wounds and that I should simply hold her, embrace her, while she healed. Doris took a different view, called my doctor for a prescription and set out nightly sleeping pills for the both of us before she left every day. I believe she took the Shakespearean view that "sleep doth knit the ravell'd sleeve of care...balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief nourisher in life's feast..." Etcetera.

After a few nights of being dosed by Doris, I awoke one morning, early, to find O'Poo sleeping peacefully in her own bed. I rolled over and we both slept 'till noon. I suppose, Shakespeare was right.

Chapter Four


Rehab is a pain in the butt, literally. It is my least favorite part of recovery. The forced moving of muscles and joints that creak and groan under the weight of disuse is painful and hard. Training nerves, once again, to do what they are told by the brain, is painful and hard. I have lost track of how many times I’ve had to learn to walk again, to speak without impediment, to sit in a chair without falling off; and the side effects of the chemotherapy last for months, but we won’t even talk about that. O’Poo was also a little stiff in the morning, still, and when the weather was cold and damp. Mercy, mercy me.

I had gotten that exacerbation nipped in the bud and I only had a problem with my left leg from this attack. It was not keeping up with my right leg, but I decided to skip the physical therapists because I had a brilliant idea. Guard Dog School. Me and O’Poo, walking, in tandem, recovering from our difficulties, together. So, I signed her up. I neglected to accurately indicate her breed in the designated area. I filled in the blank with the word, “mixed.” They took my check, sent me a schedule and soon enough, we were on our way.

On the evening of our first class, I strapped O’Poo into her seatbelt - they make them for dogs - and you know, safety first, that’s our motto, and we were off with a roar. It was a good thing that it was my left leg that was not on good speaking terms with my brain. I long ago had to trade in my Alfa for an automatic Chevy, so I only needed my right foot for driving.

O’Poo looked normal now - all her hair had grown back - and ate normally now and slept well and even went outside by herself, but the spark was gone, the hunt was out of the dog, and I still, occasionally, caught her staring at herself in the mirror-tiled wall and walking away in sadness. It was hard on her to be small, after once having been so tall.

When we arrived, I knew the first real hurdle for O’Poo would be looking her right in the face, well, perhaps not looking, exactly, and perhaps not in her face, formal canine introductions being what they are, however, she would be walking into a room full of big dogs, Rotts included. I had given this some thought, and decided to simply proceed at an unremarkable pace and watch her like a hawk in case the experience was overwhelming and I had to pull her out of the situation.

I have to say O’Poo maintained with aplomb as we walked through the classroom lined with rows of dogs sitting up rigidly, tight on the leads of their people. “Lead,” in case you are not familiar with the term in this setting, refers to a short leash with a choke chain collar, used for training. I, personally, am offended by them for the simple reason that any human being worth their salt does not have to force a dog to act the way they want them to. Dogs, treated with respect and regard will gladly lay down their damn lives for their people, and besides that, so many individuals who are themselves, not trained, put the collars on backwards and actually do choke what are supposed to be their best friends.

The first day of class what not what I expected. Not only did O’Poo have no problem being in a room full of Rottweilers, Dobermans and Shepherds, we spent all of it marching on lead. I did what I could, but I wasn’t up to that much walking, so one of the instructors kindly stepped in and O’Poo obliged me by letting her take over, and then she seemed to stretch out and enjoy the walking, which is all it really was. Walk, stop, sit, walk, stop, sit.

The second week, we learned a couple of basic commands: patrol, halt, and perimeter patrol. O’Poo did not take kindly to being ordered about in this manner, and let her feelings be known to me in many a sidelong glance that said, “You know, I’m only doing this so you won’t look like a fool in front of all these other people,” but despite her obvious feelings, she performed perfectly, always on her mark, and she was happy being out, and was making friends.

I puzzled over this quite a bit, given her recent tragedy and what I had worried would be her reaction to big dogs, and then I realized that she was not afraid of the world, she was afraid of the mirror. Afraid that the new image she saw reflected in that cold glass was true, and that what it reflected was all that she was; that she was no longer Opostrophie Poo, merely a small dog, only what she saw in those two dimensions. It was a soul-sickness that plagued her, a malady of the heart.

On the evening of the third class, I waved goodbye to Doris at 5:00 p.m. - she could now leave earlier and come in every other day - and O’Poo and I buzzed up to the Colonel’s for some chicken, came home, ate quickly, and took off for class.

We arrived a couple of minutes late, but just in time to see the head instructor waddling outside to the work yard in The Suit. It was time to learn to attack. The instructor, encased in this heavily-padded suit, took his place at one end of the yard, about forty feet away from the dogs and their people who were being grouped together by breed, behind a line, at the other end of the yard.

This is how it worked: after a demonstration of the command to attack and the responsive attack, put on by an instructor and trained dog of each breed, every dog of that breed, in turn, got a go at the menacing-acting instructor approaching their person. The Dobermans got it precisely right the first time. The Shepherds did not imitate the training dog, but each, in their own unique way attacked and stopped the “intruder” from approaching their person, and the Rottweilers, well, most of the Rottweilers basically ran up to play tug-of-war with this giant stuffed toy which they obviously did not perceive as a threat, pretend or otherwise. Eventually, they all got it, and finally, it was O’Poo’s turn.

She had observed all the other dogs before her and when I took her up to the starting line and cut her leash, she took a small step back, squared her shoulders, inhaled deeply, then launched into a full run, pounding the ground with those pounding puppy paws in a swift charge across the forty feet to the pad-donned instructor, centuries of breeding for the hunt showing magnificently with each deliberate placement of a foot digging in to launch the next stride, she was, I have to say, a sight to behold. Unfortunately, the target instructor was paying no attention and was, in fact, beholding another sight a few yards over to his right: about four inches of feminine cleavage thrust upward by some obviously torturous contraption underneath a tight-fitting tank top, which he found more compelling than the vision of a twenty pound Woofnpoot flying directly at him with blinding speed. To his everlasting regret. By the time she hit, O’Poo was an airborne missile of unknown velocity soaring straight into his chest, sending him sprawling back into a dislocated heap on the ground. It is not wise to disregard a Rat Terrier on a mission. They are single-minded and unrelenting, having confronted plague-carrying ugliness in the face for centuries without retreat.

The instructor howled as he hit the ground, setting off a chorus of Rottweilers who joined in, drowning him out. O’Poo trotted over and gave him a small lick on the nose for reassurance, and the downed man responded by grabbing for her in an extremely ugly, snarling manner which was obviously not part of the training procedure. She responded quickly and directly with those centuries, as I have said, of breeding to kill rats by biting him on the nose and not letting go, which is precisely how a Rat Terrier kills its prey: by biting down hard on its snout and whipping it back and forth to break its neck. Well. Although I believed O’Poo was correct in her conviction that she was clinging to the snout of a rat, I had to intervene by pulling her jaws apart so he could reclaim his nose.

We were, at that point, invited to leave and not return to the class, which was fine with me. We walked to the car and I strapped her in. Poo the Magnificent, Poo the Brave, Poo on the Road to Recovery. She smiled all the way home. Me too.

Chapter Five


It all started with the storm. I have lived through many an Oklahoma twister dropping down from a black wall cloud in a plains storm, a plains storm with thunder that rolls miles before it reaches you, then rolls miles away. I have suffered rain so hard it broke my skin. I have seen lightning dance off the tips and tops of telephone poles and houses and barns before settling on a tree to light up and split in half, but never, until I moved to Colorado on the lee side of the Rockies where Chinook winds come screaming down the mountainsides and blow up storm after summer storm off the high peaks, have I heard thunder crack so loud I thought it would split my head in two. Thunder doesn’t roll here like it does on the low plains, oh no. Thunder throws itself at the mountains and the mountains crack it back, reporting with fury to the forces of wind and water that will diminish them over time.

The storm had blown out our power, so we had no lights as dusk came on. I was tired and I had a headache, so I lit the house with candles and went into the kitchen to make a sandwich for me and feed O’Poo, which is of course, in her mind, My Job. After I fed her, I threw some mesquite-smoked turkey breast on dill rye with a little Dijon, grabbed some Funyuns and a Moosehead, and made my way back to my recliner, trying to be steady on my feet, trusting of the ground beneath them, and that’s when I saw the ghost. He was sitting across the room in an overstuffed chair in the corner, what looked like about six and a half feet of him, and he was wearing a large, shaggy pelt for a coat. His hair was long and unruly, his beard had something dried in it and in general, he looked like bathing was not an often visited option. I was glad at that moment that one cannot smell an apparition. I put my plate and beer down and slowly lowered myself into my recliner.

“Did I startle ya lassie? I didna mean ta. I ha been watchin’ ya fer some time now and intended ta visit sooner, but I had ta get clear on this kind a Ainglish ya speak. Do ya understand me lass?”

“Yes,” I said. My mouth was a little dry.

“Sorry for my appearance, but I got whacked at Bannockburn, 1314 ya know, and as I am sure ya can understand, they didna ha time to wash me proper afore they planted me in the ground,” he said, wiping at his coat and rubbing his beard, “Do ya know who I am lass?”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t believe we’ve met, actually.”

“Aye, listen ta ya talkin’ polite and proper. Your graundam would be proud, and she’s the very one I came ta talk ta ya about. I am your grandsire, William of Clan Kintock.”

It was just at that moment that O’Poo came rounding the corner, licking her lips, and saw before her our uninvited guest. She looked at me sideways, just for the length of time required for hesitation, as if suspecting me of having invited the nefarious creature in since I was plainly conversing with it, and then she attacked, launching herself full bore into the chair, tearing the stuffing out of the pillows and cushions because, of course, there was nothing else for her to bite.

“Opostrophie Poo! Stand down!” I barked.

O’Poo ceased her attack on the chair and the pillows, jumped down and stood before me, breathing hard, muscles twitching from the surge of the fight. Poomighty Brave and Strong. Fearless Rat Killer and Ghost Eater. I looked up at our guest who had thrown his head back and was, literally, roaring with laughter. I had not had a physical understanding of that worn-out phrase before. The walls and windows vibrated from the impact. It was not wholly natural. I believe it was a ghost thing. O’Poo turned back and snarled at him, just as he finished with a great snort then looked at me and nodded in her direction.

“That’s a great and fearless friend ya got there in a wee package.”

O’Poo paced back and forth in front of me, walking it off, muttering the Cowardly Lion speech under her breath. She can deny it, but I heard her.

“Do ya na think it would be wise,” he said gently, “ta put the beastie sumplace else while we talk?”

“She’s just fine where she is,” I said, eyeing our visitor with a degree of suspicion, I must admit.

“I dona think she likes my kind, and it’s peculiar ta me, but I ha not met one that does,” he said, sadly, “I had many such friends in my time.”

I was beginning to warm up to this individual. I tapped the side of my nose. “She can’t smell you.”

“Aye,” he said, with a nod of understanding, “and I think that be a good thing fer the both a ya.”

I wasn’t sure exactly what to do, so I just slowly leaned back in my chair and O’Poo reclined on the floor between myself and our guest in the posture of a sphinx, her eyes on him, forward and intent, brow furrowed and ears up, collecting every motion in the air. William rubbed his knees, looking down at his hands. His brow gathered, and his face gave in to somberness.

“Ya know, lassie,” he began, “There was a time when love was rare, when it was most a the time, that a man and woman were joined for reasons of land or clan. It was a joinin’ of a different kind.” He sat back, folded his arms, and his eyes looked far away into the past, remembering.

“I was trothed ta a widda woman with great lands when I met your graundam, Catherine. Aye, Catherine was a feast for a man ta look upon, and along with that beauty came a mind a rare quality. We fell in love. I dona know what she saw in the likes a me, but we gave each other love and laughter and a wealth I nay thought I could feel. And so, I broke off with the widda woman and Catherine and I were wed. The widda woman - I can na remember her name now - came ta our joinin’ and swore a curse ta be visited upon all generations of Clan Kintock from that day forward through time, and we ha all bade well and died well, and forgotten the curse as the rage of a woman hurt, until now, until the curse landed on you. Catherine and I wanted ya ta know the depth of our sorrow at what plagues ya, and this is what I come ta tell ya.”

For a moment, I was dumbstruck. He seemed sincere in his sympathy, but something smelled, something smelled after all. Something bovine.

“Let me get this straight,” I said, “You have appeared to me here, to tell me you’re sorry I’m plagued and it’s because of the curse of a ‘widda woman’ whose name you can’t remember.”

“Aye, lass.”

“And the point of this was…..”

“I was hopin’ it would be some comfort ta ya, ta know it weren’t none of your fault.”

Weren’t none of my fault?” I queried, red heat running up the back of my neck. I faced him squarely, locking my eyes onto his.

“Get out,” I snarled.

He didn’t blink. He stared steadily into my eyes. The sorrow lifted from them and they filled with the clarity of ancient wisdom.

“Ya didna like my story, lass? It’s better than the one ya tell yourself and just as true.”

“NOW,” I snarled.

“That’s a mighty temper ya ha there lass, and ya wield it like a broadsword. What is it ya are protectin’ with it?”

I took a swig off my beer and looked out the window at the darkening storm, then turned back to face him.

“What do you want,” I asked, flatly.

“What I want, Lauren, is that ya begin ta understand that horrible things happen. In and out of a family. In Life, in the World. They just do. They just do. I want ya ta know, that there is nothin’ wrong with you, nothin,’ and it is a false belief ya wrap yourself around, that a thing done to ya, must ha been deserved in some way. Right now, your body has a bit of a problem, but there is nothin’ wrong, with you.”

I dropped my head and slowly, emerging from a deeply hidden place in my heart, came the tears of old pain.

“Aye,” he said gently, “Let them run, for as long as they need ta run. Dona try ta steer their course, for they will wash away the pain from every crevice and cranny it has seeped into. Grieve, Lauren, you have suffered much. Grieve your loss so that your heart may heal. That, is what I want.”

His voice faded, and he was gone.

After some time, the rain of my tears subsided and the clouds of pain broke, and sunlight hit some very Celtic part of my brain, and slowly, a rumble of laughter started at the center of my being and rolled outward at the thought that I was transparent, to a ghost.

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