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A Reluctant Ecology

by Channie Greenberg

Hodierna shuddered as the doctor applied liquid nitrogen to the wart on her nose. For generations, the women in her family stoically bore those virus-filled pockets on their faces. Minute invaders seemed to favor her relatives. Willow compresses had been of no avail to heal her excrescence, despite that plant’s high salicylic acid content. Likewise, the fruit skins and pieces of tape, which had left her proboscis raw, had also left her ugly growth intact.

The youth regarded the site of her former hard, rough lump. Perhaps a foul emission would ooze when she left the medic’s office. Perhaps there would be illness. Perhaps the sting would never go away. Hodierna sighed. Garlic paste could eradicate pus. Lavender tincture could clear topical infections. A lotion of calendula and comfrey could ease pain.

The young herbalist looked once more into the large magnifying mirror that her doctor held. She observed a blemish-free nose. Only a small, adhesive bandage indicated there had ever been anything unnatural on her face.

A few weeks later, Hodierna received a makeup lesson at a local department store. She sneezed. No such scents or colorings were found in her mother’s or in her grandmother’s homes. They bore their sallow complexions with dignity. Those matriarchs lost no self-respect because of their faces, while free of the under-eye circles common to the population that ate sugar-laden treats and that supped on white bread, sprouted a seeming overabundance of hair-bearing moles.

As the cosmetics salesgirl combed yet more mascara onto Hodierna, the immature green witch grimaced. It made little sense that her family’s women embraced all of their skin tags and lesions. She meant, henceforth, to pinch off the former and to cover, with foundation, the latter. Practicing “the craft” didn’t mean having to resign one’s self to an unattractive complexion.

Tucking her small bag of costly purchases into her rucksack, Hodierna walked through the large sales depot. She stopped and lingered at the sandwich kiosk. Nutted cheese bites on raisin bread and cinnamon doughnut puffs dotted with confectionary powder allured her from behind their display window. Disregarding the fact that those edibles were likely bespelled, Hodierna opened her pack and offered up a few coins in exchange for those forbidden flavors.

Albeit the cream cheese did not satisfy the way her sister-in-law’s nettle and goat cheese salads did, and the pastries were far less delicious than were an aunt’s tart acorn pancakes, especially when topped with elderberry preserves. Yet, Hodierna’s recollection of homemade victuals’ respective tastes was tainted by the vendor’s fascinating plastic wrappers and paper vessels.

What’s more, her experience with the strange cuisine was spiced by shadowy marketplace stimuli. Her cousins’ discourse, when tincturing dandelions, for instance, seemed so much more lackadaisical than had been the curt questions barked out to her by the booth’s waitperson.

Similarly, her younger sister’s chitchat seemed bland relative to the intense energy radiating from the pavilion’s cashier. Even if sprung from dark arts, fast food was powerful magic.

The next month, Hodierna sat in a downtown beauty palace and had her hair crimped. She felt no need to keep her locks out of contact with metal implements. She would, as long as the glyceryl monothioglycolate on her strands held, look more tonsorially radiant than did the rest of her family.

Unlike her great grandmother, the one who allowed her scalp to show through thinning hair, and different from her second cousin, the one who regularly applied walnut dyes to a variegated mane, Hodierna would be becharmed.

A season later, Hodierna sold an assemblage of fronds and of chanterelles at an urban outdoor market, instead of contributing them to the family’s cookpot. With that money, she bought a tight-fitting shirt and a very short skirt. It confused her that her womenfolk dressed in shroud-like, organic sacks. The teen planned to show off her secondary sexual characteristics; she was smart enough to use her femininity to glamour.

One aunt carefully rubbed lemon balm onto Hodierna’s facial lacerations. Mom said little, but seemed a tad rough in applying chamomile compresses to Hodierna’s arms and legs. Another of Mom’s sisters, the aunt brewing a hops infusion for the near-victim, though, quietly suggested that had her young niece not been carrying liquefied capsaicin, she might have been or wished to be dead. Meanwhile, Mom’s mom pulled at Hodierna’s curls, pointed to the small scar on her granddaughter’s nose, fingered the edge of the girl’s clothing, and frowned.

The family had studied for centuries the relationship of organisms to each other. Their herbal knowledge consisted of more than a familiarity with physical surroundings and of more than skill in using local flora. Their wisdom included the recognition that social environments cannot be manipulated to suit individual desires.

Consequently, the assembly had great reason to disallow the reckless waste of herbal practices and of wild habitats. They had even greater reason to pass on their lifestyle to their newest generation’s members, even if such an existence made for a reluctant ecology.

Copyright © 2012 by Channie Greenberg

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