Subject:            Valley of the Bones



Whatever possessed me to embark on this donkey trip?  I should have stayed on the ship watching Elsie draw and the clouds floating by the moon, listening to Mother complaining of everything while denying what’s happening as well as waves slapping against the side of the ship as sea gulls call to one another, smelling Elsie’s crayons and Mother’s perfume with an ocean salt water background.  Instead I am on a donkey that is really too small for me, bouncing along a muddy forest path, having fallen behind my companions (since my donkey is so small and doesn’t move very fast) composing emails in my head of what I will write to you, Clarisa, when I return to the ship and have access to a computer.

At first I was delighted when a tiny white donkey with blue eyes (didn’t realize donkeys had blue eyes) ambled right up to me, nuzzled my hand and gazed directly into my eyes.  What a sweet donkey she was, and so connective.  (Reminds me of the box turtles I’ve found over the years in the woods that do not retreat into their shells but look right at your eyes, not your feet.)  I had had trepidations about a donkey trip but she allayed my fears.  This wouldn’t be so bad with such a cute donkey (not at all intimidating or threatening.)  Her eyes are so very expressive and soft.  (Makes me think of Elsie and that sweet young hospice patient.)

white baby donkey

The farrier at the stables insisted I should ride on this donkey, not walk alongside (I was thinking of my weight overwhelming her), so I did.  The farrier also said I could name her so I decided on Snowflake after my cat who also seemed to choose me.  I don’t think I ever told you this, Clarisa.  I remember we had to park the car in the dirt road since there was no driveway onto the property when we were looking for land to relocate.  We left the window half open for air as we tramped all over the 25 acres of meadow, woods and a section of huge rock boulders. 

When we returned, we found a scrawny, infant kitty was huddled on the back of the car having opened a package of cheese crackers.  Poor thing seemed to be starving.  We gave it some milk from our cooler and some real cheese, talked to her, tried to smooth down the rumpled white and dirty fur, and left her with another bowl of milk.  That was in spring. 

By fall we had returned, having bought the land, sold our house back east, and, with our heads filled with many new possibilities, had pulled our travel trailer down to live in it while making arrangements for getting a well dug and a septic system put in on the land.  We were finally back to the beautiful land.  What hopes and dreams we had for us to have sold our dream house we already built (literally, with our own hands, all parts of it), and to move so far away. 

We parked in the dirt road again, gathered what we needed from the trunk, turned around… and there she was… as if waiting for us all these months.  Somewhat bigger, looking a bit better, but waiting for us.  As we hiked on the land that fall day, and many days, weeks and years later, she followed us, obviously choosing us to care for her.  She loved to sit in my lap and purr as I stroked her, in the evenings.  I still miss Snowflake, 26 years after she made her choice.

And here I am with another Snowflake who chose me, and now I follow her lead.  She seems to know where she is going, but she just goes slower than the other donkeys.  Mother will watch Elsie but who will watch Mother?  There’s no telling what mischief she will come up with.

 We’ve been ambling along for what seems to be hours, during which time I think of these things I will email you, Clarisa, when I am able to do so.  The tree canopy thins out and we approach an opening in the trees.  Ahead stretches a huge area covered with such an assortment of things: tents in one area, people squatting on the ground digging and searching through rocks of all sizes, mounds that look like the Native American burial mounds in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and open areas strewn with rocks like in Pennsylvania where the glaciers dropped off all the huge boulders as they melted and receded during the Ice Age.  These rocks aren’t as large as those, but seem to be interspersed with something else. 

 This must be the Valley of Bones I heard mentioned… Those whitish sticks must be bones!  But so many bones?  I’m overwhelmed!  So much death!  But, how did so many bones come to be here?  Who were these people?  these animals?  What were their stories?  I guess this is what people feel when they think of death and dying and hospice (so overwhelming).  We hear it all the time, Clarisa, “How can you deal with it all?”  And of course the answer is – one person at a time – one person’s story so it doesn’t end with dying alone and in pain.  One person at a time; one bone at a time.

 Snowflake flicks her ears around (did I speak out loud?) and turns her head to look at me.  I reach out and stroke her neck.  She licks my hand, nods her head, and turns back as she moves gingerly, avoiding stepping on any exposed bones, along the perimeter of the area. 

 She proceeds a bit, and then stops and looks back at me, rippling the muscles of her back.

 “Should I get off now?”

 She nods her head.  How can she understand, yet turtles seem to understand at times, as do cats, and other critters.  I slide off the best I can and glance around.  I have no clue what I am to do here (excavate, dig, move bones and clear areas?) I let my eyes wander, trying to get a sense of where I am.  Snowflake gently paws next to a spot where some smaller stones are piled with a larger rock on top forming a ledge of sorts.        

 “Okay, I get it.”  I bend over and lift the top rock off and feel around the remaining stones.  Way underneath, under the ledge, I feel something both smooth and pointed.

‘Fragile’  I hear, and look at Snowflake.  Those same far-seeing, aware eyes gaze back at me.  Eyes that are not typically cat’s eyes or donkey’s eyes.  Who are these animals?

 But I carefully grasp the item and draw it forth.  How beautiful!  A white shell or bone – fragile and lovely – in the midst of mud and rocks and people looking like they are mining for gold (or Arkansas diamonds.)  I grab a blue cloth from my saddlebag and gently brush off the remaining dirt and mud.  There!  I can see it even better now as I check it out from all angles.

                                 alabaster murex-01-blue     

Each view a masterpiece!  What kind of shell is this?  Or is it a sculpted piece of alabaster or ivory?  It’s so intricate.  ‘No, it’s a shell.’  My thought or Snowflake’s?   I now remember seeing such a shell, an alabaster murex, and reading that the flanges kept the snail within from sinking into the mud of the ocean bottom, acting much like snow shoes do.  How magnificent!

 Holding the shell, ever so gently, with both hands cupped, I walk to a grassy spot at the edge of the tree line, and sit.  Snowflake lies down next to me.  I look from the shell to Snowflake and back again, wondering about the connection, if any. 

‘No coincidence.’  So what do a white shell, a white donkey and a middle aged woman – also white – have in common?  ‘Patterns – check for patterns.’  

“What kind of patterns?”  No reply.  I squinch around a bit to get more comfortable and my foot moves a pebble to reveal something white.  Holding the alabaster shell in one hand, I unearth the object.  Brushing off the clinging dirt, I hold it this way and that to discern what it is.  Not as fragile as the shell, but similar with spikes like the shell but a hold running through the middle, like a donut.  This almost looks like a spinal vertebrae, but just one?  I look around but don’t see any others.


 “Tell me more.  Don’t just say patterns.”


 So I carefully observe the shell in one hand and the vertebrae in the other.      vertabrae-cropped-blue alabaster murex-02-blue                                     

The life force/cerebral fluid flows through the vertebrae bringing life and awareness and consciousness to the body.   It protects the soft and fragile spinal cord within.  The shell protects the soft creature within.  I look from one to the other.  They appear so similar.  One is the housing for spinal fluid, the consciousness, and the other for snails of the ocean, the basics of life.  I think of the spinal vertebrae, protecting the fluid that connects us to life and to other levels of consciousness, other realities if we so choose.  I can feel my own awareness rise, as in meditation, moving up from the lower chakras to the eye center.

 I put my hands together, so shell and bone touch, completing the circle of my energy through my arms.  I feel a small jolt, as the energies connect and circulate.  And with that jolt… I know this shell is like those remembered many lifetimes ago, on the shores near Ur over 4000 years ago.  I remember how prized they were, and how some scribes used them to inscribe words of homage to the gods and the kings.  And I had ridden to the ocean in a cart pulled by an onager (somewhat larger and more horse-like than a donkey, and far more unruly with a stiff mane like a zebras and a black stripe down the middle of its reddish-brown color.)   I feel the intense heat. 

 I finally glance up to see Snowflake watching me.  She nods.  So once again I remember a lifetime.  The larger patterns reveal themselves once again.  Some would say its imagination, hallucinations, even craziness.  Those who don’t know me might say I’m on drugs, etc.  (They obviously don’t know me, Clarissa.)  I don’t expect others to agree with my interpretation – it is the kind of experience that each person needs to discover for themselves.  It is enough that after all these years I am comfortable knowing what I experience is true.  The struggle to reach this point has been difficult, but well worth it.  Fortunately, there are enough people around to support me even as they know how sane and ordinary I am (some would say even boring).  And now a little white donkey even agrees. (Who or what is this donkey?)  Something else to discuss woth you, Clarissa, when I actually complete and send this email to you.


‘We will leave you here Almurta,’ said Leonie at the edge of the balcony jutting out from the House of Serpents. Her companions were already drifting silently back into the forest. A woman led Shadow and placed his bridle in Almurta’s hand. He hung back as if reluctant to join the crowd on the balcony.

‘The Feast of Serpents is about to commence,’ said Leonie. ‘You should hurry is you want a good viewing spot. I’ve heard it is well worth seeing.’

‘Why don’t you women stay then?’ asked Almurta.

Leonie shrugged. ‘We’re forest people, not party people,’ she said.

Almurta looked at the throng on the balcony and wondered if she could still remember how to be a party person. The flamboyant clothing of the party goers flashed in the sunlight as they gathered round a table laden with a sumptuous feast. Many had hung up their offerings of intricately decorated and inscribed prayer flags. Almurta’s hung there too, its glowing colours symbolising her prayer for healing. The image she had printed on it of a figure striding out joyfully seemed impossibly optimistic. Her journey across Lenore had been demanding and there had been times of deep self analysis. The Serpentine Road had extended her to the point of exhaustion. It had all been engrossing and she had learnt much but she was tired of travelling. Bone weary.

Before the women’s concert Almurta had spent days sitting with them at their camp beneath the trees. The gentle murmur of the voices had soothed her as the women spoke of their quests deep into the forest where they fought against ancient evils and dark forces. Although their battles were fierce and terrifying the women spoke of their victories with humility. Their failures they listed with honesty. The stories touched Almurta and resonated with her own. She felt a sense of belonging and her tiredness lifted.

The hubbub on the balcony called her back to the present. Snippets of clever repartee drifted across to her as more and more people joined the group. A sudden hush fell upon them as serpents slithered out of the forest and onto the banquet table. L’Enchanteur presided over the proceedings as the snakes ate and drank. ‘They are all great people,’ thought Almurta. ‘Gifted and talented every one of them. E is a remarkable woman. I’m just not sure I can keep up with them any more.’

As the snakes finished their meal and slipped back into the forest a sudden gust of wind swept across the balcony. Flags bumped against each other. The string supporting Almurta’s jerked and broke. The wind caught the cloth and lifted it above the trees. For a moment the light shone through the gauzy cloth and the figure upon it appeared to dance across the sky. As Almurta watched it hovered an instant and then was tossed higher and higher by the wind until it was no more than a smudge of colour. She glanced back at the forest to see Leonie disappearing among the trees.

‘Leonie,’ she called lightly as she tugged on Shadow’s bridle and ran after the woman. ‘Leonie can I come with you.’

The woman turned and smiled. ‘Of course,’ she said.

leonie copy

At precisely one o’clock a horn sounded and all the talking was silenced. With the help of a loudspeaker Bella welcomed everyone to the feast. She told us that children would pass amongst us and collect the snakeskins. (Someone on our table didn’t have one, so I passed down my spare.) Once they were all collected, the ceremony for calling in the snakes would begin. Dozens of children ran about and the task was completed in about five minutes.

All the snakeskins were put into a bright copper cauldron and set alight. Bella sprinkled something over the pot and produced a miniature fireworks display, which was cheered and clapped. After this she and Trevor wove their way through all the tables singing a song in a strange language. I couldn’t understand the words, but it was pleasant to listen to. They ended up in front of the gong and Bella raised her arms and shouted an incantation. Then she brought her arms down swiftly. At this point hands shot over ears – except I was a bit slow – and Trevor struck the gong with the mallet. It was a very deep tone, and not only made my ears ring but made me feel a bit nauseous too. He struck the gong three times and then all eyes turned to the woods. As the ringing died away the snakes appeared. The ground appeared to be seething with them – every size and colour.

As soon as the snakes appeared, so did the food. There was meat, fish and fowl; hot seasonal vegetables; salads, soups, fruit; puddings, pies and cake. Jugs of mead and lemonade were placed on the tables too.

We were asked to lift the snakes onto the tables; offer them tiny morsels of all the foods and then set them back on the ground. This seemed less than hygienic to me, but we did as asked. Fortunately, the snakes were very docile and didn’t slither all over the food. When they had been fed and were placed back on the ground, they all headed back to the woods and the feast got underway for us humans.

There were acrobats, clowns and jugglers to entertain us while we ate. The food was delicious and after we’d finished eating, the tables were removed and replaced by a wooden dance floor. A lively band played jigs and reels, and we all had a whale of a time. The dancing continued through the night, but I caved around ten thirty and went to bed, thoroughly exhausted but very happy.

I passed Bella on the stairs and winked at her.
‘I know your secret,’ I said.
‘What secret?’
‘The snakes. It’s the gong, isn’t it? Nothing to do with charms and incantations.’
She put her finger to her lips, ‘Shhhh!’ she said. ‘Don’t let the cat out of the bag. The visitors like a bit of pomp and circumstance.’
‘Don’t worry, Bella. Your secret’s safe with me.’ I gave her a big hug and went to my room.

I woke the next morning to sounds of activity outside. Trestle tables and benches were being arranged in circles around the duck pond, and more were being placed on the part of the common that was not cluttered with tents. The children were all helping and there was a great deal of merriment.

I washed and dressed and wandered outside. The landlord seemed to be directing things.
‘Good morning. I’m glad the rain stopped.’ I said.
‘Yes. It’ll be a good day for it.’
‘How will you cater for so many people?’
‘Oh, we don’t do it all. The whole village is involved in providing the feast.’
‘How do the snakes get here?’
‘Bella sings to them, and they come out of the forest.’
‘But, snakes are deaf aren’t they?’
‘Are they? I never knew that. It must be the charm she uses.’

Just then Bella emerged from the inn and came to join us. Only three hats this morning, but all of them different from yesterday.
‘Would you like to take a stroll with me?’ she asked.
‘I would. You can tell me all about how you charm the snakes.’
‘Oh, if I did that, dear, I’d have to kill you,’ and she chuckled at her joke. At least I think it was a joke.
‘How can you sing a charm to snakes when they can’t hear?’ She tapped the side of her nose and winked at me.

We walked to the far side of the pond as we talked. She asked me how Hecate was and we talked of her little cottage. Apparently it had been in the family for centuries. When we reached the other side of the duck pond we met a group of men hauling an enormous gong onto the grass. It must have been about six feet across and was mounted on a large timber frame on wheels. Another man was carrying a large, leather covered mallet. A dinner gong that could call people from miles away! Bella shouted ‘hello’ to the group and we made our way back to the inn.
‘Join me for breakfast, Bella?’ She agreed and we went inside.
‘Will you be attending the Gorgon ceremony tomorrow?’ she asked.
‘I’m not very fond of smelly cheese.’
‘Huh!?’ She looked puzzled. ‘It’s not a cheese. Its ‘The Gorgon’, like in mythology.’
‘Oh! What’s involved in that then?’
‘Well, you have to perform for her, and if you do a good job she removes one of her veils and imparts some wisdom.’
‘It’s not painful karaoke, is it? I don’t do karaoke.’
‘It can be anything of your choosing.’
‘Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that. I don’t sing; can’t juggle or do magic tricks and my dancing days are over…….I might just watch.’
‘Oh, and while I think about it, don’t forget to take your snakeskin to the feast.’
‘Aaand what snakeskin would that be? I don’t have a snakeskin. Do they skin the snakes?’
‘No, the skins that the snakes slough off each year are collected by the children and decorated.You have to have one to be seated at the feast.’
‘Where will I get one?’
‘One of the stalls will be selling them.’
‘OK, I’ll go and get one.’

Bella went off to prepare herself for the calling-in of the snakes, and I wandered through the stalls on the common, looking for the snakeskin merchant.

The stall was painted all over with brightly coloured snakes, and the proprietors were a couple of children about nine years old.
‘You have a beautiful tent,’ I said.
‘We painted it ourselves. Not just us………all of the kids.’
‘Well, you’ve done an excellent job of it.’
‘Do you want to buy one?’ asked the little girl.
‘I do indeed. Which one would you recommend?’
‘I painted the purple and orange one,’ she said, ‘An’ I did the spotty one,’ said the boy.
‘Those were the ones that I like the best, too. I’ll take them both. How much are they?’
‘Three dollars each.’ They beamed. I handed over a ten dollar note and told them to keep the change.
‘Carry them carefully,’ said the little boy, ‘ ’cause they tear easy.’
‘I will. Thank you very much.’
I carried my purchases back to my room and laid them carefully on the bed.

At twelve thirty I made my way through the tables looking for ‘E’ and the others taking the donkey trek. They saw me first and waved and shouted. I sat down, together with my snakeskins, and we all swapped tales of our adventure so far.

“I am so afraid,” Francesca said as she ran her fingers slowly through the tuft of fur between Maya’s ears, her bright crimson nails visible through the dull grey. Francesca could tell Maya was wise and that this was not her first journey down Serpentine Road, but still she could not stop the anxiety that was filling her mind with dread.

“I will protect you,” Maya said, gently, trying to ease Francesca’s fear.

“Why do I always think of the worst possible scenario?” Francesca questioned – more to herself than to Maya.

The sky was glowing with swirls of pink and orange, the blue barely visible as the sun began to set. The clouds were smudged thin, lacy over the burgeoning colors. The journey was going slowly for Francesca. She was so unsure of herself that she could not make even the smallest decisions. A fork in the road kept her busy for hours as she created stories of disaster for each path before her. She was paralyzed by her lack of self-confidence, but Maya stood patiently beside her knowing Francesca must find her own way or have the courage to ask for help.

“I should never have left the Abbey,” Francesca said, “I should have never let Sarah talk me in to this. I just wasn’t ready.”

Maya led Francesca to a lake hidden beyond the lush green trees. It glittered with the last remnants of the sun and Francesca had a sudden urge to jump in. Maya stood at the edge and drank from the clear, pure water. The sound of rushing water falling endlessly from the rocks above drifted through the silent air. Francesca slowly removed her clothes and stretched her body towards the darkening sky and a feeling spread through her that she had never felt before.

She slowly inched the tips of her toes towards the water wanting to get a feel for the temperature before entering. It was warm and cool at the same time. It was a new sensation and she could no longer wait for it to embrace her skin. She slipped into the water, her footing unsure on the slick, black rocks. She paused under the waterfall and let its healing powers flow through her.

Francesca emerged a new woman. She stood on the edge of the lake refreshed and renewed.

“I’m ready now, Maya,” she said, “Thank you for being so patient with me. I am going to need your help, knowledge, and guidance if I am going to make it to the House of Serpents. Will you help me?”

“Oh Francesca, I have only been waiting for you to ask,” Maya replied, “We will begin in the morning. You have much to learn my child, but I am here to guide you through whatever may come your way.”

Francesca curled next to Maya that night letting Maya’s breaths lure her to sleep knowing that she could handle whatever came her way with Maya by her side.

We are all different parts of a whole...

We are all different parts of a whole...

prayer flag

Unc and I keep walking this road, this Serpentine Road.  We hear a lot of things following behind us, keeping pace with us, in the woods on either side.  This is not always a good thing.  I have also discovered that my donkey likes to talk to himself, under his breath, all the time.  Sometimes what he mumbles is meant for me; usually it is not.  I have given up trying to decide what I should listen to and what I can ignore.  The sound of his voice is as droning and as comforting as the clopping of his feet as we travel side by side.  I keep my hand on his shoulder as a guide, since I keep getting lost in the forest of my own mind.  I need Unc to be there for me to lean on, for him to lead me wherever it is I am meant to go.

The noises in the wood bother me, but only marginally.  I imagine great beasts, full of talons gleaming and fangs dripping, following alongside of us.  Or, for all I know, it could be a battalion of mice.  In my own heart, I prefer the giant raging monsters to the tiny little forays of rodents, any day.  But that’s just me.

I retreat to the trees with which I am most familiar, those within my own mind.  The dusty trail before me vanishes into an airless desert, brighter than bright, clearer than clear, burning hot and all too empty upon my arrival.  I find myself kicking through sand, struggling to walk, as the earth beneath me seems to move and writhe, clasping my ankles to pull me, not down, but back.  Hold me back.  Slow down.  Slow down.  Sibilant whispers exhort in my mind.

For the first time, Unc appears with me, or at least part of him.  I am small, smaller, clinging to his tail as he pulls me along, yanking me as if I were a child having a tantrum in a store and the parent is all done with this mess.  I get a very good view of his backside, which I can truly do without some days, really, but this of all things anchors me.  My donkey’s butt is my comfort. I hear the murmur of his voice, the soft beat of his feet.  I watch his haunches shift and move as he walks on.  He is completely oblivious to me.  I am but a fly on his behind, or so it would seem.

A cool breeze comes, touching me, probing my temples with gentle reticent fingers.  There is a song to be sung, listening to this breeze.  It kisses me, taking the salt from my skin and creating an ocean zest that drives me on with a fuller heart.  I seem to be growing.  Still too small to be myself.  But that doesn’t stop me.  I try harder, pushing to keep up with Unc, but I am still too weak.  The donkey must continue to tow me along.  I cannot do it alone.

Soon, the breeze becomes a steady gust, coming from behind, pressing against me, giving me its strength.  I cannot help but cry.  My chest aches, where my heart should beat, where nothing remains but broken pieces and grit.  Tears burnish my cheek, but the sky above takes pity.  A warm mellow rain began to fall, echoing my tears, without the burn, without the pain.  It didn’t stop the welling up of emotions.  I held fast to Unc’s tail as the sobs hit me, over and over again, jerking me, causing me to lose my footing.  My placid donk did not seem to mind, did not seem to care.  He kept moving forward, unperturbed by me.

There was a great rock in my chest where my heart used to be.  The drizzle from the sky grew into me, through me.  Droplets with tepid ease pounding away at the rock inside me, wearing it down, wearing it away.  Until I crumbled.  Until I was dust.  I fell to my knees, but the donkey carried me on, unbeknownst to me.

I became a small seed, stuck fast against the ground.  A grand black bird swoops down to swallow me.  I find myself living out loud.  Falling then, in this dreamscape of mine, caught once more by the wind, gently buffeted down, til I come to rest on one single silver strand.  A multi-faceted face examines me.  With delicate fingertips, She caresses me, wiping away the tears and the roughage.  She starts to weave, all around me, over me, through me, intricate designs made from the finest of silks, braiding and building such a fine palace of thread.  She is illustrating my life for me.

I have no clue how long we stayed there like that, transported and transposed, held aloft, falling and yet not.  She drifts from one edge to the other, connecting here, connecting there, breaking things off in places, moving aside to reconnect and splicing in new lines.  My mind falters.  I watch the slim furred body jetting over here and there, sketching for me my own personal landscape.

She touches my cheek, long after I have gone to sleep and come back to myself, time and again.  The Moon has come and gone and come again.  She kisses me, with her tainted lips, her fangs covered but no less exposed.  I feel the venom slip down and touch me, sliding over my lips.  If all poisons taste this sweet, like the juice from a honeysuckle, then let me die in peace.  She wishes me well.  I am released.

I find myself again walking the Serpentine Road, my hand still on Unc’s side.  He is complaining under his breath about being forced to walk in the rain.  Sure enough, a light sprinkle of drops covers everything.  Almost a mist.  There is a smell to this air, so reminiscent of where I had just been.  I shiver, not from cold, but from recognition.  I edge closer to my mule’s side, trying to steal as much of his body heat as I can.

Unc stops dead in his tracks.  He slams his head against my body to be sure he has my attention.  So, fine, it does take me a few steps to realize he has stopped.  It doesn’t stop me from being surprised though.  ‘What?’ I demand, sounding more angry than I mean.  The mule actually sniffs me, as if he were a dog, nuzzling me darn near from head to toe.  ‘What!’ I nearly shriek.  Even for Unc this is strange behavior.

The donkey looks me right in the eye before snorting mucus all over me.  ‘You,’ he spits, ‘smell funny.’

I literally fall over, laughing, my arms hung round that mule’s neck.  It is just too funny.  After I can stand upright again, after wiping the tears of mirth from my eyes, still hiccupping a little from the deep belly chuckles, I ask, ‘What the heck do you mean by that?’

Unc takes a single step back, eyeballing me studiously.  He is not laughing.  ‘Take off your shirt.’ He orders me.

‘What?’ This is baffling.  Here we are, standing in the middle of what appears to be a very well traveled road.  Even though we had yet to meet anyone, that doesn’t mean if I start to strip someone won’t show up out of nowhere simply to see what sort of thing I wore beneath my outer clothing.  My donk is unamused.  ‘Do it.’ He insists.  I groan, not even under my breath.

Off come my outer wrap, which I draped with utmost grace over that stubborn ass.  Then my shift.  Then my shirt.  And as I look at my undershirt I see a strange thing.  Now, the entire kingdom can come watch me undress for all I care.  The undershirt comes off, as does the bra.  Over my heart is this wondrous amazing …. Thing.  And Unc is right.  It smells, strongly.  Smells of Spider’s poison and honeysuckle.  I’ve been marked.

Ever see a donkey slack-jawed with awe?  It’s pretty funny.  I would have laughed if I myself had not been so stupefied.  Woven into my skin, in the brightest of colours, is the tapestry of my life.  A map of my heart and soul.  ‘What a gift is this,’ drawls that irritating donkey of mine.  I stare at him, wide-eyed.  ‘What do you mean?’

I hate when my donkey snorts and blows snot all over me, but he is so good at it.  ‘You have been marked by the Hand of Fate.’ He tells me. So, of course, I glare at him.  ‘What does that mean?’  Donkeys can shrug.  Did you know that?  Unc bobs his head and looks away, not giving in to my sarcasm.  ‘Means you’re in for some real treats.’

I cover my breasts with my hands, finally.  I must have been quite a sight standing there.  I keep looking at this portrait on my chest.  ‘Yes,’ I implore, all serious now, ‘but what does it mean?’

Donkeys smile too.  Unc has a real huge malignant looking grin that can scare the monster under the bed into the arms of the monster in the closet.  He grins that huhge honking grin at me.  He knocks against my one arm with his big thick skull and brays, ‘You’ve been marked, Sister.’  And then he laughs.  Loud and long.  ‘That is your heart map, baby.’  Again with the laughing.  ‘You have a big debt to pay.’  Then he nudges me, carefully, almost tenderly. ‘Put your clothes on, girl.’  He takes a few steps back to gape at me.  ‘You’re about to get us both eaten, standing there like that.’  As if I were the one who all of a sudden decided to spontaneously strip my clothes off and parade around in public for the whole world to look at me.

I hmmph at him as I throw my clothes back on, snatching my wrap from his shoulders in a huff.  The evil creature giggles at me.  ‘Let’s go,’ He cackles at me, ‘before those beasties in the thicket decide they really are hungry.’

‘Great.’ Now I am muttering under my breath.  ‘Can’t wait for that.’  I have to jog a bit to catch up with Unc, who has already started off on his merry way after I took back my wrap.  I fall in beside him, grumbling inaudibly, as is he.  I don’t feel liberated anymore.  I don’t feel quite safe either.  The image over my heart does not burn with heat, but radiates a comforting sort of warmth.  After listening to my mule, I’m not so sure that is a good thing anymore.

Marked By The Hand of Fate

Marked By The Hand of Fate

written by Tabitha K

“Shhhh! Here they are!”

She walks through the door and sees us. I can almost see the wheels spinning  as she tries to wrap her head around why the faces of her friends and family are here…grinning at her.

“Surprise!” The camera flashes. She blinks as though returning from a journey to the past.

“Oh, it’s a party…for me!” Yep, I think it has sunk in now. She hugs me tightly whispering in my ear, “Oh, honey. Thank you so much.” I take such delight watching her face as she makes her way around the room hugging and laughing with those healthy enough to make the trip. She is truly joyful and her heart is as full as mine today. My sister and I finally pulled it off. A fitting tribute to our mother who just turned 80 years old but looks, acts, and appears so much younger.

A shadow of disappointment begins to block the joy but I quickly brush it away before it can permeate the party. But before it recedes, I see in my mind’s eye the ecstatic look and tears of pure happiness on my mother’s face at seeing him here with us. Well, he’s not here and it was his choice and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. Being the middle child, the peacemaker, the healer, the emotional caretaker, the one who pulls everyone together takes a tremendous toll… when I’m unsuccessful. I feel like I’ve failed. I feel the disappointment. I feel the blame and the let down. I stomp my foot to banish those thoughts and turn to hug my step-father. “Good job! We did it! Thank you so much for the thieving, support, and keeping the secret!” I catch my daughter’s eye as she watches her grandmother, Mommo. She winks at me and smiles restoring my heart to its previous fullness and my humor.

I see people I haven’t since since I was a child. People tell me that they immediately recognize my sister. She is an older version of that beautiful child with the big violet blue eyes they knew. But I’m a different story. They don’t recognize me. For the first time I don’t hear it. I don’t hear, “Your sister is so beautiful and you’re not.”

This time I know I have beauty. If not on my face then in my heart. I have beauty in my soul. I have beauty in my words, in my intentions, in my love and appreciation for others, nature, and in the way I see the world. The greatest beauty I have is in my ability to forgive others for the pain I have suffered due to their actions.

At this moment I realize that mom didn’t mean to hurt me by not coming to my wedding. She was suffering a pain of her own. I forgive my brother for not coming to this surprise party and robbing mom of (most likely) this last chance to have all three of her children together for her birthday. I forgive my maternal grandmother for treating me different than my siblings and not gifting me with something precious. And I forgive myself for allowing myself to be hurt deeply by the actions of others and carrying that pain for so many years.

Oh, and I forgive my mother’s cousin for not relinquishing the portrait of her father…With the help of another cousin, a copy was delivered in time for the party. My mother now has a large portrait of her father and I get to see what my maternal grandfather looks like. I see where my brother gets his dimples…I’m not sure where he gets his anger.

Drambuie and I continued our way down the Serpentine Road; a road of great beauty made of greenish-brown stone. It was the kind of stone that one would find in the entry way of a great estate. I suddenly noticed the lack of sounds made by Drambuie’s hooves. Feeling the need to share my unrestricted heart, I leaned forward wrapping my arms around his neck in a hug and squeezed. My eyes drifted downward to see socks covering his hooves; the kind of socks I’ve been known to purchase at “The World’s Softest Socks.” All four of Drambuie’s socks were embroidered with people butts and stitched across the top were the words “Civilized My Ass!”

“Oh, Drambuie…I adore the socks! I didn’t even know when you put those on, you dear sneaky donkey.”

“Why would you? You were floating out there in lala land. I could have played the role of a serpentine prankster and you would never have noticed, you were so far out there. Have a good time?”

“No. It was a journey through the heart to a past that was painful.”

“You humans are too stupid to live sometimes! Why would you deliberately cause yourself pain and suffering?”

“It is how we learn our lessons and helps us to let go of what pains us so that we can move forward in our growth.”

“So let me see if I have this right. You have an experience that hurts you deeply. You carry it in your heart until later; decide to check out  on the first flashback to lala land missing some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see while on the trip of a lifetime just so you can remember how painful the past is so you can let it go and grow and move forward another painful inch in your idotic life? And it was your decision to hold on to this crap in the first place? Well, here’s what I think about that!” Drambuie let loose with the longest stinkiest donkey fart. “I ate something that made my stomach hurt, processed it, and let it go! Get it, crap for brains?”

“You are such an ass. Just shut up! Shut both ends and don’t make a sound until we arrive at the House of Serpents!” I scream at Drambuie not sure why I was so angry. “Being human is much more complicated than being an ass, road apples for brains!” And with that I let go with my own gaseous seranade.

The most infectious laughter came from the tree we were passing. I looked into the boughs above us and saw this woman of undeterminable age with rosy cheeks, a broad smile, dimple in her chin, and bare feet mere inches from the top of my head. I don’t know how I could have missed her.

“My, what a darling pair you are! Have you been married for long?” she giggles.

“Very funny,” I retort. “It’s a little difficult returning from an incredibly deep journey through the heart to an ass such as this.”

“Yes, I hear that a lot on this road.”

“Hey, woman!” Drambuie hollars. “What’s with the bare feet? I’d be glad to give up my socks.” He stands on his hind quarters, propping his front legs on the bough next to her.

“Aaaaah! Ouch!” I slide right off on to my tailbone. I actually keep sliding on the slick serpintine stone while spinning on my butt! Drambuie is laughing so hard he is unable to breathe. “Hee snort haw!  Hee snort haw!” The woman in the tree joins him in his melodious, tinkling giggle. She laughs so hard, she falls over on Drambuie’s head and slides down his back sliding on the serpentine stone spinning on her butt.

“YOU SUCK, YOU ASS!” I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry as I am still spinning faster than a rap star on a well-worn piece of cardboard. Now I have a partner in our unrehearsed, unchoreographed spins.

When Drambuie catches his breath, he chokes out, “You fell off your ass onto your ass!” I don’t know, there was something that pulled a ripchord of tension that I had been holding onto and I melted into a puddle of jovialty that could no longer be denied. I, too, was laughing and snorting which set Drambuie off again causing him to lose his balance and slide on his hind quarters down the road in the opposite direction.

The woman from the tree screeched “Your ass fell on his ass!” and I had tears rolling down mycheeks from this latest development. “Hee snort haw! Fart! Hee snort haw!” There was just no denying…we all were completely out of control. We simply couldn’t gain control of ourselves. When one of us caught a breath and seemed to be able to stand, the other would continue in gales of contagious laughter that would spread to the others.

“Sally met Drambuie in the alley. She hopped upon that ass. They made the journey through her heart til she fell of her ass, alas, the lass, was spinning on the stone away from home on her own…asssssssssss.” Drambuie sang in his best imitation of an Irish tenor snake.

“Ple- ple- please make him stop,” I begged through my hilarity. “I’m hurrrting. I’m gonna pee. I can’t breathe. Please.”

After awhile, the three of us were splayed on the Serpentine Road looking like roadkill. No one dared look at another. We simply focused on breathing. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out.

The woman from the tree was the first to revive herself. She stood up, ran her hand through her hair and surveyed the damage. I was face down on the serpentine stone. My chin laid in a puddle of drool as I was too weak to swallow my own saliva. A short distance from us, Drambuie was laid out like a stuffed toy dropped and forgotten then stepped on.

The woman helped me to my feet. She told me the seat of my pants were as shiney as the stone of the road. Together we walked over to Drambuie and tried to help him to his feet. He was too heavy for one to take each end so we both pulled this head and front up, then the back. As we pulled up the back of his body, his front feet slid apart and the front slid back down to the road.  The opposite occurred when we returned to the front of his body. I’m sure we would look like a cartoon to anyone watching.

“I’ll take care of this,” the woman from the tree said. She took a large safety pin from her pocket and stabbed Drambuie right in the butt. “What the…” he bellowed as he jumped to all fours.

“Time to get on your way, my four legged friend. I am so very glad that we were able to have such a riotous time together. Thank you. Thank you so much!” She tucked her pin back into her pocket and climbed back up the tree.

Drambuie headed back up the road to get me. I climed on and shook my head. “What the hell happened?” Drambuie demanded to know as we traveled back towards the tree and the woman.

I smiled knowingly. “That, my friend, was known as laughter therapy. It is one of the most healthy activities known to woman and beast.”

“Yeah, right. Laughter therapy. Do you have to go to school for that?”

“No. I was trained in a single afternoon.” I quipped.

As we passed under the woman in the tree, I noticed with great interest that her feet were no longer bare. She had Drambuie’s socks on her feet…well, two of the socks anyway. I leaned to the left until I could see Drambuie’s feet. He still had socks on.

Each sock was similar yet different. The words stictched on the socks were simple and stitched only around the top.




“Get off your ass and LAUGH!!”

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