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Weather by the Shaman: A Family Myth

Something bad happens every May, usually on a birthday or a holiday, so those dropped off the calendar all together. Last May, a tumor popped into Weatherby’s brain. His head was already smaller than a premature lemon, and we always said he knew two languages. But the tumor found space enough to give Weatherby convulsions for two weeks. The nerves in his paws were damaged, succumbing him to jitter hauntingly across the kitchen floor. Every few minutes a lost yelp would leak from his throat­ we heard it a last time as the vets took him back into the “sleeping room.”

Something bad happens every May, and when it did my grandma picked up Weatherby and tucked him in tightly next to her on the couch. Eight years Weatherby spent in our house. The Yorkshire Terrier was the silent and judgmental couch pal with fated halitosis. Grandma firmly believed that “dogs improve human health.” Simply that. Sometime she will still mutter those words when, after fumbling with her medication box, she drops her pills.

“Dogs improve human health. Just plop one next to you, and done, no more strokes. No more arthritis. You look ten years younger.”

As in the Homeric poems, each member of the family is given a destiny. Weatherby was slated as honorary pro­bono family shaman. It’s hard to see how he made it that far in the Zlock household. Early morning dialogues went something like:

Mom: What is the white fluff on the floor?
[Weatherby walk off stage left quickly]
Mom: It looks like cotton. Why is there cotton on the ground?
Mom: He chewed the leather couch. That little suchara ruined my leather couch!
?[Mad chase around kitchen ensues. Yelping from stage left]

Grandma’s prognosis at first seemed like tabloid­-quality science. But we kept on believing in his mystic healing powers. The belief was stronger than the potion. Grandma coddled Weatherby when a headache struck, or rheumatoid arthritis swelled up in her hands. He became a handheld antidote for death, stomach aches, the stomach flu, allergic reactions, grief, bee stings, depression, mood swings. At a foot and a quarter long, with the circumference of a plump burrito, he fit like a puzzle piece into folded arms. Often, when the spring rains hits in fat drops on the pavement, and the scent of freshly watered grass drifts through the kitchen window, our arms will fold cross­wise. Like intangible scars, the flesh on our arms will soften and the tiny hairs coalesce to feel again the missing fur. For two weeks, his porcelain frame was racked with convulsions big enough for an elephant. We took turns for his taut face, and plucking him into that space between our arms. Like keys to a rusting lock, his paws clicked into the shallow depression of our palms. It was like the first lockmaster had painstakingly crafted the symmetry of Weatherby the shaman.

For the web of veins connecting man and beast, the convulsions were also too big. For two weeks everything shuddered. Weatherby shuddered so hard his fur lost its proud black color. Yellow pustules crowded in his irises. They flashed to the persistent beat of his wheezing. Not one of us mortals could press him hard enough to our chest to silence all tremors. Around the clock, pairs of hearts in the Zlock household shuddered, pumping out tears we didn’t know existed for this tiny beast. In the starkly bright hallway of the vet’s office, Weatherby’s body shuddered under a towel. His eyes­ two black orbs plucked from the ancient muses­ never broke with ours. And the last gesture to seal eight years of healing was two outstretched, bare arms. They sunk like a sun into the abyss.

Something bad happens every May. And as I wait between crises, I walk to the very back lot of the cemetery, to find those taken by the month of renewal. To get to the graves of my grandparents, my uncle (he passed without a warning), my nephew (he passed with many warnings), I walk past Weatherby’s. The ground between the headstones is rough, and pocked with minerals. Underneath the stone shared by Weatherby and my nephew, little dandelion tufts push through the grey stone. The symbolism is almost biblical, almost as fake as many of the flowers at this graveyard. But I am still believing in the mystic healing powers of Weatherby the shaman. Like the fabric of a Homeric poem, his passing left a gaping wound in the family story. It is not enough to wrap our two arms around one another­ something human dies every May.

But I think it was fated somewhere in the plans of the first lockmaster, that the headstone should fit snugly in the depressions of our two arms.



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