Thursday, 28 August 2014

Lion's Tooth

The sleeping gypsy cured my mother's cancer. How do I know? Because she told me and I believed her.
Lesson one: Never for a moment doubt your mother.
Lesson Two: Don't belittle the feelings of those who walk with the shadow of death.
Of course, there was doubtfulness from relatives, friends and oncology, but for me her conviction was like a fairy tale. She spoke with so much clarity when she communicated this knowledge to me every night at eight o'clock on the dot when I sat with her. Her voice was faint, but the words she enunciated were crystal-clear and her eyes were glassy beads. I kept very still and quiet by the side of her bed transfixed by each new chapter. Sometimes, without realising, I held my breath until I had to wheeze as if someone or something had attempted to suffocate me, then my mother's head would turn with a look of concern and she'd say, “There, there, the spell's been broken.”
The doctors had either been tight-lipped about her diagnosis or vague and bumbling; it was nothing to worry about, just normal procedure. A little cut, a longer burn and an extensive course of tablets. She'd lose a little breast weight, gain a few tattoos and a scar. Hair loss, internal tissue damage and dead fingers were never mentioned. Yes, she went through all that; she had no choice in the matter, but knew that wasn't what gave her the courage to go on.
The night before a lumpectomy, scared, alone and lying flat in a strange hospital bed, she said she was visited by a huge lion. She was idly staring up at the ceiling panels when she felt a rough tongue lick the back of her hand. She thought she was dreaming, but the licking was accompanied by a contented purr, almost like a rumble of thunder, and then her fingers met thick matted fur. She slowly pulled herself up and to her right was a lion sat on his haunches; a male lion she said with a head as big as the one in Narnia who was hot and panting and obviously didn't belong in our temperate climate.
For thirty seconds they stared at each other without blinking, then the lion got to his feet and padded passed the deserted nurses' station before he stopped and looked back. She grabbed her silk dressing gown and hurried to catch up with him. As she walked behind, the glaringly white corridor warped into a dark, cave-like tunnel, which the lion somehow dimly lit for her with his swishing tail. She stumbled steadily after that amber light until the cave came out to sandy plain beneath a starry midnight sky. Her toes sank into the fine sand as the lion continued to lead her to who knows what or where. It was a journey that seemed strange and never-ending, and yet more real than when you're told you have cancer. And it was about, she said, to get even weirder.
The lion finally came to a stop when they came to a sleeping man who you could tell was one of life's wanderers, except this one looked as though he only roamed metaphysically. The lion sniffed and gently nudged him and when he failed to stir roared just like the MGM lion, before he gave up with a shrug of his shoulders and laid down to wash his giant paws and face. Maybe it was the lion's close presence or the sound of his enthusiastic licking which eventually roused the dark gyspy, Mother hypothesised, but whatever it was his eyelids still heavy with sleep began to hesitantly flicker, until his pupils fixed groggily on her.
He released his protective grip on his walking stick and turned on his side, motioning to the lion. The lion grumbled but obliged by opening his jaws wide and the now-awake gyspy pulled out a molar. Under the glare of the full moon, he washed the lion's tooth with water from a clay vessel, then made a small hole with a stone and chisel and threaded it on coloured string carefully stripped from his pillow. Wordlessly, as the rest of this task had been done, he handed it to her, gesturing for her to wear it around her throat or wrist.
As long as she is a bearer of a lion's tooth, the sleeping gypsy comes and strums Beatles medleys on his mandolin to make her stronger.