The Old Woman of the Lake

So.

Once I have tried every doctor I can find, and have got at best looks of pity and sympathetic shakes of the head; once I have used every folk remedy around, only to find that smearing ground horseradish and garlic on his forehead produces nothing but an odd smell; once I have cried and cried and cried and cried… then I go to see the old woman of the lake.

‘So,’ she says. The voice comes from inside the hut, the little wooden shack which takes up nearly all the space on the tiny island in the middle of the lake and is only connected to the shore by a thin wooden bridge, and I think to myself that the stories may be true. She has spoken before I had a chance to knock on the door – as my arm is in the air. Maybe the stories are true.

Maybe she saw my approach on the bridge.

‘Maybe you should come in,’ she says, and I do.

There’s a curtain hiding the back of the shack. In the front, where we are, is a low table and four blocks of wood for chairs. I try to explain to her why I’m here, but she shakes her head and makes me sit down.

‘I know what you want,’ she tells me, halfway though the cup of tea she insisted I drink. ‘It can be made to happen.’

‘You can heal him? You can make him whole?’

She shakes her head again, this time smiling sadly.

‘No. But you can.’

‘How?’

‘There will be a price to pay—’

‘I’ll pay it. How much?’

She sighs.

‘Not that sort of price.’

‘I’ll pay it. I’d die for him.’

‘Not that sort of price, either,’ she says. ‘You won’t have to die for him. No. Quite the opposite – you will have to live for him. Your joints will ache, you will have pain in your back – at all times, but especially at night, so it will be hard to sleep. And you will have to live.’

So. That is one Hell of a price. But it makes sense: pain for pain. Worth it, maybe: I think of the rattling sound I can hear when I press my ear up against his chest. Maybe.

‘And this will heal him? For sure?’

‘As long as you are alive, yes.’

So.

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