“You’re walking like
a shoelace salesman,” Donald told me. “You
gotta go see this woman in town. She’s a curandera,
a healer. She’ll fix you up in no time.”
Donald pushed his glasses up his nose with his fingertip
and managed to look like someone who's just given away
a hot stock tip.
she do?” I asked, not really wanting to know.
adjustments. She really takes you in hand and goes to
work on you.” Donald made some unpleasant wringing
and jabbing motions in the air. “I went to see
her last week after I woke up and could barely move.
I must have slept wrong or something. Anyway, I walked
out of there a new man. She was amazing.”
particular skeletal problems are hauntingly chronic
and persistent as a sunrise. I had sampled a ceaseless
stream of chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists,
naturopaths and acupuncturists without any enduring
relief. I had been stabbed, beaten, punctured, twisted,
racked and electrocuted more times than a gay Democrat
at a Texas barbeque. Donald noticed my dubious look
and assured me the curandera was the answer to all my
got the touch,” he assured me. “For Chrissake,
she’s a healer. What have you got against being
I relented. “Where does she live?”
* * *
The plywood door
bounced away from my knuckles each time I rapped on
it. I glanced at the metal hasp that hung from the frame.
An unlocked rusted lock dangled from it. She must
be home, I concluded and knocked again.
The door slowly
scraped open and I found myself looking down at a tiny
Indian woman with black eyes and salted gray hair.
she said. Her voice was high pitched and the flat line
of her broad mouth barely moved when she spoke.
I introduced myself
and explained to her in my three-legged Spanish that
I would like a treatment. I pointed to my neck and lower
back to uncloud her understanding. She nodded brusquely
and waved me into the small house, scraping the plywood
door closed after me. I saw a wide dark arc on the cement
floor where the corner of the door eternally rubbed.
The old woman led
me behind a curtain and had me show her my back with
my arms spread out. Her small driftwood fingers quickly
probed my neck and back. Then she gathered up a blanket
from a cot and threw it out flat on the floor.
“A las rodillas,”
she said and made me understand she wanted me on my
hands and knees. I obliged as she rattled open a bureau
drawer and removed a long towel. She tied the two ends
together, slipped the makeshift sling under my chin
and reached for a broom leaning against the wall. The
old woman fed the handle of the broom through the loop
just under the knot and began to turn it like a windlass.
The towel slowly tightened around my head as the twists
collected under the broomstick like braids of hair.
I clamped my jaw against the pressure, afraid my mandibles
might snap free and lop off my ears.
When the pressure
made ostrich eggs of my eyes, I grunted and lifted my
hand. That was her signal to give the broom an extra
turn. My head felt like I was sitting at the bottom
of the Pacific ocean without a bathysphere. You could
have rested a curtain rod across by eye balls.
she intoned, digging her little heels against the concrete
floor. I felt the force of her slow pull and then a
nerve hit a High C of pain in my left shoulder. I tried
to protest but only managed to sound like a dog begging
The old woman,
who now seemed to weigh more than a fully loaded water
truck, suddenly changed her stance without relaxing
her pull. She gripped the broomstick like a chin-up
bar and began snapping it up and down, as if she were
putting out a fire with a doormat. I braced my muscles
against the murderous assault as my head bucked like
a dashboard dog on a stretch of Baja 250. Then she flung
her arms side to side. The pain was incredible and I
tried to cry out. She ignored the pathetic sounds like
a real professional and began tracing full moons in
the air with the broom. So I resigned myself to death,
or at the very least a few years on life support. I
had read once that Attila the Hun killed entire populations
of cities and had the heads of the dead stacked to make
huge pyramids. I was pretty sure this woman rode with
She signaled me
to lie on my stomach. I meekly complied. Then the merciless
crone stepped out of her sandals and jumped onto the
small of my back. It was like lightning striking a stalk
of dry bamboo. The pain was so intense I was certain
she had severed my spinal column. My eyes trembled on
the border of whiteness as she began bouncing on my
kyphotic backbone like an acrobat about to execute an
especially intricate dismount, one carefully designed
to coax a 9 from the Russian judge.
I don’t know
how long the session lasted. Whole civilizations might
have risen and fell before that psychopath was through
with me. If I had been a healthy person with a well-oiled,
vigorous, uncultured spine, I might have been able to
spring to my feet and shrug off the aerobic discourtesies.
But then if I were that person I wouldn’t have
been looking for someone to relieve my discomforts.
And I would not have lain there on the floor, utterly
incapable of the simplest self-actuating movement.
I’m sure the
woman thought I had fallen asleep. She may even have
become a bit flushed with pride about it. And I admit
I nearly did yield to sleep. The Big Sleep. But the
truth is a paralyzed man can easily be confused with
an unhurried, restful one. And at that moment I was
so unhurried I fully expected to live out the rest of
my days as an ottoman beside the woman’s ruinous
sofa. Or maybe as a gringo pelt splayed across the chipped
concrete hearth of the rusted propane heater.
Suddenly I felt
my rib telegraph my brain an RSVP as the crone’s
toe nudged my side.
she announced like a mechanic just finishing a wheel
Get up indeed.
I brought my knees
to my chest and rolled onto my side. I convinced my
elbows to lever my shoulders off the floor and then
both knees instinctively moved to keep the center of
gravity below my spine. I rose to my feet like a new-born
giraffe, full of wobbles and knocking limbs.
I asked, the irony seeming monumentally extravagant.
dolares,” she replied with clinical dignity.
I took a twenty
dollar bill from my wallet and handed it to her. She
followed me with small steps as I lurched toward the
door. But before we arrived she arrested my progress
and pointed to her television set.
she said. Donald must have told her I repaired computers.
I turned painfully
on my freshly trampled spine and glanced at the inert
box. For a moment I entertained an uplifting thought
and wondered if she would be willing to lend me her
broomstick. I was going to show her I was a fast learner
and that a few well-aimed strokes would have her soap
operas numbing her life in no time. Instead,
I said no and waited for her to drag the plywood door
I was flat on my
back for three days after the curandera’s treatment.
During that time I tended to dream about gurneys, wheelchairs,
traction beds and hoya lifts. When I was awake I kept
a broom within reach, in case Donald returned. I planned
to give him twenty dollars worth of the blunt end.
|Written by Randy Kerr (JWR Kerr). Read more about the author at Google+ or Amazon.