the gift of the mandrake
“I just need a walk”, she reasoned as she reached for her foraging basket. The tightness in her chest and the clenching at her throat, while not unusual, was unsettling enough this particular morning that she felt she needed a distraction. The embrace of giant maples and gentle susurrous of life in the woods always calmed her, so she expected a good hike and mushroom hunt would do the trick.
As she closed her back door and headed for the trail up the mountain, uninvited synapses flitted back and forth trying to connect her bodily discomfort to an event of days past, but nothing seemed overtly wrong. No, it was just an urge to get away, but from what? “Myself”, she thought as a flash of fear jolted through her body… the one thing she couldn’t run away from. “Ugh!” she admonished, giving herself a little shake as though trying to disrupt the well-worn pathway of her existential thoughts.
She took a deep breath and began peering in the nooks and crevices of a gnarly rooted fir, hoping to find something that would distract her. But it did no good, everywhere she looked she found her unwanted feelings staring straight back at her. And worse still, they seemed to grow in intensity the more she turned from them.
“What do i do now?!” Panicked words circled her head like hungry carrion birds. She couldn’t bear how desperate and threatening they felt and so, without even a thought, she found herself running - running to exhaust the fear that was engulfing her, running to escape. She took no heed of where she was going, she just needed to be faster than her feelings. Tree limbs whipped at her face and pulled at her hair as she blindly crashed through the underbrush. Her lungs started to ache as she gulped for the air she needed to propel herself forward. Seizing the opportunity, the next root that crossed her path easily grasped her clumsy foot and sent her tumbling to the ground in a heap.
She was so startled that she momentarily forgot her fear and remembered to wonder where she was. As her breath began to slow, she saw that she was laying in a sunny grove overflowing with lovely little purple flowers and, in her stupor, rolled to her side to take a closer look. “Such a pretty little bowl of petals, such robust, ancient looking leaves”, she marvelled, “i’ll take one for my collection.” But the little flower was resilient and did not wish to be separated from it’s stalk, so she pulled hard and accidentally uprooted the plant, leaves, roots and all.
That very instant, she was engulfed in a piercing shriek.
It reverberated through her bones and befuddled her senses. With great effort, she lifted her hands to her ears, giving only a thin barrier against the immensity of the noise, but enough to allow her eyes to search for the source.
The strangely human-looking root swung gently between her finger tips, but did not make a sound. There were no birds, no wind, no lightning striking at her feet, nothing could be responsible…
Her trembling fingers searched her own lips and found them wide apart. With a jolt of recognition she understood that she was making that unearthly sound. She could feel it from her toes, coursing up through her torso, swirling around her head until it found it’s escape out of her mouth. On it’s determined path through her body, it mined deeply stored emotions and fragments of memories and ushered them to the surface. Images flashed in her mind, memories she would have overlooked as commonplace, but now noticed how they stung as they appeared - the times she smiled when she was really feeling upset, the times she denied herself what she needed, the times she berated herself for making a mistake, the time she said no when she wanted to say yes, the times she said yes and needed to say no, the times when she didn’t say anything at all.
The sound that emanated from her began to shift from a wail of grief, to a roar of anger, to a expression of power - her power. It felt good to hear herself again. The old grip in her throat and clench in her chest melted away and in it’s place grew a lightness in her body and a rooting in her feet that all at once gave her a sense of freedom and belonging.
Dizzy with joy, she stood up and made her way back through the woods to her little cabin on the mountainside. As she moved to open the door, she noticed the plant still gripped tightly in her hand. With a smile, she turned to her garden and opened the earth to welcome its new inhabitant. “Thank you”, she whispered as she tucked it in, “i will never neglect my voice again.”