All this & how I learned the language of animals was that we moved from the Gingerbread House into the deep woods, a small house Papa built after my mother lost her eyesight in a curse from the witches of Vlemk. The Lymph Node wasn’t always blind. At one time her eyes were beautiful & deep blue. She & I spent a lot of time in the woods when I was younger & that because being alone frightened me, Papa said, there was no excuse for wandering off into the woods by myself, near the witches of Vlemk & that night the Lymph Node told me some family history, how snakes lived under our house & that’s why we sometimes found them in the tub or dead out back by the shed. The Lymph Node being blind doesn’t stop her from knowing when a snake is near.
“I can see better blind,” she said.
She was stolid until Papa’s fierce language and anger unwound. Then she developed all those lugubrious moods that made everything worse for all of us. Her face and neck were swollen & sometimes I could see her shadow in the hall when I tried to sleep at night…& that being alone meant sleeping alone now that Gidgekin was gone meant lights out early. All this was frightening to me at this age. I'd pretend my sister was still home & in the bed beside me when I'd hear the sound of the Lymph Node’s cane tapping the hardwood floor, followed by her hands feeling for the door in the dark.
The snake story the Lymph Node told me that night made me dream about catching a snake from the mouth of a wolf & saving the snake’s life. A very strange dream indeed! The gods appeared before me & I didn’t know if I was awake or sleeping. They told me I gained a prophetic gift. Somehow I woke in the night with my ears wet from where the snakes had crept into my bed & licked me (Melampus, Melampus! O’ Psyche, Eros, O’ Lydia!)
“Lymph Node!” I yelled, “Papa!” My ears were wet from the snakes & I could now hear the animals! (Proetus, o’ cursed, cursed, Dionysus!—You hear your sister’s voice from somewhere—or is it something else? Henceforth you shall be known as Melampus, listener of beasts!…there was a squeal of laughter, interrupted by the Lymph Node limping into the room).
She came in & crouched down drooling in a contemplative manner. She felt the floor for the blanket. The Lymph Node’s silence always meant she was upset about something, but I already knew I was to be punished for waking them …“My ears are wet from the snakes,” I told her, but her white eyes told me she didn’t care. Without saying anything, she turned with her cane & left the room to get Papa. When he arrived he was not angry but full of sadness and despair when he saw that my ears were wet. “Your shadowless body,” he said, falling to his knees. He wept before me while the Lymph Node dropped her cane & knelt down to crawl to him, slow and costive in her effort to hold him in her arms. Papa's shaking hands meant he was going to hurt me. There was much to be said in a man being an apotheosis of anger. This was him.
It was then I could see snakes approaching.
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