The healer calls me uncommon, perhaps unprecedented, so I hunch my spine like an electrocuted cat to tease him. We are all animals here, disguised as ineffectual people, but we are not without our compensations.
They call me a little old lady because I walk with a cane whittled from a splintered tree. But I will rise soon and straighten. Greater miracles occur here, all brought about by St. Holycarp's toe, starting with the punished boy, made to carry a wooden beam across his shoulders for two hours, levitating beyond the indignant jowls of the Sisters of Asperity. Now the children scream, ask me to stumble and fall, so the healer will heal me. Watch her try, watch her fall. One day she will harden into a virago with stony hair.
A sinister cabal holds sway over the lesson. The cabinet swings open, the preserved toe upon a plush velvet pillow. The lesson is learned and repeated. New York, New Providence, New Bedford, New Haven. As if we could remake a thing again in duplicate, this time with greater success. But there's no new St. Holycarp. Only old St. Holycarp's toe, the celestial manna of a gibbous moon.
Holycarp was born to heretics in a chaotic age. From childhood, angels whispered pious messages in his ears. Despairing of the surrounding corruption he left his family to pray in the wilderness for their redemption, clad in sackcloth and ashes. When he returned he found his ancestral home set ablaze by enemies. His family trapped inside, he watched with relief as they repented and died with loud screams. Saving them physically was never the point for Holycarp. His job on earth was done. Lanced by the marauders, he was dragged for miles behind their horses, bound by his feet. The cult of Holycarp spread among the faithful; they scrambled for his bones through the centuries.
The healer's thumbs spread my cheeks like putty, yank and pull the blood down my arms. He presses down on my head harder, so I grip the relic toe and retract like an accordion. Then I push up, rise against him. Something cracks within me, but this time no pain. Oh the horror of the skeleton! Nature's revelation at death, memento mori beneath the blooming exterior. I will not be healed, I say. The Sisters of Asperity shake with fury.
The healer bows before the relic in its gold rimmed cabinet. After all his effort, he should provide a miracle or two; his fingers thick, his hair unkempt, his eyes wild and searching. Heal the bent ones! Make them tall! If you fall before the healer, you will rise again straight and mighty. Grab Holycarp's toe from the cabinet; mark your face with its powder-like chalk. The healer will wait for the strong men to carry you away, overcome with healing. But you must believe for it to happen! Yes, you must truly believe!