Everything moves slower today, even my breathing. I move with an unshakeable awareness of my surroundings. It is as if I am watching myself from some hidden, tiny pedestal inside my gut, where a miniature version of myself silently peers out at the rest of the world. I decide to fast for twenty-four hours.
I go to Joe’s, as promised, to prepare my Chinese herbs and am greeted happily by Buffy (short for Buffalo) the dog. She licks and nips at my fingers and I scrub her head between the ears. Joe smiles at our play, then we walk up the long, rocky driveway together toward the Herb Shop.
“I’d like to come next week and barter Joe, is the morning or the afternoon best for you?” I ask.
“No real difference between the two,” he pauses, then looks at me almost as if to subconsciously remind me of his timelessness. “I mean, for me at least…Heck, you could even come at night if you wanted.”
We shuffle up the railroad tie steps and I am embarrassingly out of breath. Jo moves with ease, despite that he is a foot shorter than I and forty years my senior. About one hundred yards to the left of the Herb Shop I spot the Tolkien-like yurt, no longer camoflauged by forest canopy, where MGL and I first made love. The memory of this stings slightly, but I leave it behind and follow Joe further up the steps.
The shop is well lit by mid-morning and thankfully warm from its passive solar design. During the winter, the Herb Shop is all but closed and there is no running water or heat. As with every other building on the farm, the electricity is solar powered and limited, so we use none for today’s work.
Joe sees me fingering a mysterious pile of Chinese bills on the counter and perks up.
“Here,” he waves his hand,” Take a few.” Then he chuckles to himself.
“But what are they worth? Are they useful? I ask, before looking close enough at the bills.
“They’re not worth anything in this life,” he laughs again, and then I look more closely at the bills. “They’re burned at funerals in China,” he hints.
“Oh, I get it,” I say, finally noticing that, blended in with layers of colored pagodas and stern looking Chinese men, are the words HELL BANK NOTE. “So this might come in handy if I need to buy my way out of Hell?” I smile. He nods in return, then shoves five oversized mason jars full of herbs into my outstretched arms.
I make my teas in less than thirty minutes. The new formula from Cissy has half as many herbs in twice the amounts. I quickly clean the counter and slip out the back door in the direction of Joe’s hut to say goodbye.
“Oh, and sorry I didn’t make it to your birthday party,” he waves as I walk down the mountain. “You see, I didn’t remember until Saturday and by then it was too late. But I heard there was a good crowd, yeah.”