Ray drove through the back neighborhoods to avoid being recognized. There was a fork in the road by the old gas station and he tried to remember which way to turn to get to Main Street. He thought it was to the right, but he decided to take a left instead.
He saw the small house almost immediately. It was under a tall oak tree dripping with Spanish moss. The grey paint on the building had flaked off to expose the crumbling wood underneath. An out of control Azalea bush had eaten the shell driveway and the front yard was a wall of tall grass.
Pulling up to the curb, he rolled down the window to get a better look. Everything smelled of wet leaves and sweet olive.
When he was five or six years old he began to suffer from horrific nosebleeds. They were vicious outpourings of clotted veins and gushing fluid that nauseated the most stoic of the doctors who tried treating him. Unable to determine the cause, their only suggestion was to hope he would outgrow it.
A priest even came to their home, first to have dinner with his parents, then later that night to pray over Ray and douse him again and again with cold water from a small vial. He kept bleeding through it all.
One afternoon his mother and aunt took him for a ride in the family’s old green station wagon. They drove to this house where a short woman with white hair stood in the yard clipping flowers from the bush. When she saw the car pull up she put her hands on her hips and called out.
“You know you’re not welcome here.”
Ray stayed in the car with his aunt while his mother walked across the pristine lawn to talk to the other woman. After a few minutes she invited them all inside.
The women sat at the kitchen table talking while he played in the living room with a coloring book. He put it to the side and looked around the dark room. There were pictures of people everywhere, and paintings of angels and some things that he didn’t know what they were.
After they finished their coffee, the old woman knelt down beside him. She placed crooked fingers, hard as nails, across his forehead and began rubbing one of his ears with the other hand.
Sharp words and something that smelled like a car engine burning filled the room. He woke up on the floor, flat on his back. The woman sat him up, hugged him tight and handed him a bloody rag. She made him promise that he would dig a hole in the yard and bury the rag in the middle of the night, when there was no moon in the sky. After kissing him on the top of his head she whispered in his ear that he could not tell anyone where he buried it or the devil would come and steal his feet while he slept.
“Your mama’s a good woman to let me heap coals of fire on her head for this favor. You honor her now and do like I tell you to.”
He kept the promise, burying the cloth behind the rusty tin shed at the edge of the yard, and he never had another nose bleed again.
Ray had stopped believing in God a long time ago because there were no miracles left in the world like the one he had experienced that afternoon. Why were there no old ladies around with magic words and healing cloths who could stop his friends from dying?
Rolling up the window, he continued his search for Main Street.