She left her shoes at the edge of the rushing water. It was easier to feel her way across the wet stones when she was bare-footed. The swirling cold of the rapids tickled her skin where she lifted her skirt above her knees.
Slowly making her way to the far bank, Raeanne caught the glint of a river-polished agate, tumbled for ages in the shallows. Stooping to pick up the rock, she dried it on her apron hem.
Turning it over and over, it fit perfectly in the palm of her hand. There was a small hollow in its center, as if her thumb had worried away the stone. She dropped it in her pocket to add to her collection.
Along the rocky shore, a line of trees held out their foliage heavy limbs, holding down the cool current of river breezes. Tucked in, among the underbrush were the mayapples, hiding their sweet, yellow fruit beneath their duck foot leaves.
Picking the fall apples, Raeanne filled her burlap sack. Her growling stomach quieted by one of the juicy pomes.
In the spring, when the tiny, white flowers were blooming, Raeanne gathered the roots. Her granny called them mandrakes, and swore the bulbs cried out when pulled from the ground.
Crossing back across the creek, she sat on a large boulder to put her shoes back on. The last of fall’s warmth heating the rock. Raeanne pulled the polished stone from her pocket. Smooth and cool to touch, she worked her thumb in the hollow, and thought about Hoyt.
He’d been gone almost eight months. She had liked him, even missed him now, but granny said his usefulness was spent and it had to be done.
She hoped Hoyt’s last visions were wild. That when his spirit left his body, it left with mad abandon. Sliding down from the rock, Raeanne held her free hand to her swollen belly, feeling the life he exchanged stir inside her.
The smooth stone would remind her of Hoyt and his final gift to her. When the babe was old enough, she’d pass the stone on to their son.
“Goe, and catche a falling starre,
Get with child a mandrake roote,
Tell me, where all past yeares are,
Or who cleft the Divels foot,
Teach me to heare Mermaides singing,
Or to keep off envies stinging,
Serves to advance an honest minde.”
*Quote credit: John Donne, “Song” (1572 -1631)
Mayapples, sometimes called mandrake, grow wild in the Tennessee woods. In the fall, when the fruit ripens to a pale yellow, the apples can safely be made into jams and jellies. In the spring, when the blooms are just beginning to bud, the roots can be harvested. Wine or water tinctured with the bark of the roots is poisonous when ingested in large amounts. Toxicity symptoms include hallucinations, delirium, and eventual coma. According to ancient folklore, in small doses, the root was also used as an aphrodisiac.