Saturday, July 31, 2004

Auguring August

All day a hot wind sweeps through the house. Curtains billow, doors slam shut, papers skid off the kitchen table onto the floor. Fat flies, lethargic with the heat, buzz the screens from both sides. The cats lie still, stretched out to full length, and sleep. Their little bellies rise and fall, rise and fall.

This morning, after squatting to sweep up spilled kitty crunchies, I arose -- and cracked my scalp on the mudroom shelf. I was surprised by the offended howl that escaped me, and sat stunned, gingerly touching the top of my head. Scalp wounds bleed like mad, and, sure enough, I soon felt a hot trickle running down my forehead, into the gully at the side of my nose, onto my chin, onto the floor. I stanched it with wet paper towels, and headed to the bathroom. Who was that blood-stained crone in the mirror, thin graying hair matted and caked with blood ? I daubed and rinsed, imagining myself eighty, ninety, fallen, bleeding, delivered into the indifferent care of robust young strangers, just another gomer gone to ground.

Hold still dearie, while we stitch you up. This won't hurt a bit.

An man in his eighties returned to the clinic last week, having barked his shin for the third time in the same spot, his thin, scarred epidermis torn and reddening with infection.

It's vulnerable he concluded.

It is, indeed, I replied. Did you know that the word comes from the Latin, vulnus, for wound ?

We are woundable. More and more so as we age.

August rubs our faces in incarnation. We sweat; our limbs seem to strain as if against water; it seems an effort to pull air down into lungs. Flies swarm everywhere. They remind us that we are carrion. They rub their little hands together in anticipatory glee. I think of Karl Shapiro's line "Hideous little bat, the size of a snot."

Cracking my head is a brilliant way to usher in the month. The year grows old, I grow old. Might as well knock myself senseless, speechless.

Earlier this morning I walked the bike path. The river was low, thick and dirty. Almost gelatinous. A Gatorade bottle bobbed midstream, caught in slimy rivergrass. The rusty bicycle under the footbridge has broken the surface, now. A handlebar, draped with some kind of limp vegetation admixed with trash, protrudes.

There is the image of a submerged bicycle in Andrei Tarkovsky's beautiful film Nostalghie. Puddles, pools, rain -- his films are full of water. And snow. The saddest thing is snow falling in a cathedral says one of the characters in Andre Rublev. And in Nostalghie the image recurs, big flakes falling in a ruined church.

The mown meadows are already regrowing. Knotweed stalks, indomitable, rise from the shorn grass. I prowl for late wildflowers: spiny purple burdock, tansy, bull thistle, mullein. And, just today, I saw some evening primrose beginning to open, bracing yellow petals unfolding around cruciform stamens. Just saying the name fills me with a sense of cool peacefulness. It could be a mantra. Evening Primrose, Evening Primrose. An antidote to August.

It was too windy to take many pictures. Everything was swaying, breathing. I was content to look. I peered under some small white pines, newly accessible after the recent mowing, where I'd seen a dead raccoon last April. Only a faint stench and some flat fur remained.

The beautiful nameless grass has just put out its seedhead, a light green spray from a dark green sheath. I began my river walks late last summer, noticing this late-blooming tall grass, its graceful panicle, and outlandishly beautiful seeds. The old, curled brown leaves are visible still, deep in new erupting green. The Queen Anne's lace has begun to brown and curl. The Canada thistles have turned from purple to brownish fluff. And the milkweed pods are a fresh light green, and bulging with their seeds.

And, already, the little, moist crusty lump on the top of my head has begun to close. What a miracle it all is.

Little Miseries

It struck me the other day at work that if I am called upon to be a specialist in anything it is in the little miseries of life. Headache, backache, toothache, stomachache, dizziness, colds, coughs, rashes, sprains, strains, cuts, bruises not to mention nerves and blues and insomnias and failing appetites -- and countless other mysterious, often undefinable noxious bodily and mental sensations.

I don't do crushing chest pain, impending comas, or half-severed limbs in walk-in, thank you very much. I gladly dispatch the big miseries across the hall to the ER. But even the little miseries are a shorthand for and a reminder of the Biggest Misery Of All, mortality. That's the monster under every sickbed, whether one has taken to it with catarrh or trick knee. That's the subtext of every medical encounter. Incarnation. Suffering. Death.

Could it be cancer, doc ?

Do you think it's my heart ?

There are two islands, Great and Little Misery, off the Massachusetts coast. We should consider having our office part there this year.

"Misery" shares a common root with miserere and miser. That's pushing away and holding on to sorrow. Two kilesas. And the third ? Delusion ? I recall the months during which I became my broken neck. Plus, of course, I hated the discomfort and inconvenience and clung to the security and notoriety of being a patient. A triple whammy of kilesas.

I would like to change the name of the hospital-based group practice where I am the walk-in doctor. It currently has a peppy little name that implies speedy service, the medical equivalent of Kwik-E-Mart. Stanislav Lem gave us the Hospital of the Transfiguration. Mine could be the Clinic of the First Noble Truth. Or IncarnationCare.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Transcendental Etude XI

Words, words, words.

Her small experiment in looking to her own tradition had lefther with a Hamlet-level weariness with words. Weariness, and exasperation.Ifher quest was for some insight into the nature of being, she felt as if she'dbeen led farther and farther from the clear source and into a thorny thicket.

Take the psalms. The backbone of the principal Christian monastic practice,the daily office. True, many contain passages of great,shimmering, ontological lucidity. But she kept getting derailed at the passages declaiming punishment and retribution, geopolitical revenge and militaristic triumphalism. And at the monarchical language:Lord. King. At the prayer that the enemies' babies be dashed against rocks. At all the orphan and widowmaking, and belligerant God-upmanship. My God's better than your God. Neener neener.

Then there was the Trinity. She didn't actually believe in it as some entity that existed out there, object of worship, whatever that was. But was it useful as a way of describing reality ? Father, Son, Spirit,three qualities of numinous being. Process, matter and energy. Creation, created, breath. But how can one, after all, separate creation and created ?

She found herself translating Christian scripture into science, into Zen, two languages that seemed far less mediated and far more congenial. She wanted insight into reality,not reality translated into more and more elaborate stories. She wanted less,not more mediation. Less, not more distance. Christianity seemed to her to be a big, beautiful, complicated poem. A byzantine epic. She was more in the mood for Li Po and Po Chu-i. Was it all a question of mood ?

She thought of that line from Amadeus that her musician husband loved quoting: Too many notes, your majesty .

Too many words, your holiness.

As an antidote to wordiness, she'd been trying to think herself into the mind of a cat. To think cat thinking, to paraphrase Dogen. First of all, it would be wordless thinking. Her own thinking, she knew, was often wordless. Wordless yet still conscious and self-conscious. She pictured herself, say, gazing into the refrigerator trying to decide what to eat. Or driving. Complicated activities that involved evaluation, judgment, emotions, images, awareness but little coherent inner speech.

A cat's experience of the world could be a little bit like that -- wanting, seeing, judging, feeling pleasure,pain, fear. Does kitty assemble all that into a coherent sense of "self"? She'd read about experiments with mirrors that seem to argue against a feline ego. But who, after all, knows ? She was unwilling to dismiss animals as little, instinctual machines created for human consumption. She'd, after all, seen their tuxedo cat, Billy, the creature they'd proclaimed the finest creature in the universe, emit his gutteral meows as he reared up on his hind paws against the kitchen door and looked over his shoulder straight at her. Obviously saying: You there. With the thumbs. Let Me Out. Now. Please.

And she'd watched him bolt, pure joyful velocity, out the back door then stop short on the driveway, swishing his tail, looking left then right, as if gauging which of a hundred possible delights to pursue. It was the image of herself, standing at the open refrigerator, gazing in. Or of herself, walking the river path, camera in hand, looking.

Think cat thinking. That would have to do for the time being.


Dispatch from Blogging Hell.

No one should have three blogs. Plus some funky photo upload place. It's crazy. But deliverance might be at hand. It looks like NETSCAPE 7.0 supports Blogger's new stuff and also knows how to upload images. AND works with a Mac. With a non OS X system.


Let's try it, shall we ?

Sunday, July 25, 2004


I mean convention.

I live a few miles west of Boston and I work in a community hospital northwest of the city, right at the spot where a major interstate is going to shut down for security purposes at 4 pm each of the convention days. The hospital is right at the last open exit, and there have been nightmarish predictions of a whole interstateful of rush-hour traffic sluicing into an already congested small city center. There's been a general apocalyptic logistical fret afoot, and I'm sure some would like to retreat to a convent for the next four days rather than face the traffic mess.

I like having the convention in town. It represents the possibility of the end of the four year nightmare of the Bush administration. It represents the possibility of hav
ing a president who is intelligent, articulate, well- educated, capable of subtle analysis and nuanced thought, who has a long career in public service, and who has demonstrated both physical and moral courage. Instead of a snide mendacious frat boy Jesus-mongering puppet.


I'm sorry to relate that Boston has its own Bushian "free speech zone," a Gitmo-like pen make from chain-link and netting under a grody, rusting chunk of highway not yet demolished by the Big Dig. It's for protesters, and it's nowhere near the Convention Center and the delegates. It even flooded with water during yesterday's rainstorm. It's become a cliche to complain that the whole country is supposed to be a free speech zone.

I ran afoul of the law today myself, driving back from the Watertown limb of the Riverwalk where I'd been taking photos. I stopped in front of a small cinderblock building that has always visually intrigued me. It contains several businesses, including a restaurant supply warehouse that opens to the public a few days a week. The storefront is the antithesis of slick, even crude, and what's been catching my eye is a large, multipaned square window painted checkerboard red and black, the central pane partially smashed out, and the word G L A S S W A R E crudely stenciled in black paint above it. So today I stopped and took a picture of it.

As I started to pull out of the parking lot, a cruiser pulled up beside me and the officer gestured for me to stop. Oh oh. I was just a few blocks from the Raytheon skyboxes. What if I'd been caught shooting those ?

I rolled down my window as the young officer approached my car. He apologized politely. Said he'd noticed me take a picture. Asked me would I mind telling him what I was doing. Well, yes, I did sort of mind, but I kept that part to myself. I told him how I thought the checkerboard, broken window and the stenciled sign were interesting so I'd stopped to take a photo.

"That's what I thought," he said, and apologized again.

I suppose I do fit the profile of an anarchist, with my graying hair, wire- rimmed glasses, Hawaiian shirt, paint-stained blue jeans and vegan, black Chuck Taylor low cut All-Stars. I was listening to Ralph Vaughn Williams, too.

Does it get any more subversive than that ?

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Tea At The Palaz Of Toast

Unless Blogger can tell me how to continue posting pictures, I will be defecting to typepad. And, for that matter, upgrading from House to Stevensian Palaz.

Which has nothing to do with Geoff Hoon.

And everything to do with a fatal combination of Macintosh Computer, sub-X OS, and IE 5.2. And a low tech mind.

So there.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Shorn and Shorn Again

I headed to the river early today, with camera, eager to identify a new thistle I'd seen emerging last week, and watch the further developments of the sexy, exotic gamagrass. A few spotted touch-me-nots -- orange spotted trumpets -- had emerged by the footbridge where the loosestrife were massing in their glorious cold magenta, and, on the other side of the bridge, tall groups of water hemlock had continued to open. As I rounded the corner, past the japanese knotweed with its new, white upcoiling flowers, I stopped in horror.

The first little meadow on the left had been shorn down to stubble. The curly dock, the chicory, the fleabane, the pigweeds, the queen anne's lace, were all slashed down in an anonymous, ugly buzzcut. I looked up the path. There was a vista of dull, flat, mowed lawn.

Aghast, I hurried toward the first of the two big, beautiful grassy meadows.

It was gone. All gone. Shorn to a flat stubblefield littered with drying clumps of hay. The grasses with their beautiful seedheads, the gangly sweet clover, the purple thistles and knotweeds, the fleabane, the daisys, the chicory, the queenanne's lace, the wierd and lovely medusan field garlics, the birdsfoot trefoils, the black-eyed susans, the rabbitsfoot clovers, the hoary alyssums -- all reduced to a flat, common waste.

I remembered standing at day's end in the bright, low sun amidst the chest-high grasses, watching them sway and undulate in the wind. I remembered crouching in them to peer closely at a leaf or flower -- the smell and touch of them. I remembered the sudden sound of birds and rabbits rushing through them.

All gone.

I stood in the middle of the shorn field. The stubble was dry and ugly. The litter was all the more visible. Bright, enticing, primary-colored junk-food wrappers caught the eye instead of the purple thistles or the yellow birdsfoot trefoil.

What can one do on such a place ? Play frisbee ? Jog past it while talking on a cell phone ? Ride a dirt bike over it ? Sunbathe on it ? Throw a gatorade bottle onto it ?

My weeks of watching the spring then the summer come to fruition end, long before the denouement, in a cropped, ugly trash field.

And since Blogger -- who giveth and taketh away with equal alacrity -- has apparantly decided to get rid of its simple "upload image" function, I can't share the scenes of decimation with you.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Two Political Dreams

In the first dream, it is night time, and I am in the dark corridor outside my bedroom. John Kerry, even taller than he actually is, is standing there in the shadows. He towers above me. He is standing very still. I hug him, barely reaching to his chest. It is not an erotic hug. It is the hug of a child seeking comfort from a trusted parent.

He has, I notice, tiny love handles.

In the second dream, I am being menaced by a terrible, powerful man, someone in authority, someone who, indeed, has my life in his hands. Knowing that it will enrage him, and jeopardize me, nonetheless I scream:

You fucking Nazi !

Saturday, July 10, 2004


Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.

He alone feels authentic sorrow who realizes not only what he is but that he is.
Cloud Of Unknowing

Monday, July 05, 2004

This, not "immanence," is the opposite of transcendence

When the hospital sent around a reminder about the dress code a few weeks ago it was all I could do to keep from taking it personally.

My wardrobe situation has officially, as of this weekend, reached defcon one. My dear spouse, the usually diplomatic and militantly unfashionable DK, lobbed this one my way: I hate to tell you this, PT, but even I dress better than you these days. And, this morning, showing me a six year old photo of our kitties cavorting in the living room in which a headless slice of me is visible in the corner, he said: Look, you're still wearing that outfit ! (Black hooded sweatshirt, red plaid lumberjack shirt, blue jeans, long red scarf.)

The day before the spousal critique, I'd gathered my courage and ventured into a clothes store. The only kind I, Ms Tightwad, can ever bring myself to enter: a tacky discount store. You know: TJ Maxx, Marshall's. Big, anonymous places where I can remain unassaulted by imperious saleswomen sniffing May I help you ? or bored, gum smacking, naked-midriffed, salesgirls sneering May I help you ?

Dears, I am beyond help.

I knew from the moment I entered the store that there was nothing for me there. Pulsating, unnatural, eye-gouging, fluorescent colors screamed from every corner.

I approached a rack of "activewear," dimly remembering it was where, three or four years ago, I'd found the grey and red striped, cotton boat-necked shirt that, despite the bleach marks on the front, I've come to think of as "my favorite shirt." I should have bought five of them. And five pairs of the microfiber animal-free shoes that are currently rotting off my feet. Which, after I bought them, the company immediately stopped making. "We don't make those anymore," sniffed the customer service rep curtly in email. (Simpsons' fans: Cue the subtextual Nelsonian Haha.)

My search for replacement shoes has led me to such egregious fashion miscalculations as

a pair of shoes so stiff and ugly that at the end of a few hours of wearing them I need both a podiatric and a psychiatric ER.

Last week I had a patient, a gnarled and wizened eighty-something who looked decades older than her chronological age. Who had a yards-long list of afflictions, and was on a boat-load of meds. As I peered down at her in her wheelchair and introduced myself, I immediately spotted her feet. My shoes !

"Omigod," I blurted, "I love your shoes ! Where did you get them ???"

The situation's getting that desperate.

So, as I mentioned, I took matters in hand.

Rejected by "activewear," I proceeded to "shoes." That's where things got really byzantine. I saw, I swear, a pair of red, plastic high-heeled flip-flops. You know, those flat slabs of sole-shaped rubber with the V-shaped thingy that goes between the first two toes ? With HIGH HEELS. Honest.

"Well," I thought, "At least I'll get some socks."

Yes, my abjection reaches even into the sock drawer.

I stood in front of the sock rack. WTF ? So when did socks stop rising above the ankle ? How did I miss this ? (At the same time shoes stopped having backs and became "slides.") My eyes blurred at the profusion of sub-malleolar perky little terrycloth thingies. Clearly designed for some Atkins-diet related sporting purpose. I grabbed a handful of thin, white cotton anklets that looked like something the Red Cross might have distributed to dust-bowl old-age homes during the Great Depression, and fled deeper into the store, leaving being an enormous, dropsical, balding senior citizen in a floral housecoat (visions of myself a few months from now) fingering a pair of the sports socks. "I feel your pain," I thought.

The rest of the trip is a Disney-esque blur of "tops," "capris," and "career sportswear," of diaphanous polyester and hot-pink midriff-baring spandex, of aggressively cantilevering shoulder pads, of floral prints so garish Mother Nature herself would weep.

I dimly remember staring at a wooly, fringed black and pink houndstooth suit, thinking: Who buys this stuff ? Who wears this stuff ? By then I was delirious. Ready to cast myself onto the floor to gnash my teeth and weep and rend my clothes at the sheer ugliness of it all. Except that rending the clothes would have made my fashion situation even more desperate.

Finally, horrified at the deadening prospect of making a financial transaction, I returned the 30's anklets to the sock rack, and fled.

That's my usual shopping trip.

And what am I wearing now ? My dalmation bathrobe: the white cotton one that took a trip in the dryer with a black bic pen.

DK rests his case.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Little Skyboxes Made Of Ticky Tocky

As I got out of my car with my camera I worried a bit about the department of homeland security. Was that woman over there watering her lawn a Tom Ridge proxy ? Were there black helicopters hovering just over the horizon ?

The big industrial complex at whose chain-link-fence-and-barbed-wire I was parked had been, after all, Raytheon , a major purveyor of a wide range of weapons of individual destruction. Which, taken collectively, do add up to weapons of mass destruction. But they are the good weapons of mass destruction. Our weapons of mass destruction.

Does "Raytheon" really mean "the light of God" ?

For the ladies, they produce a swell line of ornithologicaly themed missiles -- lark, sparrow, hawk, shrike, falcon, phoenix. For the gents, there are several phallically themed devices -- javelin, stinger, excalibur -- in addition to the ever-macho cruise, sidewinder, maverick and tomahawk missiles, the brilliant anti-armor tank submunition (BAT), the exoatmospheric kill vehicle, the aptly named HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation Missile) and RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile). Why, they even produce a groundbreaking, post-modern, gender-inclusive device, the LGB, aka the Paveway Laser Guided Bomb.

A munition for practically everyone. (Note to CEO, how about a line of Celibate cruise missiles ?)

Of course, the plant whose perimeter I was stalking had closed a few years ago. The buildings have been refurbished, but are still mostly empty save for a gym and a bio-tech firm. There's lots of primo real estate left, just waiting to actualize its full negative capability.

I had come to photograph the Raytheon skyboxes -- curious, white shingled rooms on stilts. For all their evocation of desert stylites, Swiss Family Robinson and the tree houses of our childhood, I suspect they relate more to the testing of radar-related devices than to peaceable shelterings.

Along with The Church Of The Holy Armadillo

they represent one of Waltham's chief architectural curiosities. In fact, the military quonset hut motif of the church goes well, don't you think, with the munitions plant down the road ? And isn't it, well, practically chiasmic -- bomb plant named after God, God house shaped like a army barracks ? Onward Christian Soldiers ! Onward War-Mongering Christians ! And, come to think of it, isn't the armadillo like a little armored tank ? And isn't the church also awfully like Darth Vader's helmet ?

Nonetheless, I do admire these little stilted dollhouses. I would like to decommision one and live there, especially the one with the little rooftop garden. The location is a little stark -- overlooking an enormous, empty parking lot. But don't they seem like hermitages ? Perfect for a little laura of aerial hermits ?

I am imagining a Robert-Oppenheimer-like geek-monk living there, deeply contemplative, rapturously filling volumes with abstruse and beautiful symbols. Using a quasi-medieval slide-rule, of course. And, later, recoiling in horror from what he'd wrought.

Just as I can imagine a forlorn priest in the Holy Armadillo's rectory (or an imam in the Mosque of the Sacred Porcupine) lamenting all the ordnance being deployed and all the lives being lost in the name of "God."

Friday, July 02, 2004


I have always admired the Gallic apology "je suis desolee." It so surpasses "excuse me," "I'm sorry" or even "pardonnez-moi" in emotional contrition, that it contains within its almost histrionic exaggeration a soupcon of ironic insincerity.

But today I am desolate in the true sense of the word. Beyond consolation.

Our splendid little kitty, Rosa, died yesterday.

The call came shortly after I arrived home from work. It was a neighbor, a stranger, reporting she'd found Rosa dead in the street that morning, run over, and had retrieved her, initially thinking it was her own orange cat.

I grabbed a towel and drove to her house. Two women, mother and daughter, were waiting in the driveway.

The older woman explained that her son had triple bagged poor little Rosa and placed her in the trash. "She was starting to smell," she said, apologetic, emotional herself.

"I understand," I reassured her and went through layers of trash bag and trash until I saw blood-spattered orange fur. A teenage girl stood on the steps, looking grief-sricken and close to tears herself.

Rosa had been dead long enough for rigor mortis to have come and gone. Her body was strangely warm from the sun and pliant. I lifted her from the trash and placed her on a dark blue towel. Her head seemed flattened. There was some blood on her paws. There was sand in her fur. She was heavier than I could ever imagine our sprightly, mercurial little cat. Almost impossibly heavy. In that moment I understood "dead weight." No breath, no purr, no restless, joyful movement, no sprightly cat attention directed toward every earthly wonder in her world. Just flesh, lugubriously still. A thing.

I carried her swaddled body to the car. As I drove home, the smell of decay filled the air.

Home, I carried her from room to room, full of sadness, every old loss, human and feline, stirring in the vault of my brain, ghosts assembling to form a choir of grief.

Where was Rosa ?

I listened for her in the wind in the trees, I looked for her in the astonishing, Rose-colored full moon. Nowhere. There was no thought I could think, none at all, that gave consolation. No God thought. No Zen thought. No thought that "grief is just a thought." None.

DK and I wept and wept. "The house is empty," he said. I slept fitfully. He didn't sleep at all. We talked about her: her sweet, gregarious, affectionate nature. How she licked the other kitties' heads, how she nuzzled us. How she swaggered about. How she squeak-purred, and conversed with us.

She loved to go outside. She loved the summer. She was a street kitty from birth, the shelter told us. We'd noted she did not shy from the road like our other two, more circumspect outside cats. We should have heeded that. I wish we'd heeded that.

Waking from an odd dream, walking in the dark to the bathroom, I felt my own weight. I was topheavy, about to fall over. I felt like the earth was trying to pull me down, and under. "This," I thought, "is what age and impending death must feel like."

Waking again to thunder and lightning at 4, I again interrogated the dangerous world: where is Rosa ? I thought of all the creatures, animal and human, currently in harm's way. The mothers and fathers across the planet who carried armsful of swaddled dead children. The impossible weight of death and loss and incarnation.

I thought of my own imperfect husbandry of my poor little Rosa. "Je suis desolee," little kitty. I am so, so sorry. I should never have let you out beyond the sphere of my care into the treacherous, car-ridden world.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Transcendental Etude X

It was one of her rare and unpleasant insomnias. A small middle of the night half-awakening had opened up into a full chasm of alertness, thronged with small discomforts and anxieties. In fact that's all there seemed to be, there in the darkness beside the heinous red glow of the digital clock. Frets about work, health, finances, her son, the future. All the small stuff that made up her life. Then came the swarm of regrets and the panorama of failures. Fear. Self-loathing. Thoughts of decline and death. Hers, her loved ones'.

"This is it," she thought. "This is all there is. The rest is bullshit."

A whole layer of mental activity had disappeared, like a bright rind shucked off and tossed into the trash. She was burrowing through the pulp of an ugly, mealy fruit. What had happened to all those fine thoughts about transcendence, and all those plans and schemes for achieving it ? She'd been living a strange fantasy life. A Merton groupie. A Zen Trekkie. An RC Wannabe. But it had simply vanished. All that remained was a sediment of dysphoria. Unlust as Freud had said.

Eventually sleep had returned, but she woke with a sour residual distress, nagging as a hangover. Two cups of coffee barely touched it.

Suddenly, while showering, she remembered a scene from her childhood. She couldn't have been more than ten. She was at her grandparents' house, and the adults were wallpapering the living room. They were removing the old paper. Steaming and scraping. She stood by and watched, fascinated, as layer after layer of wallpaper emerged. It was like the geologic strata in her books. Archeological. Free-form, 1960's amoeboid blobs. Then red velvet calligraphic scrolls on creamy white. Then bucolic scenes of country life complete with lords, ladies and horses. Next came a series of tiny patterened nosegays on pastel grounds, then layers of staid geometrics. Then cabbage roses. Finally, wide, funereal brown wainscot-like bars.

Last night she'd found herself in the horsehair plaster.

As she stood under the hot, restorative water, she realized that all the fretful stuff below the vanished rind of pleasant fantasy was also rind. Like the layers of wallpaper in her Grandmother's house. She needed to take it down farther and farther, layer by layer, through paper and plaster and insulation and woodframe and shingle, right through the wall to light and air.

And then through that.

Double Double Toil And Trouble