By Blake Greene
She’s hunkered before me, sweat-soaked and four years my senior, as she pats pats pats on the cattail remedy. Her face smiles up to meet mine and, for a moment, something in my chest can’t handle her freckles.
“Cattail root always does the trick. I learned this from my first camp counselor, and she learned it from her counselor, and down the line all the way to the founding counselors.” She says “all” with a smooth, low coo, and I feel a flood of blood to the space below my belly button.
The cattail root—she works it into a paste with her hands, her fingers. Bits of soft mud still under her fingernails from when I watched her slip over by the lake, submerge her arm up to the bicep, and uproot the whole dripping cattail stock.
“Anti-nausea meds are just sugar pills. They don’t do a single thing for upset stomach.” The neck of her red shirt sits so low that I can see small white flecks of cattail paste splash her chest, dot the white terrain around her nipples, as she pulps the mix.
Weeks before this moment, when summer began, we developed a sort of code. “There are two tricks to this remedy, though.” I’d blink at her from across the way, and she’d blink back once, twice. “First trick, you gotta crush it up with your hands. The messier the better.” Then me, once, twice, three times. “Ready for the second trick?”
Three humid weeks and we’d worked up to sixteen blinks each.
She slides the rim of the bowl, scoops a dot of the tan paste onto her finger, stands over me, and extends it one inch from my mouth.
“My first counselor taught me that you have to lick it off the tip of the finger of the one who made it.” She blinks at me. “Otherwise,” she breathes, “it doesn’t work.”
I blink at her. And breathe.
My stomach didn’t get better, but the cattail taste is so strong, so good, god, it tastes so good, that I never did notice my stomach the rest of that day, or the next day, or the next summer, or for any summer after, and to this very second, my mouth still tastes like cattail root off the tip of her left middle finger.