Rooting Humber River

Illustration by Mathew Borrett

Feet planted, fists wider than hips, the infamous Marigold Winters looms six feet tall at the gate, as though she could singlehandedly defend the compound. Not sure what I expected, maybe a dragon in a tie-dyed caftan, but she looks exactly like what she is: a rich old white lady. Wearing turquoise under long-sleeved billowy fabric, wide-legged pants, a brimmed hat for the relentless sun. Silver shoulder-length hair, topaz on earlobes and fingers, large smoky quartz at her neck. Old but classy. Very smart, and like she knows it.

On my side of the wall it’s just a regular Toronto day. Thirty-one degrees, hitting forty by noon. Buses bump through rush hour with thousands of sputtering cars, overheated faces frowning out the windows. The diesel-free self-drive lane moves faster. I’ve ditched my bike in the ravine — probably already scavenged for parts by now. Frankly, if Marigold doesn’t play ball, I’m screwed. No back-up plan, and my ego can’t take the fail.

“Creeping Jenny, what a name,” she laughs. “Lysimachia nummularia, a.k.a. moneywort. Hardy and invasive.” Eyebrow cocked, she’s sizing me up.

I’m scrubbed clean, braids brushed out, no colours, no studs or metal, scars and branding covered. “My mom’s a Healer,” I say. “Was.” I bite my lip. “She used to study with you. Said to come here if anything ever happened.” I sleeve-swipe my teary eyes. I’m banking on nostalgia and, of course, her immeasurable guilt.

“Aw, Hon,” says Marigold. “What was her name?”

“Janice. Used to go by Ginseng?”

Marigold’s mouth slackens. Boom. “The spitting image, I should’ve known. I’m so sorry.” Jiggly arms crush me to pendulous bosom. The crystal cuts into my forehead, and I can hardly breathe: patchouli and lavender and the stale scent of sweat, like she’d been working hard earlier. “Let’s get you some tea,” she murmurs. “Oat straw and chamomile and,” she holds my face between wizened fingers, looking into my eyes, “borage. Looks like you could use a dash of courage.”

Kindness. It knifes me somewhere in the gut. I sniff, lean on her rounded shoulder. The high-voltage metal gate clangs behind us, and bam, I’ve got myself a first-class ticket to the exclusive Humber River Herbal Collective. Suckers.

Truth: my name is Creeping Jenny, for stealth. Anytime we need a scout, they send me. I climb trees, parkour...

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dedicated to Jan Brady

About Kristyn Dunnion