The Goddess of Small Things


Every office needs a goddess. Every doctor needs to see one now and then to keep things in perspective. Separate the two Magisteria.

I have a goddess –not self-professed to be sure, but in a pinch, self-acknowledged. She comes to see me once a year or so, for reasons that are not at all transparent.

It began about fifteen or more years ago. It was a surprise; the referrral letter from her doctor said nothing about a goddess. It didn’t even mention her powers, as I recall. It merely said “Infection!!”  and although the writing seemed laboured, reluctant –scrawled perhaps describes it best- the exclamation marks were clear enough. In fact, they were several times the size of the writing, and burrowed deep into the page, breaking through the paper in one particularly enthusiastic area as if to justify their mission.

Judith did not come across as your average goddess at all. In fact that first time she seemed rather shy and dressed as background; I didn’t even noticed her sitting in the already crowded waiting room until she stood up when I mis-called her name. A short woman with matching short dark hair, she was wearing a dress that seemed at once plain, and at the same time almost camouflaged against the other dresses in the room. Quite a trick, really. She only stood out when she moved across the room to correct my shortening of the Judith part of her name to Judy.

She spoke, or rather commanded my attention, as soon as I closed the door. I couldn’t place her accent, but it seemed an unusual one. “I require only one thing of you, doctor, so we can dispense with the usual history taking.”

I hate it when they do that. I’m a specialist; I’m supposed to take a careful history and solve their otherwise intractable problems with the benefit of my esoteric knowledge base.

She studied my face for a reaction and, obviously satisfied with the engendered confusion, proceeded to enlighten me. “I’ve been to several specialists already, but they all seem unwilling –or perhaps unable- to help me.” I don’t know why, but I felt like a PhD candidate about to defend an assertion in his thesis. I was being examined.

“I have a recalcitrant case of Mobiluncus mulieris in my parts.”

I have to confess that I blinked involuntarily at the words. Was she a nurse? A doctor in disguise, sent by the provincial medical association to check on my competance? I had to think fast –she had just named one of the several microorganisms thought to be responsible for a rather malodorous vaginal problem. “Bacterial Vaginosis can be very difficult to treat…”

She was silent for a moment and then sat down in a chair across from my desk, a smile incipient, hiding in full view. “Very good, doctor.”

“Did I pass?”

The smile blossomed on her face like a rose opening in the morning sun; her eyes twinkled with mischief. She sat back in the chair, finally relaxed. “I had to know…”

I didn’t ask.

But from that moment, she seemed to bond –with me, with the room, with the Gestalt… And, no doubt it was my imagination, but she suddenly surfaced from the background, like a picture focussing. She shook her head like a fairy might and blinked back at me from somewhere deep inside her head. “You will be my doctor,” she said simply and then stood up.

The interview was obviously over, the threshold attained and crossed, but she stopped at the door and turned to me. “I will not come with problems I cannot solve, merely with problems I wish to discuss.” The now-famous blink again. “Is that all right?” she said, already knowing it was as she turned and left.

She would appear from time to time and tell me of her trips to places I had never heard of. Sometimes it was cloaked in the pretense of needing a pap smear, or a culture for some totally esoteric sexual disease, but we both understood that these were excuses. Dissimulations to cloak her need to connect. It was as if, when she disappeared each time through the door, she ceased to exist –much like Brigadoon –the famous musical about a town that exists for only one day every hundred years.

I told her the story of Brigadoon on a visit when she suddenly appeared in the waiting room, after not seeing her for what seemed like several years. She disappeared behind her eyes for a moment in surprise and when she surfaced again, she was a pixie. She shrugged mischievously, as if caught with a hand in the cookie jar. “I travel a lot,” she said, but not convincingly.

I realized how little I actually knew about her and when she sat down, I decided to find out more. But I suppose she could read my expression and shook her head almost imperceptively. “Magic lies not in what you can see, but in what you can’t quite make out, don’t you think?” she said innocently enough.

I smiled to conceal my embarrassment at being caught about to probe a past which, by some unwritten, unspoken understanding we had agreed should remain hidden. “My secretaries think you are a…” –I hesitated to continue, fearing she would take even the substitute word that I had decided to use the wrong way. An unintended, pejorative way. One secretary –the younger one- had actually said ‘witch’, but the other, the older worldly-wise one, a more sexually-innuendoed word.

But she merely smiled; her eyes told me she already knew what I wanted to say. “You were going to disguise their guess, weren’t you?”

“I…”

“Or change it into something more… polite?” her face twinkled playfully. I have to confess I blushed at her seeming prescience. She leaned towards me over my desk. “Some have called me fey…” She thought about the word for what seemed an eternity. As if she wasn’t sure how much to disclose. “There are many words they use,” she whispered and then sat back. “Witch, enchantresss, goddess… Weird things like that, because, like you, they don’t know much about me.” She stared at me for a full minute and then at something over my head –or so it seemed. “Because I only appear long enough to influence some part of their everyday lives and then vanish, there is a touch of mystery to me, I suppose.”

The skin on her face relaxed and she suddenly seemed older. Wiser. Ancient.

She got up slowly and walked to the door. “But it’s not like that, you know. Not really…” Even from the door I could see her sigh. “No matter what they think, I don’t do very much for them.” A final blink before she turned. “I am the Goddess of small things,” she said over her shoulder as if to the wall. As if, as it turned out, I would never see her again.

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