SAINT JUDE

By John Thomas Tuft

“It is like becoming aware of your own blinking,” Wendy said, brushing the end of her blonde braid across her eyes while gesturing across the way. “Or, getting a package full of wishes.” She smiles in that way that most people do when they visit the Frogholler Lavender Farm, which is carved out of the backwoods in the foothills of Stokes County, North Carolina. (Go ahead and Google it, I’ll wait. When you can tear yourself away from the pictures, sit back a spell and listen to my story.) “Blinking reminds us that we don’t have control over much. And wishes make us wonder, what would we do it we could?” She sits on one of the wide homemade wooden swings hanging under the trees, gazing past the silhouette of a horse-drawn wagon, across the acres of lavender waiting for warm June days, to where a dirt path slopes and dips down into the trees, leading to the next field of tapered hope.

A woolly St. Bernard lopes up the roadway, nearly two hundred pounds of controlled chaos and childlike wonder. “Hey, Jude. C’mere boy.” The brown and white gentle giant approaches in a cloud of dust and spray and plops his head in her lap. Wendy scratches around his ears. “This here is my buddy. Don’t know where I’d be without him, know what I mean?” She chews unselfconsciously on the end of her braid for a pensive moment. When she looks up her eyes are some far off place. “Do you think there are ever people who are lost causes?” Blinks ever so slowly, then quickly changes the subject. “Look at that,” she says as she indicates the rows of lavender. “Couple of weeks and this will be a carpet of beauty. People coming to take pictures and set here a spell. Makes you wonder, don’t it?”

Jude is distracted by a squirrel, and with a deep woof, he sets off to see if he can get up a game of tag. The squirrel considers this approach with utter disdain, head slightly cocked to the side, as the lumbering behemoth joyously signals his all good intentions. The squirrel casually drops his load, selects a tree, and leaves Jude to his own devices. Wendy watches this play out with a faint smile on her lips. “That big ol’ puppy, he’s all I got now.” Jude snuffs at some dead leaves and ambles back over to the swing, where he collapses with a loud sigh at her feet. “I had to leave home when I was sixteen,” she says quietly, her eyes half closed. “Not that it was much of a home. It was up Danvul’ way. My stepdaddy started taking a little too much interest in me, if you know what I mean. I learned how to survive on my own,” she continues, eyes wide and defiant, her voice rising.

Jude lifts his head to check on her, big gentle eyes absorbing her disquiet. “Then I found oxy.” Wendy tugs at the holder on her braid, pulls it off, puts it back on. “It makes you not feel, you understand?” Her eyes blink rapidly as she relives that feeling. “First maybe a ten a couple times a day. Then twenties, then three thirties–at a time. Till it’s never enough.” She rolls her eyes as she explains, “You just don’t think about what’s happenin’, got it? And the stuff you gotta do to pay for it… Your soul is melting away, but you just don’t care. Nobody else does either, so what’s it matter?” Her eyes brim with tears. She lets them roll freely across her cheeks before she swipes at them. Jude senses the earth dropping away and sits up, licks her fingers. The robins and finches in the surrounding trees pause to reflect on these eternal matters.

“One day I woke up in some skanky flop house and just started walking. Don’t know where I was goin’ but I had to get somewhere, know what I mean?” Her voice breaks in a sob as she chokes out, “I’m a lost cause, I tell ya. Right?” Her bloodshot eyes dart about until she finds Jude gazing at her. “A lost cause.” The kind dog puts his head in her lap again, waiting. The afternoon sun filters through the leaves, weaving a delicate lace veil around them. “Somehow—I really don’t remember how, I ended up at a shelter. An animal rescue shelter.” Her eyes are wide with wonder. “Jude was waiting for me there. Do you believe that? Two lost causes finding each other. Like it was meant to be.” She buries her face in Jude’s enormous head. Closes her eyes, seeking peace. Solace.

After a time, she sits up, wipes her eyes. “Been clean all of 492 days now.” Blinks ever so slowly. Once, twice. “C’mon, boy.” Jude shakes his mighty head, showering the area with holy mist. He finds her side and they set off, through the trees, across the field, side by side. Wendy’s braid swinging free as they go.  Frogholler Lavender Farm is just that kind of place, once you set eyes upon it.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.