The young man and adult woman walked through the scarlet curtain and into the doctor’s home. The young man expected it to be darker and dimmer than it was, but found that there was a large block of milky crystal embedded at an angle where it could catch the light from another milky crystal block just over the doorway exposed to the sun. The refracted and diffused light seemed superior to traditional candles, but at the same time strange. It illuminated shelves and tables full of roots, live plants both familiar and not, and dried animal parts from every angle instead of just one. As if there was no discernible source of light at all. The young man was so taken with the odd white light that he almost failed to notice the swift and soft slicing coming from the floor at the far edge of the room.
“I can’t deal with him,” said the bald doctor abruptly and without even looking up from the roots she was cutting on the low iron table. She took a moment to write something on the reed-paper with a strange kohl-dipped steel quill, seemingly never seeing anything other than her guests’ feet.
Pakheme felt the stomach-twisting pang that was threatening to constipate him suddenly morph into a bird whose wings tickled his insides before flying away into the clear sky. He almost turned around to leave, but he felt the tall woman tense up beside him and knew that he’d better stay.
“You have to,” the woman demanded. Pakheme inched to the side, away from his mother. As he looked around the cliff-carved quarters, he focused on the large collection of gnarled roots and brown furs on the table a few feet away that needed to be sorted. He heard his mother rattling off his many problems while he paid more attention to the assorted things before him—”he hates being around people, he can’t stand being touched, he’s always so somber, he won’t eat except late at night, he’s becoming lazy about work, all he does is read old scrolls all the time but not in any of his studies…”
He felt the doctor look up, but his mother was too busy reciting his many, many problems to notice. Pakheme turned to meet the doctor’s stare.
The old woman must have been no less than seventy years old, with thick white eyebrows that still had patches of black at the roots of the hairs and a very skinny frame—probably one of the devout vegetable eaters from one of the Forest Faiths of the south who never seemed to age properly on time or plump up. If Pakheme still felt such urges, he would have laughed at how comically bushy the woman’s eyebrows were. But he noticed more strongly than anything the deep, sharp gaze of the old woman that would consume him if he let it.
“What are you reading?” asked the doctor, not minding Pakheme’s mother, who stopped speaking, her presence shrinking.
“Things I find in the university library,” Pakheme said.
“Regarding the subject matter written.”
“As I said,” the old woman turned her attention back to the roots under her knife, “I cannot deal with him. He knows everything. He can deal with himself by himself. You should pay him to do it.”