My man is restless, padding, pacing. Migraine.
It's 5:40 am. I reluctantly climb out of bed to see what I can do. His long body slumps in his armchair, head in his hand, fingers twisting in his hair. He winces at bird calls, at the claws of light that rake across his skull. He's taken his last migraine pill, and it's not working yet. The drugstore doesn't open for hours, I pull on some clothes and head outside in search of feverfew, a wild herb that's also one of the few medications that can soothe a migraine.
I remember, when we were first lovers, going out in the middle of the night, digging through deep snow to find this herb that can still survive, deep green, bitter and potent, under the January snows. The man thought I was a witch.
Now, on one of the first mornings of summer, I head down the stairwell of my housing co-op and out into the city. On the retaining wall of our front garden, a flame flickers in a red votive holder. Three floors above, one bitter winter night, two young men were shot and killed. Somewhere, a mom or an auntie still can't sleep. She sometimes travels here in the wee hours to leave a candle for her boy. A morning walk can break your heart.
Beside the candle, raw red branches snag the air. A few days ago, a neighbour took a chainsaw to these junipers and tore out many of the plants in the herb and flower garden, righteously tilling the dry, poor soil into the grey void preferred by most landscapers. I double-check, but they did indeed clear out the feverfew along with the Queen Ann's lace, young sunflowers and echinacea.
Feverfew is a pretty plant: lush even in dry soils, with a lacy leaf and abundant white flowers that resemble chamomile. It relieves migraines. What's not to like? I head for a magnificently weedy boulevard, benignly neglected by the city and a neighbouring slaughterhouse. The squeal of frightened pigs weaves with gull cries as I vainly search for my lover's medicine among the chicory, plantain and grasses. My man will be in pain for a while.
I'm now desperate, peering into gardens. As I lean over a fence, a swallow launches itself, head-on, like a steel-blue missile at my forehead. I laugh aloud as it sharply veers away, scolding. Above me its two chicks, pale brown but already graceful, slip from their mud nest up into the morning air.
Finally, in a school garden, I find a patch of young feverfew. I leave a small offering of tobacco in the soil before picking a leaf or two from each plant.
As I hurry homeward with a fistful of medicine, a young robin on a wire shakes its ragged feathers.
Head high, he's sassy, confident, invincible. Like my grown-up son. Like the boys who died in the apartment beneath mine.