Between the large town of Toska and the thick forest of Hiraeth, on the edge of the tree line and a distance from the main road, there stands a big, old, gnarled tree with a small door and round windows.
It is where I live, and where people come with souls that need mending.
The young ones are always timid, a bit embarrassed, telling me their rips are little; but they can’t stand them just the same. Sometimes they’re right, and the rips are tiny, but they bleed and bleed and bleed, and they burn like fire.
Sometimes they are wrong, and the rips in their souls are some of the worst I’ve seen. Those are the ones I spend days on, sometimes weeks, stitching with every different color of thread I have.
The adults usually wait a long time before coming to me. By the time I see their souls, they are stiff with frayed edges, and the damage runs deep.
I always tell them to come back immediately if it gets torn again. Sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. Whatever they choose, I know they’re trying to do their best.
I get paid many different ways; with coin, favors, food, books, herbs, clothing, and secrets, to name a few. And a hedgehog. He still likes to sleep on my lap or in my sewing basket while I work.
I look at the soul I’ll work on today. The girl who owns it is in her twenties, a little older than I had been when I started mending other people’s souls. My heart aches the moment I pick it up, and it burns like stinging nettles against my fingers. This will hurt.
It always does.
My hands are calloused and rough from years of this job. The first time I held a torn soul in my hands they were bleeding within an hour. It took me forever to get it done.
But in the end it was worth every stab of pain, and I knew I wouldn’t stop.
So many lies have scratched this soul that their claws ripped it wide open. She had spread plaster over the jagged tears as her own attempt to fix it, but the plaster had hardened and now pulled at the edges. I know the soul underneath will be raw and bleeding.
I warm up some soothing oil in a pot and add a bit of lavender and chamomile. Putting the soul in to soak, I make sure the temperature doesn’t get too warm. It will need to be there a while before the plaster will peel away, and I don’t want to risk tearing the soul by prying it off too soon.
While it soaks, I select a thread and needle. She had been right in one aspect when she tried using the plaster. She knew that these rips and tears need something strong to fix it. Something steady, something lasting, but something a little flexible, so it doesn’t pull once the tear becomes scar tissue.
My blue thread is the steadiest, my black is the most lasting, and yellow is my most flexible. I run my scarred hands over the many spools. Every color, every shade, all to mend souls from the toughest to the most delicate tears.
I pull out my dark moss-green thread. It will hold, but also stretch and give with time. It will stay, always, but it will fade into the past. Hopefully, there will be a time when it won’t be noticed anymore.
Reaching into the warm oil, I start gently pushing the plaster off. It is stubborn, and clingy, and slow to respond, but it comes off. Beneath it, the soul is bleeding, and raw, and vulnerable and scared. I take it out and lay it on a soft blanket. It needs to sit for a while, so I start humming to myself as I clean out my pot, find my glasses, and thread my needle.
I sit cross-legged in my stuffed armchair and carefully pick up the torn soul. My thread is double-knotted and my stitches are painstakingly small. With as many rips as are in this soul, I know it will be late before I’m finished. Still, I don’t rush. I sew, and hum, and listen to the stories that leak out beneath my fingers.
My neck and shoulders will be in knots in the morning. I’ll probably have a headache too. I’ll need to soak my hands and wrap them before I go to bed.
But tomorrow, I’ll give back the soul with tiny green stitches all over it. I’ll tell her to be gentle with it, and to come back if it gets torn again.
I will be here for when it does.