It was a strange request he’d made of Theodore. But still, he really had been cooped up for months. Even if it all did seem a bit silly, perhaps it could do him some good after all.
The Sorrower had come the week prior, announcing his presence in the late hours of the night with a polite rapping of the door-knocker. Theodore opened the door. The Sorrower stood before him, crouched slightly so that his face might appear in view of the doorframe, his own frame being much taller and broader than that of the average man.
“Hello,” he said politely. “I am The Sorrower.”
“Oh. Yes, I- I see,” Theodore had stammered, intimidated not only by The Sorrower’s reputation but of his stature and the careless intrusion his sudden appearance had created. “I have no need for your services,” Theodore lied nervously. “Good evening.”
The Sorrower prevented Theodore from closing the door not with any action, but with a withering look from stormy grey eyes that could root a man to the spot. “You have not left the house in some time, Mr. Montgomery,” The Sorrower said. Theodore Montgomery briefly wondered who might have told him, then decided it was probably more accurate to say that The Sorrower just knew.
“I have my food and my books on a delivery schedule that suits me just fine,” Theodore insisted even as he stood aside to allow The Sorrower entry. The Sorrower crouched even further to make his way through the door, his long black hair billowing in behind him, reminiscent almost of an ethereal cloud. His leather bag hung at his side, and Theodore eyed it nervously.
“Tell me, Mr. Montgomery,” The Sorrower went on to say, “does that really suit you? Never leaving?”
“I-... I suppose not,” Theodore Montgomery said with some difficulty.
The Sorrower sniffed the air, then glanced at the ceiling just barely above his head. “How long has it been since you took a stroll, Mr. Montgomery?” The Sorrower then glanced sidelong into the kitchen. “Or done the washing up? You’ve fired your maid -with a stellar letter of recommendation, I understand, but still- and your neighbors have seen nothing of you in months. How long has this been going on?”
“Since my wife passed,” Mr. Montgomery said without having to think on it.
“When was this?”
“The third of June.”
The Sorrower recollected for a moment. “There was a storm that night, wasn’t there?”
“I believed so. Follow me, if you will. I think I know where your Sorrow is.”
Theodore followed The Sorrower up the stairs, then up again as The Sorrower crammed his frame into the attic. Mr. Montgomery’s attic was empty, save for a few boxes of old books and a wardrobe of dresses Mrs. Montgomery no longer wore.
“Do you feel that, Mr. Montgomery?” Asked The Sorrower. “The feeling in the air? The pressure, the crackle of it? Do you see the way the dust hasn’t settled?”
“I do,” said Theodore Montgomery.
“During the thunderstorm on the night of your wife’s death,” The Sorrower asked, “did you leave open a door or a window?”
“Why, no, I don’t think I did. I had other things on my mind at the time, you understand,” said Theodore.
“Of course,” The Sorrower forgave. “But you should always leave open a door during a storm, in the case that thunder gets trapped in the home with no point of egress.”
“What is it you mean to say?”
“You have thunder in your attic, Mr. Montgomery. That is your Sorrow.”
“My word. Can you get it out?”
“I can,” The Sorrower said, working his way back down the stairs, “but I will need something from you. One ingredient you have to gather.”
“Erm.” Theodore fidgeted anxiously. “What is it you require?”
“A nettle from the graveyard,” The Sorrower said matter-of-factly. “Gather it at night, and it must be done with your bare hands.
“Won’t that hurt?” Mr. Montgomery asked.
“Of course it will,” The Sorrower said. “Pain is the first element of healing. Go tonight, and spare your neuroses the burden of encountering another person. I will be back tomorrow.”
The Sorrower left before Theodore could object any further.
Theodore had only barely been able to convince himself to go. He’d pulled on his jacket and his best boots and stood in his entryway, staring at the front door, wringing his hands. He stayed like that for some time, doubting whether any of this was necessary. Then he recalled the confession that The Sorrower had so easily extracted from him, that this didn’t really suit him just fine at all. He opened the door, and set out into the nighttime stillness of Pleasant Crest Lane.
He froze next when confronted with the terrifying prospect of Tiffany’s grave. He stood rooted to the spot, the grave just at the flickering edge of his lamplight. If he saw her grave, then he would know it truly was over, that she hadn’t been saved by some miracle the doctors had simply forgotten to tell him of.
A churchbell struck one, and Mr. Montgomery was roused from his reverie.
He found the nettles near Tiffany’s grave. He grabbed them near to the ground and pulled them out, roots and all. They stung.
Mr. Montgomery, for the first time, allowed himself to cry.
“Good,” The Sorrower said as he inspected the nettle, which sat in a pot of hastily-gathered soil in the dimly lit attic belonging to Mr. Montgomery. The drapes were drawn, and little light got through. “There is one other thing we require,” he said as he opened the attic window with a little careful force.
From his leather bag, The Sorrower produced a decently-sized, corked bottle of water. He undid the cork, and handed the bottle to Mr. Montgomery. Next, he produced a small silver bell, which he held up stilly, deliberately. He rang it once. The sound echoed in a way the acoustics of the room should not have permitted, attuning itself to the resonant frequency of the human soul. The Sorrower reached out, and clenched his fist around the sound. It was then very carefully poured from his fingers as a purple liquid, falling into the bottle of water held by Mr. Theodore Montgomery.
“This,” The Sorrower said to the befuddled Mr. Montgomery, “is for you. To water the nettle. I will plant it in a pot in the front garden. Mrs. Evangelista, from next door, has been given instructions to bring the plant in at night, and not to care for it herself. You will have to tend it during the day.”
“Oh, but I…” Theodore looked away, unable to meet The Sorrower’s gaze. “I have not gone out since Tiffany passed, save for last night. Not in the daylight, not… The world now illuminated outside is a world I am unfamiliar with, one I am frightened of; it is a world without her.”
“I am aware,” The Sorrower said. “The thunder in your attic is not gone, merely sedated. The nettle is necessary to keep it at bay. If left unchecked, the thunder could grow into a maelstrom that tears your home from its foundation. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Theodore Montgomery said with newfound curiosity into the patterning of his floorboards.
“The nettle will be outside. Water it, Mr. Montgomery.”
The Sorrower left without another word.
One week to the day later, Theodore Montgomery stood in front of his closed front door, wringing his hands nervously. The bottle of water sat, unopened, on his entryway table. He stood at his front door, in his jacket and his best boots, listening to the muffled sounds of birds and people up and down Pleasant Crest Lane. It was far too warm out at this time of year for the jacket to be practical, but the security of the thing around him was of more concern than the heat. He picked up the bottle and gripped it tightly. The fresh air, he told himself, would do him some good.
He opened the door and stepped outside. “Good morning, Mrs. Evangelista,” he called to his neighbor in a tone that clearly meant to be pleasant, but came out rather a bit strangled.
“Mr. Montgomery!” His neighbor replied with the brightest smile Theodore Montgomery had ever seen. “Out to water that nettle, are we?” She asked amicably, with a little chuckle. “About time, but then, I knew you would bring yourself out eventually. She was a force of nature, that Tiffany, always plowing dead ahead, and get out of her way because she isn’t moving, and I only bring this up, mind you, because she said that you hemmed and hawed over every little choice, Mr. Montgomery, but, she said, and she always told me this, she did, she said you always made the right choice in the end.” Mrs. Evangelista was the sort of a person whose train of thought tended to stop only long enough to fit a comma in before taking off again.
“At least one of us believed in me,” Theodore Montgomery said with a chuckle as he walked over to the nettle, still sitting in its pot on his porch. “I’m surprised my neglect hasn’t already done it in.”
“I’ve been watering it for you,” Mrs. Evangelista said, “just like The Sorrower asked.”
“He asked you to look after it?” Mr. Montgomery asked, surprised since he’d been told quite the opposite.
“Well, I told him when I asked him to come that I’d help any way I could.”
Mr. Montgomery fidgeted with the bottle of water. “You mean to say you’re the reason he came to call? You did that for me?”
“‘Course I did,” Mrs. Evangelista said as if it was the simplest thing in the world. “I told your Tiffany I’d look out for you.”
Mr. Montgomery managed a genuine smile. He uncorked the bottle.