Fiction, Vol. 5.1, March 2011
The mound house was completed. Emily was officially ready for winter. The mound house would keep the temperature of 50 degrees even if the weather outside got to 18 below. Nuts and berries were stored in the house. Carrots were buried nearby. She built a crude table and chair. There was a space for her brown sleeping bag when the time came for her to move from the blue tent to the house.
Emily sat in front of her house and thought about Annie and Eddie returning to school. I miss them, she thought. I should have asked them to join me in the summer. Maybe next summer they could visit me. She laughed. If they can give up McDonald’s and television. I think they would like it here, swimming and innertubing on my sometimes rusty, sometimes blue-green river. I could cook them rabbit stew with water lily seed dumplings.
The tall, thin, gray-haired Jane came by wearing her traditional blue overalls, white tee shirt and the bulging gray knapsack on her back. The knapsack was filled with bird books, notebooks and pens, suet, sunflower seeds, and snacks and drinks for Jane herself.
“C’mon,” Jane said, “stop sitting there soaking up the sun and gloating over your winter home, which is truly gorgeous, I must admit. Bring your shovel. Let’s hike to Sauk City and bury Indian relics.”
Emily laughed. Everyone else who found pottery shards and tools kept them as souvenirs. Not Jane. She buried them deeper so they wouldn’t be found for years. Jane, one-eighth Ottawa, believed in the sacredness of all things Indian, no matter what tribe they came from.
Jane was forty-two. Twenty years ago she married her high school sweetheart, who suddenly died on their honeymoon bicycling over the edge of a cliff. Jane, being a one-man woman, never looked for love again. She lived with her parents, did substitute teaching in biology, and was writing and illustrating a book about Wisconsin birds. She often referred to her husband, as in, “If only Buzz could have seen this,” or “Buzz loved to climb mountains.”
On their way to Sauk City they came across a glade shaped like a chapel. The sun wove through thick vines like braided marigolds.
“Let’s stop a minute,” Jane said. “I’ll split a can of grapefruit juice with you.”
They sat on the mossy floor of the glade.
“It’s like sitting inside a jewel,” Emily said. She looked at Jane. She’s told me all about herself, Emily thought, and she’s asked no questions about me.
Jane drank half the juice, and then handed the pink and maroon can to Emily. Emily
“Ready?” Jane said, standing up and brushing off her overalls.
“Wait,” Emily said. “I want to tell you…”
“I had a car accident,” she said. “I hit a deer. His intestines fell out of his fur. They fell
out on my car.” And then the story of her life spilled out, all about the deer, the vision,
and leaving Donald, Annie, and Eddie to live in the Wisconsin woods.
Jane listened with interest but without comment.
“And that’s who I am,” Emily said.
They hiked on to Sauk City, located Indian relics, and buried them very deep.
Later that week, they harvested wild rice in a shallow lake, after spying on the Indians who harvested it for big companies. They knew the lake was off-limits to them, but they just needed a little, for Jane’s parents and for Emily.
The following week they went on a trip up north. They both hiked and hitchhiked. They camped at Lake Superior a few days.
They passed by Ojibwa Indian Territory one evening when the medicine man was making his wigwam dance. Suddenly it stopped moving and he called out, “White women present. We call Running Deer and Song Sparrow.”
“He can’t have seen us!” Emily whispered. “Where did he get those names?”
The wigwam began to dance and shake and they could hear the medicine man moaning and calling for the spirits.
Emily was frightened, but Jane said, “It’s good they know of our presence. They will look out for us.”
“Are you sure?” Emily asked.
“During World War II,” Jane said, “the Ojibwa medicine man’s spirit would leave his body under the shaking tent and the spirit would travel over the sea to locate the tribe’s soldiers and let those at home know of their health and well-being. The spirit would come back and say things like ‘Roger Bear has gained ten pounds. He is guarding thirty German prisoners.’ After the war, it turned out this was all true.”
“The Ottawa speak the Algonquin language and so do the Ojibwa,” Jane said, a little
“Do you speak Algonquin?” Emily asked.
“No,” Jane confessed.
They laughed and walked on.
An Indian, dressed in blue jeans and a yellow and green sports shirt, chased after them. Emily stopped and drew her knife.
The Indian looked at her. “He says you must break your rule and kill a deer to survive the winter. It will be long and hard. Deep snow.” Then the Indian ran back to the others.
Emily stared at Jane.
“It’s probably good advice,” Jane said. “At least think about it. Maybe your deer appeared to them.”
The day after Thanksgiving, Emily huddled near a thicket of black raspberries. The day was cold and damp and the dusk would come early. A few drops of rain fell. Movement. She thought she saw it, the one. Not a familiar one, no. She was too far away for the familiar ones. Yes, there he was. In the clearing. The rain fell harder. The beautiful antlers. The black opal eyes. Pouring rain. Thunder. He bent to feed.
She readied the bow and arrow. Twang!
The deer darted away and then fell dead.
Emily’s heart seemed to leap to her throat. She laid down the bow and took her hunting knife out of its leather sheath. She walked to the deer and rolled it on its back. Pulling up the skin in front of the genitals, she made an incision. She put her left hand in and pulled the skin away from the intestines. The knife sliced an opening along the belly up to where the ribs met. She plunged the knife deep inside and up to the neck where she cut the windpipe and esophagus.
Later, after a long, difficult haul, she dropped off the winter provisions for Jane and her parents, then took the rest back to her mound house. She was bloody, wet, cold, and exhausted.
The rain had stopped and the dusk had arrived, dark and luscious like burgundy lipstick.