The Night Watchman
Thomas Wazhashk removed his thermos from his armpit and set it on the steel desk alongside his scuffed briefcase. His work jacket went on the chair, his lunch box on the cold windowsill. When he took off his padded tractor hat, a crab apple fell from the earflap. A gift from his daughter Fee. He caught the apple and put it out on the desktop to admire. Then punched his time card. Midnight. He picked up the key ring, a company flashlight, and walked the perimeter of the main floor.
In this quiet, always quiet expanse, Turtle Mountain women spent their days leaning into the hard light of their task lamps. The women pasted micro-thin slices of ruby, sapphire, or the lesser jewel, garnet, onto thin upright spindles in preparation for drilling. The jewel bearings would be used in Defense Department ordnance and in Bulova watches. This was the first time there had ever been manufacturing jobs near the reservation, and women filled most of these coveted positions. They had scored much higher on tests for manual dexterity.
The Plague of Doves
In the year 1896, my great-uncle, one of the first Catholic priests of aboriginal blood, put the call out to his parishioners that they should gathr at St Joseph’s wearing scapulars and holding missals. From that place they would proceed to walk the fields in a long, sweeping row, and with each step loudly pray away the doves. His human flock had taken up the plow and farmed among German and Norwegian settlers. Those people, unlike the French who mingled with my ancestors, took little interest in the women native to the land and did not intermarry. In fact, the Norwegians disregarded everybody but themselves and were quite clannish. But the doves ate their crops the same.
The Round House
Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation. They were just seedlings with one or two rigid, healthy leaves. Nevertheless, the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks. They had grown into the unseen wall and it was difficult to pry them loose. My father wiped his palm across his forehead and damned their toughness. I was using a rusted old dandelion fork with a splintered handle; he wielded a long, slim iron fireplace poker that was probably doing more harm than good. As my father prodded away blindly at the places where he sensed roots might have penetrated, he was surely making convenient holes in the mortar for next year’s seedlings.
Where the reservation boundary invisibly bisected a stand of deep brush – chokecherry, popple, stunted oak – Landreaux waited. He said he was not drinking, and there was no sign later. Landreaux was a devout Catholic who also followed traditional ways, a man who would kill a deer, thank one god in English, and put down tobacco for another god in Ojibwe. He was married to a woman even more devout than he, and had five children, all of whom he tried to feed and keep decent. His neighbour, Peter Ravich, had a big farm cobbled together out of what used to be Indian allotments; he tilled the corn, soy, and hay fields on the western edge. He and Landreaux and their wives, who were half sisters, traded: eggs for ammo, rides to town, kids’ clothing, potatoes for flour – that sort of thing. Their children played together although they went to different schools. This was 1999 and Ravich had been talking about the millennium, how he was setting up alternate power sources, buying special software for his computer, stocking up on the basics; he had even filled an old gasoline tank buried by his utility shed. Ravich thought that something would happen, but not what did happen.
The Painted Drum
Leaving the child cemetery with its plain hand-lettered sign and stones carved into the weathered shapes of lambs and angels, I am lost in my thoughts and pause too long where the cemetery road meets the two-lane highway. This distraction seems partly age, but there is more too, I think. These days I consider and reconsider the slightest of choices, as if one might bring me happiness and the other despair. There is no right way. No true path. The more familiar the road, the easier I’m lost. Left and the highway snakes north, to our famous college town; but I turn right and am bound toward the poor and historical New England village of Stiles and Stokes with its great tender maples, its old radiating roads, a stern white belfry and utilitarian gas pump/grocery. Soon after the highway divides off. Uphill and left, a broad and well-kept piece of paving leads, as the trunk of a tree splits and diminishes, to ever narrower outgrowths of Revival Road. This is where we live, my mother and I, just where the road begins to tangle.
The morning before Easter Sunday, June Kashpaw was walking down the clogged main street of oil boom town Williston, North Dakota, killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take her home. She was a long-legged Chippewa woman, aged hard in every way except how she moved. Probably it was the way she moved, easy as a young girl on slim hard legs, that caught the eye of the man who rapped at her from inside the window of the Rigger Bar. He looked familiar, like a lot of people looked familiar jar to her. She had seen so many come and go. He hooked his arm, inviting her to enter, and she did so without hesitation, thinking only that she might tip down one or two with him and then get her bags to meet the bus. She wanted, at least, to see if she actually knew him. Even through the watery glass she could see that he wasn’t all that old and that his chest was thickly padded in dark red nylon and expensive down.
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