04 January 2015

it bears repeating --- Big Waters

“ For many seasons, the men had given away more of the people’s hunting grounds, their fishing places, their settlement lands, while singing and drinking with the white ones, while making fools of themselves, dancing with broomsticks and with tin buckets on their heads.  At each session, Big Waters and the other women were expected to stand off along the wall, to wait to carry the goods, and to be quiet.  They had been silent so often that many children had died from hunger.  The next season, Big Waters simply stepped forward among the men at the long table at the fort and said, ‘ I would like to read that paper before these fools put their marks on it. ’

That was the end of her time among her people.
Though she’d saved her people from giving away another parcel of place, from agreeing to remain confined in a bare space with no animals or water, she’d insulted the men, her husband in particular, and he had declared her banished.
The next day, he had a new wife.  In the same way her mother had disappeared all those years before, Big Waters then walked into the tall grasses. 
Her children were directed to turn their backs to her as she left.  Her own children did this.
The one Big Waters had nursed until he could ride a horse.  The one she had tended to night and day for many months while he lay crying and recovering from burns suffered in foolish play, in dares of manhood made by one child to another.  Had he forgotten how she had held him in the cold river water day and night?  Or how she held her hand over his mouth so the other boys would not hear his crying and think him a coward?  Even her only girl, the one who was betrothed to a Spanish brute with a withered arm until Big Waters begged on her behalf to her father, saving her from the bad marriage, even she turned her back to Big Waters.  She from whom Big Waters later pulled the upside–down baby after three days of pain and delirium, saving both their lives, also turned her back.  She who had been stolen by the enemies for a slave and whose return Big Waters had negotiated by trading her own fine beadwork and tunics, she turned her back.  Even the two she had taken into her own heart as her own after their mother succumbed to disease.  The all turned their backs to her.  Never to call her mother again.
These were the events Big Waters could not speak of to anyone except the small baby in her arms, the one whose little ear was so near her lips.  She would be a good mother to Clement, and he would be an obedient son.
Big Waters introduced Clement to the finicky horse, left her by the girl who had birthed the twins.  The beast snorted at the baby’s scent.  The baby sneezed at the horse’s.  Big Waters let the animal sniff the child again, then laid Clement in the straw while she worked; but she didn’t take her eyes off that horse.  He showed her his teeth but didn’t try to bite her this time.  The warm, stewy air of the barn entered Clement’s lungs.  He breathed deeply in a way that swelled his chest, like a river about to overflow.  He slept soundly and snored.  When he woke, Big Waters mixed milk with molasses and sugar and let him suck.  She tried to make peace with the horse and offered it a bit of sugar too, but it snapped at her finger, and she kicked its leg.
This horse had a bad spirit.  Big Waters called him Hole–in–the–Day, after her husband.  But Hole–in–the–Day’s spirit wasn’t as bad as her husband’s. Whereas his breath had smelled of throat fire and bile, the horse’s smelled mealy and grassy, and only occasionally of stomach odor.  Even then, its breath worked magic on Clement.  While the boy slept beneath the horse’s nose, he grew and strengthened.  The vapor healed whatever ailed the baby. ”    
                 ----- pp 136 – 137, Stillwater by Mz Nicole Helget, y2014

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