The Torn Place in the Sky

Upstairs in Mama’s bedroom, it still smells like blood. Faintly metallic, rusty, stale. Mama’s things are thrown all over the floor. The tortoise brush lies shattered in the corner of the room. The stains dried on the jade green bedspread. Tiponi sits in the corner watching her breath trail over her head and waits for the house to tip on its side. It will swallow her up like it did Mama. The wanting, the needing better things than the other Indian women, the feel of fine silk on her legs finally ate Mama alive. The life by the river never satisfied her. Fine things come with a price and Mama made her daughter pay those debts to the house. For as long as she can remember, Tiponi’s sole existence was to serve the house, and she knew nothing of a life beyond it.
The old ones thought the blue house unnatural, mostly because of the women within it. Iroquois were known for loving the white life, but not the Huron. A Huron woman would not choose to live white, to wear fine clothes, furnish the home with meaningless trinkets and sell herself to anyone who would pay. A Huron woman would not build a house without a man and have the audacity to paint it blue, the color of the May sky.
Even still, the blue house on the corner of Stitch Road had plenty of visitors, although none of them talked much. Men mostly, but some women came too; they always slipped in the back door. When Mama was beaten and stabbed to death because she charged extra for the second blow job, they all stopped coming. Two weeks after her death, when the first frost had blanketed Mama’s fresh grave and the fields, Grandmother Silwa went to her daughter’s grave one last time, then walked West, naked, to the river where her ancestors waited and did not return.
The house creaks against the January wind. Grandmother Silwa’s spirit talks
quietly to Tiponi while the young girl sits in her Mama’s bedroom, waiting patiently for the orders that will never come. Grandmother Silwa whispers gently, recounting their people’s story of the good brother and the bad brother who fight each other using a bag of corn and the horn from a deer as weapons. The badgers and the frogs sit with Tiponi and watch with her as the story unfolds as if it is the first time they have heard this story too.
Tiponi leans against their warmth as her Grandmother’s voice echoes from somewhere just beyond the edge of the room, recounting this battle between good and evil, between life and death. Mama joins in the battle, swinging a bag full of corn, her ribs popping out from under her yellow skin, her face churned into a grimace. Tiponi waits for Grandmother Silwa to interfere, to pull her Mama away from the fighting, but Grandmother Silwa is long gone, past the eagle’s land to a place Tiponi cannot reach.
“Maybe that’s what I will do,” says Tiponi aloud in the empty room, while she picks absentmindedly at a scab on her knee. “I will walk west into the water. Walk west where Grandmother Silwa tells me all the Huron spirits go and live forever. Grandmother Silwa will be there, sitting at the bottom of the river, talking to the turtles. They will listen to her stories. Everyone listens to her stories.”
Tiponi closes her eyes and imagines laying her head in Grandmother Silwa’s lap, like she did as a little girl. She can almost feel her grandmother stroke her hair and sing to her of the torn place in the sky.
The last time Tiponi looks at the sickening baby blue house she’s standing at the edge of the gravel driveway, her chest heaving, her lungs hurting from the early winter cold. She stares at the house steely-eyed, sizing up her enemy, waiting for it to make its move, expecting it to lift itself off the foundation and pull her back inside. The house she hates does not budge. Its white shutters unblinking, its large oak double doors curving into a slow, wide smirk as if to say, “You will not stay away from here for long.”
Stitch Road is silent for a moment, cold and silent, watching Tiponi make her first independent decision. No hawks or crows, no wind, nobody yelling in the house on the corner or the shacks down the street. No men shuffling along to pay a visit. No muffled crying from within.
In its day, Stitch Road was a busy thoroughfare to town. Four thousand people made this place by the river and mountains home, by force or by choice. Iroquois settled here mostly, some Algonquins and Hurons, and even a few Chinooks who came east when the salmon chose not to let the nets take them. Little by little, the old women died, defeated and lost. The men, without their mothers, left drunk and hunched over, to shacks built on other people’s homelands. Now, Stitch Road is a single stitch on the land’s curving breast. The only remaining squatters are the scavengers and the pests– foxes, buzzards and fire ants, and they stand at attention as Tiponi flies past, her long braid rolling from shoulder to shoulder as she runs.
            She runs down the road, dirt trailing in a cloud behind her, legs pulling, arms propelling her farther and faster. Away. In this moment, Tiponi finally understands the meaning of leave– of never come back. The last time she tried to run, it was mid-summer when the warm breeze and the smell of the river made everything feel open and flowing. She left at midnight when the moon was full, but only reached the outskirts of town. That time, Mama caught up to her in their old Ford pickup. As she drove both of them home, she held her only child to her chest, whispering to her or to some spirit behind the wide-eyed moon, “You are my daughter. My wind-song girl. When you were born, you would not breath. Grandmother Silwa pushed air into your lungs and you sang your first song, long and clear. My daughter, you are all I ever done right in this world.”
            Grandmother Silwa has eaten the last of the pole beans. She has forgotten the time or the day and has not bathed in so long that her hair is matted to her head, and even she can smell herself– the dank odor reminding her of the caves near the creek where the wild men are. She dreams the great turtle has swallowed her, eaten her whole where she lives forever in its stomach with no one to talk with or sing to. She looks up and no longer sees daylight, but something else, farther away than the sun where nothing grows but the nothingness. In this place, the deer turn to dogs, the hawks into slugs. The water pushes hard against the sky to raise it up. Silwa stops wandering and stands tall, knowing that none of her ancestors have ever seen it so.  The old ones often spoke of the place in time when all that is great and unknown in the world would force itself upon the people and crush them.
Soon, the milky white sky turns a pale shade of blue while Silwa scrapes the dry earth in search of something to eat. The sky turns deep blue, dark blue, then the clouds shift behind the mountain. Silwa believes it is the first time anyone has seen the sky talk to the water, and she is the first person to witness it. Excited, she begins to walk west, toward the high mountain place. When she finds the old ones, they will rejoice because in their lifetime someone has seen the sky and the earth talk, and it will be her, small Silwa of the creek.
A whining, crying sound stops Silwa in her tracks. A whimpering really. Silwa sits in the dirt and tries to force the sound from her mind. “Stop. Stop. Stop!” she cries to the sky, clutching her head with filthy hands. She knows this sound. Recognizing it from somewhere so far beyond, it rests at the fringes of her memory. The crying becomes more demanding, more insistent. Silwa looks up to the sky, and it cracks down the center, the dark blue giving way to a familiar blackness. From deep within, she vaguely sees a girl that looks like her own granddaughter on her hands and knees, crying in the middle of a dirt road.
Silwa sighs as she watches the young girl’s shoulders heave. She knows now that she will not go to her ancestors so that they may rejoice in her vision. Instead, she begins to climb back into the torn place in the sky. Tiponi hears a humming in the distance. She raises her head and wipes the tears from her eyes. Straining to see the figure walking toward her, Tiponi picks herself up and begins to run toward the old woman, her Grandmother, finally feeling as though everything will be all right.


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