Carnivore Dreams — Deadfall Short Story

Cover

Available at Amazon and Wayne State University.

I’m posting the entire story since I’m not sure where I left off after I got ill.  You can pick up wherever you left off:  a short story…:

Dead-fall

She woke, tried to roll over, but her arm was trapped beneath his massive body.

He smelled of sweet grass and sex.

Her arm was long past prickly; a dead weight attached to her shoulder.  Was it part of her body or his?  She tugged, heaved backward with no luck.  Rather than wake him, she left it, wondering how long a limb could remain bloodless before it died.

It was 1957, a prickly time in general.  While she would come to terms with the human way of the world, and its inevitable turning— with the dead weight and the deadfall– she had not come to terms to date, and was as stuck with things in the topography of her mind as she was stuck with her arm trapped under the big Anishinaabe man beside her.

Perhaps it was her original failure to bond that had caused her to be temporarily stuck in her mind.

It was her biological mother, not Rona Ansgar, had left her.  She was not abandoned on someone’s doorstep or left by the side of the road; her mother had taken her across town and relegated her to the local refuse dump.

She was a month old.

She had lain there for over a day, it had been estimated (weather mild in June), under a copy of the Newberry Gazette.  She escaped notice of the foraging bears, lying in a relatively clean sandy hollow, her head against a fallen cedar tree, with the good piney scent masking the garbage, the incubating warmth of the sun penetrating through the classified section that first day, and the lunar gleam of moonlight rocking her to sleep that starry night, the rhythmic beat, the earth’s heartbeat in her ears, along with the gentle rustling of the newspaper.  It had sprinkled about dawn, which had wet her lips, rainwater rich with nitrogen, phosphorus, boron, copper, iron, manganese and zinc, fortifying her like mother’s sweet milk.

As that day in the dump gave way to darkness and it in turn gave way to light, her body, predominantly water, slowed its processes, matched the diurnal/nocturnal pull of the earth and then the lunar pull of the moon.  And all of it:  the rain, the sun, the moon, the easy wind, smiled on her, infused her with a sideways look at the world, and a high good humor that would last all her days.

Time passed, but only so much of it.  If more time had gone by she would have joined the other soluble ions that had been broken down by the steady decomposition of (more) time and returned once again to the great body and soul of the earth.

Which would have felt right to her and okay.

Instead she was rescued in the year 1937 by John and Rona Ansgar who named her Norna—which was Norse for “fate”—and took her home.  But she had bonded not with the flesh and blood of her own human kind, but with the loamy eternal coolness of Mother Earth Herself.  As if she had skipped a step somehow or never left the heavens at all.  Had gone instead straight from heaven to the Earth.  And despite the loving care of her adopted parents—and though Norna would love them dearly all of her life—the Earth, the source of all life, would stand surrogate, always, between them.  The bear cubs, the fishes and beavers, the June bugs and mayflies, became her siblings, the rocks and trees, flora and fauna, all part of her extended home.

As a toddler, she would wander off and the Ansgars would find her half a mile away, chest deep in some crick or tributary playing with a water snake, or a frog.  She swam like a river otter, moved with the 3-gaited lope of a coyote and her voice had acquired a whippoorwill quality.

When chastised about leaving “home,” she’d look bewildered.  The word would mystify her all her days.

“Don’t you love us?” the Ansgars would ask her.  “Don’t you want to live here with us?” they’d ask.

“Of course,” she’d answer, not understanding the searching looks on their faces.  Not understanding their not understanding.

She left school in her thirteenth year, though she read voraciously, and was possessed of an intellect extraordinary to most people.  The women of Newberry, the do-gooders, talked about her now, in this year of 1957.  The townspeople would punish her but never disown her; after all she was theirs.  They talked about how she had disappeared into a wigwam with “that Indian” this last fall and how she hadn’t come out all winter, it now being mid-February.  Even though the shack was off the main road and close to the falls, the town people knew all about her, and she was aware that they knew and that they talked.  She let their derision run off her back like the spring torrents she was longing for.

It was not true she hadn’t left the wigwam since fall.  She went out at night often to hear the wind howl through the river valley, feel the snow swirl around her face, see the stars blink at her like long lost cousins.  Much later, she would recognize these months for what they were: a young-adult hormonal depression.  But at twenty years old, she was not sure if she could or would emerge from that wigwam or if she’d stay there, suspended, forever.

She wasn’t aware, for instance, that Britain had just exploded a thermonuclear bomb in the central Pacific, that Dr. Seuss had written “The Cat in the Hat,” or that the world’s largest suspension bridge (which was five miles long and had taken three years to build), had recently connected her world of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with the Lower.  But if she had, she would have seen the irony of all three things.

Because these days it was as if there were nothing more in the world than the big Anishinaabe man’s hairless chest against her breasts, his thighs between hers, his shoulder length hair that ended up in her mouth, slick with something her imagination said was bear grease, but was probably Brylcream.

“Put your hand here,” he’d say.  “Put your mouth here.”

Her mind would become hyper-focused on a patch of his hide or her own until nothing else existed except that patch and that was what she liked most, the disappearing into that infinitesimal piece of flesh.

Given all this, it wasn’t surprising she hadn’t noticed it at first, so oblivious to things, so turned into herself and their sexuality, was she.

So what exactly was it?  What was it that had pushed her to the realization that this was not the same man coming to her every night?

It was none of the obvious things:  The fact that he wore one set of clothing when he went to work at Newberry Mental Hospital (Upper Peninsula Asylum for the Insane), came home in other clothing claiming he’d had to change in order to run the trap line; the fact that his appetite for both sex and food seemed to vary wildly from day to day; the fact that his shoes disappeared twice and he claimed he’d had to buy new ones.

How could she be fooled?

You would think that if anyone could know him intimately, it would be she, a keen observer of life; that she of all people would know.  Norna was color-blind, but rather than relying on her other senses, she was more focused on the blackness or whiteness.

Perhaps anybody can be fooled.

For instance, what does it mean to know somebody?

Did it mean you recognized their heart and soul?  Was their being like a contained body of water in which you lost yourself, diving until you’d immersed yourself in the entire essence of it?  Is there a connection between two people that can never be quite the same connection between two others?  Did it mean that, in this case, he became predictable to her?  That she knew how he would behave, say, in a dangerous situation?  How private he was, how selfish, how generous?  Did it mean that she recognized the taste of him (garlic and tobacco late at night), his smell (tobacco again, sage and lye soap mixed with old flannel wool from a shirt several years too old)?  Did knowing him mean she had memorized his body?  Would she recognize anywhere his wide, square hands, knobby knuckles, hairless smooth fingers with skin the golden color of maple syrup in sunlight?

Norna didn’t presume to know him like she knew her own heart.

No, she thought.  She would settle for knowing him enough to tell him from someone else.

***

You might wonder and she wondered herself through the years, why she stayed if she was convinced that there were two of them?

Much contributed.  This would not be the last time there would be more than one man in her life, and she would be accused of a certain lack, a failure within her character to make commitments.  She would never defend or explain this.  It was untrue at the time and untrue later.  It was, rather, the necessity within her character to over-commit—and not lightly or often, usually due to unusual circumstance—to more than one person at a time.  Commitments that would not end when the relationship—as most people defined one—ended.  A commitment much as a mother commits to more than one child.  Timing, to her, wasn’t everything, and ultimately it became about her investment.

She would not be fool enough to fall for their double standard, the one that said that women were immoral at worst, unromantic at best, to care for more than one person, while men, could and would, love the masses.

In her lifetime, Norna would love and be committed to twelve people.  Six women including her daughter, and five men, four lovers and her parents.  Sex wasn’t relevant.  That people considered her shallow, frivolous, impulsive or promiscuous didn’t occur to her and if it had, she would have found it laughable.

A personality in such stark contrast to someone who would leave another person in a dump.

**

The wigwam was like this:  The stove was in the corner of the shack-like dwelling, and when fully stoked, burned too hot on certain days, and forced them to leave the door open for air; conversely, it would die down in the middle of the night turning them to huddled, frozen chunks of flesh on the ground.

They were warmer naked, they found, clasped together in one down sleeping bag, topped with animal furs, lying atop a bright blue air mattress, their bodies forming a frigid “S” pattern, sometimes on their left sides, sometimes on their right, he sometimes behind her, sometimes her body wrapped around his.

They had a table made from the stump of an enormous white pine, several wooden folding chairs, a shelf that held a cast iron frying pan and miscellaneous cooking utensils, and various Indian rugs.  On the wall over their beds, she had hung her only possession, a Scandinavian quilt given to her by her adopted mother, Rona Ansgar.

They bathed, hauling water from the Little Two Hearted River, carrying it in a large tin feed bucket.  After warming it on the stove, they would stand in another metal bucket and dump water over themselves in dipperfuls, soaping first and then using the water as rinse.

She would not call herself bored, though the days got long.  She’d spend them doing daily chores, reading or moving the furniture.  She’d tilt the log table onto its side and roll it from one end of the shack to the other, settling, finally, with its placement under a particularly wide gap that served as window and offered the most light.

The next day, she’d roll it again.

Originally she had preferred to view the stars through the slits, and though the wind and snow drove through the cracks on bad nights, she was loathe to seal off the wigwam completely.

***

It wasn’t every other night she’d notice the switch.  It seemed, looking back, that they didn’t split their time with her equally; one of them came to her about two-thirds of the time.  Some might think (and friends later suggested) that he was just ambidextrous, so the fact that he’d insist on some nights she lie within the embrace of his left arm, which left his right hand free to stroke her, sometimes the reverse, didn’t necessarily mean anything.  Moreover if they were identical twins, some might think it would make more sense that they would both be right handed or both be left handed, possessing the same genetic markers and codes and tendencies toward the same physicalities.  But Norna believed that hand orientation wasn’t pertinent in this case, and she believed she knew the reason for it.  And no matter what the people of Newberry, (or friends she was to make subsequently), said later to dispel the notion, she was never able to fully lose the thought.

And the thought was this:  they’d been joined together in the womb.

She’d seen the slight scars on their opposite thumbs.  Instead of floating free in amniotic fluid in probable positions of front to back, or above and below, they were instead mirrors to one another, each with the opposite hand free.  Which she knew had joined them mind to mind, and heart to heart.  And required that each rely upon the other for use of the opposite hand, dependent on the other for mobility and access to that side of the womb.  They likely touched one another’s faces in curious adoration, pulling each other close, but they must have, on occasion, shoved each other away just as passionately, in a mad claustrophobic frustration.  She imagined the struggle for who would exit the womb first.

Ultimately even this wasn’t what convinced her they were two:  It was that until she’d spent many nights with them both she’d had an incomplete joining, a partial experience sexually and emotionally.  She knew it took both their hands and both their hearts to satisfy her.

So she devoted herself to the study of him or them.  Because she so desperately needed a distraction.  She was twenty years old and twenty-year-olds fall in love as it serves as distraction from themselves.  No one has the stomach to confront themselves at that age, and maybe they never do.

And they both became “Sam” to her.  Two sides of one, like moon and sun, part of the same day.

And though she accepted it, she resented it, too.  She found herself hoping that he might cut a finger or contract an obvious bruise along the trap line, which healing slowly, would be conspicuously gone on the other man.  She hoped he’d get lice and cut his shoulder length hair, do something that would enable her to trap him like one of his animals, a coyote in a snare or a beaver in one of his wet traps.  It became important to catch him up in the lie, to reveal the deceit, and to at last confront him with it, and that is to what she devoted herself this elusive winter of 1957.

Conversation was spare, at least at first.  And that was okay with her, since the first things she concentrated on were the physical characteristics.  Norna knew ambidextrous people still preferred one hand for certain tasks.  They might switch back and forth batting a ball or golfing, but they tended to use one hand while eating.  It seemed Sam ate most of the time with his right hand, but not exclusively.  So she’d watch and when she saw him eating with his left hand, she assumed he was “the other” and she’d attend closely at those times to the intimacies between them.

But that was harder than it sounds, since it was at those times she most returned to the Earth; sex was nearly like dying, or at least not existing, the closest she came to abandoning that false sense of order and purpose to things, the closest she came to just “being.”  Prayer, in the sense that the Anishinaabek practiced it, was a close second, she thought.  Or for them, it could be argued, it was the same.

How soon the trappings of the world (in sharp contrast to the Earth) intruded after sex!  And she suspected that this momentary erasing of self was something that appealed even more to the male psyche.  An end in itself, a dying over and over like a mayfly mating.

As Norna’s suspicions grew, and she found physical identification inconclusive, she began promoting more of a dialogue between herself and the big Anishinaabe man.  His name was Sam Gabow (though he would confide a spirit name later that winter, a name she would never divulge, and later she’d ask herself if it was his spirit or the ghost side that visited).

“How crazy are they?” she’d asked him once of the inmates of Newberry Asylum where he performed custodial duties nightly.

“Windigo,” he answered, the Anishinnabe word.  “My people are afraid of those who are touched, but they don’t fail to recognize their gifts, the special knowledge the rest of us lack.  They are usually either great healers, or see things others can’t.”

“Women, too?” she asked, of the inmates.

“Oh, yes, at least as many in there.”

“Tell me about them,” she said.

And he’d gone on to tell her about a woman named Rose who claimed her husband had had her committed so he could marry a third cousin who’d arrived a few years back from Ontario.  “It’s pretty much his word against yours, and all they have to do if they choose, is drop you off in the bin,” she’d told Sam.  Norna asked him if she’d seemed crazy, and he said he’d watched her one day, an enormous red haired woman with chalky-white skin, pick up a black carpenter ant and put it down the front of her shirt as she lay on her bunk, crossing her arms over her chest protectively, as Sam put it, “like she had an infant or maybe a million dollars shoved down there.”  Another time she had hung her head out the window and howled like a mad wolf, shouting God Save the Queen.  Though, who knows how crazy you’d be, Norna pointed out, if your husband had you incarcerated like Ann Boleyn in order to marry someone new.

***

 

White people always ask questions,” Sam said.  “Anishinaabek wait until the answers are revealed.”

“I want to know about the trap line,” she’d said.

He didn’t answer.

It was early March now and The Day, as he called it, was always changeable this time of year, was driving snow, more nearly hail, at the door of the shack.  She had him backed up against the wall of the wigwam.  She was naked; most women feel at a disadvantage, but not her.

“What is it about this trap line?” she asked.  “Why do you do it?”

She’d been living with him for months and this was the first time she’d asked.

“I only work part-time at the asylum, but I’d probably do it even if I didn’t need the extra money.”

Verbalizing reasons for running a trap line always proved tenuous for the Aninshinaabek, she found.  So many factors.  The retained hunting and trapping rights, which somehow made it more acceptable for the Native American; the intrinsic right to do it seemed to distract from the why.  The wigwam a “temporary” structure (built out of scrap lumber and pieces of slanted corrugated metal to serve as roofing, and constructed on state land), in accordance with the hunting and fishing rights bestowed upon the Aninshinaabek under the Treaty of Washington written in 1836.

Norna helped in the shed; she was good with the fleshing tools.  Sam would come in with his catch—maybe a coyote, a red fox, a raccoon—she’d insist on working with him in the shed (a lean-to attached to his wigwam, the proximity of which decreased the likelihood of the catch being destroyed by investigating bears; though there were nights they’d have to come screaming out of the shack, pots and pans banging like steely thunder in order to protect their catch).

The animals would have to be tended to immediately.  As soon as an animal’s fur was dry, the big Indian made the cuts from one back foot to the anus around to the other back foot and removed the skin like you would a bulky sweater. (Coyotes were reluctant to lose their hide and had to have more cuts made on the forelegs before it could be peeled off their reluctant forms.)  But it would be Norna who would stand at the fleshing beam, holding the skin in place with her belly, clasping the two-foot-wide metal tool in each hand, pushing the flesh away from her in a scraping motion, the fat mounding in front of the tool like pinkish-gray rice pudding.  This would free him to adjust the stretching boards, and when Norna was finished with a pelt, he would then tack or nail the skin to the board.

Sometimes they’d skin a rabbit; he’d clean it, hand her the meat, rabbits so cat-like in size and shape, and they’d make stew, using wild sage, and bits of bacon and vegetables, wild mushrooms.  But whether he was selling pelts, hunting for food, or fishing the streams, she saw the prayer in his eyes, thankfulness that this time the creatures of the world had sacrificed for them, conscious of how easily it could be reversed and how eventually it would be.  Recognizing their part in nature as temporary and not proprietary, without sense of entitlement.  And when he made love to her, she saw in his face the same soulfulness, the same thankfulness, the same conscious attachment to the act, not a moment taken for granted.

Once in the middle of their love-making, they were lifted off the floor, tossed in the wind, and they’d heard the thunder threaten (thunder and lightning in a snow storm, the odd juxtaposition of electrical disturbance on top of blizzard, the driving blinding snow illuminated by flashes of light that looked like the blinding glare of a knife through a white cloud of confetti).  It was the act of joining with each other that was the strange thing, and as her body orbited his, it was this strangeness that kept them both safe; they were not part of the earth, nor part of a thunder cloud, or the storm, or the electrical field, not one thing and not another thing, and therefore not vulnerable.

But it was the animals—specifically their deaths—that connected them.  His attitude toward sex, she thought, un-proprietary or not, was not that different from the animals he caught and skinned, the sacrificial nature of sex, disparate from all things.

***

“What kind of traps do you use for what kind of animal?”

Not an idle question.

He pulled one of the large furs—a blanket made of pieced and carefully stitched muskrat—around her bare shoulders, covering her breasts as if he suspected they would become part of his downfall.  She left the blanket where he’d put it, accepted the handicap.

“Wouldn’t you rather play poker?” he asked.

The Aninshinaabek loved mystery of all kinds.

“What kind of traps?” she asked again.

She listened as he listed:  snares, leg-hold traps, Conibear kill traps, Trou de loup traps (the bear pit type with spears in the bottom of the hole, a trap he didn’t use anymore), the old-fashioned boulder dead fall trap—each of them in a variety of locations—dirt holes, culverts, open water rivers, under ice-rivers, cubbies, hollowed out logs.

“What do you use most?” she asked.

“Snares and leg-hold dirt-hole sets, since I mostly trap fox, coyote, and raccoons,” he answered.

***

Stir crazy.

What happened next might be blamed on her self-imposed cabin fever, her intense desire to know the truth, or the fact that her body had betrayed her and she had been running a temperature.  What happened was significant in that it would be the last time she would believe that her “desire to know the truth” could be satisfied by any set of circumstances or reasoning to explain that circumstance.  That is, that answers existed in the sense that we think of them.  But back then she still believed in answers, and this answer seemed to represent to her, in her fevered state, the answer to everything.  This answer:

Who was Sam?

***

 

His Day had become her Day.

The Day had had the feel of acupuncture, needles descending from the sky in driving sheets, piercing her skull as she hauled wood from the pile and stacked it next to the fully stoked stove, unable to keep up with the relentless wind through the cracks.

They were camped too far north, close to the trap line, but only four miles from Lake Superior in the snow belt, and this would be the start of yet another four-day blizzard that would require digging out every few hours.  It had been raging only a couple, and she’d been out shoveling twice, huddling beneath the hood of the beaver coat she’d made from Sam’s pelts.  She’d returned to sit next to the woodstove, chilled through, wondering if Sam would make it in time or be forced to stay in town leaving her alone to battle the storm, when he arrived in a rare state of inebriation, out with the Potter boys in town it seemed, and when he reached for her she reached back, thinking this was the fastest means to her end.  He had extraordinary endurance despite the whiskey, and her offer to move up top was declined as it always was.

She waited until he fell asleep on his back.  She listened to his snoring, how much it sounded like the whistling of the wind through the slats, and she pulled her arm and body out from under him (the dead fall weight of him), which she accomplished without waking him from his drugged state.  She crawled cross the wigwam on her knees and added short pieces of beech and a few pieces of coal to the woodstove.

Then she went to work.  She wasn’t sure what style to use, but had settled on a form of foothold trap, made with strips of wet rawhide (some kind of metal handcuff would have been a closer imitation, but she didn’t know how she would get her hands on a set).  She wrapped and wrapped the leather firmly around one ankle, knotted it several times and then using longer pieces of rawhide, she tied several strips securely through the hole in their enormous log table, then back through the foothold trap, which would serve quite effectively as a “drag.”  He might be able to move the table, but would not be able to pull it through the doorframe of the shack.  She decided one leg was enough, but since he was an animal of the human variety and she needed to harness his brain as well, she rolled him gently to his side and managed to bind his hands together firmly behind his back.  The strips would tighten and harden like molded concrete to remediate any looseness in the bonds or inferiority in her knots.  Then she covered him so that he would not become cold, and poured herself a cup of coffee from the enamelware pot, thought about who would check the trap line and what time Sam was due at work and she listened to the rhythm of the earth and Sam’s breathing, watched the contours of his body in the sepia shadows in which she saw all things then, looked out at the night and saw the black humped bodies of fallen trees, another kind of deadfall, imagined small creatures, the vast wildlife huddled under them and under the cedar sweepers, thought about the pressing darkness that intensified the storm, and waited for him to wake up.  Which he did about daybreak.

He took one big heave in an effort to sit up, bound leg preventing it, and flopped back to his side.

“What the hell’s the deal, Norna,” he said.

She hadn’t considered what she’d say, an explanation for her actions, yet the look on his face (though he’d asked the question) told her he knew what this was about.  There was no betrayal in his eyes, no accusation.  Was it her imagination or did he understand the nature of the game between them—that since he acted in accordance with his nature, she could only act in accordance with hers?  She said nothing and he watched her without speaking.  She’d begun to sweat now, her fever rising with The Day and the continuing storm.  The room swam and she felt she might fall off the stump on which she sat and she leaned her head and body against the wall; she wasn’t sure she hadn’t dozed off.  When she opened her eyes, Sam was still watching her, but his eyes had become small and foxlike (yet his countenance more bear-like), and she saw him clearly for the first time.  And how easily things could have been reversed, and maybe still were.

The big animal shifted in the trap.

He pulled himself up on one knee.  Norna loosened his trousers, and held the bucket while he relieved himself.

“Do you think this matters?” he asked her.

“I don’t know,” she answered.

She wasn’t sure if she expected the other Sam to show up when this Sam didn’t.  If she expected to hear he’d been at work when she knew he couldn’t have.  Or if she expected him to confess in order to get her to release him.  She didn’t know.   She didn’t even know what she intended to say or do next.

It was hard to tell predator from prey, she knew that.   When she’d tied his bonds the night before, she realized it was not merely a measure in self-defense; she recognized every role inside her: victim/oppressor, lover/hater, exploiter/exploited.

“It’s not a trap, you know,” Sam said.  “When you trap creatures, there is a volitional aspect to it … animals decide to walk into the trap.”

“Oh, you set yourself right up for it.”

He was quiet for a minute.

“True,” he conceded.  “But suppose I choose not to recognize myself as being trapped.  Suppose I choose to accept it as a sort of vacation.”  And when she offered him rabbit stew, he refused, stating that he had decided to fast.  “A vision quest,” he announced.  “You may be happier I’ve chosen this path since you’ve made it hard for me to relieve myself.”  And he smiled at her, making her wonder again, who was trapped and who was free, and how it was hard to tell.

“You might give thanks,” he suggested.  “If one creature benefits, another sacrifices.”

“No trust, eh?  No such thing as a symbiotic relationship?”

“Happens,” he said.

He closed his eyes and she imagined him in his mental wilderness, the place where you see the face of God.  Sam referred to Him as The Day, consisting of light and dark, day and night, consisting of all sides of a thing, all aspects of the all-knowing and all being.  And as Norna watched him, she felt The Day envelop her, too, her head leaning against the shaking wall of the wigwam, a fevered weariness overcoming her, pulling her along.  But no, maybe it wasn’t The Day pulling her so much, it was Sam, wolf-like now, hand held out, inviting her on his quest.  Yet, despite his invitation, she was acutely aware that this was a vision quest of her own, that they might start off together, but that was the best case.

Together but forever apart.

It began to seem more like a journey to her than a “place” of discovery or contemplation, which seemed right.  And she followed along behind Sam for a while, through clouds, or maybe fog, but then it turned to a raging blizzard, wind whistling through the trees, snow driving in horizontal sheets.  They trudged on in the dark, he occasionally looking back to see if she was still there, but taking no responsibility for her welfare.  After a while, she seemed to be the ground breaker, with Sam on her heels, but when she looked back she saw what looked like a pair of bear cubs leaping through drifts, and it the two of them looked helpless, motherless, and she had the feeling they were trying to keep up with her.  Then she couldn’t see them anymore, heard what sounded like a wolf or coyote howling—songs of prayer in the night.

She wondered if Sam  (the Sams) were still back there and if He had seen the face of God yet, because so far she had perhaps only the vaguest feeling of The Day.  And then she was at the falls, which had frozen into ice cycles the size of swords and in which she was able to see her own reflection.  She suddenly had the feeling that she could see The Day in the reflection of her own eyes.

“Norna,” she heard her name, several times, and woke to see Sam had dragged the table over to her.  She had slipped off her stump and was lying on the dirt floor, her head propped on the wood pile.   He was nudging her with his head.  “Norna,” he was saying.  “Are you all right?”

She opened her eyes.

“How long have I been gone?” she asked.

“Twelve hours, maybe a bit less.”  It was dusk, she thought, or maybe dawn.

She stood, weaved, grabbed the wall.  She located the hunting knife from the shelf and cut the rawhide binds from his hands.  He grabbed the knife and cut the binds on his foot, then helped her to the door, supported her as she squatted in the snow, then lifted her into bed.  He stoked the woodstove, climbed in with her, pulled the furs around them, and together they listened to the storm rage on.

She didn’t apologize for her behavior and it was clear he didn’t expect her to.

It was impossible to apply principles like good and bad to a trap, any circumstance; our vision was simply not broad enough to do that, our evolutionary vantage point not clear enough.  There were no answers in that sense, no order, no black and white attached to the finite.  You could only wait and see and live in each moment that had been provided.

They survived the storm, or rather, she survived it, and they resumed life in that winter of l957, she watching him, he providing for her, she helping in that shed of slaughter that somehow became as much her responsibility as his.  They made love and played games of chance at night, or she’d read to him aloud, from Rilke, her favorite poet.

She never asked him directly.

She didn’t know if Sam had deceived her; didn’t know how much she’d deceived herself, and it no longer mattered.  Her experiences increased her compassion, caused her to demand less of others.

And that was good.

***

She had been in Sam’s shack since November and as she knew she would do eventually, she walked out in late March.  Sam told her about the origin of the medicine lodge, the story of the North Star, and finally he told her the creation story.  It could only be passed, this verbal history, orally, the magic a testament to their intimacy, the extent to which they had surrendered to the trap.  This was something that would be lost if told indiscriminately or written down for the eyes of a casual reader.

There would be no record of him or her having been here this long winter of 1957, except that which had been written on each of their souls.

In late March, the first thunderstorm swept through the region marking the end of the Anishinaabek story telling season, dragging off part of their roof, and creating a distance between Norna and Sam they would never eliminate, but would, paradoxically, never widen.

He helped her pack up the burlap bag which held her books and the few clothing items she had come with, and her quilt.  They swept the floor without speaking, sometimes rubbing up shoulders, and when they were finished, they left the wigwam together, he walking south toward his trap line and she, without a backward look, making her way toward Lake Superior, and finally west to the town of Grand Marais.

One thought on “Carnivore Dreams — Deadfall Short Story

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s