Success has a simple formula: Do your best and people may like it.

— Sam Ewing.

Well, Sam Ewing, that’s what I did. I hope a few people like it. And for anyone who is reading this now, I would enjoy connecting with you by email or Facebook. Even if you have nothing to say but Hi that’s just fine. Maybe let me know if you’re thinking about reading Cold Morning Shadow or if you have already started it, or anything else. Or just Hi.

Where did this novel come from? The first words rolled from my fingers in late January 2019. By early September I had dashed off the Epilogue. Unlike Fire, Wind & Yesterday, which trickled onto the pages over the course of 28 years, I had a first draft of Cold Morning Shadow down in something closer to 28 weeks.

Starting in September, as I was making the first of several passes through the manuscript to edit it, I began sending queries to literary agents on the remote chance that one might ask to see it. None did during the four months of editing, but that’s normal. I also found a couple of “beta” readers — God bless you, Heidi and Ruth! By January 2020, I was satisfied with the result.

In January I began designing the book cover, formatting it as a printed book, and refining the promotional blurbs that you see on the publisher’s web site,, at Amazon, and on the back cover. It’s hard to say enough about the book in such a blurb that it promises what the book delivers but doesn’t give away too much.

So, where did this book come from? I’ll let this portion from the Acknowledgments answer that:

My late first cousin, Janet Hume, a cheerful blonde with ears that could hear everything, moved from Lima, Ohio, to Spearfish, South Dakota, in the 1970s and married Mitch Quilt of the Brulé Lakota.  Cold Morning Shadow bears no resemblance to the story of their tempestuous affair, but their plight set me thinking: What if everything that seems doomed turns out for the better instead?  What if forbearance and the love of human kindness prevail?  What if disaster is not simply averted but vanquished?  I am grateful to Janet, who spurred me to ask those questions. I thank Steph Hoff, my second cousin and daughter of Janet and Mitch, as well, for giving me some perspective on her parents’ lives.  This novel is dedicated to the three of them.

=David A. Woodbury=


Is English the Author’s Native Language?

Comment: Reading Cold Morning Shadow made me wonder whether the author’s first language is something other than English.  It doesn’t sound as though it was translated from something else, and it doesn’t sound British.  It just seems more formal than most American books I’ve read.  -K.B.

Answer: American English is my first language.

My Parents

My mother was born in Ohio in the 1920s and, other than hearing some Pennsylvania Dutch spoken in the family during her childhood, she grew up speaking the English of her Midwestern parents.  She earned a bachelor’s degree in education in the 1940s and was a schoolteacher by the time I was born.  She continued teaching school all through the time I was growing up (as the oldest of six children).

My father, raised in Maine, lost his eardrums and inner ear structures to childhood infections.  He was totally deaf by the time he reached puberty.  From my earliest memories of him — he was 23 when I was born — he was bald, had a full set of false teeth top and bottom, and wore a metal band across his head connected to a bone-conducting hearing aid.

Dad’s pronunciation was actually fine.  He had comical ways of repeating what he thought he heard when someone spoke to him.  What he assumed he heard was often wrong.  Mom and all of his children needed to correct him constantly.  I recall many times being on the sidelines of a conversation and, when he wasn’t sure what had been said — he would stare at me with a look that pleaded for a repeat or interpretation.

It took my dad eleven years, from the time I was five years old until I was 16, to earn a college degree while also adding all those kids to the family and working two jobs at a time.  In the end, he too became a school teacher.

Good Teachers

I was a “good” student throughout my 13 years of public school, kindergarten through twelfth grade.  I was strong in English, especially from about eighth grade onward.  By the time I finished high school I had sat through two years each of Spanish, Latin, and French.  I liked English assignments that called for telling a story, but when I later looked back on those compositions I cringed and destroyed the few pieces I had kept.  Teachers complimented several of my compositions, though, and my senior-year English teacher, Jean Rhodenizer, once told my mother that she didn’t feel qualified to evaluate my writing.

In my first year of college I added a year of Russian to my language inventory.  With no way to pay for a second year of college I enlisted for four years in the Army during the Vietnam non-war, further impelled by the Army’s offer of a year of intensive Russian at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.  There, for almost twelve month, I was privileged to study under the close attention of three or four native-born Russians.

One character in Cold Morning Shadow gets a perfect score on the Army Language Aptitude Test, (the ALAT), upon initially enlisting in the Army (Chapter 30).  It’s fiction in the book, but it’s just what happened to me.  The multi-year study of three foreign languages in grade school, the immersion in Russian that followed, the experience of living in Germany for a year and a half, even though I didn’t take classes in German, and my frequent travel in Italy and France during that period, left me undaunted, if not conversant, in seven different languages and fluent in two or three of them.

I have waded ankle-deep into ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Mandarin since then — altogether ten languages using five different alphabets or writing systems.  On top of all this, I’ve taken a couple levels of training in American Sign Language, which has yet another structure for communicating.

(Ultimately, in the trip of a lifetime, I spent two weeks on a solo trip through Russia and Ukraine in the mid-1990s. I would arrive in a town, locate a hotel, and check in before touring the area. Desk clerks would ask: Where is your tour guide? Where is your group? Where is your bus? I’d answer that I’m traveling solo. The next thing each one invariably said was: You are!? in a tone that conveyed: Are you crazy? Then they would say: Be careful! But I emerged from behind the Iron Curtain unscathed.

That trip, especially the swing through Ukraine, gave me some much-needed reassurance while writing Fire, Wind & Yesterday.

Bell and ASL

My father didn’t use ASL, as anyone would understand who has learned of the darker side of Alexander Graham Bell.  While it’s true that Bell’s mother, Eliza, was deaf and that, when he was in his late 20s, he married a woman, Mabel Hubbard, who had lost her hearing to scarlet fever as a child, and while it’s true that his invention of the telephone was a product of his experiments with acoustics on behalf of his wife and his concomitant quest to improve the telegraph so that it could transmit sounds, and even though Bell founded the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf in 1890, (now known as the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf), Bell opposed permitting deaf people to marry one another, fearing an unsustainable growth in the deaf population and the demand for a deaf state — a country-within-a-country.

He believed that deafness was a curse upon those afflicted and a burden to any deaf individual, and that deafness could be reduced in the population as a whole by interfering with deaf couples’ freedom to procreate.  He wanted to prevent the birth of deaf children.  To quote from, he wanted “to eliminate residential schools, prohibit sign language use in deaf education, and forbid deaf teachers from teaching deaf students.  Bell thought these measures would encourage deaf people to use their oral skills and become more integrated into the hearing society.  These measures could be ‘hidden’ and seen as education reforms.”

Since Alexander Graham Bell had a powerful influence on pedagogy in the United States, it took decades after his death in 1922 for education policy to catch up to today’s reality.  From “The trend toward dedicated, residential education for deaf children has been replaced by a trend to integrate deaf children into local public schools. This movement became predominant after the passage of the All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 (today called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).”

Thus Bell has had his way, after a fashion: Deaf children are now taught more in an integrated school setting. But he has lost in another way: American Sign Language has become a universally-accepted and widely-taught visual supplement to oral communication.

In other words, my father, born in the 1920s, grew up during a period when A.G. Bell’s prejudice still heavily influenced the education of the deaf.  In a remarkable coincidence, he grew up in one of the three New England villages where sign languages in America originated in the early 1800s, in my dad’s home region around Farmington, Maine.  But that was a century before he was born and it had died out, largely due to the inventor of the telephone in 1876.

Dealing With It All

Dad’s family was also slow to acknowledge his disability, and he had already learned to speak normally before he lost his hearing.  In order to function among most other people, who did not use sign language, he was better off relying on speech and making the best of early hearing aids.

Deafness had its stigma when he was growing up, and that lingered well into his early adulthood.  American Sign Language was not widely encouraged among the deaf and their supporters and family members until well into my own adulthood.

My Expertise

None of this makes me an expert on any language but my own.  I paid attention in school, diagramed sentences, learned the parts of speech as I was simultaneously learning conjugation of verbs, declension of nouns, gender and person of pronouns, and all the rest in other languages.

Somewhere in my high school education I realized that I was being taught to write according to Strunk and White, the authors of The Elements of Style.  These were the rules that guided my teachers and which are better than mere rules; they also make sense.

I have consulted The Chicago Manual of Style and The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and have drawn two conclusions, neither of which may be correct but are logically drawn: These guidebooks were initially written for people who composed newspaper reports which were not meant to be enduring examples of prose, and the authors of those manuals were trying to show reporters how to infuse urgency into reporting that was also marked by brevity and even uncertainty.  It was and still is, I suppose, fundamental that a piece of news, however incomplete, be published immediately and that readers be diverted from noticing and inquiring into any incompleteness of information.

I write stories, mostly, not news reports.  I want my words and, as vitally, my punctuation, to leave no doubt what I was trying to convey.  For more on the rules I have imposed upon myself see my article on Discipline in Writing.

=David A. Woodbury=


With five books now published under my name and two more which I edited for other authors, it may interest some to know what rules I follow when I write.  In another article I’ve addressed what makes me an expert in my native language, American English.

Presented as a countdown, here are 25 rules on style, word selection, and grammar that comprise the core of my discipline while writing, whether it’s an email message, a social media post, or a novel.  These rules are in no particular sequence except that number one is truly my number one rule.

I don’t argue that you are wrong if you dismiss any of these strictures.  My objective in following them is to convey my message or my story directly and clearly.  It is not as easy to use all these rules in ordinary conversation because, when I write, I compose my sentences painstakingly, revise constantly, and finish the entire composition before letting anyone see it.  Talking as haltingly as I write would be awkward for everyone involved.

My Rules

25. Start with something to say, respect the reader’s time, organize it, and say it.  I once read about 100 pages of a John Updike novel, (Rabbit something-or-other), and then gave up on it.  I had no idea what was happening or to whom.  Maybe some readers enjoy being cheated of information, but I’m not one of them.

24. I believe in restoring to use words that have slipped from favor. I work such a word into my writing especially when the word that has become more common is less precise or is ambiguous. Recently someone asked whether I had any money “on me.” I replied that I have five dollars and some coins in my pocket. He remarked that most people would say they have five dollars and change. I understand what it means when people say change instead of coins; let them say it. I try to imagine how expressions like that are interpreted by people from other countries who are learning to speak our language.

23. Use the right word.  If I adhered to this in ordinary conversation I would only falter as I speak.  I try to use the best word when talking, though.  I search for words as I speak, of course, but I’ll forge ahead even when I can’t come up with the word that I want, as long as I’ve come close enough to be understood.  What’s more, in a conversation, I can tell whether I succeeded in conveying my message because listeners respond.  They answer, they nod, they acknowledge with facial expressions.  I can corral and lasso the right word and try again if I perceive that I’ve been misunderstood.  In writing a novel, I can’t just give it a try and let it slide.

22. Use the concise form of the right word. When you can say (write) use instead of utilize, do so. A doctor once insisted to me that there is a difference between dilatation and dilation, but he couldn’t explain it. I contended that dilation is a noun derived from the verb, dilate. So, I asked, is dilatation derived from the nonexistent verb dilatate? He snubbed me after that.

21. I avoid the vernacular of the present, especially when writing about the past.  I want someone who picks up my book fifty years from now to understand it.  Even the urban dictionaries of today will be hard to find a half century from now, and what’s more, I’m not urban.  Lest I need to say it, I don’t give a damn about political correctness, either.  

20. I avoid adding up, out, and other tags to verbs that don’t need it. “Did you send [out] the invitations?” “I did, and I used [up] all the stamps in the drawer.”

19. Apparently it has become permissible to trim although to though.  What’s the point of that?  To save two letters?  There is a difference.  It sounds wrong to me, so when I mean although I use although.  There are proper places to use though, though.  In the same way, many writers now trim the first syllable from until.  Usually they cut two letter from the beginning and then double the last letter, saving one character each time they write the word.  There is a different between till and until.  If I want to shorten until — in dialog for instance — I will write ’til.

18. When someone says or writes I thought to myself, I want to ask: To whom else would you think?  I don’t add to myself when I say I think.  I simply think.

17. Many people don’t know whether to use or not after whetherWhether can usually stand alone.

16. The phrase, as far as, (short for as far as I’m concerned), begs to be erased from our lingo.  The same applies to a thousand other phrases that have become mangled in similar manner.  I watch for these mutations and avoid them.

15. What you need to do is you need to stop starting a sentence with What unless you’re asking a question.  The thing you need to realize is (What you need to realize is) that there are variations on that construction and all are awkward.  What I’ve heard when some people start sentences that way in conversation is is is they will say is two or three times before they get to the rest of the sentence.

14. As I write I consider how a translator might need to deconstruct each sentence in order to render it in any other language.  For instance, how would the phrase, as far as I’m concerned, be expressed in other languages?

13. That is why I avoid idioms most of the time.  Where I wrote earlier that I don’t give a damn about something, I used an idiom that it is difficult to replace effectively.  But I always question the literal meaning of an idiom, and if it makes no sense literally I look for some way to express the same thing in words that can’t be mis-translated. Once in a while I don’t give a damn and use the idiom as it stands, though.

12. I write in full sentences.  I’ve recently begun reading TransAtlantic: A Novel on my Kindle.  By Colum McCann.  I discovered him when I read an article he had written.  On the internet.  The article was so well-written that I wanted to get acquainted with his fiction.  So I bought one of his ebooks.  Apparently it’s his style.  To write in phrases.  In his novels, that is.  Not complete sentences.  Maybe the story is pretty good.  But my editor’s eye is continually repairing his prose.  To put his phrases together.  Into sentences.  It can be effective in a novel to let a short phrase or even a single word stand as a complete sentence, capitalized and finished with a period.  But it’s effective if done sparingly.  Dropping a period after every third word throughout a book creates speed bumps for this reader.  I don’t like it.

11. I avoid a sentence construction that leads to a he/she or his/her conflict in the predicate or in a later clause.  (“Any driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour will automatically lose his/her motor vehicle operator’s license.”)  I avoid a construction that some would argue can be resolved only by matching a plural pronoun with a singular subject.  (“Any driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour will automatically lose their motor vehicle operator’s license.”)  It is always possible and usually easy to unobtrusively rearrange a sentence.  (“Loss of the license to operate a motor vehicle is the automatic consequence of exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour,” or “Any driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 30 miles per hour will automatically lose the license to operate a motor vehicle.”)

10.  A pronoun needs a clear antecedent.  As I write, I try to leave no doubt who or what is referred to by every pronoun.

9.  Words indiscriminately capitalized are speed bumps for a reader.  And yet a word sometimes presents a challenge.  The equator circles the earth halfway between the poles.  My back yard has some good earth for planting an early garden.  The first four planets, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars, are separated from the rest by the Asteroid Belt.  Consistency is the key when discretion in capitalization is allowed, as it is here.  The compass directions, north, south, east, and west, need not be capitalized, but what if someone comes from the east and wants to live in the West, meaning that region of the USA west of the Mississippi and famous for cowboys and cactus?  I was born in the South, meaning that region of the eastern USA that lies south of the Mason-Dixon line.  What do you do when you want to distinguish the Southwest from the Northeast?  In the song, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is the line: “From out of the east a stranger came, a law book in his hand…”  He merely came from somewhere east of the song’s setting — a compass direction.  I capitalize the commonly-used name of a region but not a compass direction. I’ve noticed, in fact, that, although the West is often deemed a proper region, the east is not. I capitalize the Earth as one of the planets but not when the earth is a substitute for the world — when it refers to nothing outside itself. I apply the principles I’ve given in these examples to other words similarly in question.

8.  People do speak in sentence fragments.  Speech is normally immediate, spontaneous, and sloppy.  Some authors adopt a writing style that imitates speech.  I think that kind of writing belongs in dialog but not in prose.  That’s merely my opinion.

7.  There is a difference between in and into, between on and onto.  Sometimes in can replace into and on can replace onto with no loss of meaning but sometimes not.

6.  There is a trend, borne of convenience, I suppose, to unite two words which seem to belong together.  It has become acceptable to write someday and sometime as we do somewhere and somebody, to write anymore as we do anywhere.  I haven’t yielded to this trend.  I don’t give it any thought any moreSome day when I have some time to kill I may consider capitulating, but it will take some time for anyone to persuade me to do it.

5.  Whenever I read a modern novel (1900s to present) I am almost sure to encounter the words indefatigable, ineluctable, and inexorable or their adverbial forms.  Therefore I have excluded them from my lexicon.  There are a few other “literary” words such as those that I avoid just as carefully, although I usually don’t think of them until the moment comes to decide whether to use them. I also avoid a word when it is not only commonly overused but used without regard for its literal meaning. Two examples are amazing and incredible.

4.  I strive to render every sentence in the active voice.  Sometimes, though, the passive voice works better.

3. I ignore the advice, found in many guides for writers, to omit all adverbs. Yes, they are imprecise and therefore have no place in laws, policies, and regulations. Even though I strive to use the right word, there are some times when the right verb is enhanced by an adverb. Used well, adverbs enhance action as spices enhance food. They can intensify the tone of a verb, contribute an emotional element, or exaggerate something absurd.

2.  When writing dialog, if a word stands in for someone’s name I capitalize it.  “What do you think, Honey?”  “I’m listening, Son.”  “Say that again, will you, Young Man?”  This is merely my own rule for myself.

1.  In the five books I’ve written I’ve had no use for the seriously superfluous word got and its past participle, gotten.  You’ll never find it in my writing, except in the preceding sentence.  There is always a better construction. (Got is the word that gives you expressions such as: “A lot of beer got drunk at the party.”)

The Result

I’m sure that I adhere to other rules as well which I may not even be aware of. Following these rules may make my writing sound formal, even archaic. I don’t care, because I believe it results in a quick read that is clear, easy to follow, and leaves no doubt what I intended to say. Assuming that I have an entertaining, informative story to tell, I believe my rules help express it effectively.

Rules such as these partly define my “voice” as an author as well. Voice also includes the ways in which an author juxtaposes words, the degree of intimacy that each character exposes, the hidden elements that a reader doesn’t notice until a second or third read-through, the type of humor employed, the pacing, the sequence in which information is presented and its timing, and much more.

Challenge me on these rules. Did I miss any important ones? Tell me yours. Have you found any instances in my work where I’ve strayed from my discipline?

=David A.Woodbury=


They pop up in various places throughout the novel — eight poems of varying length and tone. One is attributed to the character, Wilton: the song, “Always Loving You.” The next six are attributed to one or more of the other characters, and you’ll learn who that might be as you read the story.

Here they are according to the sequence in which they appear in the book.

Spider eyes stare down at me.
I stare back at eight with two.
What in my world do those eyes see?
And with six more, what would I view?

Know Me
I prefer fast or slow in a saddle
To the white-knuckle speed of a car.
I prefer sound and odor of cattle
To the olfactory insult of tar.

I am happier sleeping on hillsides
Than in hotels with valets and locks,
And I’m healthier eating wild berries
Than consuming what’s sold in a box.

I’ll take the still hour before sunrise
Over midnight’s interminable gong
And an evening in any small library
Over music and drinks in a throng.

You’ve not asked but I’ve told you what matters —
What I look for in both pace and place
And I’d spend all eternity with you
If, when there, I could see your kind face.

My bubble is sealed in a glaze,
Within it I breathe in a haze.
It neither expands nor contracts,
Nor admits new emotions or facts.

With my mind an unraveling bight
My sad soul's tear-stained spirit's a sight.
And yet, outward I may seem unfazed
In my vesicle fragile and crazed.

Words I Would Say
A voice, and a word crossing space —
A sound, a disturbance in air.
But a word on the air leaves no trace,
You may hear it, but then it’s not there.

If I utter it softly, you hear,
If I whisper, who’d know it was done?
But, if softly and you are not near,
Then both whispered and thought are as one.

I would offer my words to the wind
If I thought they would fall to the ground
And if I could choose who, in the end,
Were the soul by whom they would be found.

Do you wonder what words I would say?
Do you wish that you already knew?
The air may receive them some day
When I want you to hear: ‘I love you.’

[no title]
Cryptic space
No, I can’t stay
Wave me away

Shuffling feet
Slow, yet I flee
You’ve set me free

Pillow time
Near me you lie
In my mind’s eye

Spurning home
Why?  So I’ll know
Where I must go

Something true
Should I tell you
What we both know?

Yearning, we
Yes, and now I
Yield to our tie

See that heap of husks behind me?
Hollow casts of days now past,
Husks that haunt and since remind me,
Shells of hopes that died at last.

See those pots erect before me?
Vessels full with days to come,
Each one dull and bound to bore me,
Each a ringing, vacant drum.

See this gaunt half-soul in tatters?
Sentinel with one intent:
Find the other half that matters;
Mend the halves now flayed and rent.

See the sense in this confusion?
Product of men’s need to reign,
Fostered by the bold illusion:
Follow him!  He’ll quash your pain.

See the pain, not soon extinguished?
How so many who are bruised,
Keep the bed in which they’ve languished,
Unaware how they’ve been used!

The last example of verse in the book is attributed to Tasunka Kokipapi, an Oglala chief of the mid-1800s. Although this verse is entirely fabricated for the book, it is intended to represent his other sayings and advice.

Our lives are as but a day.
Our shadows are as spirits,
Yours touching mine on the earth
Even when we stand apart.

At end of day our shadows become one with night.
We are still here, only the light is gone.
At end of life our spirits become one with all
We are not gone, only no longer seen.

=David A. Woodbury=


Chapter One of Cold Morning Shadow begins with a quiz.  Not a quiz for you, the reader; it’s for the characters in the book who were sitting in eleventh grade English class.  The instructions for the first-day-of-school quiz were written on the blackboard: “For each letter of the alphabet, or for as many a letter as you can, list a pair of homophones that begin with that letter.  No credit will be given for proper names, such as Derry paired with dairy.  Credit given will favor the greater number of letters for which you can list a homophone pair.”

The teacher, Turn-bullet, as he was known, had also written on the blackboard: I see – icy, you’ll – yule, and oui – we.  He told the class that these pairings would not count: matching one word with two — the first example, pairing with contractions, and pairing an English word with a foreign word.

Turn-bullet was concentrating on pairs of words that sound the same but have different meanings and, for his purposes, different spellings as well: muscle and mussel, penance and pennants.  The chart reproduced here, which comes from Wiktionary, illustrates the complicated relationship between words with different meanings whose spelling or pronunciation might overlap.

As the story unfolds, two girls in the first-day English class spend the rest of the school year working together on lists of homophones and other words — heterographs, heteronyms, homographs, homonyms, anagrams, palindromes, and more.  Their lists are included in Chapter 27 of the novel — at the end of Book One.

As the author, I compiled those lists on my own without the aid of reference books or the internet.  I have kept lists of word anomalies, anagram-palindrome pairs, and heterograph and heteronym pairs for years. (See my article about word games that different characters in the story are found playing at one point or another.)  Occasionally, while writing Cold Morning Shadow, I did check a definition or a spelling for one of the lists, but I didn’t need to look up examples of these word pairings.

Being a generous person, I am making Chapter 27 available as a download (PDF) right here.  You’ll have to read the book, though, to understand what’s significant about any of these lists or individual entries in them.

=David A. Woodbury=


In the story, Cold Morning Shadow, a deaf teenager warmly and confidently perseveres in stitching two families together. Deafness creates challenges in communication but doesn’t prevent it. Words are the units of language and can be written as well as spoken (and heard). If hearing is partially restored with hearing aids, then a deaf person can relate words on paper to words in the air — but often with difficulty.

Someone thus challenged can develop special skills with language if provided special ways to practice it. Here are two word games that are included in the book.


When I was in the Army Security Agency at Field Station Augsburg (West Germany) I was introduced to a word game called Botticelli. I was 22 years old at the time, and I don’t recall asking why Sandro Botticelli’s name had been attached to the game.

In Cold Morning Shadow, Chapter 34, Wilton is introduced to the game as I was. I suppose it could be widened to include more than two players, but I played it only one-against-one.

All you need is paper and a pencil or pen apiece. As described in the book:

There are two players.  Each one chooses a five-letter word that the other must guess.  Assume Player A’s secret word is LIGHT.  Player B proposes a word: AUDIO (or any other five-letter word).  How many letters in AUDIO are also found in LIGHT?  One.  So Player A tells Player B: “One.”  Now Player A proposes the word CRIME to Player B, whose secret word is TACKS.  Player B says: “One,” because one of the letters in CRIME is also found in TACKS.  Player B, who knows that his first proposed word, AUDIO, contains one correct letter, suggests VIDEO, and Player A once again says: “One.”  Player B can’t tell, yet, whether the one correct letter is the same as the one correct letter from before or a different letter.  They take turns thus until either player has proposed enough words and discovered enough letters in the other player’s secret word, and arranged them correctly, to finally figure out the other player’s word.  It gets tricky when a player has chosen a word such as STACK which can also be rearranged as TACKS.  Besides winning the most rounds, a champion Botticelli player is one who can consistently identify the other’s words with the fewest guesses.

I don’t recall playing it with words of any length other than five. If you play it with words of six or more letters, I would expect exceedingly greater complexity in the game. And perhaps you could play it with a five-year-old using words of two or three letters.

I know of no rules for scoring the game, nor do I know the origins of it. It would be fun, of course, to play it in a language different from one’s own — students in a foreign language class might find it instructive.


I invented this game, which appears in Chapter 16. Here is a portion of that chapter:

In the middle of a conversation — the subject of which vanished from everyone’s thoughts once someone innocently uttered “Congratulations!” — Garnette blurted: “Hey, did you guys ever play ‘Latinos’?”

Cyleine, Toleda’s parents, and an eleven-year-old brother, Sander, gaped at her blankly.  Cyleine shook her head, more to say Don’t go there! than to answer her question.

“It’s a word game,” Garnette said helpfully.  “You just said ‘Congratulations,’ Mister Aucoin.  And the game is, when you are about to say a word ending in ‘-l-a-t-i-o-n’ or ‘-l-a-t-i-o-n-s’ you change it to ‘-latino’ or ‘-latinos’ before you say it.  So you would have said ‘Congratulatinos!’ if you’re playing the game.  And then you just go on talking — just switch the ‘o’ and the ‘n’ see?”

“That’s it?” Cyleine asked, still worried.

“Nooo!  So if I catch you saying, for instance, ‘violation’ or ‘speculation’ or ‘relations’ — anything with that ending and if you don’t change it to ‘relatinos,’ then I shout Latino! and I get a point!  It can go on for years.  My brother and I play it all the time still.”

“Still?  I haven’t heard you do it.”

“Well, who goes around saying ‘flagellation’ or ‘coagulation’ or ‘ejaculation’ in a sentence every day?  But twice since we moved here I caught Wilton not changing words when he should have said… let’s see, it was ‘emasculatino’ and ‘miscalculatino.’  I’m up to thirteen points in three years and he’s only at nine.”

“Fast-moving game, I see,” said Toleda’s dad.

“You can do it when you’re reading what someone else wrote, too.  We used to do it with magazines while we were riding in the car.  He’d read Readers Digest and I’d look at Look.  You can get twenty words in a magazine, for instance, in a two-hour car ride.  He was better at seeing them at a glance, so he usually won those rounds.”

“He would find, oh… ‘vacillation’ and ‘immolation’ and words like that in a magazine?” Missus Aucoin asked.

“No, more like ‘revelations of past crimes’ or ‘insufficient insulation.’  Things like that.  Me, I’m looking for words too but stumbling over ads for ugly clothes and cute baby pictures, so I’m slower.”

“But if you can get twenty examples in a car ride, why are you only at thirteen or nine points?” Cyleine asked.

“You only get a point if you catch someone forgetting to change it.”

“Don’t you think people of Latino heritage would find that a little offensive?” Missus Aucoin wondered.

“It didn’t seem to bother Javier and Gustavo Muñoz — they were our neighbors, or any of our other Latino friends back in Richmond.  They’re the ones who taught us how to do it.  They found ‘Latinos’ in dozens of English words.”

Missus Aucoin asked: “Did anyone ever find ‘Latinas’?”

Garnette confidently assured her: “There’s only one word that will give you ‘Latinas.’”  She arranged her napkin on the table as if she wasn’t going to reveal the word.  Everyone else waited until she looked up and apprehended their anticipation.  “Oh.  Paul of Tarsus wrote letters to them, the Galatians.”



Why did I create DamnYankee Publishing Company ( in 1999?  My experience with the novel Cold Morning Shadow serves to answer that.  I wrote the book between January and September 2019, all 300,000 words of it — (299,468 to be exact, not counting introductory material that is outside the story itself).

I next trolled my sample chapters in front of a couple dozen literary agents starting in September 2019, crafting each query to the agent’s (or agency’s) format for submissions.  To a person, literary agents make clear that a novel, other than one intended for children or one coming from an “established” author such as Stephen King or Jean Auel, should run between 90,000 and 110,000 words, up to about 250 pages at most.  Studying agency web sites, reading agents’ profiles, and tailoring each letter to the target agent consumed the four months from October 2019 through January 2020.  Submission guidelines are consistent in asking for your manuscript’s word count, a detail that any word processor provides. Without a doubt, when an agent’s secretary saw my word count, three times the acceptable length, my query went into the trash.

I realize that agents are the modern-day gatekeepers for the four or five conglomerates now publishing books under scores of traditional trademarks (HarcourtCollins, W.W. Norton, Houghton Mifflin, Random House, Penguin, and so forth).  If the publishers won’t print a book larger than 110,000 words by an author they’ve never heard of, then of course the agents must meet the publishers’ demands or find another line of work.

Publishers have noticed, one would guess, that adults who read don’t buy books longer than 250 pages.  Sales of longer books must be dismal.  Or is that true?  What agent, after all, with limited time to sit back and read manuscripts, wants to plow through only half as many submissions that are twice as long and collect half as many commissions as their colleagues?

One Alternative

I came close to splitting my novel into two separate volumes for this reason — a series of two, a duology.  Some authors do that and just keep adding to the series.  I couldn’t foresee a third book in the series because I had a story to tell and it concludes at the 300,000-word mark.  And so I did suggest to a few agents that I had written a two-book story arc.  (That’s the industry phrase that they understand.)  Still, 150,000 words was too long for one volume.  Generally, too, each volume should stand alone as a complete novel unto itself.

I had already internally divided it into “Book One” and “Book Two,” so I looked at paring back 40,000 words in each volume and simultaneously bringing Book One to a conclusive end, so a reader wouldn’t need to pick up the sequel.  The sequel, though, in order to stand alone, would need to recreate the same characters for any reader who hadn’t read Book One.  Book Two, therefore, would have to lose 40,000 words and simultaneously let the characters introduce themselves all over again — a redundancy that those who had already read Book One wouldn’t tolerate. Scratch the series.

Of all the literary agents I wrote to, three responded.  (By email — that’s the method now.)  Only one of them replied in such a manner that it was plain she had read my query.  None of the rest did.  With DamnYankee Publishing re-awakened, I formatted the book for print and for Kindle, created the cover, proofread it again and again, edited continuously, and finally uploaded it all to Amazon in February, 2020.

A Natural Divide

Cold Morning Shadow however, does neatly reach a stopping point, as opposed to an ending, precisely halfway through — so precisely, in fact, that, in the print edition, Book One, Lucky Diamond and This Guy, ends on page 346, and Book Two, Half-soul in Tatters, ends on page 695. Take out the three blank pages between the two halves and they’re truly equal in page count.

Book Two picks up right where Book One leaves off and does not re-introduce the characters. However, there is a different framework and a different tone to the story from that point onward. Where Book One took place all in one setting, Book Two literally goes around the world.  The second volume returns to the setting of Book One again and again as some characters have remained in that location while others have begun traveling.

The Characters Drove It

As I was writing Cold Morning Shadow I gave no heed to its length.  I just wrote until it was finished.  No doubt there is some fluff.  Not every sentence is as succinct as a proverb in the King James Bible.  I began with a two-dimensional image of each of four characters.  I introduced them to each other.  I let them develop themselves.  And they did indeed develop themselves.  Within a few pages I became a reporter barely able to keep up with all that they were doing.

But I was prescient, even God-like. As I was learning about them, they were making choices and, as the publicity blurb for the book says, they were laying the cornerstones for lasting friendships.  That doesn’t happen in a page and a half. I’m not O. Henry, and there’s more at stake here than who’s kidding whom. Because their future was foretold, though, I mostly needed to nudge each one page by page so that they would make the next necessary decision among many possible choices in order to move the story toward its foregone conclusion.

Long Books Don’t Sell, or Do They?

If long books don’t sell, it baffles me how the books in the list below made it past the industry’s gatekeepers during the era in which each one was published.  All but the Clancy and Clavell books on the list sit on the shelves of my home library.  (Debt of Honor and Shōgun, then, must each include about 20 pages of extra material, comparable to the differences between story page count and total page count for my own book, but I’ve listed them according to their page counts found at Amazon.)    The rest of the books below are arranged according to the page count on the last page of each story.  That I know because I pulled each one from the shelf and checked.  I can’t vouch for the word count of any but my own.  Roots, as you see, comes closest to my own page count.

pgs – title – author
688 Roots (Alex Haley)
695 Cold Morning Shadow (David A. Woodbury)
709 Northwest Passage (Kenneth Roberts)
727 The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
756 The Sotweed Factor (John Barth)
836 Oliver Wiswell (Kenneth Roberts)
866 Come Spring (Ben Ames Williams)
868 Alaska (James A. Michener)
870 Rabble in Arms (Kenneth Roberts)
874 Bleak House (Charles Dickens)
909 The Source (James A. Michener)
912 Debt of Honor (Tom Clancy)
937 Hawaii (James A. Michener)
969 The Covenant in 2 volumes (James A. Michener)
973 The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
979 The Fiery Cross (Diana Gabaldon)
985 Fall of Giants (Ken Follett)
1152 The Stand (Stephen King)
1312 Shōgun (James Clavell)
1514 House Divided (Ben Ames Williams)

Never mind War and Peace.  My copy of that one, in Russian, spans two volumes.  Never mind Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at 766 pages.  Don’t mention Don Quixote at 344,665 words (in English) and 992 pages in one currently-available edition.  Other books by authors mentioned in the above list, and innumerable additional books by other well-known authors, have reached wide audiences even though they exceeded 700 pages.

Amazon’s page count for my book is 719, which includes pages for the title, copyright notice, dedication, acknowledgments, table of contents, and the About the Author pages at the end.  The story itself, as most books do, begins the page count at the start of Chapter One and ends at page 695.

My paperback copy of Fall of Giants, by the way, although 290 pages longer than Cold Morning Shadow, is the same dimensions as my book: 6 x 9 x 1¾ . Both seem massive compared with the old Dell paperbacks that you used to be able to buy new for 79¢ — Remember Clan of the Cave Bear? Follett’s big tome fits those dimensions because it is printed on lighter paper than mine.

Why So Long?

You can google longest novels, longest American novels, and so on. It is clear that not every good story can be told in 250 pages. An author has the freedom (in some countries) to tell any story in any number of words that it takes. It’s true that a traditional American publisher has the freedom to pass it over. It is true that anyone in the U.S. can launch a publishing company and begin publishing anything with any content whatsoever. No law (yet) requires a publishing company to turn away manuscripts that aren’t “inclusive” enough or that meet any other totalitarian restrictions. You will not find a License to Publish on the wall of any newspaper office or publishing house in the country. The First Amendment is the Constitutional license to publish. One must, of course, avoid libel and plagiarism but not much else.

The Second Amendment is the Constitutional license to carry a weapon, but now that that has been successfully infringed in many states thanks to a complicit Supreme Court, the First Amendment is vulnerable too; but that’s a separate matter.

I don’t compare my writing to that of any author in the list.  Perhaps it is as good as some.  Perhaps my story is as interesting.  So is my book worth the time?  For me it was.  It has been on the market barely two weeks — just long enough for someone to read it if they have done nothing else in that time.  My beta readers praised it, so that’s all I have for information so far.

If you want a fast book, treat yourself to a snappy short novel but don’t expect to get well acquainted with more than one character.  I can suggest my juvenile novella, The Clover Street News. At 21,000 words it’s hardly more than a short story. Or try my short-story collection, Tales to Warm Your Mind. Or pick up a volume of O. Henry — a short-story writer whose gift I envy but who left us no example of what he might have done if he had a big story to tell.

As for a book that follows four people (and a few others) through a crucial period in their lives and loves — a saga, it can take a lot longer to tell. Cold Morning Shadow follows the examples set by the authors above — Go big or go home.

=David A. Woodbury=


Beijing in China is called Peking in the book, and Tianjin is called Tientsin.  Why?

北京 in Chinese can be approximated or mispronounced in many different ways.  When Wilton (in the book) was there in 1970, it was Peking in English.  Now it’s Beijing.  In another twenty years it will probably be something else — Banjan for instance.  The same goes for Tientsin/Tianjin.

People whose primary language is English mangle foreign names in at least four ways. We try to pronounce a foreign name correctly and spell it phonetically, but we fall short because we don’t have the character set for it (Chinese) and we can’t wrap our tongues around the sound as a native-speaker can. There is at least an honest attempt to get it right here, as in the name Tientsin, since modified to Tianjin.

Our second shortcoming is seen in the subtle changes in transliterating a name into English, as when Москва (Moskva), from the Russian, becomes Moscow, and when Mexico is pronounced as if there is a hard X in the middle. There is no linguistic excuse for this, but it is close enough that everyone lives with it comfortably. Italia is Italy and Roma is Rome in English, España has been accepted as Spain, Brasil is Brazil, Nippon is Japan, and so on.

Our next offense, to my ears, is the substitution of an entirely different word for the country’s name — using countries as an example. To name but a couple instances, Helvetia (Confoederatio Helvetica) to us is Switzerland and Deutschland becomes Germany. These substitutions have historical roots, but why can’t we refer to a country by its own chosen name?

The final insult is what I call the Leghorn effect. On the west coast of Italia lies a pleasant little city, not far from Pisa. I spent the night there once after watching the sun set over the Ligurian Sea (another example, but I won’t argue that). But is Leghorn the name the Italians have given the city? No. They call it Livorno. I can only imagine that an Englishman, perhaps a mapmaker in the 1500s, stumbled onto the place and, refusing to take the marbles out of his mouth as he spoke, spelled it on a map as he pronounced it.

There are examples of the Leghorn effect in place names, people’s names, and words we have brought into English from other languages. As an aside, really, but I must say it: I was a student of Latin for two years. People with no Latin background regularly “correct” my pronunciation of alumnae and fungi. I endure and usually resist counter-correcting them.

You might say it works both ways with proper names such as Leghorn, and indeed it does. However, when you hear “a-taz-you-knee” (Etats Uni) from someone speaking French, that’s a direct translation of “United States.” The Russians might call us America, but they also call us Soyedeenyonia Shtatee (Соединенные Штаты). That’s not an offense and doesn’t fall into any of my four examples here. It’s a direct translation of our country’s name into Russian. We did the same back in the days when we spoke of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a direct translation of their name for themselves at the time. There aren’t many countries whose names are composed of common words — mainly the the good old USA. But, yes, in some other languages we are neither America nor the United States (of America). The Leghorn effect works both ways, and I take no offense, but I do resist committing that offense against them.

I guess this qualifies as a rant. But in the book, Cold Morning Shadow, when you see Peking and notice that everyone now calls it Beijing, you’ll understand why.

At one point in the story the name, Elizebeth Smith Friedman is mentioned. You can look her up — she was for real — and her given name was truly Elizebeth. That’s not a mistake in the book.

When a couple of people from Romania appear in the novel, in conversation they speak of România. That’s their name for the country. In English, it’s Romania, and that’s how the name is rendered when the Romanians themselves are not speaking. Again, not a mistake.

There are probably other subtleties like this that I’ve forgotten, but I could not imagine submitting the text to a professional editor who would “correct” these details.

=David A. Woodbury=


After you’ve written a book, (or while you’re writing it — if you’re that confident that you will finish it) — someone has to design a cover. This wasn’t necessary until the middle of the last century or so. Not because books didn’t have covers but until then books were pretty plain on the outside.

You’ve seen the ebook cover for Cold Morning Shadow. Here’s the final single-image design for the front and back (and spine) of the printed book.

I did it myself, and why not? If you read all the on-line advice about book marketing you’re warned that a bad cover can kill a book and you should hire a professional cover designer. If you don’t, your cover will look like an amateur did it.

Here’s my first idea for a cover. For sure it looks like an amateur did it, and I wasn’t satisfied. So I decided to become a professional cover designer. For this first idea, I found photos on line depicting the two cars that you really must see to appreciate their presence in the book. (See This Book Is Not About Cars.) I added a Military Intelligence pin and an ASA patch from my own military experience, pulled the empty .30-30 cartridges from my hoard of empty brass (pertinent to a certain scene in the book), the U.S. and Canadian coins depicting Indians from my own collection, the cast bronze bookends which are also mentioned in the story, and the paper currency including some 3rd-series renminbi notes from China. The yellow ribbon is an overlay from a .png file. The DD 398 is real, too. It’s the Statement of Personal History from my own Army enlistment, but I dared to show only the corner of it because the rest is filled in with names and birthdates of my own parents and siblings. (The DD 398 mentioned in the book contains information on the family of one of the characters.)

For the “professional” cover I first searched the internet for a different view of a 1941 Packard. Not a better photo — a more dramatic presentation. That’s when I stumbled onto a set of stunning pictures of the car that made it onto the final cover. But these were high-resolution, obviously professional photographs — in black-and-white. I followed the links to their original web site,, found an email address, and sent a request to use the car on a book cover. This kind of query often leads to a dead end. But, mirabile dictu, (Latin for speak of a miracle), I did receive a reply and a positive one. Permission granted, provided Norman, owner of the car, can have a copy of the book. Done!

The original photos appear to be in black-and-white, although I believe they are color shots carefully staged to show no color besides some touches of red on the original car. My next step was to tint the picture. Since gold coins play a minor role in the book, I thought of a gold shift. It looked like a car under a petri dish of beer. Next I tried red, as shown, aiming for a garnet red. I think I did well on the garnet with a value of 1800 on the temperature scale.

But I cropped the photo too closely at first, as in the example here. I thought it would add drama if the car wasn’t quite complete, but instead it looked to me like a mistake and really only made it appear annoying. And the reddish tint seemed confusing considering the book’s title.

Of all colors, blue seems to have the widest range of character and depth. Maybe that’s because we associate a wider range of shades with the color, blue, than we do with any other color. Shades of yellow are often called tan or brown or even green. Green and red each suffer the same confusion. Light red isn’t thought of as red at all. It’s pink. Anyway, I used the color temperature tool in GIMP and replaced the original 6500 with 3600 — essentially a random choice.

It was tempting to add too much clutter to the finished cover. Some things are necessary — the bar code with the ISBN, the book’s summary and author photo on the back, the publisher on the spine, and the title and author name on the front along with the one-line slogan. These are necessary elements. For additional features I still wanted some coins, so I settled on two. A cardinal gets only a one-line mention in the story, but I added it to the cover for a splash of color.

The front still had vast vacant black corners. I experimented with a title filling the entire space, as on the red mockup. When I printed a life-size (6″ x 9″) copy of it the title was simply too big. Leaning toward lateral symmetry I centered the title in a smaller font, embellished it in a program called ArtText, and added the two tilted documents that you see in the corners, one a poem and the other a song — both found in the story.

In the book, two main characters exchange letters — love letters of a sort. She sends him poems. He wrote her a song. These are the two documents on the cover, tinted, tilted, truncated, incomplete, and underexposed. But they are included in their entirety in the book. (See Poems in C.M.S. and Always Loving You.)

I was delighted to find a photo of the rear of the car at the web site for Norman’s Garage, in the same scale as the head-on view. So I thought: Why not combine them on the cover so that the photos emphasize front-and-back of the book? And there you have it. There is more about the cars that appear in Cold Morning Shadow in this post.

=David A. Woodbury=


When I started to write Cold Morning Shadow in January 2019, of course I opened a word processor and began typing away. I began writing Fire, Wind & Yesterday in 1989 using Microsoft Word on an “IBM” computer. As I was finishing it in 2017, I was using Pages on a Mac. But I ran into trouble converting it to Kindle format using Kindle Create. Some Hebrew and Greek characters, used only in the Prelude (Foreword), failed to make the coversion. I switched the entire manuscript to Open Office, which emulates Microsoft Word, and that worked when transferring it to Kindle Create.

Word Processors

For Cold Morning Shadow I started with Open Office, although later I did explore LibreOffice.

At about the halfway point, though, I had a catastrophic failure in Open Office — I forget just what went wrong. Using a backup, I switched to Pages (an awful name for a piece of software, as is Word). I then made a book template to my satisfaction and formatted the document on the screen to simulate how it would look in a finished book. Pages has all the features to accomplish this, but it’s hard to find many of them. I persisted, though, and added the few images that appear in the finished product, and so on.

Editing, especially Find and Replace, is pretty easy in Pages. Changing fonts is easy, although the native selection is limited. I added several new ones from and

So much for the writing. What about the cover? What about the web sites, this one and What about the author page at What about converting it, once more, on Kindle Create?

Starting a Web Site

I started in 1999 as an attempt to make an end run around conventional publishing. Since the First Amendment forbids any restrictions on publishing and the only legal concerns are libel and plagiarism, there is nothing that says you have to pass the gauntlet of literary agents and editors who are the gatekeepers for the handful of publishing conglomerates that dominate the industry under names such as Penguin, Random House, Regency Press, and so on.

As an aside, in 1999, when I was looking for a web site name, I first tried to register the names and These were both taken. (With my background in Russian language and history, I knew that Samizdat, which means “to self-publish,” referred to the underground self-publishing that occurred in defiance of the government of the Soviet Union and must still exist today under the radar in totalitarian Russia.)

Guess what… Today and are both available URLs. I’m tempted to register them, but at my age, what am I going to throw onto them for web content?

To design back in 1999, I took a great deal of advice from some friends (thank you, Stephen Gardner, among others), bought a piece of software — I forget what, and plugged away at designing and redesigning and redesigning a web site to keep up with the pace of web development. did publish a few obscure works, both as ebooks and one in hard copy — the first book ever, in fact, to be published BOTH in ebook and hard copy at the same time, now no longer in print in either format, by the way: Three Naked Ladies Playing Cellos.

Once I had bought a Mac computer, around 2007, I switched web site design using a Mac-based program, Rapidweaver, which emulated Dreamweaver.

At last, in around 2012, I began using WordPress to start a “blog.” It may not be the friendliest interface to get used to or start you off with the most visually appealing templates — although that is entirely up to you, the designer, but I’ve become something of an expert in using WordPress, and so I stay with it. I figured out how to use WordPress to set up a web site as opposed to a blog, although it doesn’t provide the best resources to avoid blogging — it seems to push blogging as its primary purpose.

Image Manipulation

Anyway, as I mentioned in an earlier post about designing the cover of Cold Morning Shadow, I taught myself to use GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program — the definition of GNU is recursive and complicated). It’s a free, open-source program that stands in for Photoshop. I also taught myself to use one called ArtText, which turns ordinary text in any font into some eye-popping graphics.

But I had a great background in Microsoft Paint and in comparable programs for Mac, and I’ve been an accomplished amateur photographer since I was in my teens. So GIMP was not too daunting, although there is still much that confuses me about it.

There is more about my use of GIMP on the page where I discuss designing The Cover.

More About WordPress

WordPress has been a God-send overall. I had already set up a few sites there, which I still manage:

The latter three use conventional site names (URLs) because I’ve registered ($$) those names through WordPress.

I’ve also designed low-budget web sites for a couple local businesses — (providing my services free of charge) — and, since neither business owner had any idea how to secure the URL or build a site.

In late 2019 I converted from an entirely self-designed site on a different hosting service — (Thank you, for close to 20 years of hosting!) — and rebuilt it on WordPress.

Working with Amazon

The final piece was Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform itself — interacting efficiently with Amazon’s interface in order to get everything up there, lay out an author page at, and then link everything back to this site.

I used the Amazon KDP resources back in 2017 when I published, all at once, four other books I had written but never released, Fire, Wind & Yesterday, Tales to Warm Your Mind, The Clover Street News, and Babie Nayms.

I know there are other ways to publish beyond the pale of the big conglomerates — Barnes & Noble, for instance — but some subtle and not-so-subtle distinctions have kept me with Amazon.

Many services are available to assist “indies” — authors who wants to publish “independently.” Using those services sort of compromises the independent side of the job if you are depending upon them, but the word, independent, as used in the industry means not submitting to an agent to get you into the big guys — not using the big publishing companies at all.

The services offered to indies include anything you aren’t confident about doing yourself: proofreading, editing, reviewing, formatting for print publication, converting to ebook format, cover design, and all aspects of marketing and distribution. So far I have assumed all those roles myself.

And that pretty much summarizes the resources I used in bringing Cold Morning Shadow to life.

=David A. Woodbury=


with Preceding Remarks


Cold Morning Shadow © 2020 by David A. Woodbury.  All rights reserved.
First Edition
ISBN 9798612816188
Published in the United States of America by

Cold Morning Shadow is a work of fiction in two parts, Lucky Diamond and This Guy followed by Half-soul in Tatters, and is entirely a product of the author’s imagination.  The main characters are all contrived, so their names have not been changed.  Some real people make appearances under their own names, though, and why not?  If this story were true, they might have been there.  But none of the contrived characters portray real people.  Where people, places, and events of historical record have been included in the story, the author has made every effort to portray them accurately. No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

For my cousin, Stephanie, of the Brulé Lakota,
her tragically-fated father, Mitch,
and her mother, Janet —
may they be remembered.

Book One — Lucky Diamond and This Guy

In our country two hundred years ago shooting was the national pastime and people shot guns as to-day they shoot golf.  Popping at an Indian or a turkey or deer was part of the daily occupation of those who lived on the frontier and in the backwoods…

Stewart Edward White, The Long Rifle (1910)

Chapter One: The New Girl
Wednesday, September 6, 1967

Cyleine Comosh tried not to slouch.  She wasn’t bored and didn’t want to appear so.  Nevertheless, with an elbow propped on the student desk, she rested one cheek on the hand curled around her pencil.  Her undirected gaze found her own shadow sprawled across the waxed floor tiles, distorted where it lay over someone else’s clutter.  It annoyed her that a classmate with a gym bag had the power arbitrarily to disrupt the smooth continuity of her stretched silhouette.

A shadow is a moving signature, she reflected.  She would soon leave the room and take it partway with her, but only to the doorway where it would cease briefly to exist, but not she.  Not yet.

Sometimes a shadow confers a small favor.  Perhaps a candy bar lay hidden within that gym bag and she saved it from melting.  The dull kid beside her would never appreciate the gift of her presence — if he owned a candy bar.

Fragments of thoughts, some towing others at the ends of faint filaments, competed for her conscious attention. Cyleine’s reflection upon her shadow, for instance, trailed two sentences from memory: Some have left behind them a name, so that others declare their praise.  But of the rest there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed.  Weighing these words a phrase at a time, she fixed her gaze on a student toward the front of her eleventh grade English class. 

Cyleine had been the first to finish the quiz — well, not finish, really.  She couldn’t think of any more to add.  Nothing stirred in the room except pencils, two or three scratching, some tapping, and one which fractured her reverie when it snapped.

The words of an ancient scrivener had intruded briefly between her glance toward the dust-streaked windows to her left and her scrutiny of a new girl in the row to her right, in front of the boy who didn’t have a melted candy bar.  The afternoon glare hindered gazing outside but did wonders to illuminate the pale, lanky bottle blonde before her.

She had seen the new girl in chemistry class but hadn’t given her much thought.  Her name had sounded something like Cardette when Cyleine heard it in the earlier class.

Complemented with white flats, each secured with a high strap around the ankle, the girl’s plain-cut sleeveless dress celebrated summer.  Against a dominant white cotton background streaked with airy blue, grand chili-red poppies with black centers appeared tossed against a noon-day sky, their green stems askew among the suspended blossoms.

Cyleine’s best friend since childhood, Toleda Aucoin, now lay in a silent grave on Rose Hill, still awaiting a stone marker.  She would have worn that dress.  Toleda was already perishing, fading from other people’s memory as in Sirach’s verse, but Cyleine pledged never to forget.

This new girl, with long arms that seemed boldly naked and incandescent where the sun fell upon them, put her in mind of her late friend, but not in a haunting way; the new girl didn’t look that much like her.  Cardette, with opalescent skin and blanched hair, at first seemed as faded as Toleda had appeared in the months before the disease had stifled her last breath.  In her better day she had been a puncture-proof tire of sorts, rugged, solid, undeterred by hazards and dirt and yet sensitive enough to pluck a flopping dragonfly from the grill of a parked car to set it free.

There had been plenty of time to mourn earlier in the year, even as Toleda giggled with sincere delight over goofy get-well cards and dumb jokes.  Cystic fibrosis always leaves a victim that lingering hope from day to day if not from night to night, until the hour when the last molecule of oxygen has squeezed through the constricting passage and the heart thumps its last.

Cyleine became aware that Cardette’s pencil was also still.  It must be, for the girl had been writing with her left hand, and now that hand lay relaxed at the front of her desk.  From behind, Cyleine studied Cardette’s glasses — light blue plastic frames, pointed at the outer top corners, the lenses rather thick at the edges and making things appear smaller through them.  All around her, though, others were still gripping their pencils, one now and then darting toward the clutched paper.

A test on the first day of school was not unheard of.  In fact, when she saw that Dennis Turnbull was to be her English teacher this year, Cyleine rather expected a first-day quiz.  Turn-bullet was known to do that.  He was also legendary for another reason, and, since Cyleine believed she had a powerful command of English, she looked forward to seeing what his class would do for her and anticipated as well how she might impress him.  She permitted herself a moment’s gloating over the words she had just set down.

The instructions for the quiz were written on the blackboard: “For each letter of the alphabet, or for as many a letter as you can, list a pair of homophones that begin with that letter.  No credit will be given for proper names, such as Derry paired with dairy.  Credit given will favor the greater number of letters for which you can list a homophone pair.”

Turn-bullet also wrote on the blackboard: I see – icy, you’ll – yule, and oui – we.  He told the class that these pairings would not count: matching one word with two — the first example, pairing with contractions, and pairing an English word with a foreign word.

Cyleine excelled at this kind of word play.  She compared it with her skill in math — to a point, anyway.  She could differentiate heteronyms, homonyms, homographs, and homophones.  Patterns in numbers fascinated her as did patterns in words.  She had recently noticed a pattern in multiples of 13, for instance.

“You are a cipher,” Toleda had said sometimes, after Cyleine exclaimed over some new discovery in words or numbers.  It was a compliment which only confirmed that Cyleine had uttered something her friend found impenetrable.

Last spring Toleda had still wanted to keep up with her tenth-grade school work even when she had barely the breath to remain conscious while they studied together.  And the last intelligible thing she had said in Cyleine’s presence was uttered as a challenge: “Did ‘tram’ become ‘train’ by bending up the first arch of the ‘m’ until it broke off?”

They have perished as though they had never existed.  Cyleine suddenly looked down at her paper to conceal the tears flooding her lower eyelids.  Sensing immediately that someone was looking at her, she raised her head for an instant and found Cardette glancing her way, with a faint smile on her lips.  Both girls looked away in mutual regard for decorum.

Dennis Turnbull had begun the class session by introducing himself, then assigning the quiz.  But he spent the first half of the period describing what their year would be like together.  Everyone was welcome to jot homophones as he talked, as he engaged several students in jovial banter, as he patrolled the room.  After a few minutes Cyleine noticed that he was dropping words into his discourse that belonged to a pair for the quiz.  She wrote several of these in sequence along one side of her sheet so he might realize that she had picked up on it.  But she would present him with another list that included none of his hints.

Muted rumbling voices at the back of the room told her that Jay and Luther, two boys who had hectored her all through school, were preparing for some mischief after class, but she shut them out and returned to her contemplations.  Most pencils at last fell silent, their scratching replaced by rustling and murmurs.  School would be out after this period.  Cyleine needed that.

Turn-bullet was now stalking the aisles between seats, collecting papers and commenting to different students as he went.  Cyleine had learned a year ago that he earned his nickname during the Second World War.  As a squad leader on Guadalcanal he had led some men on foot up a trail.  Spotting a rifle barrel protruding from a bush at close range, Corporal Turnbull could not call out quickly enough to protect his men, nor even raise his own rifle in time, so he charged the bush as the hidden gun began spewing lead.  Somehow, the first two or three direct hits on him were deflected by pieces of metal that he was wearing or carrying, but a final bullet sent a fragment of his pelvis into one kidney, which he could live without.  His action gave a couple of his men time to aim at the rogue enemy shooter and… well, kill the guy.  Corporal Turnbull earned the Silver Star for heroism and, as a high school teacher some decades later, also enjoyed the awe and respect of all his colleagues and most of his students.

Mister Turnbull was Kul Wicasa Oyate, or Lower Brulé Lakota, and he already knew who Cyleine was.  Her brother, Lionel Comosh had been Turn-bullet’s student last year and had held the easy-going teacher in highest regard.  “He made me love English,” Lionel told his sister just a few days ago, when she announced who her teacher would be, “but he made me appreciate other languages too.”  Lionel had added: “He made me realize that, maybe the English conquered the Pre-Ams, but we can take command of their language.”

Turn-bullet used the term, aboriginal pre-Americans, when referring to any of the nations and tribes occupying the Americas before Europeans claimed the continents.  Lionel shortened it to Pre-Ams, which became his own term for himself, his family, the Lakota nation, and American Indians in general.

By the time Mister Turnbull paused beside her desk, Cyleine had prepared a smile and limply handed him her two sheets of paper.  She had anticipated being tested on words such as these early in the course, but she had been collecting homophones and doing other word games to amuse herself for years.  She thought the teacher would be sufficiently impressed.  Although some of her pairs were weak — “use” and “youse” for U, “quay” and “key” for Q when it properly should have been listed under K, and splitting “ere” and “err” from “air” and “heir” — she had something for every letter except X and Z, which she had long ago determined were bereft of homophones.  So she had turned them each around, so to speak, and offered pairs ending in an X and a Z sound, “tacks” and “tax,” “grays” and “graze.”

At the first bell, still disquieted by the apocryphal verse that had come to mind, Cyleine struggled to retain coherent threads of every competing thought, the better to catalogue them on her walk homeward.  The rudely loud announcements over the public address system failed to disrupt her mental organizing, and so, with the final bell, she collapsed her bubble closely around her and, oblivious of anyone else, rode the current of bodies through the doorway.

As soon as the press of classmates released her into her own reflective stride in the hallway, Cardette herself drew close from the side and matched her pace.  “Are you OK?” the girl asked and, without waiting for a reply, added with appropriate discretion: “I saw your tears.”

“Yeah.  I’m fine.  I had a… I mean — well yeah, I had a friend who died this summer and she just came to mind for a minute.  Please don’t ask.”

“I won’t ask.”

Cardette stayed abreast of her in silence, down two flights of stairs and into another hallway, where a mob of students clanged locker doors with a lack of synchrony that almost seemed choreographed.  Cyleine paused next to her own narrow metal box, the same one she had used last year and would retain until graduation.

“Don’t you have a locker yet, Cardette?” she asked.

The other girl’s eyes popped, and she giggled softly against the background noise.  “Not yet,” she answered and continued waiting for Cyleine to glance through her things before closing the warped metal hatch.  There was nothing she needed from it after all, so Cyleine led her strange companion into the white heat of the South Dakota afternoon.  She turned along East Hudson toward the center of town.

At the first corner she pointed to the right, up 8th Street.  “See that next corner up there?  Avoid that.  Fights.  That’s probably what’s about to happen, judging by the cluster of boys there right now.”  The other girl looked up the street and nodded as they found a walking pace that both could agree on.  Brightening at the new girl’s presumption in walking with her, Cyleine tossed out the question, “Do you live across town?  I do.”

“Yep,” the girl replied, “and you know why I laughed in there?  My name’s not Cardette!”

Cardette’s genuine mirth loosened Cyleine’s taut restraints.  She grinned up at the healthy, lissome sapling of a girl and laughed at herself as they resumed walking.  “OK, Not-Cardette.  What’s your name, then?”

“It’s Garnette.  You heard it wrong, I guess, although I don’t know when you heard it at all.”

“Chemistry, when someone said something to you, but it wasn’t any of my business,” Cyleine admitted.

“My mother’s favorite gemstone is a garnet, so they fancied it up and Frenchified it and it came out Garnette.”

“I’m Cici, if you want to use that,” Cyleine told her.  “My initials are C.C., and I kind of like that better than Cyleine Comosh.”

“Oh, not ‘Si! Si!’ in Spanish, then?  When I heard your name earlier I thought it was” — she spelled it — “S-i-l-e-n-e.  Like, ‘Almost Silent,’ if you know what I mean.  Serene Silene.”

“No, please!”  Cyleine laughed and spelled her name, to make that clear.

“Garnette Straed,” said Garnette, grabbing Cyleine’s right hand, “but she didn’t.  Well, she hasn’t yet, anyway.”  She spelled her surname, then added: “It used to have an ‘e’ on the end, but that was too German for my dad.”

Cyleine sniffed politely at the double entendre.  She detected a vague accent, a peculiar enunciation, anyway, maybe the hint of some Appalachian dialect.  “Where do you live?” she asked Garnette.

“The college is leasing us a house on Iris,” Garnette told her.  “My dad’s with the college.”

“A professor?”

“No.  He does budgets and fundraising and boring stuff — an accountant.  He used to work for an auditing company.  All they did was audit colleges.  Mostly in Virginia.  And my mom wants to start a beauty shop.  She thinks the college girls will need their hair done and stuff.”

Cyleine wondered whether Missus Straed was responsible for the design and structural integrity of the sculpted shell surrounding her daughter’s face.  The girl’s broad forehead narrowed to a pleasant point at the chin, a YIELD sign shape, as women’s magazines described it, that could have been improved by letting her coiffure follow her natural lines, rather than creating an overall balloon effect.  On the other hand, maybe Garnette’s mother just needed to set up her shop first.  Cyleine was happier dealing with her own softly-rectangular head than she would be with a wedge.  She noticed that Garnette stood at least a hand taller than herself but couldn’t help comparing her ropey gait and elongated build to a young giraffe.  And yet, she wasn’t over-tall for a girl, maybe five-foot-eight, and she had a confident grace in her elastic movements.

“You’re an Indian, huh, Cici.  I never had an Indian for a friend,” Garnette ventured.

“Lakota,” Cyleine returned, using a soft ‘k.’  Involuntarily she pulled some of her own dark hair toward her chin but stopped short of looking at it.  Instead, she let her thoughts drift to comparing her animal self, a black horse, to Garnette’s giraffe self.

“But you’re not red-skinned.  Who ever decided that Indians are red-skinned?  You want to see red skin, let me lie out here in the sun for half an hour.  I love your hair, by the way.”

Cyleine considered her earthy-black tresses both her best and worst feature — best because it reliably drew attention from other features she didn’t like; worst because it was heavy and resisted all efforts to do anything with it except to let it hang, either braided or straight and shiny.  She didn’t know what to say about Garnette’s hair, so she frankly studied the shifting tints in Garnette’s enormous eyes for a moment, de-emphasized behind her glasses, and remarked: “Your eyes are beautiful.  I’d call them abalone.”

Negotiating curbs and obstacles while facing Cyleine in return, Garnette blinked a couple times involuntarily and said: “Why, thank you!  Why abalone?”

“They change, from blue to yellowish green, and back to blue.  And they have those thin black swirls in them.”

“Your eyes aren’t as black as I thought they’d be.  Or your hair.”

“I’m full-blooded Indian, all right,” Cyleine said, “descended from Tasunka Kokipapi.”  She looked at the pale girl for acknowledgment.  “We live off-reservation.”

Garnette just grinned wider and raised one eyebrow.

“You never heard of Tasunka Kokipapi?”

Garnette’s second eyebrow went up as she gaped.  “Sorry,” she squeaked.

“He was an Oglala chief, like a century ago.  His name is misunderstood in English as Young Man Afraid of His Horses.  But it really meant he was a fearsome young man and it was his horses that people found terrifying.”

“So why don’t you have a whole phrase for a last name, like Little Light Shine or Buffalo Hoof Print?”

Cyleine laughed.  “Actually I do.  I have an older brother, Lionel.”  She  stressed the Lion part of it as in vinyl.  “He plans to change it back to Cold Morning Shadow.  Some rogue Indian agent from the government eighty years ago shortened it to the first two letters of each word.  My great-grandfather couldn’t read, so he accepted it.  But we’re getting it back.  We’re getting it back in English, though.  Which is OK.  I actually love the English language.”

Garnette exclaimed, “Me, too!  That quiz today — I love that stuff!  How’d you do on it?”

Cyleine averred that she had given one or more pairs of words for every letter except two, although Turn-bullet may reject some.

Garnette blurted: “He’ll reject most of mine, probably.  He’ll think I was being a smart-ass.  But I wasn’t.”  She didn’t elaborate.

Cyleine led the other girl into a corner store where, without negotiation, they each bought a bottle of RC Cola.  They carried the drinks to the curbside out front and leaned on a dusty pickup truck sitting empty there.

After one swallow Garnette whirled on her new acquaintance and cried: “Cici, there’s a gun in this truck!  And the key’s in it!”

Cyleine glanced through the pickup’s pair of rear windows.  “A Marlin Model 90,” she affirmed.  “Sixteen-gauge I’d say from here.”  The shotgun rested on two upturned mule deer hooves mounted behind the seat.

Garnette added: “And the windows are down.”

“Who wants to climb into a hot truck today?” Cyleine quizzed.

Garnette’s face registered confusion, so Cyleine went on: “My dad usually leaves his keys in the ignition when he parks around town.  He wants someone to be able to move his truck or car if it’s in the way.”

“No one steals it?”

“Well, see, everyone knows everyone else’s vehicles around here.  This is Lorell Baker’s ‘fifty-one International.  And even I know that this old six-banger couldn’t outrun a cop on a bicycle.  I think it was this old man’s truck that my dad once ‘stole’ and took to a gas station to buy him a tank of gas and then re-parked it back where it was, but I’m not sure.  Want me to show you the shotgun?  Double-barrel with two triggers…”

“Nooo!  Not now, anyway,” Garnette laughed.  “I supposed you don’t lock your house at night either.”  She took another swig from her bottle.

Cyleine thought about the frequency of her own nighttime trips to the barn, of occasions she knew of when her father had stayed at the shop until after midnight or returned from a road trip in the wee-small hours.  “Nope,” she replied.

Each gulp of pop throbbed through Garnette’s long neck the way Bugs Bunny would pass through a cartoon fire hose.  Realizing that her mind was returning to the animal-self comparison, Cyleine lit up.  She had horses and rode every day.  And she liked to run with one in particular as much as to ride, with stamina to match.  She was farm-raised, strong and quick, but far from what some might describe as “sturdy” or “heavy-duty.”

“Hey, Garnette.  Do you run?  I mean, like run track or anything?”

Garnette snorted a little pop as she pulled the bottle from her lips.  “When I run, my brother says I look like a flamingo dancing on a conveyor belt.  He’s a runner, though.  Sometimes I do push-ups with him, but even doing that I fall and hurt myself.”

It was Cyleine’s turn to snort and cough.  She had noticed that Garnette’s arms were more than decorative white appendages.  Slender, like her own, they were nevertheless all muscle, like her own.  “Do you ride, then?  Horses?”

“Never been near one, except I rode on a pony once at a fair.  Wide as an aircraft carrier.  I was safe.”

From that opening, Cyleine vaguely pledged to introduce Garnette to equestrian lessons.  They returned their bottles to the empties-rack against the front of the store and walked on.  Presently they turned onto Iris Street.  Garnette clarified: “So you live out this way too?”

“See that windmill?”  It rotated, with the hesitancy of a second hand on a Timex, a quarter mile ahead.  “That’s our barn.  Our house is just beyond the barn.”

“See that wishing well?”  Garnette mimicked, nodding toward a lawn ornament across the street from where they had paused.  “Our house is just beyond it.”

Cyleine scowled for a second.  “I knew that a couple moved in there Fourth of July weekend, but where have you been?”

“See that boy coming out of the house?  That’s my brother, Wilton,” Garnette elaborated.  “We stayed behind in Virginia until just before school started — with our aunt and uncle — to spend more time with our friends there before we left.”

Together the girls started across the quiet street as Wilton, catching sight of his sister, veered to meet them.

TWO: The Barn

But we shall be hereafter as though we had never been, and our names shall be forgotten in time, for our time is a very shadow that passes away.  In each of us there is a chasm that swallows interrupted thoughts, Cyleine realized, as her musings clambered for purchase against the walls of the abyss.  Dreams evaporate.  Their neural impulses scatter with consciousness.  Orphan thoughts, though, until they die in a remote morass, stand a weak chance of recovery.

Feeling short as she stood beside Garnette, a hot breeze pasting a slab of hair across her nose, Cyleine knew it was time to abstain from private contemplations, but the once-heard passages of ancient wisdom delivered one more line: A shadow has no substance…  She rescued those last five words from near-oblivion and recommitted them to deeper memory just before returning to the present.

Cyleine became aware that she had held her breath from the moment Garnette’s brother appeared on the steps at the house until the boy came to a full stop at her shoulder.  When she exhaled a dusky “Hi,” it came with unnecessary force, leaving her breathless, all of which meant nothing, really, but it made her sound and feel ridiculous.  Proud of her normally unruffled demeanor, she whisked her errant hair aside and winced inwardly.

“Hey, Rockie,” Wilton greeted.  “Who’s your friend?”

“Cici Co — Cold — What is it?”

“Cold Morning Shadow,” she said, and heard inside herself: …has no substance.  Regretting that she had not explained the shortened version of her surname, Cyleine started to extend her hand but Wilton Straed was already twisting away toward an old car parked in their driveway and saying “See you, then,” or something like that.

Garnette stretched her already-long neck to whisper loudly into Cyleine’s ear: “Tell him his wig looks wonderful!”

Cyleine let her breath out again to laugh.  Had she been holding it a second time?  “Rockie?” she asked.

Garnette led the way to the front door, explaining: “When I was learning to talk I couldn’t say my name.  It came out ‘Roggie’ so my brother made it ‘Rockie’ and that’s what he’s always called me.  He says it fits, because I’m named after a gemstone.”

Inside the house, Garnette brought Cyleine straight to the kitchen, where her mother, the receiver to her ear, stood beside a wall-mounted telephone the color of the poppies on her daughter’s dress.  Enduring a half-hearted hug, Wilma Straed covered the mouthpiece with slender fingers tipped in flame-red polish and gave Cyleine a quizzical look rather than a nod of acknowledgment.  Through an archway into the cramped adjoining dining room Cyleine could see that the table was set for four with Melamine Duotone dinnerware, real silver-plate, and rolled white cloth napery slipped into etched silver rings, each ring with a distinctively different pattern stamped into it.  Meals long forgotten left their yellow and purplish stains on a couple of the napkins.

Garnette took two apples from a bowl on the table and glided onward into another room.  Cyleine followed.

“Serious business,” Cyleine supposed out loud, accepting a grapefruit-sized cultivated apple.

“It’s always serious business to her.  That’s partly why it’s never serious business to me, whatever it is.  I stay cheerful and hope it rubs off on her.”

“Is Wilton — your brother — is he in college here?”

“Heck, no.  He’s a senior.  They don’t want him to go to BH anyway.  They want him to go ‘back east’ to some stuffy accounting school.”

“Hey, my brother’s a senior.  Suppose they met each other yet?”

At this moment, Wilma Straed appeared in the doorway to the front room and sighed.  She was elaborately coifed in a hair color that was rum brown with probably-unintentional neon overtones.  Cyleine guessed that it must change to a different shade from month to month.  The woman, who could project the distant, inaccessible countenance of Judy Garland in a publicity photo, wore what might once have been a man’s white button-up shirt, tailored to her narrow shoulders, and shortened to flare over tight cotton pants in dark lime that, unfortunately, accented the shelf where her dowel-thin waist telescoped into her prominent pelvis.  Her face and her inadvertent grace of movement affirmed that she was Garnette’s mother.  Her son, Wilton, moved with that same whip-limp languidness, Cyleine reflected, and his face was partly Garnette’s, but his eyebrows were thick and golden brown, as if someone had chewed a Brach’s caramel to soften it and molded a chunk over each eye socket.

Garnette had talking eyebrows like her mother’s but un-plucked and un-dyed, always expressing what lay behind them, naturally darker than her hair most likely, wonderfully elongated, dropping to sharp tapers at the tips.

“Garnette,” Wilma struck right in, “do the kids in this town, the college kids I mean, go past that ice cream place on North Main?  Do they congregate in that area or anything?”

Garnette stared back blankly.  Not only did she not know, being so new in Spearfish, but she marveled that her mother didn’t consider it.  Cyleine took the opening and had a hunch what was behind the question: “That’s one of the two or three best areas where the older kids, especially, get together, Missus Straed.  There are places to eat and big parking lots.”

“So the college students visit the stores out there?  Not just the Indians?”  Missus Straed was explicit.

Cyleine recognized the bait.  “People here don’t make much distinction between Indians and settlers,” she answered.  “The history is important, of course…”

“Garnette, did you meet any regular kids at school today?”

“Regular, irregular, local, even a German boy from Ecuador.  His family is from Germany, that is.”

Finishing her apple, Cyleine winced inwardly.  Son of a faculty member at the college, Bernd Holst was German-born, raised in Ecuador, with the skin of his Liberian ancestors that bore highlights as blue-black as a river’s reflection of the west African night sky.  Garnette was cheerfully throwing switches and diverting her mother like a runaway railroad car.

After a pause during which Wilma was present in body only, Garnette introduced her friend, Cici Cold Morning Shadow.  “Your ancestors have been here since about eight thousand B.C.,” Garnette said through a mouthful of apple, “is that right, Cici?  I learned that back in Virginia in sixth grade.”

Cyleine genuinely panicked suddenly and whirled for the front door.  “I’m sorry, Missus Straed.  I just remembered my chores.  Sorry, Garnette.”

“What chores?”  Garnette moved to open the door.  “I’ll come help.”

“Garnette, not in those clothes!” Wilma scolded.  “And what chores can you do for her, anyway?”

Garnette sprang for the stairs and disappeared upward, but her voice returned to ask what she would be helping with.

Cyleine regarded the strange mother as she replied to both: “I have to check the horses, clean the stalls, and there’s one I have to ride.”

Garnette was out of sight for ten seconds, then reappeared at the top of the stairs pulling up some jeans, a tee-shirt draped over one shoulder.  She adjusted her exposed brassiere before tugging the shirt over her head and glasses.  Cyleine was impressed by Garnette’s figure which, in spite of its leanness, was designed completely around spheres and parabolas.  The girl swooped down the steps, drawing the shirt down over her ribs and fastening her pants at the same time.

“Where…?” her mother interjected.

Cyleine answered: “The farm after the stop sign, Missus Straed.”

“It’ll be fun!” Garnette was saying for her mother’s benefit as she closed the front door behind them.

“You have to ride one?  Why?”

“She’s a high-spirited mare, first one I ever broke.  She wants to run and run.  But when I turn her out on her own, she goes about fifty yards from me and then circles back to — to entreat me to run with her I guess!  If I turn her out with another horse, she runs it off.  She doesn’t believe in the herd apparently.  She doesn’t realize I can’t run like a horse, but she gets excited if I saddle her, because that means I’m going to come anyway and she can run as fast as she wants to.  I love it.  She loves it.  So every day I ride her for maybe most of an hour, or if I feel really good, I run in the field by myself and she sort of runs with me but goes where she wants to.  But usually it’s right after lunch time, and now that I’m back in school I’m overdue.”  Cyleine was close to jogging up the road, but the barn was now only a hundred yards ahead.

“What will I do?” Garnette asked.

“We’ll see…”

Two steps inside the barn and Garnette paused as Cyleine strode quickly forward, along what must have been a row of stalls — it was too dark in the shadows to discern anything yet.  A couple horses nickered; she could hear that, and there was some clanking and stomping of hooves as Cyleine, clearly understanding Garnette’s hesitation, said, “Follow my voice and come meet Billow.  She takes the black saddle with the low cantle, and I use a plain snaffle bit.  She sees you fine and she probably thinks you paused out of respect for her.  We won’t disabuse her of that idea.”

Garnette crossed the barn floor as Cyleine was speaking.  She stepped into the open stall, which was a grand space compared to her preconception of it.  Her eyes were adjusting.  Cyleine was hoisting a saddle onto the horse’s back.

As Garnette stood staring, mouth agape, at a dense canopy of spider webs suspended across all the stalls, Cyleine cautioned: “Put those on and wait there.”  She was gesturing toward a pair of cowboy boots beside the entrance to the stall and was adjusting and cinching as she spoke.

Garnette danced her way out of her shoes and into the boots, noticing the archways worn into the delicately-interlaced webs where the horses’ ears kept a swath clear.  She gradually spotted dozens if not hundreds of fat, gray spiders marking time in the false ceiling.  Cyleine didn’t offer an explanation, but clearly the spiders were the horses’ companions.  There were no flies to be seen.

“She’s a mustang,” Cyleine said of Billow.  “Her mom is Whistler, that blue grulla in the stall across.  She has some vision problems, so we don’t saddle her much.  She follows the others well and would be a good one for you to get used to, if you are thinking of riding.  She took to me real easily, and my mom doesn’t ride her any more.  Look, she’s watching you.”

With her slender feet in the wide, men’s boots Garnette turned calmly.  A strangely beautiful horse eyed her authoritatively in the streaks of sunlight leaking into the barn, then nodded a couple of times.  Strange, it was to her, for its almost iridescent coat, fading from black on the legs and along the spine to a soothing pale gray on the shoulders, barrel, and thighs.  The mane was black, streaked with light gray, reminding her of a piano keyboard.

Garnette listened to some further instructions, mostly gibberish, until an explosion of hoofbeats on heavy planks jarred her, but Whistler, unfazed, seemed to study the tall stranger’s response to the surprise.  Garnette held the older horse’s stare and, after Cyleine, ducking at the doorway, burst from the barn as from a rodeo chute while calling out something about the stalls, Garnette slowly stepped toward the older mare.  Whistler nodded again.  Garnette spoke quietly, saying what a nice space she lived in and how the hay smelled sweet, and then she did something she never thought she would dare do on her own.  She opened the stall gate and stepped inside.  Whistler took a step back and then retreated to the rear of her enclosure.  Garnette stood and continued talking for half a minute but backed out of the stall and closed it.  Then they regarded one another again until Garnette began to glance around.

Her eyes had adjusted.  There was ample light now.  Five or so other horses regarded her, some on either side of the center aisle she had traversed in darkness when following Cyleine’s voice.

Along the barn walls tools of many kinds were hung low, in easy reach, while other implements were hung high, available if needed but otherwise apparently on display.  A railroad lantern stood on a shelf near her head.  Beside it, a fertilizer chart dangled from a nail by a wire hoop through its rolled top edge.  Garnette flattened it against the wall, understanding nothing on it.  Some heavy dust fell from its back side.

Around an inside corner, marking the dimensions of a small tack room, a calendar hung askew on the wall, its top month, March, flapping compliantly in a breeze that was all but imperceptible.  The calendar advertised, of all things, steam locomotives.  It was 28 years old.  She flipped through it, looking for the current month, September.  Even though the pages said 1939, the dates matched the current year.  Today, the first day of school, was Wednesday, September 6th.  Monday had been Labor Day, which seemed to be celebrated with some sincerity in South Dakota.  Yesterday had been reserved for teachers’ meetings.  It had also been Garnette’s sixteenth birthday.

She followed the inside wall, past a painted wooden panel that might be an Indian version of a Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign, she guessed, and came to a hay fork leaning against a stack of bales.  Were they bales of straw?  She had learned the difference in Virginia, but now couldn’t be sure.  She took the fork.  Farther on, a massive saw at least six feet long with inch-long teeth was mounted vertically.  Beside it a battered, enameled sign said New Holland on one line and First in Grassland Farming below that.  Another panel advertised New Idea Farm Equipment and another, featuring an image of a globe, proclaimed Oliver Farm Implements to be Plowmakers for the World.  A pair of snowshoes needing repair was suspended unevenly from a cord nailed to the wall.  High above them, far out of her reach, a horizontal board with peeling white paint, about five feet long, was hand-lettered in black: 1874 Sharps.  On the board a relic of a buffalo gun seemed glued by its own crust.

Garnette came to a section of the wall with iron cookware hanging by its handles from various hooks and pegs.  One last glance took in a bicycle wheel, a couple of brimmed hats on a shelf, apparently discarded years earlier, more signs advertising motor oil and feed corn, and a pair of antlers that didn’t match, tethered by twine.

Carrying the hay fork to the doorway on the back of the barn where Cyleine had burst onto the plain, she leaned her right shoulder against its frame.  Far across the afternoon glow, dust billowed behind Billow.  She couldn’t tell whether the horse and rider, angling off to her right, were continuing to race farther away or were circling to return.  After a moment it became clear that their image was diminishing.

* * * * * * *

Lionel glanced across the dry expanse of mixed farmland and watched his sister rein her horse, then charge off on a different tack.  He was striding from the family’s shop to the barn, reflecting that it had fallen to Cyleine to turn the horses out even though school had started today.  Their mother would soon remember to do it daily, but it was no surprise that she had forgotten this time.  Madeleine Comosh was dedicated to the spray booth at the shop when not at the front desk with her books and invoices, and even now was applying a coat of Farmall red to a mower frame as well as to her paper suit.

Ambitiously named by his grandfather, The Comosh Company now did a steady if not thriving business repairing, and sometimes inventing, mechanical farm implements with a specialty in building custom trailers for hauling equipment over the road.  Their own acreage remained in the family but others now leased it and sowed and reaped and grazed it.  The shop stood on one side of the barn while the family’s modest house stood on the other.  Lionel’s mother, Madeleine — “Mad-leen” as everyone pronounced it, did much of the shop’s scheduling and planning and supervised the bookkeeping, but painting was her favorite job.  She had a gift for masking and spraying that rivaled any competent auto body shop.

Lionel’s father, Henry Clay — people always used both names when referring to him, since he did so himself — performed much of the repair work and supervised two other full-time workers along with his part-time son.  Henry Clay also traveled a lot, picking up pieces of equipment throughout southwestern South Dakota as well as bringing home work from farms in neighboring Wyoming, Montana, and even sometimes Nebraska.  He would then haul completed jobs back to their owners, if that were part of the deal.

Lionel had driven to the shop right after school.  Within an hour Henry Clay sent him to the barn to hitch a trailer to the shop pickup and bring it back over so they could load a box drill for delivery.  After supper, Henry Clay would then set out with the repaired piece on a late-night trip to a farm beyond Biddle, Montana.

When Lionel was as young as twelve it was on such trips that he began tightening the knots lashing him fast and forever with his father.  They would sometimes be gone for two whole days as well as the night in between.  They seldom stopped to rest but would take turns at the wheel, Lionel, too young to have a license, driving during the daytime while Henry Clay assumed the wheel by nightfall.  But school had begun, and there was no chance to go along on this night’s trip.

The trailer, looking rested and ready in the shadow of the barn, lacked a spare tire, Lionel noticed.  Oh, well.  There were mounted tires enough in the barn, a compressor as well.

He raised his gaze just in time to spot her before setting foot on the first creaky floorboard.  Lionel had entered by the wide door that faced the town.  Silhouetted against the back door, her back to him and a hay fork in her extended left hand, stood a veritable Venus, planted in his own barn boots.

In a brief lifetime of trudging this floor, Lionel knew every quiet spot in the boards.  With no more intention than to test his mastery of silence, Lionel crossed the barn and paused in the dimness behind the girl’s right shoulder.  He could see the sharply-upturned nearer corner of her blue glasses frame.  He knew she was sun-blinded and counted on the temporary concealment afforded by his shadowy position.

She was speaking with careful diction as he approached, but so softly that no one more than ten feet from her would have heard: “Hi, you must be Lionel.  I’m Garnette.”  She repeated it as if practicing, varying the pronunciation of his name.  Pausing, she then said: “Hello Lionel.  My name’s Garnette.  Are you going to introduce yourself?”

“Nope,” he answered.

Uttering a faint gasp, Garnette spun herself counter-clockwise and launched the hay fork into the aisle between stalls.

Stepping from the darkness, Lionel went on: “Apparently you’ve already met me.”

“Don’t you ever sneak up on me!” she snarled.

“Sorry!  It’s hard for an Indian to make noise when he walks,” Lionel laughed, stepping away to look at her.

“Now I know what my last heartbeat will feel like!” she scolded.

Regarding her face, he replied: ”Now I know what my first heartbeat felt like.”  His own words surprised him.  She’s a looker, his inner self said — a phrase he sometimes heard the men in the shop use when beautiful didn’t quite fit.

There was a pause that, to Garnette, anyway, could have contained a compressed History of the Roman Empire.  It was enough time for Lionel to turn about and assess the scene.  “Let me guess.  Cici had to rush out on Billow and left you to clean the stalls.”

Garnette nodded.

“And you don’t have a clue what that entails.”

Leveling her gaze into his eyes, she shook her head.

Lionel suddenly scooped something off the floor and tossed her a tangled mass of half-inch line.  “Here, coil that first.”

“Well, all right,” Garnette said as she examined the clump of rope.

“If you want to find out what kind of worker someone will be,” Lionel explained, “have her coil fifty feet of line or hang fifty feet of garden hose.  It doesn’t take any special skill, so you can suspect that how she does that will tell you a lot about how she’ll handle anything else you throw at her.  That’s our father’s test, by the way.  But it’s usually done without an explanation.”

Garnette felt like being snippy, but she obstinately resolved to rise to the test.  She had seen it done somewhere, so she put more effort into making it neat than in doing it fast.

Lionel had retrieved the hay fork and set to work in Billow’s stall.  “You don’t ride, I take it.”

“Horses?  No.  I suppose you do,” Garnette said, hanging the neat coil on a high peg.

“I used to, a lot.  Now I don’t have the time, and besides I’ve kind of lost interest in keeping a horse.”  Indeed, Lionel had his eyes on a different beast that he could sit astride much as he did a horse, but that didn’t need to be discussed just now.  He then pushed a wheelbarrow to another stall, slipped a bit into the horse’s mouth, and handed Garnette the lead.  “Walk him over there, but don’t let him into Billow’s stall.”

Lionel explained a little of what he was doing, and then asked: “Is Cici planning to teach you?  To ride?”

“I hope so.  She didn’t offer, directly, but I didn’t ask, directly.”

“Are you two friends from before, or did you just meet today?”

“Today.  I kind of latched onto her, and she took me under her wing.”

Her wings are a little low for this girl, Lionel thought.  And yet she was somewhat under his 73-inch height — just long-looking.

Garnette went on: “My brother and I only came to town three days ago.”  She added a few other details including her brother’s name.

Lionel paused imperceptibly as he made the connection.  Early that morning he had briefly observed a new member of his class.  The stranger, an ever-smiling boy fitted with thick metal-rimmed glasses, was probably six-foot-three with a shock of brownish sandy hair and an off-hand easy manner.  He had been surrounded by inquisitive classmates.  Lionel had disliked him instantly.

With a skill for seeing a solution before a problem is even well defined, Lionel decided that, if Wilton Straed wanted riding lessons alongside his novice sister, Lionel himself better offer to teach the boy rather than let him get near Cyleine.  And yet, maybe Wilton should go somewhere else to learn.  Garnette, too, for that matter, for all he cared.  But Lionel wasn’t ready to dismiss this vibrant bird-in-hand so quickly.

Moving to the next stall and the next, he continued talking as he collected straw and carried water, swapping leads for Garnette to hold.  He pointed out that a couple of the horses were boarded here for other owners and the rest belonged to his family.  Garnette maneuvered horses for him, including one cautious white mare with a matching white foal.  “You’re Garnette, I heard you say.  And obviously Cici told you she has a brother Elsie.”


“Oh, she didn’t then.  Don’t be calling me that, OK?  L.C., my initials.”

“She only called you Lionel — Cold Morning Shadow.  I guess that makes you Elsie Emmess.”

Lionel chuckled at the double layer this suggested in his initials.  Maybe that would come in handy some day.

In too few minutes to count, seven stalls were refreshed and the horses returned.  Occasionally glancing outside to check on his sister, Lionel talked about the family business next door and his role in it.  Garnette managed to convey that she had just met Cyleine toward the end of the school day and how they had first stopped at her house before coming the rest of the way here.

“Yeah, I drive to school.  Cici could ride home with me,” he said, “but she prefers to walk.  She likes her alone time.”  Wiping his hands on a large rag, he stepped into Garnette’s personal space and brought his eyes close to hers.  “You scored big if she let you come with her.”  Giving her a wink, he turned toward what appeared to be an inside staircase leading downward.

“When you see her coming,” he said over his shoulder, nodding toward the west, “start with Whistler here and turn these horses out past this white post.  It’s a big corral on that side.  The others will follow her.  Sorry, but I have to fetch a tire for the trailer out there and head back to the shop.”

Lionel strode to the head of the stairs and disappeared below.  Garnette sang out a Thank-you before he was out of earshot.


Out across the fields, Cyleine was little more than a conscience for Billow.  Mostly she permitted the horse to run as a wild mustang.  Effortlessly astraddle for the fast ride but giving no thought to Billow’s headlong charge over the prairie, she slowly patched the dangling strands within her frayed thoughts, picking them up where she left off with the timeless words of the ancient and wise scribe.

Toleda, I will never forget you.  She resolved that she must go visit the departed girl’s family soon.  

Letting the horse choose a slower pace, Cyleine recovered another thread.  The square of 26 is 676, and the sum of those three digits is 19, a prime number.  But 26 cubed, she calculated, is 17,576, and the sum of those five digits is 26.  To the fourth power the result is 456,976, and the sum of the digits is 37, another prime number.  No one had ever told her any of this.  She had worked out in her head that every exponential product of 26, ad infinitum, is a number ending in 76.  And the sum of those two digits is 13, a prime that, it so happens, is half of 26.  But what did that mean?  Cyleine continually grazed on numbers throughout the day, any day.  She decided she must study the number 13 in more detail.  Primes and patterns in digits fascinated her.

Words also fascinated her.  Last year’s English class had introduced her to Emily Dickinson.  A year earlier she had become a fan of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Even on this ride, she began to compose:

Spider eyes stare down at me.

I stare back at eight with two.

What in my world do those eyes see?

And with six more, what would I view?

Then there was the puzzle of this new friend.  Garnette had positively won her over.  The girl was smart but loopy, attractive but wacky-looking with those glasses, confident but lost here without a friend.

Cyleine preferred to be the aloof one in a crowd.  Making friends was neither among her strengths nor her interests.  She stood out for being Oglala in a town that was more than 90% post-European, a term coined by her brother for the descendants of America’s invaders.  But that wasn’t what really kept her separate.  Her own mind was her best friend.  She preferred its company and the brains she might seek out to the company of mindless faces that clamored for her attention or demanded her submission, alliance, and loyalty.  She had never been at ease among groups of girls, whose mouths were constantly spewing the inane contents of their tiny brains, and, until some recent stirrings within her own body, she had barely included boys among her own species.

She had worried that Billow would rebuke her for arriving late.  She had failed to recruit her mother to the task of tending the horses on the first day of school, and then she had delayed her own return home by the detour to Garnette’s house.

And what was that with Missus Straed?  The woman had clearly reached deep into her repertoire of contrived behaviors to convey her antipathy for Indians.  Garnette may as well have brought an unwashed pig home from school to join her in a snack.  Cyleine wondered whether the woman subscribed to the obloquy: “Lie down with dogs, expect to get fleas.”  She had heard this a few times, referring to Indians in general, although never directed at her personally.

But Garnette was not stupid!  She had parried every half-hearted barb that her mother had thrown, Cyleine rejoiced inwardly.  And Billow had been nothing worse than very excited to fly off on her daily escape from the boredom of the barn.

Her thoughts sorted, Cyleine was about to declare her mind reorganized when she remembered Wilton Straed.  A senior.  With some old car that looked to be from the same era as her dad’s poster-sized 1939 calendar from Lima Locomotive Works.  At least the calendar was once again useful, as she had discovered earlier in the year, but Henry Clay had barked a warning at her when he caught her tearing off February.  Oh, well.  Since it matched perfectly with 1967, she had continued to refer to it by lifting the sheets and had pencilled in some barn notes.

Wilton Straed had barely looked at her an hour or so ago, but she had looked at him.  She would have to compose herself the next time, for surely, if she were to cultivate a friendship with his sister, she would meet him again.  And again.

Reining in her thoughts of Wilton she was also reining in at her approach to the barn.  Of all things, Garnette was turning the horses out, with Whistler in the lead, and was apparently doing it on her own.

Cyleine dismounted outside, loosed the cinches, pulled the saddle from Billow’s back, and heaved it onto a saddle rack.  Billow chomped at something on her flank and then dipped her muzzle into a freshly-filled watering trough.  Cyleine watched as Garnette guided the last of the horses into the open.

She stepped into the barn and made a quick tour of the stalls, then met Garnette in the doorway.  “For someone who doesn’t know horses, you, uh…”

“Did as I was told.”

“I hardly told you anything!  Did my mother come by?”

“Nope.  Some guy who called himself Elsie.”

Grinning, Cyleine apologized for failing to anticipate his appearance.  She began brushing Billow.  Garnette explained that Lionel hadn’t stayed long.

“Garnette, I really had to get Billow outside as fast as I could.  There’s something I can’t even describe about that horse and me.”

“I know.  You have a bond.  Like Wilton and his car, I bet.  Like my mom and her telephone.  I get it.”

“What about you?” Cyleine asked.

“A bond?”  In an instant, Garnette saw herself only a week ago, standing beside Wilton’s car as it idled in the driveway at Phillip’s house in Richmond.  It had not been the movie-romance farewell she wanted it to be, and that wasn’t because people were watching.  Well, Wilton was watching, but only he.  She didn’t cry, although she came close to it.  Phillip didn’t hand her a love note to be read once she was on the road.  He seemed relieved to let her go.  Unexpectedly, her trepidation had also given way to relief.  They weren’t breaking up with each other.  They simply faced the necessity of her departure.  If she hadn’t pulled him close and kissed him, there wouldn’t even have been that.  Seven and a half months of going steady, even though it was more like the platonic attachments of second-graders than the hormone-driven antics of sophomores, and not even a Will-I-ever-see-you-again? from either of them.  No promise to write.

“Nope.  No bond.”  No envy, either.  Garnette realized that she was, to put it quite accurately, carefree.

“Look, Garnette,” Cyleine said, “next I have to go inside and start supper.  It’s not something I can really…”

“I know.  I have to go, anyway,” Garnette assured her.  Accompanying herself with copious hand gestures she went on: “Mom would never let me cook supper, but I have to go let her talk at me.  My brain is well-trained to let one quarter of it carry on a conversation, on any of her two favorite subjects, while the other three quarters of my head can do whatever I want it to do, as long as I’m where I can hear her.”

They walked to the side of the barn near the road, then spotted a rear fender of Wilton’s blue and gray sedan as it slowly passed beyond the house.  But then the car stopped and backed up all the way to the barn door.

Wilton Straed stepped out, leaned forward to press his hands to his thighs, and shoved downward on his jeans as if they had ridden up while he was sitting.

“We meet again,” he said, then added, “Cici,” and reached to take her right hand.  She put her short fingers against his large palm and accepted his gentle but strong downward tug.  Just one tug, and then he released her.

“Did you come to get me?” Garnette asked.

“Thought I’d check before getting stuck doing your job at home.”

“My job?”  To Cyleine, Garnette said: “He means listening to Mom.”

Brother and sister, with exactly the same giraffe-inspired movements, walked along opposite sides of the car until they reached the doors.  Cyleine stared.

“Like it?” Wilton asked before stepping in.  “‘Forty-one Packard.  I just took it to find a car wash.  I guess there isn’t one.  So excuse the road dust.  It was a long haul from Virginia.”

Cyleine grinned at him and waved.  Maybe she waved too long.  Had he turned to face the front of the car before she started to wave?  Was she still waving when he glanced in the rearview mirror?

* * * * * * *

Madeleine Comosh was the first to walk over to her house from the shop.  She joined Cyleine in the kitchen and the two worked together as if they were merely continuing where they left off the night before.  Madeleine’s husband and son followed within a half hour.  Henry Clay Comosh picked up a bowl, went right to the pot on the stove, and scooped out a generous pile of what-he-did-not-know.  However he made a point of putting an arm over his daughter’s shoulder and squeezing her to his side.

“Which one is this?” he asked.

“Number twenty-three,” she told him, citing the page number in her recipe notebook.

“Does it have a name yet?”

“‘Never-to-be-duplicated,’” she proposed.

As he walked to the table he tried a spoonful, made a face conveying that it’s spicy, and said: “First dibs on the ‘tovers!”

“Where to tonight?” Cyleine asked.

“Biddle,” Madeleine and Lionel said in unison.

“Sheesh, Dad,” his daughter complained.

“Slop will be with him,” Lionel said, meaning one of the two tall, alert, short-haired gray mutts weaving among them in the kitchen.  Slop, who also answered to Slurp Flop Plop and Glop, was a splendid night driving companion.  He would sit high on the truck’s seat and for hours would watch the road ahead so he could go berserk at a shadowy form in the ditch or at the reflecting eyes of a deer, coyote, or anything else that startled him.  His outbursts, sometimes as often as a dozen in an hour, were like cherry bombs exploding beside a sleepy driver.

The other dog, Creep (Jeep Cheep Peep), the name alluding to his ability to sneak up on someone as a pup, was Slop’s litter-mate of seven years past.  Creep didn’t like road trips, although he would acquiesce if it appeared that Lionel was going to drive away alone.  He would not even be invited on this trip with Slop.

“You can thank Mom for remembering the onions in this,” Cyleine said, bowl in hand as she pulled out a chair beside her dad.  Madeleine and Lionel brought theirs to the table too.

Madeleine had recruited her daughter in planning and cooking daily meals as soon as the girl, at twelve, showed an interest in food.  Aside from some cookie baking when Cyleine was five and six years old, they didn’t cook together until Cyleine, bearing down on her thirteenth birthday, heard a doctor on television shockingly tell a studio audience, “…it’s the calories, stupid.”  She instantly connected both obesity and leanness with diet and activity and just as suddenly became absorbed with her own daily fare.

To Madeleine’s relief, Cyleine shared her awakening with her.  Together they studied cookbooks and began trying interesting recipes.  If everyone liked one, they wrote it out and snapped it into a binder.  Whenever they returned to a recipe in the binder, they “repaired” it.  All four in the family liked savory, medium-hot dishes, and all were fond of soups and stews as well as casseroles.

Until Cyleine, the innovator, could be tamed in the kitchen she occasionally created disasters.  Her mother, the mitigator, cautioned that baking is science while cooking is art.  For months, the rest of the family would return from the shop after closing, apprehensive of the concoctions that might confront them.  Madeleine advised closely but allowed wide latitude.  All remained patient.  Gradually they found themselves sitting down to Cyleine’s early triumphs.  In time, all happily anticipated her creations.

Using as a guide an old recipe calling for lentils, she improved a soup made with dried beans which became a family favorite.  This was number 23.  She perfected a method for baked trout which became another, known in the household as number 19.  Steering away from red meats, eggs, and milk, she experimented more with fish, pork, and fowl.  She also used cheeses only to accent a dish, never as a featured element.

To go along with the stews and soups, she perfected her fry bread and learned to bake raised breads and biscuits, again bending old recipes to the family’s taste.  Then an idea struck.  During the past spring, on weekends, she baked rolls specifically to be sliced for sandwiches.  All through the summer, two or three days a week, Madeleine, Henry Clay, and Lionel, as well as Brigg and Larry in the shop, enjoyed luxurious sandwiches for lunch at work.

Madeleine understood from the start that Cyleine was becoming concerned for her figure.  She redirected her daughter’s emphasis to health rather than weight.  She had contended with that same challenge for 30 years or more, and, to her own (and everyone else’s) estimation, had prevailed.  Madeleine congratulated Cyleine as she began her junior year, assuring her that she was lithe and fit — exactly what the girl needed to hear.  She was athletically solid and always in graceful, quick motion or poised to pounce.

Madeleine had avoided the consequences that befell so many Indians who, once food had historically become more abundant, “lay into it,” as she would say.  She believed that her distant ancestors’ bodies had evolved to become efficient at storing fat during times of abundance in order to sustain them during times of deprivation.  Thus, Indians in the present era were dealing with three threats: a hereditary metabolism designed for storing fat, continuous abundance thanks to ubiquitous modern grocery stores and the farms and distribution systems that supplied them, and anachronistic customs and habits around food.  To Madeleine it was no wonder that many of her modern cousins carried excessive weight on their bones.  So, too, did masses of post-Europeans, but perhaps with more variety in their genes.

Her job at the shop consumed as much energy as did the men’s jobs.  Madeleine had no time in her day to sit and do nothing.  Even with Cyleine managing most of the meals, she remained alert and available throughout, just short of intruding.

Madeleine was a child of the reservation, educated there and graduating from her own high school when she was sixteen.  The eldest of five, she was coddled and indulged as a child only until number two arrived.  From then on she had to help raise her siblings.  In those days there was never time to sit and little peace for sleep.

She met Henry Clay when he came onto the reservation to assist his own father with an equipment repair.  It was the end of May, 1932.  She had just turned sixteen.  Not yet a high school graduate but nearly one, she was among the onlookers while these two skilled men dismantled something — neither remembers now what it was, scrubbed the fittings clean, and laid them out on a cloth, and then proceeded to reassemble it.  Early that afternoon, Madeleine Walking Horse was the first to break away from the audience and return with some food for the two visiting workers and their pair of local volunteer helpers.  As evening gave way to nightfall, three or four motor vehicles equipped with headlights needed to be brought close, in order to illuminate the work.  When at last it was done, almost-nineteen-year-old Henry Clay and his father accepted an invitation to a formal meal and lodging with the Walking Horse family.

Henry Clay contrived to pay a visit to the reservation not long afterward, unannounced, telling his father that he was going to attend an advertised social event.  Encountering Madeleine as he had hoped, he talked with her long enough to become nervous not so much by her age but from the turbulence in his spirit.  For he feared he might… no — it was too late for maybe; that evening she smiled at him one time too many.  He had come just to look upon her once more before returning to the serious, dull, unsmiling girl who had already claimed him.  But he fell in love instead.

Henry Clay had made no promise to another, nor had he led the other girl on.  He was guilty of one thing: weakness.  The one who thought she had corralled him misjudged her position, and he lacked the guts to gainsay her presumption.  When, after a half hour at most that evening, he abruptly, clumsily told Madeleine that he needed to go, she wasn’t disappointed.  She knew that he was smitten.  After that, it was she who took the initiative to visit the Comosh Company at every opportunity.  As Lionel was doing today, so Henry Clay was doing in his youth and was not thinking of “getting in a family way.”  By the end of 1932 Madeleine’s visits to Spearfish had intrigued him enough that he took the lead in their courtship.  And less than a year later they married.

Suppers in the home had been Madeleine’s task, by her own insistence, since they began living in their own household in 1934.  What she had achieved as a cook since then, making the most of the least, was now being vastly improved thanks to Cyleine’s enthusiasm.  But Madeleine’s free time to plan and cook had been seriously curtailed when Henry Clay’s father died and she assumed the bookkeeping task in the shop, then more recently after another worker left them and she took over the painting.

Cyleine’s system, although not followed rigorously, gave them all a fresh supper two days in a row, and each was calculated to leave enough leftovers — ‘tovers, they called them — that she would not need to cook on the third day.  Then she would concoct something fresh each of the next two days, and ‘tovers would follow once again.

Now, on the first day of school, she had just begun the three-day cycle.

Henry Clay finished his bowl, walked to the pot, paused as if considering a second helping, then carried the bowl to the sink.  Cyleine took it from him and stretched to kiss his forehead.

Everyone said ‘bye and Henry Clay was off with Slop.

After clean-up, Cyleine headed for the barn to close up and Lionel followed.

“I know, I know,” she said once he caught up.  “I shouldn’t have left her like that.  It was rude.”


“But, I had to clear my head.”

“It wasn’t Billow that needed to rush outside, it was you.”

“Lionel, she’s wonderful!  If I was looking for someone to always hang out with, she could step right in…”  She stopped herself from saying it.

“In Toleda’s place?”

“I wish you weren’t so blunt.  But she’s so like Toleda she could fit that hole perfectly.  There’s that hint of the wild side that Toleda had, too.”

Cyleine knew attributes of Lionel’s character that others might not suspect, for instance, his gentle, sentimental side.  She turned to her much taller brother and stepped between his open arms.  At five-foot-three she endured the short girl jokes and reveled in the embrace of those long arms, her head tucked under his chin.  Squeezing her lightly and holding on, Lionel spoke: “You think Toleda would have been wild, if she could breathe?”

“In an utterly benign way.  She wanted to shock people, but she couldn’t even shuffle across a rug and zap someone with static electricity.”

“I think your friend wants to learn to ride,” Lionel commented.

“Well, I didn’t offer.  Let it go for a while.  See whether I really do like her, OK?  And thanks for helping her this afternoon.”

Lionel released the hug.  Then Cyleine brightened: “Hey!  Remember Turn-bullet’s first-day homophone quiz from last year?  Take-home quiz?  I helped you with it.”

“Sure.  Did he pop it on you today?”

“Not the same way.  He gave you guys a list of words and asked you to figure out what they had in common: lone, merry, maid, caught, steal…”

Lionel added more: “…haul, ball, by, wok…  They all had homophones.”

“Yeah.  Today he just asked us to write a list of homophones in class, starting with as many letters of the alphabet as we could think of.”

“And you did all twenty-six letters.”

“No.  I couldn’t do X and Z but I turned them around.  Funny, but I’ve thought about words like that all year since you had the quiz.  So I was ready.”

They bumped shoulders, exchanged a smile, and Lionel faded quietly in the direction of the house.  Thinking about her brother, Cyleine went to her chores.

She was the youngest of her parents’ four children.  Her sister, Rayleine, would have been 31 this year.  She died during an outbreak of some disease when Cyleine was a baby.  But she had another brother, Webster, 29, who had retreated to the Pine Ridge Reservation after graduating high school.  He was not doing well, by any measure, and they seldom heard from him.  The Comosh Company was getting by, and Henry Clay had loaned him a thousand dollars at a time, several times for a couple of years but, after that, Henry Clay repeatedly denied him further financial support.  Nothing was ever repaid.  Webster took an Oglala wife, much older than himself, and simply disappeared into the squalor and oblivion that some — not all, but some — settle for in reservation life.  The family had never been apprised whether he had ever fathered a child.

Lionel, however, had clearly decided to make his parents proud.  He had worked in the family’s shop since he was about eleven years old.  He started out as “tool man.”  That required cleaning dirty tools, returning them to their drawers, finding lost wrenches and the misplaced members of socket sets, and, in time, organizing them better.  It was his ambition, after high school, to attend a diesel technical college in Wyoming or Ohio — there was already one in the neighboring state while another was rumored to be starting up soon in the Buckeye State — so he could become the first educated diesel mechanic for the Comosh Company.

The company had been started by his grandfather Comosh, whom everyone knew as “Silence.”  A cousin to Red Cloud and a friend and mentor to his contemporary, Lakota leader James Red Cloud, to Cyleine Silence was simply Lala.  He was born in 1872 or 1873 and never acceded to living on a reservation.  He had taken his family farther and farther west in the first decades of the 1900s.  Around 1925, when Henry Clay was twelve and Lala was in his early 50s, he had brought them back to his home stretch of Spearfish Creek, on the frontier of what had once been Cheyenne territory.

Cyleine barely remembered him, but fondly.  She knew that her name borrowed the first syllable from Silence.  How closely Garnette veered toward that name at first!  Lala had truly lived in the era of cowboys and Indians.  More wistfully than in anger, he would sometimes relate a certain memory of an attack by U.S. cavalrymen when he was eight and his little sister, Kee, was six.

Watchers along the White River had warned the village of the soldiers’ approach.  Women and children hurried to hide inside their teepees.  For some reason, most of the men were absent.  Kee, failing to understand the urgency of the warning, stood placidly in the open.  Silence peeked out, intending to urge his sister inside.  She stood 40 feet from the teepee, nearer in fact to others where she could have hid.  But she gazed at him in confusion and something like sadness.

As Lala watched, she continued standing.  One moment, two arms hung at her sides.  A moment later only one arm hung beside her and the other tumbled behind her on the ground.  He would turn very somber and then say that she continued to stand there for many seconds with only one arm and with no change of expression on her face.  Then she collapsed to the ground and lived no longer.

Lala could never recall seeing the blood or hearing the shot.  The rifle report could have followed the bullet by more than a second.  The soldiers then rode into the village.  The leader of the squad held his steed beside the crumpled body of the child.  Then he ordered his men to follow him on through the village and out toward the Badlands.  Kee was the only victim of the attack, and they never learned where the soldiers went after that, nor why they had arrived there in the first place.

Cyleine was about five when Silence died.  But he had started the family business some 30 years before that, and his son, Henry Clay Comosh, carried it on for the past dozen years.  She imagined Lionel might take over some day, when their parents no longer wanted to run it or no longer could.  As Cyleine began her next-to-last year of high school, her father was in his mid-fifties and fit for many more years in the shop.

Henry Clay was pleased with his two youngest children.  Lionel could protest and curse and make mistakes that would sometimes require a few sutures or cause the shop a little setback.  But he was reliable, and as he began his senior year of high school, in his father’s occasional absences he supervised the place.  The two other full-time workers, Brigg Quarry and Larry Lorbiecki, as well as an occasional part-timer, accepted his leadership.  Lionel, for his part, accepted their wisdom, their experience, their gentle correction, their harmless practical jokes, and their usually-hilarious back-talk.

end of first three chapters