with Preceding Remarks
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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.”
“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.
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.”
“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.
THREE: SILENCE AND THE SHOP
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