The white woman with blue eyes runs into the clearing among the pines. Her blue checkered dress dulls her brown hair. Her neat blue bow fights against the ecstatic expression of her face. Her desperate flight from the cabin winds her slightly, but her stamina is still nearly as good as it had been and much better than that of the people she flees.
Here, I cannot see the sky. Just small patches of blue that only hint at the majesty of the Sky Father. I am trapped, confined, burdened until I feel like I will die. I will die here. Miserable. Alone.
She finds a soft spot in the dirt of the clearing and crouches down to gather twigs. Her breath slows to the soothing of the wind as she snuggles cross-legged into the leaves, heedless of dirt and damp, and begins to make a fire.
I began here, or in a place very like this. A fort, manned by farmers, all family…all blood.
A small girl creeps to the edge of the clearing and watches as the woman begins her ritual. The woman chants a Comanche medicine chant, nearly wailing as she undulates, eyes closed, head tilted towards heaven.
And one day the Comanches came. They swept out of nowhere. My uncle assured us that they only wanted to trade. He spoke to them, and then they killed him. They killed almost all of us. But a few they spared….a few they took with them. I was one. They kidnapped me, and they made me freer than I ever would have been, and freer than I will ever be again.
The girl has heard the stories many times, in the language she shares with the woman in the clearing. Never in English, or they will be overheard. The images crowd her mind in her sleep – flashes of violence, of blood, of babies torn from the fleeing mothers, of scalps, or swirling horses. Of Cindy Anne, swept up by a warrior along with her brother, and carried off. The girl’s dreams always end with the vision of her mother’s face, watching the fires as she resigns herself to death.
The woman remains crouched in the dirt, praying. A hawk approaches and lands on a branch above her. The child sees it, but the woman does not.
There is no peace here. No medicine. My sons are lost to me, my husband dead at the hands of these white men. For what? For land. I am the prodigal one, lost and returned, but I yearn still for the one I was – Naduah, who carries herself with grace – the White Squaw.
The woman suddenly turns as if she expects that the hawk will be there. She reaches out, beseeching it. The hawk hops down a branch, closer, watching her. Then down another branch as the girl holds her breath, eyes widening with wonder.
“Cynthia Anne! Cynthia! Mrs. Parker!” The peace of the pines is shattered as the voices twist among the trees. A mix of men and women enter the clearing as the hawk drops nearly within reach. Cindy Anne reaches further, yearning, just as a man grabs her shoulder. The hawk dives and then retreats, unnoticed by anyone else but the blue-eyed woman and the girl.
The largest woman is panting. Her voice is strident, unpleasant to the little girl. She points at Cindy Anne and says, “I told you! She’s doing that Indian devilry again. Can’t keep her in the house, for the sake of her soul!”
The man shakes her arm. “Cindy, Cindy what are you doing? God save you, Cindy Anne, you can’t do that here. Get back to the house!”
Cindy Anne sags for a brief second, before collecting herself and lifting her chin. The joy on her face has now fallen into a sullen pout, and to the little girl she seems a completely new person, worn down, lost.
“And just look at her dress,” this largest woman squawks, “as dirty as any heathen savage. I’m not washing it for you, Cynthia Anne. You have to do it yourself, understand?”
They drag her back towards the cabin, fussing the whole way. The little girl steps out and kicks dirt over the fire. Then she looks up and sees the hawk, far above, watching her. The little girl smiles.
All I have left is my little Topsanna, my Prairie Flower. What will she have, a half-white, half-Indian girl growing up in Texas? What good man will have her, when good men are so few here on the frontier? I am forbidden from teaching her my medicine, of the spirits. What will she become, raised in the white way, the white religion, but not accepted as white?
Where will she go?
A gunshot rings out across the clearing, and the hawk falls dead at Prairie Flower’s feet. A new man steps into the clearing, sternly ignoring the little girl’s horror.
“Vermin, girl. That’s all they are. Vermin who swoop in silently and steal from us. Never miss a chance to destroy one. It’ll save you trouble later on.” The man that Prairie Flower knows as the kindly uncle who shelters them doesn’t look at her as he nudges the dead hawk with his toe, nodding his satisfaction at the death.
The little girl glances back at the hawk as her uncle gently leads her away by the hand. In her mind she hears her mother’s chanting, fading away into the darkness of her memory.
The spirits are dead here. The white man’s – my family’s destiny is to destroy them, destroy everything that stands between them and the great sea. My spirit cries out for the plains, for the open, for the magic of life that has been trampled here. Here, I am dead. Yet my soul still rides on the endless plains.
In the barn beside the cabin, the little girl stares at her uncle’s mare. With hardly a thought, from an inner prompting she cannot sense nor deny, she leads the horse out of the barn and leaps onto her back. With only a mane for a handhold, Prairie Flower spurs the mare into a gallop across the field and into the tree line.
At the largest woman’s shout, Cindy Anne steps onto the porch and smiles the half-pained, half-serene smile that aggravates the largest woman so much. Beside the girl, on steeds of wind, Cindy Anne sees the ghosts of herself and her sons, hair whipping in freedom, laughing at the horizon.
* * * * *
Jenny Braswell is a grant writer and horseback riding instructor living in the south-eastern United States. She is constantly amazed at how life unfolds. This is her first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.
Guest-edited by Michael Fitzgerald-Clarke