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Summer-Rain

My feet, as if acting on their own, start running towards the Ocean. They take me to the center of the beach and come to a halt. I take a moment to catch my breath and look up to the sky, my eyes filling with tears. After a deep exhale, I start to dance. My necklaces sound my rhythm as I dance towards the edge of the beach and into the water. I sing a prayer song as I dance. My voice that my grandmother used to say sounded as beautiful as an osprey now sounded like wailing. My song can be heard as far as the village as I hold nothing back. After I’m done, my knees give out and I land in the water. I can almost feel her chastising me for getting the leather wet. My palms facing the sky I yell out “Grandmother Why did you leave me; I still need you.” I still need you.

I climb my way back up the dune towards the road. Cedar is waiting for me. “I want you to come live with me for a week or two.” My head turns towards him, but I don’t respond. “I just don’t want you to be in that house by yourself while everything is being situated.” Situated? “You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but think about it will yah? I look back at the road.

I pack a bag and Cedar drives me to his house. I plop on the bed in the guest room and stare at the ceiling. At night I normally read on my phone or watch YouTube videos, but I can’t imagine a world where no one knows that she is gone. Outside the reservation, the people on the internet, not even the town a few miles away know. They are all just living their lives like the strongest woman on the planet isn’t missing.

Cedar meets me in the bathroom with scissors in hand. He already had the bathroom prepped. I sit down on a stool from the living room. My hands form into fists on my lap as he ties a towel around me. He hums to comfort me. I hear the scissors open and brace myself. Cedar’s callused fingers graze my ear as he pulls up my hair. Snip. My throat starts to burn. Snip. My eyes start to burn. Snip. Tears begin to fall. Snip. We take a break for me to cry and blow my nose. Once I hear the clipper buzz, my chest feels like it’s going to explode. I can feel the hair hitting my shoulders as it falls, the comforting weight on my head lifting. The sound of Cedar’s humming grounds me and keeps my mind from shattering. Cedar removes the towel.

I look in the mirror. Years of growth and memories surround me on the floor like ripples disturbing the stillness of a lake. The eye contact almost makes me break again. Seeing my expressions reflected at me is somehow comforting. I run my fingers through what is left. He did a good job. It’s short on top and even shorter on the sides like those boys in town that would always accuse me of being a girl because my hair was past my hips. Cedar squeezes my shoulders before speaking. “It will grow back.” He paused before continuing. “I promise.”

The night after, Dawn visits. She enters my new bedroom and stops when she sees my hair. Her dark golden eyes widen, but she doesn’t say anything about it, for which I’m grateful. She used to always tell me how jealous she was of my hair. Her braids flair out on the wood as she lays on the floor beside my bed. I have always been baffled by her love for being on the ground. I asked her about it once and she said that she just feels closer to the earth that way.

We talk about miscellaneous topics for an hour. She updates me on what her and her friends call “tea,” and the things she’s been up to since I left two weeks ago. Dawn fidgets with her hair throughout. Is she nervous? Cedar knocks on the open door. “You ready?” he asks.

“Yep.” I’m confused. Dawn stands up and leaves the room with Cedar. After a while she returns with a pixy cut. It brought out her cheekbones and the lean muscles she gained from dancing. Her throat flexes and she takes a moment before looking at me. Seeing the loss of her hair made my heart ache. Dawn would visit frequently at our house either to hang out with me after school or for her lessons from Grandmother. She has every right to mourn as I do and it’s important she knows that. She must have put a lot of thought into it. I am glad I am not alone. “I’ll see you later, take care”

“Yeah, you too”

Elk-Feather is my mother’s brother and grandmother’s son. He and Cedar worked together for the next week getting the death certificate and planning the funeral. I helped with the obituary, Cedar having to correct every “is” with “was.” I want to assist more in the process but I’m only seventeen. I am almost an adult and have been taking care of Grandmother for years now but am limited because the federal government says I need to be one year older. Something I can do on my own, though, is her sendoff gifts.

The house is filled with her presence as if it were waiting for her return. Her shoes in the foyer, a half-finished basket on the table, and my clothes folded on my bed because she insists on doing my laundry, all show that she was here. I dress in full mourning regalia. My hands shaking and my chest welling up more with each piece I put on. She is all around me. It feels like she could come around the corner at any minute and tell me how handsome I am and fix something that is askew, but she’s gone, and she won’t.

Searching for something that grandmother will need is more difficult than I thought it would be. Going through her things feels like an invasion of privacy. “Sorry Grandmother, you’ll thank me later.” As I search, I find my cradle board, my baby moccasins, and my first regalia set that I wore as a toddler. “Why do you still have these things? Why were they not given away once I grew out of them?” She does not respond of course. Then I find her dance fan. The one she made in secret at a time when speaking her own language would get her beat. I grab it and the mending tools that were in the drawer of her workstation.

I hear the car pull up and a masculine voice calls out “You Ready?” I step outside. It’s Ceder. I get into the passenger seat, and we start our way toward Ancestor Mountain. When we arrive, people are already making their way up the hill. I pause for a moment before giving the dance fan to the priest, he wanders off with it.

I look down at her face. She is dressed in her finest regalia, and necklaces befitting an elder of her stature. Her hands are holding the fan over her chest. I silently thank the priest for it, because it is only a priest who may touch the dead. Our priest sings the song of sendoff while smudging each item that is to go with my grandmother to her afterlife, and each guest. I squeeze her mending tools before gently placing them next to her in the pit. The priests stop singing and begins to speak. I’m not entirely paying attention to his words, but I get the gist. Grandmother will join the ancestors. I’m sure she’s glad to see her daughter again. Grandmother kept this tribe going. She was a teacher, a basket weaver, a seamstress, a medicine woman, was, was, was. People start to dissipate down the hill.

~

There is a powwow later that week. Our neighboring tribes are here to celebrate the Summer Solstice. The dancers are dressed in their shells and feathers, the music is upbeat, the vendors are smiling, and the world too busy. A hand lands on my back. “Summer, my man, let’s grab some food.” Elk-Feather keeps his large hand in place as he steers me to the Indian taco stand. We order and sit down at a nearby table while we wait.

“How is your heart? I mean, I know you aren’t doing well, but how are you holding up” he asks. His thumb rubs the flask of alcohol he snuck into the event.

“As one would expect”

He takes a swig “Right,” and puts the flask in the inside pocket of his leather jacket. “Look, just because water gets thrown on it, doesn’t mean the fire dies. Even buried beach fire pits can be reignited.”

The woman working the taco stand calls out “Elk-Feather.”

He turns to look at the woman and raises his hand in acknowledgment, then looks back to me. “Hold on a sec,” he says before going to get both our plates. He comes back with two plates of frybread each with a pile of salmon, salad, salsa, and sour cream. His with guacamole. Salmon is my favorite, and I love it on Indian tacos, but today I just stare at it. “Just don’t let your embers go out okay kid? You got good people surrounding you.” Now it is him I stare at. “Eat up, you’ll need the strength for the stick game match.”

“I’m not doing it this year”

“Sure, you are, I signed you up”

“When?”

“Just now when I got our food.” My eyes widen, and I look back and forth between Elk-Feather and the taco booth. “Now eat up so you can show that Hunter boy a lesson. I’m sure Dawn will be watching. Don’t you want her cheer you on?” I start to eat.

After we are done eating, we head towards the main tent. A round dance is taking place. Everyone side stepping and shaking hands. There are two rings of people, because there are too many to have only one within the tent. As I look around, I noticed Elk-Feather isn’t with me anymore. He must have found a pretty woman to charm with that beaded hat of his. My homeroom teacher spots me and yells, “Get in here!” I join the outermost circle going left. The hands I shake belong to a variety of faces. Some with pity, some with excitement, some with a look that says oh how time passes, look how much he’s grown. The song ends and the group disperses.

Our chief rises and steps forward, his right hand raised and speaks into the microphone, “Can we please have a moment of silence for those we lost in recent past.” The room grows quiet. My throat swells, my chest tightens, and I lose myself in the silence. Finally, the world feels the weight of her loss, and stops moving. It is not the chief who breaks the silence, but a little girl who starts to cry. The world starts moving again. “Thank you,” says Chief, and the tent raises their hands above their heads in send off, “Dawn has volunteered to do the mountain dance and a blanket will be going around for donations to the mourning family.”

A white woman comes up to me, leans her head over, and asks, “Excuse me young man. Do you know-” Shit, I have to speak English, I got a C last term. “-what the moment of silence was for? I assume something bad happened, but like, did someone die?”

Now I wish I didn’t understand a word of English. Why me? Of all people why did she choose to ask me? I feel like I am about to break. I won’t, not now, not in front of so many people, and especially not in front of a white lady. “Yes, someone important was lost recently.”

“Who?” She is looking at me now and she begins to fidget with her skirt. I think she is second-guessing herself and realizing maybe she should not have asked.

“Her name was Grandmother Autumn-thunder.” I look then to Dawn, who learned this very dance from her. “She whose dance can bring a storm even in the heat of autumn.”

“And what is your name?”

“Summer-Rain is my name.”

“It’s beautiful”

“Thank you, it was the first gift grandmother gave me.”

“I’m Casey. Thank you for filling me in.” She leaves, her skirt wrinkled where her hand had been.

The song ends and Dawn stops dancing. She is sweating and struggling to walk straight. Across the room her friend Misty interlocks forearms with her and helps her sit down. When she does, Dawn and I make eye contact. I can’t even be embarrassed that she caught me staring. Her eyes relay so much sympathy and questioning, for a second, I think our hearts are connected. That’s when I remember that the stick game tournament is going to start soon.

I break eye contact and walk out of the tent, past the butterflied salmon smoking over the fire, and towards the beach. I have not visited the beach since that first night after Grandmother passed. It was about a mile away from where I danced her farewell, but it is the same stretch of beach.

My shoulder gets bumped from behind breaking my train of thought. It’s Hunter. “How are your bones feeling? You’ll need all the luck you can get today.” At least he’s acting normal.

“Never needed it to beat you, but since you asked my bones are feeling pretty strong today thank you.”

“Ha!” He runs down to the beach, and I follow after him.

Our teams are chosen, and Hunter and I are the digging starters. I bend my knees and I bounce a little “Ready to eat some sand?”

“It’s you who will be eating my dust”

The whistle blows and we both start digging, our bodies colliding in the process. Is Hunter being more gentle than normal? Hunter hooks the rope with his stick first and passes it to his teammate behind him. I’m fast and catch up to it. The teammate’s eyes widen when we shuffle back and forth a few times. He tries to pass, but my stick catches it in the air, and I sprint my way towards their goal post. One of my teammates is in front of me, so I pass. I continue to run towards the post and try to block the goalie while my teammate wrestles with the enemy. The enemy steals and does a running pass to Hunter. I am too far behind and can’t stop him from making the first point.

While on face off one of Hunter’s teammates says “your dad didn’t teach you very well, you bring shame on your family.” Oh no he did not! He’s asking for it.

Elk-Feather’s voice calls out from the audience, “With a good heart.” He came to watch, and I guess to keep me in check. He’s right though. I shouldn’t do anything rash. Last thing I need is a foul. I win us a point.

I look over my shoulder as I run back to starting position, I see Elk-Feather and Cedar there. I don’t know what I was expecting. This was the first-year grandmother hasn’t watched me in the tournament.

Hunter’s voice comes from the other end of the playing field. “Keep your eyes on me Frost Bite”

After they win another point, I wrestle a different one of Hunter’s teammates. “My grandma runs faster than you” I steal the rope.

Hunter speaks up. “Leave grandmothers out of it.” Is he being nice right now? He’s not a bad kid, but our rivalry has existed since the first day we met. We make eye contact and share a nod.

I turn away and book it towards the goal post, The enemy closes on me from all sides, I fall and swing my stick around my head launching the tennis balls, and the balls coil around one of my teammates sticks, and he then chucks it onto the post. We win a point.

My team ends up winning. I only win us two points. One of my teammates named Crow wins us three, some other guy from the same tribe as Crow wins us the last point and was doing a happy dance. The physical exertion feels nice and for a brief moment I forget. How can I forget?

Hunter comes up to me while I’m returning my stick to the golf bag. “I’ll get you next time, Frosty”

My voice falters, “I’d like to see you try it, Prey.”

Hunter pauses with a thoughtful look on his face. Please don’t hug me, that would be too weird for me to handle. He nudges my shoulder with his fist instead.

“Take care of yourself I want you in fighting shape next time I see you.”

I nudge his shoulder back, “Sure thing.”

I look up and see Elk-Feather. He smirks and nods his head sideways; I follow the direction and see Dawn. She and Hunter look at each other and share a nod. Dammit. Dawn turns towards me her bell dress replaced with a ribbon skirt. She grabs my arm as she runs past. We run towards the dock our wrists interlocked the whole time. My face is red and not just from the exercise. The whole situation is so bizarre that once we make it to the end of the dock, a laugh bursts out of me. She smiles, her hands falling into mine as she pulls me down. Her voice so smooth that it would make any horchata jealous says the words, “Lay down with me”

She takes off her shoes. She probably wants to take her skirt off too, she much prefers pants. When we were little, she would cry whenever her mom made her wear one. I am already barefoot from playing in the sand. She lays down, her ankles making circles in the water. I lay down parallel to her, my own feet on the opposite side. I expect her to speak. She doesn’t. Together we watch the clouds go by and listen to the birds, the water, and the trees rustling.

“So earlier, between you and Hunter, are you guys-”

She interrupts me before I can finish. “No,” her abruptness startles me. Her eyes dart around. Were they talking about me? “he plans on asking Misty’s parents for permission to propose.”

“Wait, seriously?”

“It’s weird for me too.” We make eye contact again, this time her face is inches away from mine. My heart leaps to my throat. “When do you plan to go back?”

“Back?”

“On your coming-of-age challenge. You have to paddle North, right?”

I had forgotten that this was only supposed to be a visit. It has already been three weeks. “I think I’m going to wait awhile and help out here before finishing it.” I smile and she smiles back. “Thank you”

“For what?”

–Alhana McNutt


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