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Whispers

By Mary E. Adair

I rummaged through the sewing drawer half-heartedly looking for the white rubber eraser--where had I last used it? Many articles tumbled, rolled, and scooted across the bottom of the tray-like storage space. Better watch it, I thought as the side of my little finger brushed against something sharp, might be a stray needle in this mess. Reaching more carefully, and uncovering the eraser at last, I picked up a piece of flint, the last object between me and the eraser. I had been moved years before when returning with the roughly worked stone found during a foray into the sand dunes, to place it in this sewing area because it fit my hand so well. I felt it had been used, if not for sewing, for the preparation of hides to be sewn. I felt a kinship with the person who had grasped the stone in the way I now did. I wondered if that person had also felt the faint vibratory tremors of the stone that traveled up my arm, indeed straight to my mind. Tremors that seemed to almost form words, if I but listened with enough attention.

Well, enough of this wool-gathering, I admonished myself, I must try to get a story down on paper, and the way it has been going I will probably wear out the eraser before I finish. Picking up the eraser, I started to drop the stone back into the drawer, but thought I should wrap it in something first, or perhaps put it somewhere else. I sat there with it and idly fit my fingers into the grooves that had first intrigued me . . . yes, they still fit me exactly, and the drum-beat-like tremors were more pronounced. I closed my eyes, concentrating on the feeling and wondering if I had a piece of radioactive flint, or some other highly unlikely possibility. Then,

"Tell my story," came the words faintly, a slight whisper in my ears. I snapped my eyes open and looked around--had my granddaughter sought to tease me? But she was not in the room.

"You tell my story--it is time for the truth," more words in my ears, but my eyes were wide open and no one was near. The stone seemed to vibrate more rapidly and I looked at it held tightly in my fingers. My fingers? The fingers I am looking at are shorter, browner, stubby, emerging from a hand broader, more square than the one that grows on my arm. Yet this is not my arm, either. A stronger arm is attached to the brown hand that shows fairly fresh scratches, as though from berry brambles, across the back of it. I frown as I notice the nails, very broad and short, are soiled with blood, and bits of flesh, and though I try to release the stone, the fingers continue to grasp it. Also continuing are the whispers which I now admit are coming from the stone. I am afraid to look past the arm.

Glancing aside, I see the shadow of the hand, the arm, a figure--squarish and straight. At the base of the blocky shape, the shadow splits and fringes above very thick leg and ankle shadows ending at my feet. My feet? Looking down at my feet, I see softly gathered leather leggings that are actually the tops of soft moccasins. They stand in the grass and nearby is a fresh hide--still needs scraping so I'd better get busy.

As I push the hide into a better position to work it, I carefully refrain from getting any of the flesh and blood on my buckskins. I would have to listen to mother again, about how careless I can be when it took her ever so long to finish this garment. If my other clothes had not been ruined when the great hero of the white eyes came to parley with the chief, I would still be wearing them. New clothing does not hide what happened from my mind. It is a story told around many campfires now. My father, my brothers, the brother of my father, and his sons are riding to tell all braves they meet. "This must be avenged!" was the cry of my brother, Gray Owl. I may be only a young woman, but I have worked with the other women, and they tell that many other peoples, sometimes our people, give the white eyes a woman to warm his blanket when the tepee flaps are rolled down. But, even then it is always the gift of the woman for the night--not a taking without a giving.

I find myself gouging furiously at the hide--I must not tear it--it is not him. I see him as he rode into our camp. He rode a powerful horse. And he looked to be a magnificent man with much, very much, wonderful, golden-yellow hair. I giggled, it made me happy to see all that hair, all that incredible hair still on the man--not hanging limply from a bloody circlet, torn to tie to the staves and shields of warriors. Now, that's where I want to see it. I stop a moment to rest my hand, and looking at the scraper, I remember that it was crushed beneath me in that moment of taking without giving, and I still feel the tender place where it gouged into my shoulder, as did my arm and hand, twisted behind me, and held.

We gather now beside the Waters-That-Walk-Together, and many more will gather here this moon. My brothers tell the story--and soon all will know that when the white eye, Custer, journeys next to speak to our people, it will be for him, the last journey.

I hear horses hooves pounding nearer, and there is Gray Owl riding in--he will not pull up his pony until he is one step from where he wants to stand. He waves at me and I raise my arm to show I see him, the well-used scraper still clutched in my uplifted hand. As I lower my arm, I bump my elbow on the sewing machine, jarring the flint loose to fall into the lap of my dress worn to the office today. I cautiously touch the stone now lying against the scarlet silk--no tremorous words whisper to my mind--the story and the truth are told.  

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