Larose, p.6
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       LaRose, p.6

           Louise Erdrich
 

  That’s right.

  Mirage knew how to dream the whereabouts of animals, how to leave his body during a trance and visit distant relatives. A trader named George Nelson had known others who could do this and had written about it back in the eighteenth century.

  Landreaux spoke haltingly. What if the elders are just a bunch of regular old people no smarter than any of us, what if . . .

  They are regular old people, said Randall. But they’re people who learned off their old people, right? Like here, we had the starvation year when most of our old people gave up their food. That generation died for us, eh? So we go north. Accept their words if they feel right.

  But maybe they don’t know?

  Quit asking dumb questions. You’ll bust your brain if you think like that. Let me ask you something. What was that boy Dusty like anyway?

  Don’t ask me that.

  He ain’t a footnote to your agony, bro. What was he like? Who knew that boy the best, of your family?

  Landreaux finally answered.

  LaRose.

  So what did LaRose know about him?

  Funny kid. Played adventures. The two of them had a pack of toys they made into cartoon characters. They were hilarious if you listened in on what they made up. Dusty . . .

  Yeah, say his name, but use the spirit world marker. Use iban.

  Dusty-iban liked to draw. He was good at drawing. We got some drawings he made for us.

  Of what?

  Horse. Dog. Spider-Man.

  Landreaux was crying steadily in gulping sobs. Randall let that go on for a while.

  Don’t you cry no more. Unless it’s for that kid. Don’t you cry no more for your own pain. You put that cry energy into your family. Into doing good for Dusty-iban’s family. When I hear you cry, I hear you cry for what you did, but you quit that now. Were you high when you shot him?

  The medicine crackled. No.

  Were you high?

  No.

  Were you high?

  No.

  We let our people get away with shit. We shouldn’t. That’s why I ask. Randall was quiet for a long time.

  You’re a good hunter. You take your shot careful, said Randall. Everybody knows you are careful and every year you bring down your supply. So I hadda ask.

  Okay, said Landreaux.

  I ain’t totally convinced.

  Okay, said Landreaux.

  You off the booze?

  Yes, said Landreaux.

  Pills?

  Yeah.

  Okay. You gotta take on faith you did right with LaRose.

  What about Emmaline, though? said Landreaux.

  Nola is her sister.

  Half sister, said Landreaux.

  There are no half sisters, said Randall.

  Emmaline doesn’t like her sister.

  She say that?

  I can tell. And Nola can’t stand Emmaline. So we don’t get to see LaRose. Guess we assumed she’d bring him over; the boys used to play and all that.

  Give them time to work it out, said Randall. Door! Oh, I forgot we ain’t got no doorman. Door! I’m calling myself. Randall threw the tarp aside. Then he brought in more rocks and dropped them off the end of his pitchfork.

  So many? Landreaux was already melted.

  Haha, said Randall. Let’s party. I’m gonna boil you alive.

  Still, even after being poached like a frog by Randall, there was no peace. Landreaux felt worse and worse. He mourned LaRose’s stringy arms hugging him, blamed himself for making LaRose his secret, favorite child. He began taking Coochy places, everywhere, keeping the one son close. Coochy was earnest, a cloudy boy, and he took things hard. Inside, he was deeply jolted. But he was so quiet nobody knew that.

  Why so quiet? Landreaux asked, once.

  Why talk when Josette’s always talking?

  He had a point.

  Emmaline still thought about what Father Travis had said. If she wanted to, yes, she could take her son back. She wouldn’t go through the system. With social work files, always sprouting forms in triplicate, anything could happen. But always, instead of taking that step, pushing things that far, Emmaline thought of Nola’s loss, her husband’s responsibility for Dusty’s death, and she did something else. In the last few months she’d scraped bits of money for LaRose into a savings account. At other times she stitched her love into a quilt that she brought to the Ravich house. Emmaline gave the quilt to Nola, who thanked her at the door, folded up the blanket, and put it on the highest shelf of a closet. Also, every couple of weeks, Emmaline couldn’t help herself from making the special soup and frybread that her son favored. She put it on Nola’s doorstep or even into Nola’s hands, hoping that LaRose would taste her love in it. Nola tossed it out. Just before Christmas, Emmaline came back with the moccasins. Left them wrapped with LaRose’s name on them. Nola put the moccasins in a plastic box. Stuffed into that container they waited, and Nola feared them, for their woodsmoke scent held the power of creation.

  On those occasions she brought offerings, Emmaline saw that her half sister knew who was in charge. When Nola opened the door, her smile was pasted on lopsided. Sometimes before accepting the food, Nola’s hands clasped and unclasped in distress. Nola’s scrupulous thank-you covered a desperation that made Emmaline turn away. In the car, she put her hand in her pocket and touched a slip of paper upon which she had written You can take him back.

  One day, just before Christmas without LaRose, after dropping off the food, she couldn’t leave. Emmaline got out of the pickup and went back to the house. Maybe talk to Nola? Glimpse LaRose? She knocked, but Nola didn’t answer. Emmaline knocked harder, then so hard her knuckles stung. She knew that Nola was somewhere in the house with her son, pretending that the knocks were not Emmaline.

  Inside the house, LaRose heard his mother’s voice and knew the smell of that soup which he wouldn’t taste. Nola just kept reading Where the Wild Things Are over and over, until the knocking went away. Nola’s voice was hoarse and thin.

  And it was still hot, Nola said, and closed the book. Shall I read it again?

  Okay, said LaRose in a tiny voice. A fuzzy wash of draining sadness covered him. He closed his eyes and fell asleep.

  Is there a bitch gene? said Emmaline, walking in the door after standing outside the Ravich house, knocking.

  Snow gave Josette a look and Josette said, Did my mother really say that?

  Because if there is, Emmaline went on, my sister got it from her mother, who was renowned as a prime bitch.

  The girls stared at Emmaline, frowning in an effort to reject their mother’s talking this way.

  Marn was her name. She killed her husband and got away with it. Of course, he was the leader of a cult.

  Whoa.

  The girls put their hands up.

  Crazy talk, Mom, said Josette.

  It’s true, though, said Emmaline.

  Okay, Mom, but may we remind you that you’re talking about our grandfather? Josette and Snow nodded vigorously.

  What you’re saying, Mom, is way too weird. I mean a bitch is one thing, but killing your husband is out of whack. We don’t want that.

  So you don’t want truth. What do you want? said Emmaline.

  We want our life to get normal, duh, said Josette.

  Uneventful, except for good things, said Snow.

  Melodrama? That detracts.

  Vocabulary words!

  The girls smacked hands.

  Fine, said Emmaline. I acquiesce.

  MACKINNON SPOKE TO the girl in her language, and she hid her muddy face.

  All I did was ask her name, he said, throwing up his hands. She refuses to tell me her name. Give her some work to do, Roberts. I can’t stand that lump in the corner.

  Wolfred made her help him chop wood. But her movements displayed the fluid grace of her limbs. He showed her how to bake bread. But the firelight reflected up into her face and the heat melted away some of the mud. He reapplied it and tried to teach her to write. She for
med the letters easily. But writing displayed her hand, marvelously formed. Finally—she suggested it herself—the girl went off to set snares. She made herself well enough understood. She planned to buy herself back from Mackinnon by selling the furs. He hadn’t paid that much for her. It would not take long, she said.

  All this time, because she understood exactly why Wolfred had replaced the grime on her face, she slouched and grimaced, tousled her hair and smeared her features. And she picked up another written letter every day, then words, phrases. She began to sprinkle them in her talk.

  For a wild savage, she was certainly intelligent, thought Wolfred. Pretty soon she’s going to take my job. Haha. There was nobody to joke with but himself.

  FATHER TRAVIS ANSWERED the telephone, tipped back his chair. When he heard the name of the new bishop of the diocese, he said nothing.

  No surprise.

  The new bishop, Florian Soreno, would take a hard-line stance toward all the hot-button issues—this was a red state. Father Travis worked in a blue zone. Reservations were blue dots or blots, voting Democrat. The only Republican he could think of, beside himself, was Romeo Puyat. With a new bishop, Father Travis might get a Dominican with a liberation-theology bent because this bishop might want to punish such a priest by sending him to a reservation. Or perhaps a new order would take over entirely—there were so many fundamentalist orders springing up. He rather liked SSPX. Society of Saint Pius the Tenth. He missed Latin Mass and they were big on keeping the Tridentine Mass going. However, the other issues, abortion for instance, left him cold. His father had taught him that women’s business is women’s business. There was yet another possibility—church authorities still played the shell game with their pederast priests.

  Getting rid of the last one had been difficult.

  He himself might be reassigned, or he might suddenly have a priest here with more authority and seniority to whom he must answer. He might get a swamper for a housemate—a sick priest in the slump of a long depression. Or a whole sack of nuns might be assigned to the convent suddenly, where now it was run by an oblate group of laypersons and used as a retreat and conference center.

  Or, sometimes, nothing happened. He could always hope. He looked up at the cracked plaster ceiling of his office. There was a pale-blue line on the ceiling, scraped of carpenter’s chalk. That color. It was as if she had opened a blue door in his mind.

  Father Travis pulled on his coat and walked into the brilliant, dry snow. It was the time of hallowed peace. He loved Christmas and Midnight Mass. The glow of candles spiritualized the features of people who drove him nuts. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, he would say in his sermon. And then there was that blue door. There was no shame in it, no sense that he was violating his or Landreaux’s or her vows or anything else. He could be happy in his thoughts, couldn’t he? In spite of Matthew? Not his favorite gospel. White wings rustled. He glanced around, filled with an odd joy. Brightness falls from the air.

  NOLA MADE THEIR Christmas lavish, but it didn’t help. The lead sinker in her chest was leaking molten lead into her veins, slowly stopping her circulation. Her feet and hands were bone cold. She shivered in layers of fleece, sat next to the woodstove, and drank hot tea all day. Getting out of bed, out of a chair, changing her position, was like moving furniture. She could loosen her limbs only by holding LaRose in her lap every afternoon until he slept. He napped hard and sweetness flowed into Nola. She didn’t move except to rock him back to sleep if he stirred. When he woke, she was reluctant to let him go. Then she pushed herself along and pretended around the children that she was really there instead of in the ground. She could not pretend so well with Peter, but he was obsessed the week after Christmas with what would happen on New Year’s Eve. He’d planned it all out. When the night came, he put his plan into action.

  December 31, 1999. Peter stuffed enough wood into the living room bins to keep the stove going all night—he was certain that their computer-regulated electric power would fail. He filled jugs for drinking water, and pails for flushing the toilets, then turned off the water just in case the pipes froze. He made beds downstairs in the living room, where the woodstove would give off a comfortable heat. He’d bought high-loft sub-zero sleeping bags, thinking that they might have to use them all winter. In hope, he’d bought a double bag for himself and Nola. And he’d bought thick foam pads. He spread all of this attractive bedding out on the floor, and the children brought down their pillows. LaRose cradled his action creature. There was food, the battery-powered radio, the computer to watch go crazy at midnight, and card games. Nola made popcorn and she laughed at everything LaRose did. She seemed delighted, and she was, because if the world did end this would all be over. She would not have to keep pretending to get better. Any chaos that happened wouldn’t be her fault. Peter and Maggie played Go Fish, Crazy Eights, Hearts, and in a hushed, excited voice, Nola read book after book to LaRose.

  Eventually, the children wormed into their puffy silken sleeping bags and fell asleep. Peter lighted candles, brought out a bottle of sparkling wine, built up the fire. He poured the amber froth slowly down the side of Nola’s champagne flute, then his own. They raised their glasses in silence. Nola pushed her hair, the slack blond curls, off her face. As they drank they looked into each other’s eyes and saw the strangers who now inhabited the bodies that had together made their son.

  I wonder who you are now, Nola said.

  It’s just me, said Peter, the same old me.

  No it’s not. We’ll never be the same.

  All right. Peter drank deeply. We’ll never be the same. That doesn’t mean we change, you know, how we are with each other. I still love you.

  His words hung out there in the stillness.

  I still love you, too, she said at last, forcing conviction into her voice, sipping at her wine, then suddenly draining it. More! Nola held out her glass, laughing. After all, what does it matter if we’re the same or not? It’s the end of the world! Let’s toast the end of the world.

  Her face was bright and hot. She flashed her pretty, good-luck, crookedy smile. Her teeth were small and pearly. He’d always said her smile blasted happiness into a room—and it was true that when she got excited she was infectious, as cool people are when they suddenly let go. They carry others by the force of surprise. Peter filled her glass and then motioned up the stairs. She rose exalted from the sleeping bag, tousled, barefooted. They climbed the stairs together, and in their bedroom locked the door. They made love with an urgency sweet at first. But as they twined deeper they jolted down into a mean-walled, sour place.

  She seemed to be trying to choke him. Her thumbs were at the base of his throat, pressing. He swiped away her arms but her hands sneaked back as claws and clenched his ass. That hurt, but so what because she slammed him into her and he drove himself until he stopped thinking. She slid out from under his chest. He let her get on top of him but then remembered—she looked frail but she could slap like a motherfucker. She knocked tears into his eyes. He caught her arms at the wrist, turned her over, forced her to kneel. When he started again, she said, Wait, you’re hurting me.

  He let her go and she rolled out a foot, heel first. Tried to end things with a dirty kick, but missed. The next day there’d be a hot bruise on his thigh. Maybe he was too rough after that, except the whole time as she fought him she was coming, and coming, furiously mute, then weeping as he slowed down and finally left her.

  I shouldn’t have done that, Peter whispered after a while. Are you okay? he asked when she didn’t answer. The black silence fizzed in the room. Aw, he said, okay, I’m sorry it got like that but not sorry because you were there, too, I felt it. I love you so much and maybe it could happen, we could have another baby, Nola, we haven’t talked about that and it wouldn’t replace Dusty and it wouldn’t replace LaRose and I love him too, it wouldn’t change what happened but a baby might make you feel, something, something that might help, even happy.

 
I’m cold, said Nola. I hate your guts.

  He said nothing. After a while she dropped her head on his chest and soon her breath came, slow and even. He left her upstairs once she fell asleep. Downstairs, he pulled the covers tenderly up the throats of the sleeping children. Something made him look up. The rusty dog was on the porch watching through the sliding glass doors. To let the dog in was so simple—on this night of nights. He opened the door. The dog entered, quivering with attention. His rosy upright ears drooped slightly, but strained to undertake the meaning of his admittance.

  You . . . said Peter. He couldn’t talk to this dog like a regular dog.

  You aren’t a regular dog, are you. You must be hungry. We had chicken, but no bones for you.

  He looked down at the dog, who sat expectantly, as if he were trained.

  The bones splinter, said Peter to the dog, who cocked its head, an alarming gesture of understanding.

  You could choke, said Peter.

  The dog’s brown eyes were riveted on Peter’s hands as he pulled meat from the chicken carcass. When Peter put down the pan of scraps, the dog lunged forward moaning with joy and bolted the food in three heavy gulps. After, the dog went straight to the children. He stood over Maggie, then LaRose, utterly still, except that his nose worked, obtaining what would seem to us a supernatural knowledge of all the children had done, eaten, touched, in past weeks. Satisfied, tail beating the air, the dog toured restlessly all around the room and sniffed every object as though to memorize its essence. When he was finished with his inventory, the dog trod out a bed for himself at the children’s feet. It was made of all kinds of other dogs—a tawny head, delicate paws, a roan coat, dark patches where eyebrows would be on a person. Peter scratched its back. The dog beamed, then made a sound that conveyed great pleasure, an unusual clucking sound, and fell asleep, stinking gently in the luscious warmth. Peter adjusted the children’s sleeping bags again and turned away. Then, like a hungry man who has waited for his meal, he poured himself a glass of whiskey and sat down before the computer. It was almost midnight. He sat through midnight. For hours afterward he kept meandering about in cyberspace. A few digital clocks in France read 1900. Circuits in a few places faltered and flickered. There was no panic. At some point, he put his head down and must have passed out. Dawn was sad, calm, and brimming with debt.

 
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