Victor, my grandfather, poured the dark coffee
into a cracked enamel cup and the wisps of steam arose. I felt the warmth
of the heated cup between my hands and slowly drank.
My grandfather had begun to chop wood and I
gathered kindling. It seemed so long ago, we were building a fire for
"Tillah, shall I get water?" I asked.
Victor nodded his head affirmatively.
The early morning air penetrated my clothes
and I began to shiver. I left with the gallon jug and proceeded to the
house. I felt the particles of bone-colored soil between my toes. My
feet disturbed the imprints of the tractor wheels in the dust. I entered
the house and started to fill the glass container.
My grandmother dozed and sate near the pot-bellied
stove; she unconsciously fingered the breviary. My sister placed the
condiments on the metal and synthetic table. The kerosene in the rounded
bottom of the lamp and the kitchen were bathed in a uterine glow. I
Victor emerged from the womb of the globular
earthen-covered framework entrenched in the soil: the sweathouse was
hemispheric, supported by rounded willows stuck in the ground; the structure
encased in moist dirt that later hardened. Victor retrieved the perforated
stones and placed them on the tiers of chopped wood.
I approached and mosquitoes buzzed in the pale
blue light. Victor sat on the embankment near the stream and listened
to the crackling of the fire. The flames created frenetic dark patterns
on the bunch grass.
"Tillah, how were the stars made?" I asked.
"Do you believe in magic? That is no matter,
" he answered, and continued:
"In the beginning, when animal people roamed
and governed the world, Coyote was the one that created the people from
stones on the Columbia River.
"The animal people gathered splinters of lights
from the sun; they put the stars in a basket and held a meeting about
where to place them in the sky. Coyote left the covert and stood in
the weeded darkness.
"The raccoon suggested that he stars be fashioned
into designs of fish, and the bear heartily agreed.
"The straight-faced owl proposed the starts
should be placed in lines against the sky. The angular owl moved from
the center of the assemblage.
"Another of the animals spoke and the animal
people began to disagree and argued. Coyote entered and laughed; he
quickly grabbed the basket of stars and threw them into the sky.
"That was how the stars were created." He had
a smile around his eyes.