NOW THAT I’M DEAD

Now that I’m dead it’s much easier to understand what happened. Time is changed after you die. It’s like water and you can swim in it, so that it goes forward and backwards and has waves in it. It was night time, the coldest part of a January night before there was any light yet and the trees groan and pop. I was glad to be under the buffalo robes between my mother and father. I dreamt the horses were running so the ground shook and then it was true, but they were not our horses because there was jingling and the creaking of leather. Then the shooting began.

My father grabbed me up in his arms, and my mother scrabbled quickly to find the Peace Paper that would tell soldiers to leave us alone. She had made a little case for it that hung with the Pipe Bundle on a tripod. She pushed it into my father’s hand, between his hand and me where he held me against his chest. As he stepped out of the lodge, there was a brief whispering sound as the bullet pierced through the paper. Then I felt it go through me — between ribs, through my lungs and then I couldn’t breathe. My father made a sound I can’t describe and fell. Then I heard my mother give a sound, the sound of her life leaving her. Not quite a cry. It was too fast to understand.

I only lived a little while with the big dark horses rushing back and forth and the men’s voices shouting at each other. Not our men, who were away hunting, but those white men all muffled up in heavy coats and hats pulled down but I could see that there were stripes down the sides of their legs. Their guns exploded and their sabers flashed. Panting of horses and men showed as pale vapor in light from fires set by the soldiers.

Our people, women and children and old people, were quiet. They didn’t cry out or shout because that would attract the attention of the nearest soldiers. They saved all their breath for running, dodging into shadows and through brush, pulling and carrying children. It was all over in minutes.

Then I lay on my father’s body, which was still warm, though I was cooling myself, while the soldiers went on burning the lodges even if there were people inside, the people who had smallpox and were too weak to escape. Lying there dead with my eyes open, it wasn’t until the sun came up that I could see the blood on the snow, just dark smears until there was enough light to show red. At first the light was silver except for the blood and the charred things, but then it warmed to golden and the sky cleared to blue, such a blue. By then the cavalry was gone. Everything was silent. Charred lodgepoles still fumed and flickered soundlessly, rigid triangles over the black remains heaped inside and out.

From far away came singing. The People came walking in a long procession, all the People who had died so many ways but were still somehow moving through time, all together as a tribe. We rose. I was happy to be walking between my mother and father. The snow felt like sand under our feet and drifts were like sarvisberry bushes in bloom.

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