Once Upon A River

By Tiffany Midge

We were the kids trading marbles and penny candy at the Friday night Grange Hall meetings. We were the deaf shopkeeper at McDougals who said the comics would set ya back two bits, and the digests two bits and a George Washington. We were the Pillager kids from your dad’s class who had you over for supper, who horrified your mom when Mrs. Pillager wiped the rain off her hounds with a dishcloth, then covered the fried chicken with the same cloth.

We were the voices of the evening church bells chiming every sunset and the Rutherford sisters who graciously invited you into their doily-drenched parlor for hot water and honey and taught you how to play Hearts.

We were the hippie mom of the kid you played with, who stored the umbilical cords of her children in the back of the freezer, and the waitress at the Silver Spoon who dished you free bowls of vanilla ice cream on slow nights. We were the man who convinced you he was going to commandeer a raft all the way to Hawaii and who you swear you saw on the TV news, safe and triumphant after he’d mysteriously left town.

We were the junkyard dog next door whose owner was jaundiced and sported a hook for a hand, and the Davenquist boy who you traded your Girl Scout Mints for a litter of baby mice that all died because the house was too cold at night, so your dad replaced them with tropical fish.

We were the general store where you ran to fetch the mail every afternoon from Box 70 and spent your ten cent weekly allowance on a candy bar, and the girl named Rudy whose newborn sister had pierced ears and whose dad smoked from a hookah pipe, and Brian Osterday who was your perfect first love and who had a brother named Royal, the name of your orange cat.

We were the Snoqualmie Bull’s Saturday baseball games your dad coached and the fat catcher named Moose who later died from a broken leg. We were Brownie meetings in the basement of the library across the street.

We were the occasional shrieking of the firehouse alarm alerting your dad, in the volunteer squad to run up the block and help save distressed babies or car engine fires, and we were creek crawdads and guppies and the steady stream of bull fish hooked from the banks of the Snoqualmie River.

We were the long days that existed solely for the pleasures of swimming in the lagoons of that river, and the sandbar where some fishermen gave you your first can of beer and where you traced pictures in the sand and buried costume jewelry and brooches stolen from your mother’s dresser.

We were the sticker bushes alongside the banks where you harvested quarts of blackberries and traded to Mrs. Higgenbottom who made you a blue pie.

We were Mary Chesum whose parents were Yakima Indians and we were the Friday night when she was abducted from the house she was babysitting at, taken to the river where she was alternately chased, then stabbed, and chased again, repeatedly—her blood and clothing spilling across the lengths of the rocky bank—by a high school senior who she’d been refusing to date.

We were Mary Chesum’s younger sister Lisa, your friend, your classmate. You were the only two Indian girls in school, the only ones with that long black hair that wrapped around your shoulders like shawls. The only two girls who knew they were different, who knew they’d be singled out; girls who paired up for safety and refuge, for shelter; ones who knew how to flee to the banks of the river, instinctually, by memory.

We were there, that day on the playground when your shoelace had broken and Lisa without hesitation unbraided her lace and gave it to you.
We watched as she bent over and threaded the lace into the grommets of your shoe, then went for the remainder of the day with her one shoe loose and undressed.

Copyright © Tiffany Midge. All rights reserved.
Once Upon A River appeared in “Native Literatures: Generations," 2010.

Tiffany Midge’s book “Outlaws, Renegades and Saints, Diary of a Mixed-up Halfbreed” won the Diane Decorah Poetry Award. She’s most recently been published in North American Review, The Raven Chronicles, Florida Review and the online journal No Tell Motel. An enrolled Standing Rock Sioux and MFA grad from University of Idaho she lives in Moscow, Idaho (Nez Perce country) and teaches part time with Northwest Indian College. 

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