October 17, 2016
I have authored four books: Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader, Friends I Never Knew, Dreams and Tricksters, and Women Rights/Writes.
When I was writing Dreams and Tricksters, a collection of short stories about two women — one First Nations and the other white–who were neighbours in an inner-city Winnipeg apartment block, I was living in the apartment building on Maryland Ave. from which I modelled the stories.
The following story from this collection focusses on the character named Betsy. She is a First Nations who is confused about all the different angles of racism and being an aboriginal woman.
“It is not easy being green,” I remember a First Nations man joking about being who he is in Canada.
It certainly is not a black or brown and white issue; pun intended.
Here is one of the stories from the book:
Dreams and Tricksters
Strangers by Tanya Lester
This morning Betsy looked up from her first cup of coffee and saw Maurice. Her mother had warned her about this. Just wait until you have children. She saw the slash across his cheek but dared not ask how he got it.
“Petey…,” she said, not knowing if he could hear her. He wore those earphones hooked to his Walkman like a shield. These are what you’re looking for. A few dollars more, sure. But they’re guaranteed old lady sound proof.
“Petey, we’re going to the Pow Wow in The Pas next weekend. You coming?” She hadn’t meant to say it so loud. Sounded like she was pleading.
“I’m tired of that crap.” He got up and tore the Walkman off. He stood looking down on her, just waiting for her to contradict him.
She sat, her eyes searching the floor, Nausea swept through her body strong as morning sickness. She shuddered, fighting back the urge to get up and hug him. Make things better, somehow.
She had taken such pains to dress him right. Pawned Maurice’s guitar, the last remnant of their life together. Mother and son walked hand in hand to the school. him swinging his lunch pail, hair wet down.. He’s a real little charmer. Just wait until he grows up.
A the edge of the playground, she hugged and then let him go. He walked across the field like he owned it. A brave one, that one.
“Well, I’m tired too,” she shot back at him. He turned, slammed the bathroom door shut. It hung on its last hinge. He kicked, daring it to fall off.
Water running in the bathtub. Well, one thing you could say about him, he kept himself clean.
“Look at that dirty little Indian,” the kids shrieked. “Hey, your mother’s a squaw. A drunken squaw.” He kept on walking. Never looked back. It was then she knew he’d disowned her.
No one could call him a dirty little Indian now. A glue sniffer but never a vanilla drinker. An Indian thief but never an Indian chief. Oh, hell, a drunken no good half breed but he always kept himself clean.
Tired. She was tired. Up in The Pas, they would say, “Oh, Betsy, you’re all for native women’s rights now that you’ve taken up with that whiteman. At least, Maurice was Metis.”
Destroying the race. Genocide. Those chiefs in their Cadillacs and business suits, buying drinks all round would tell her she had no right to be there. “We have to preserve our culture,” they’d say.
Stay close to the earth and you’ll never know a stranger, he grandmother told her as she sat wrapped in a blanket next to the open fire. Grandmother, I miss you.
She would call her mother today, she thought, as she took her empty cut over to the sink. She turned on the tap to rinse it out. No hot water. Petey had used up all the hot water.
She’d phone her. Ask her to go for lunch. At the Perogy Hut, maybe. Her mother’s culture, sort of. She’d say,”Okay, Mom, you got even. Now what the hell do I do with him?” And she wouldn’t mention her Indian father once. She’d keep the conversation on neutral ground, talk about the kids.
In the bathtub, Petey rubs the cut on his cheek. When he had stolen the eggs from the co-op, Betsy for the first time ever had called Maurice. “You’re his father. Talk to him. Do something.”
Petey could pass as eighteen so they`d gone to the Union Center on a drunk. “eeWhere’s Merilee these days?”, Maurice asked.
“Don’t see much of her anymore,” Petey said. Since she got knocked up, they passed in the hall at school like they were strangers.
“Never take up with a goddam half breed,” Maurice said, slapping him on the back. “The Indian squaw in them always shows through in the end.”
Next thing Petey knew he was pounding his father’s face in. Maurice’s buddies got hold of Petey’s arms. Only then did the father get a crack at his son’s face.
He pulled the plud, got out and dressed carefully. Combed his hair. Brushed his teeth, Examined the cut. It ran into the first scar. Only turned sixteen and his second scar already.
“Petey takes girls home and sleeps with them and he’s only sixteen,” Aurora tells the white girls. Proud of his big brother.
He walked back into the living room. Picked up his cigarettes, stuffed them in his shirt pocket. “Hey, Mom, when you leaving for The Pas?”
“Make it Saturday morning.”
He’d be coming. “Cabbage rolls for supper tonight,” Betsy said greatfully. That was his favorite.
“See you.” He went out, quietly shutting the door behind him.
That night he didn’t make it home for supper.
That night, Betsy scraped the leftover cabbage rolls out of the roaster. “I’ll warm them up for his lunch tomorrow,” she thought. “Only thing I know that tastes better the second time round.”
To read other posts on this blog, go to tealeaf56.wordpress.com and writingsmall.wordpress.com
Tanya is also a tea leaf reader and tarot reader; a reiki master and a housesitter. To find out more about her services go to teareading.wordpress.com or to her pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google. Or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on her cell at 250-538-0086.