She went to the women’s tent at the new moon although she was not bleeding: it was her usual time and she didn't want to give rumor to the gossips in camp. When she ducked under the tent's flap, she saw that the only people inside were the two sisters -- girls still, their breasts barely budding. Even though one was a year older, they’d both begun their first bleeding on exactly the same day. Everyone in camp had marveled over that, and the girls now enjoyed notoriety each month with their synchronization.
The woman was glad to be where no man could see or touch her. She knew that the man watched the entrance to the tent. He would see her when she left to gather wood, to bathe, or to answer her body’s functions. But he couldn't approach her: he wouldn’t dare. No man would talk to a woman while she was bleeding. She had that protection for a few days.
The girls chattered, their voices like chickadees: soft and musical but incessant. The woman banked the fire. Outside, spring spilled over the ridge of mountains and into the big valley. The change had been abrupt: a week ago, they'd relocated the entire camp when an ice dam on the river had shattered. A dog had been killed in the commotion – the story was that it had been lost to the current but the woman knew that one of the men had shot it: in life the dog had been an ugly little mongrel that annoyed everyone with its continuous yapping. The river now ran muddy and high but free of ice.
The woman checked the supply of wood: plenty for tonight. She wondered who had gathered it – certainly not the sisters. They hadn’t acknowledged her since she’d entered the tent. Not that she would have spoken to them. The woman felt as if her tongue had been cut out. She’d heard that the Blackfoot – those wild, cruel, ugly people – sometimes cut the tongue from a woman to punish her. A squaw’s story perhaps or a Coyote tale, but the thought made her shiver just the same.
She sighed and with the inhale smelled her body. She hadn't bathed this morning: the thought of the thick gray water in the river made her nauseous. No telling what might be lurking under the surface: that yappy mongrel, a winterkilled buffalo, or Coyote himself, clawing at her ankles. Had anyone seen her at dawn vomiting in the middens?
She wished it were autumn, before the cottonwoods had turned, before all of this had begun. Back then, she could have wound a bear skin around her body so tightly that it would adhere to her flesh. She'd become a bear-woman then -- hairy, rank, reeking of dung and dust – impossible for any man to want her. They would circle instead of walking past, wary of the contagion or power she carried.
A shaft of afternoon sun pierced the dusk inside the tent. The woman glanced toward the entryway. Awkward on her hands and knees, the old woman crawled past the rawhide flap. Around camp, there were stories about the old woman, stories that perhaps the old woman herself had created. The old woman remembered the days before horses, before buffalo, days when the people lived on the shores of a deep, cold lake, a lake so wide that the sharpest-eyed child could not trace the line of the opposite shore, a lake that held fish as big as a man. They say that the old woman had seen over a hundred winters, but who in camp had counted them?
This much the woman knew: the old woman’s monthly bleedings had ended years ago. She hadn't come to the women’s tent for the usual reason. Perhaps she was here because of the sisters, seeking or offering some portent or spell or charm. The woman watched the old woman watch the sisters, eyes like sparks of obsidian in the pale wreck of her face. When the old woman had been young – or younger – a kick from a horse had flattened her nose so that at night her snores could be heard from the farthest tent in camp. Her husband, dead now almost ten years, had offered his wife openly to any man who would take her. None had. Some say that the old woman had begun to kill her husband that very night.
It was rumored that the old woman could scent a pregnancy almost before the act had been completed. When the woman had left her tent this morning, she'd brought a blade with her, in case she would have to prove up. Acting nonchalant. she arranged an elk hide over her legs. Through the white of her eye, she watched the old woman squat next to the fire, her gray hands spidering toward the warmth, wrinkled face aimed at the sisters. The girls chattered on.
In the shadows along the margin of the tent, the woman's hands groped beneath the hide and her skirt until they closed on the blade in its skin bag. Working quickly, she slid the hand that clutched the blade up her legs until the sharpened stone touched the fold of flesh between her thigh and genitals. There was an artery there: once she'd seen a man bleed to death after being wounded in the groin during a fight. The blood had pulsed from the cut, rich and red, in spurts that no one had been able to staunch. The man had been a warrior, a strong man, but as the blood leapt from his body he'd whimpered like a kicked dog.
The old woman could tell, perhaps, that the woman was not bleeding. She would not produce blood for the next nine months. The woman clenched her teeth against the pain as the blade penetrated her skin. The blood flowed sticky and slick from the wound between her legs.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources