Near Gethsemane Cemetery
Alone in her darkened house, on the Oglala Lakota Reservation, sunset finished, the evening sky dark as a plum, the old woman watches the first star. Maria Iron Shell, ninety-two years old, home now, just released from jail. Her family made a fuss of it. Now they have left.
“From the end of the world.” What could the Waisechu, the white man, know about world’s end?
Her small dog looks up, one of Gloria Chipps’ puppies from years ago. Gloria is gone. So many are gone. Maria knows the end of the world; she is living it.
She saw the pipeline trucks coming up Highway 44 just after dawn, glimmering in the red wash of light, slowing outside her house for the sharp turn. She stepped outside, squinted in the sunglare, stopped them, called the police with her cell phone. The trucks, she said, were trespassing. Coatless in the wind, in the freezing March morning, by bare ghost trees and ditches full of dead sunflowers, near housing where her husband was shot, she stood her ground. The drivers shouted for her to get out of the way, tried to pass her. A cousin, Lucy White Hawk, ran out, joined Maria. The two old Lakota women stood, one in each lane, blocking the highway. Others came. A crowd.
She looks at the plum sky, the thin veil of clouds over the ridge north of Wambli, her village; she looks across the highway toward Gethsemane Cemetery, where Albert, her husband, sleeps forever. She loved him. He was an American Indian Movement supporter, shot back in the bad times, in the 70s. The FBI said it was an accident. The man who killed her husband sleeps at the bottom of the badlands escarpment eight miles west of Wambli, two hundred feet down. His body went into one of the holes at the bottom of the mudstone wall and did not come out again. Maria and Gloria never told anyone about it. Another accident.
The wind was cold on her face as she stood looking at the big trucks from the Canadian pipeline company. Someone gave her a red flag that said “Sacred Circle” on it. The men in the truck got out, threatened her.
“Goddamn bitch from the end of the world.” Red faced, hairy handed. She does not like men with hairy hands.
Her heart beats hard as she thinks about standing on the road, facing men with oil tar voices, who would poison the land. She tastes copper in her mouth, fear. The dog presses its cold nose to her icy hands.
Wambli is no paradise. Behind smeared windows, dead drunks sprawl in filthy beds. Cruel as feral dogs, wild boys run in gangs. By lamplight, frightened, angry women shudder in cold rooms. Courage costs.
The house is dark. She knows the crimson smear of sunset, the plum sky of evening are her last. The cost of standing in the road, being cursed by strangers, arrested, handcuffed, searched, loaded in the white squad car, taken all the way to Kadoka is too much. In her chest, in her neck, in her jaw, the pain starts, bites hard.
“They won’t win,” she tells the dog. “They never do.” Not the truth, but the copper taste is gone. The beautiful hills lift against the soft night. The quiet is deep.
She puts on her coat, walks to the door, steps outside where she can see. One by one, a thousand thousand stars shine over Wambli, and a slow moon, big as a pregnant woman, transforms the night.
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