portion of the artwork for Janet Shell Anderson's fiction

Pine Ridge Is in My Heart
Janet Shell Anderson

“None of the Whitemagpies had anything to do with it.” Elizabeth Whitemagpie, twenty-seven, Lakota, living in Wambli on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, hopes this is true and stares down the FBI, who crowds her narrow living room with his bulk, his anger. “You cut off her hands,” she accuses. He jerks back, as if she slapped him. He’s thick, bald, pale, smells terrible to her. She grits her teeth.

“Why do you people board up your windows?” He pushes toward her again, rude.

Why do you people smell like zinc? she thinks.

“The hands were for identification.”

Who believes this? But if he knew, if he knew. She sees Annah’s face, eyes half closed, dark, cheek snow covered. Hears the crows in the dead pasture, the wind crying through the pale badlands.

“You had something to do with it,” he says, rough voiced, mean, a thick, harsh New York voice, New England, someplace she doesn’t recognize.

“No.”

“You knew her. Worked with her. Were at Wounded Knee with her.” The siege that lasted seventy-two days. The FBI hated that.

“I never worked with Annah.”

“You know who did it.” He clenches his jaws, rocks from foot to foot, leans toward her. It is March and cold in the house, but he is sweating. Zinc sweat. He reeks. “You damned well know who killed that woman.”

“No.”

He pulls out a beaded dangle Lakota earring from a small plastic evidence bag. “We found this beside her.” For a moment Elizabeth can’t breathe, then looks closer. It was Annah’s earring. Not her own. Not her own, thank God.

She does not look away from the man. But she does not see him, hear him, smell him. She is in the past.

In December, Elizabeth knew Annah was there, at the bottom of the hill on the highway to Kadoka. Near the place for the dead.

The light was thin, the snow, fine; the dust of it blew in small white whirls across the black roadway. The scaffolds towered above her.

It always feels as if someone is watching near the tall towers, as if something lives there, something unfriendly. In the old days, her own ancestors had lain there, on the wooden platforms, dead, wrapped in their star quilts.

Elizabeth crossed the road and ran toward the nearest draw, where she saw tracks on the north side, deer prints, coyote tracks, and something larger. Up high, a vulture drifted north. Snow frosted the sod tables and badland walls, the twisted Ghost Canyon formations.

Maybe she was in time. Maybe Annah was still alive.

Annah lay near the bottom of the draw, on her side, her face powdery with snow, her eyes, raisin dark, half open. Elizabeth stumbled through the brush, slid partway down, stopped. Annah was dead.

“Pine Ridge is in my heart.”

How many times had Annah said it at the siege?

Crows landed on the sod tables, screamed. The wind wrote words on the black macadam with snow, fine as dust, words the dead woman could never say.

“Pine Ridge is in my heart.”

“She betrayed Leonard. She betrayed Mike and Amos Lip and everyone. She betrayed all of us.” All that autumn that was the talk in the village, in Wambli.

Annah lay still in the soft, dry powder. Beyond saving.

“Pine Ridge is in my heart.” The windwords, script of powdered snow, curled around the black scaffolds: Annah did nothing wrong. Crows cried in harsh bleats: Annah Annah Annah. Betrayed no one.

It is so cold. The scaffolds stand in the snow, the wind, the light, the darkness, near the highway, near the sod tables and mudstone walls, there in December, there in March. The dead vanish; their place remains. Elizabeth will miss Annah forever.

He smells like zinc, like poison, and leans toward her trying to get her to tell him everything she knows.

She won’t offer another word.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 42 | Fall 2013