Whitefeather’s toothache forced her to wander. She didn’t want the white doctor from camp. Other sisters, who had been sick, had gone with him and never returned.
The toothache dominated her thoughts. Pain pulsed and sent her to the ground, prostrate in mistaken prayer. She prayed to no one. Her hopes were lost with her roaming ancestors.
Her grandmother, Tall Knees, appeared, smelling of pipe smoke and gasoline. Whitefeather knew she was on a precipice.
Find the Willow. Chew the bark.
Whitefeather wanted to hold her grandmother tight. Her gums throbbed. She wished for a gas station ice machine where she could plunge her entire head inside to cease the pain. She wandered in search of a cool clear stream, of a hollow hill with damp shadows. Someplace other than inside this pain.
A house on the prairie stood unlit and silent. Sheer curtains wafted out of the upstairs windows. A Willow tree behind it swayed with the same rhythm.
Whitefeather clamored for the tree. She lifted slender branches, crawled underneath and hugged the scruffy trunk tight. Then she clawed bark strips and stuffed them into her mouth. The bitterness and pungency of tree made it difficult to chew.
White lights emerged behind her eyes. Would she see Tall Knees soon?
She fell against the tree as crickets began to sing in the reeds. She focused on the sound and waited. The chewed bark was difficult to swallow. Was she supposed to swallow? She didn’t know.
Tall Knees’ voice rode through the sudden sunlight scattered across the leaves. If you take from the tree, you must give back.
Whitefeather closed her eyes. What gift could she give the tree? What would the tree want in return?
She remembered the wind in the curtains. The way the tree had danced. Maybe it would like her song. A song she sang to Tall Knees.
She sang low like the crickets. Sorrows escaped in her notes. Her words, now freed, told the sky of her sisters that had disappeared. Her toothache dulled. Emancipation resonated through tiny dancing leaves.
The Willow listened and remembered.
Stacy Post is a Midwestern writer of poetry, plays and short fiction. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her short stories and poetry have been published in numerous print and online journals. Her first poetry chapbook, Sudden Departures, debuted with Finishing Line Press. Her short plays have been produced in a variety of festivals across the U.S. She works as a librarian by day and resides in the Indiana heartland. www.stacypost.com