by Brother Theo
After some time had passed in silence the cat flowed easily from Beaver’s lap to the plank floor of the porch where he resumed his favorite spot, and watched the world beyond Mandi’s fence with an appearance of indifference that belied what Mandi now knew to be his true nature. Beaver chanted an old lullaby Mandi remembered with an aching heart as he thumped softly on a drum about the size and shape of a tambourine. The wind chimes somehow contrived to accompany the song almost inaudibly.
Beyond them the world of white men, women and children sounded like a soft symphony into which all sounds became one. When he had finished, the three sat together in companionable silence, and Mandi felt a peace that was remembered, but knew no particular moment.
“How old are you Akei?” She asked finally.
Her grandfather gave her a surprised look. “That is not what I expected you to ask.”
“What did you imagine I would ask?” She looked meaningfully at the bowl of pinkish water on the small table Between them, and then at the bandaged finger resting on the edge of his drum. Floating on the water was a well remembered maguey thorn. Mosi shook his great head violently as if he had mites in his one good ear, and made a noise somewhere between a cry and a growl. Mandi thought it a most un-catlike noise. Clearing his throat Beaver gave an embarrassed grunt. “Of course, she was always my best student.”
For a moment Mandi stared at the cat incredulously, and wondered if it had talked to the old man; she knew he had. Turning back to beaver she asked “It hurts still?”
“It was worth it.” He replied.
Her look became piercing and she said “So?”
Beaver sagged a little in his seat looking chagrined. “Has no one ever told you it is impolite to ask an old person their age? The cat’s stare intensified, and Beaver shrugged helplessly. “Ah well.” He said as her look turned flat. After a sigh the old man looked out at a passing cloud. After a while he asked “Do you know how old Moses was when he died?”
“One hundred and twenty” replied Mandi automatically.
“But that’s a lot of jumbo jumbo Akei. The Bible says everybody lived to be, like, I don’t know, hundreds of years old back then. Nobody really believes that.”
Beaver turned a sharp look onto his granddaughter. “Not everybody Tsosi, only some; and those were what the whites call prophets, but we call medicine people.”
“Medicine people?” Mandi scoffed. “What, now you’re politically correct grandfather?”
“Yes granddaughter, people. There are many medicine women in the histories of all the people of the earth.”
Mandi considered that for a moment. “So are you saying that you’re like Moses or something?”
“I’m saying that the Almighty chooses some and gives them years in which to become wise, and to do His will in. Some of his plans cannot be passed on from one person to another, but must be seen through by a single person with a purpose to making things on our earth be as they are in heaven.”
“So what is your purpose here grandfather? “ she asked softly.
For a moment she saw a look of evasiveness flit across his face, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. The cat turned his head to look at the old man meaningfully. Shaking his head Beaver said “I suppose so. Mandi felt a shiver pass down her spine. The cat was talking to Beaver, and it was telling him what to do. “It is not just the Almighty who has plans granddaughter; there is an…adversary, and like the Almighty he has servants and friends who do his work here on the earth.”
Knowing that Mosi was somehow talking to Beaver made Mandi uneasy. “What is he saying to you?” She demanded, pointing at the cat.
“He’s telling me to get on with it.” Grunted Beaver. The cat looked loftily away. Bending forward to rummage in his seemingly limitless bag, Beaver’s expression became unreadable. Producing an old, worn looking wooden box about the size of a box of cracker jacks his eyes turned hard and piercing. “This is how it feels when a person knows they must do a thing that they do not wish to do. I am only the delivery man in this.” His gaze softened and he said “These are not a gift Mandi, and when it has done it’s part your heart will understand how I feel in this moment.” Passing her the box he said “ Listen to me now Mandi, and do not forget a word of what I say.” Opening the box she saw five identical stones. They were smooth and oblong, each was a uniform gray and perhaps the size of the first joint of her little finger. “You are to place one beneath your pillow for the next five nights” Beaver intoned. His voice had become deeper and rougher. “They will bring you visions while you sleep.”
“They will make me dream?” She asked, feeling as if she were already asleep and dreaming.
“Not dreams; visions. And Tsosi, it is of the greatest importance that you not awaken during the vision.” To Mandi it seemed that her world had narrowed to a tunnel, and that her grandfather’s voice was drifting down from the tunnel’s mouth. “Lissssten child.” Now it was the lisping voice of the great snake. “Lisssten to his voice and hear.” Instantly she was before Beaver, his gaze intense, his eyes like chips of arctic ice. “You can only be awakened from these visions by your own will. Do not will yourself awayke; If you do you will become part of the vision. If that happens…well, you will never return.”
Mandi felt fear in her belly, and was aware of a sense of unreality. “Like before?” She whispered.
“Not like before.” Said her grandfather sadly.
“But the Mesa, the coyote,” she shivered. “The cat” she whispered.
“That was not a vision.” Beaver’s voice sounded near to breaking.
“But Shim’a…mother said. She said you gave me…that you made me see things with your leaves and, and poison.”
Beaver looked into her eyes, his features carved into a look of infinite sadness. “Let us talk of those things after Tsosi, for now, just listen. And obey.” Again the voice of the great snake sounding like a hissing echo “Obey.”
Touching one of the stones with a finger she rolled it over. “How will I know which one?” She asked.
“Each stone will make itself known granddaughter. And do not seek the stone in the morning when you awaken, it will have returned to its proper place after it has shown you what is must.”
Her hand sought and found his large, strong hand; it was warm and comforting. “I want to say that you do not have to do this, but long ago your hozho was unbalanced, and darkness now seeks you. If you turn aside from this your spirit may well wander in places best not imagined.”
“Will you stay and watch over me while I sleep?” Her voice was suddenly small, like that of a little girl.
“I will” he said. “And so will your new friend.” The cat opened his great jaws as if in a yawn and a huge roar issued from them that brought dust and paint chips down from the porch ceiling. Mandi quailed before the sound and wondered what she had gotten into as neighbors came out into their yards to look about, into the sky and at each other looking for the cause of such a loud and unusual sound.
The Butcher Shop