Nahutiwa was asleep, for once, when the call came.
Asleep and dreaming the
Nahutiwa was asleep, for once, when the call came.
Asleep and dreaming the
dream that made him put off sleep until his body rebelled and
took it anyway.
He opened his eyes
to find Elsie's uncle, old Charlie, and her mother, Nan,
each tugging on one of his legs.
It was the ancient way to rouse someone,
shaking the legs and leaving the upper body untouched,
so that if the spirit were
wandering it could return through the head. He was surprised,
though, that Nan
knew of it. He hadn't thought she
much valued the old ways.
Scowling, he kicked
his legs free and sat up slowly, feeling his age in the
complaint of his joints.
Charlie jumped back as if he'd been burnt.
"What do you need, disturbing an old man's sleep?"
"You're sweating," said Nan with a questioning glance
at the coals barely
flickering in the stone fireplace.
The room was chilly.
For a moment he could have sworn she knew about his dream. Was she a
two-heart, then, and he hadn't known it?
.and she's been screaming for two days, and still the baby won't
speaking earnestly, slid a glance to Nan for support.
They wanted him to help at a birthing?
Nahutiwa hid his astonishment and
said to Nan, "Why are you
Charlie began sputtering, "We told you, it's Elsie, her
baby. . ." but Nan knew
what he was asking.
"I know when I've done all I can do.
I need your help."
Nahutiwa heard the implied criticism, heard through her voice her
words at the
last council -- "Nahutiwa wants too much power. He has studied about the old
gods so much he thinks he has become one."
He looked hard at Nan. "Who's
"The bahana," she said, using the Hopi term -- and just
in case he didn't get
it -- "the white boy."
Nahutiwa's scowl deepened. As if he hadn't learned Hopi before he knew
English. But because
his father was the Hopi and not his mother, he knew Nan
Navajo. Considered his
taking a Hopi name a sham because
Nahutiwa had not gone through a Hopi
initiation. But initiations
qualified to initiate, and she knew as well as he did
that there were none left.
"The bahana?" he said, not showing his surprise. Nan
nodded, her eyes fixed
on his face, daring him to comment. And so he
Still, she must have wondered at her daughter's judgment. He knew, of course,
about the white boy who had collapsed at the bottom of the mesa, so starved that
two men had to carry him up to
the village. But the boy
had disappeared as soon
as he ate himself strong, without even a day's
work or a story for thanks. Evidently
he'd left something behind after all.
"And we need more bahanas in this world?" he said.
"So they can destroy
what they missed last time?"
"The baby didn't cause the war," said Nan.
"No, but it's bad blood. Warring blood."
Worse than my Navajo blood, and
it's your own grandchild.
"The child will take after the mother."
Nan said this so calmly, so assuredly,
that Nahutiwa wondered
again if she might be a witch.
But she looked toward the door with real fear in her eyes. "Please," she said.
"We don't have much time."
Sighing, he wrapped his blanket over his shoulders and slipped on his sandals
made from yucca fiber.
He couldn't put them on without remembering. Shoes.
Forty years since the war and still in his dreams when he ran, he
was wearing them.
Thick-soled, canvas, with cotton laces. He
used to sit in Mr. Hudson's fourth
grade class at Polacca Day School with his feet on the desk and fiddle with the
strings while Mr. Hudson droned on about multiplication tables.
The day the
bombs fell, the class was learning the timetables for
eights. After that there
no school, and the only thing being multiplied was death and death
and more death, and those who didn't die from the radiation spent every
grappling for a scrap to eat. After a decade or so, the few that were left had
how togrow the corn and keep the sheep healthy and scavenge from
old town sites but by then there were no more shoes, just as there were no
more t.v.s or radios, or electric lights, or flush toilets.
Now, as always, he
most missed the shoes. Nahutiwa
slung his medicine bag
over his shoulder, hoping he wouldn't need it.
The crystal that hung in its pouch
round his neck held more
healing than all of the herbs and amulets in the bag put
it had a mind of its own. He
could never predict when it would
refuse to work.
a gesture to follow, Nan ducked through the doorway followed
Nahutiwa threw a handful of sticks and a log on the fire to
warm homecoming, then followed them out into the bitter night.
It wasn't far, maybe half a mile, from Nahutiwa's home to the neighboring
village, but the ice in the wind made every step long. Nahutiwa bent his chin to
his chest and trudged past the stone
houses. Before the war,
perched high on second mesa, which rose a hundred feet or
so off the desert
floor, had belonged to the Hopi.
Now they belonged to whoever lived in them --
Hopi, Navajo, Zuni,
Ute -- it didn't matter. The few who were left had banded
two small villages and rarely saw any other people.
The white boy
had been the first of his kind since the war.
By the time they reached Nan's home, Nahutiwa's bones ached from the cold.
He followed Nan
and Charlie through a blanketed doorway and was struck with
But as he dropped his blanket by the door, Nahutiwa decided the room was
too warm. And too crowded. Four or five women, not counting
gathered around Elsie in the far corner of the room while three men sat on the
stone bench that ran along the opposite wall. What had Nan got him into?
Were they here, he wondered, to enjoy the warmth or to watch the show?
Elsie lay on her back on a bed of fresh sand covered with rags. As Nahutiwa approached, the attending women hurried out of
his way, eyes averted.
He squatted on the dirt floor beside Elsie, took one look at her
cursed Nan. Elsie's
face had the pallor of death. There would be no healing
tonight, unless, somehow, he could save the baby. No healing and Nan had
seen to it that
there was a room full of people to watch.
"Why isn't she on her hands and knees?" he asked
sharply, but he saw the
answer in the fatigue on Elsie's face.
Ignoring the flurry of explanations from
he women, he took the
crystal out of its pouch, gently opened the blanket that
only covering, then held the stone against the protruding belly.
He closed his eyes as he always did, and let the stone see for him. Look, he commanded.
Look into the womb and see this child that can't or won't come
into the world.
Elsie twisted under his touch and for a few moments he saw
nothing. Then a
gradually lightened, became transparent, a shape -- no -- two
He froze, feeling as if his heart had stopped, then jerked
his hands back and the
Two shapes. Twins.
His stomach lurched and he remembered the dream. It was always the same.
Lost in a cave, he wandered deeper and deeper along the steep
path that, no
matter which direction he turned, always led him further
into the earth. And then,
suddenly, the path leveled out and opened into a cavern, a great dark
perhaps was the underworld
Just as suddenly, he knew that the path leading
out of the
cave lay on the other side of the cavern.
To get out he would have to
Never once in the dream, though, had he made it across. For the
lurked in the shadows and each time he tried, they leapt out at
him from opposite
sides, grabbing him.
And as he struggled frantically, they dragged him down and
into the suffocating darkness.
Now he drew a shaky breath and rising to his feet said, "It's too late. She
and the babies are filled with death."
He knew it was half a lie. The crystal, warm
in his hand, spoke
Every eye in the room was on him, but only Nan seemed to have
what he said.
"Babies?" she asked.
"They're in the wrong position, lying crosswise.
There's no room
to move them."
Nan's eyes narrowed and he felt the heat of her disbelief.
"In the old days," Nan said, in a voice loud enough to
carry to the adjoining
house, "the medicine men had power. They
could merge the bodies of twins into
Two babies dying merged into one child living. At least the Hopi medicine
She pointed to
Nahutiwa. "Every time we have a council,
Nahutiwa tells us
that he knows the old ways, that he wants to bring
back the old ceremonies.
taken a Hopi name that means `medicine man'.
He has a crystal. He says
he is a healer, but now he says he
He hated her. Murmurs
ran through the room spawning doubts that he knew would grow in the
people's hearts like the cancers so common among them.
could have killed her, could have crushed her two- heart witch
face right then,
challenge had to be answered.
He had the power; the warmth of the crystal told him that. More power than their fathers or their grandfathers ever had,
for in the days of the white man the
power had withered like an uprooted
weed in the summer sun. Didn't
that? But he had
searched it out, bit by bit, learning from anyone of any tribe
to teach, begging the wise men, groveling for knowledge like a dog
begging scraps, finding what had been lost, discovering what had been
He had more than the powers from the crystal; he had knowledge -- bits of
ceremonies and rituals that he had written down before paper had
from his father's Hopi clan, dances remembered by an old Zuni
Navajo cleansing ceremonies. All he wanted, all he could ever remember
wanting, was to restore these
ceremonies to his people. But
to do that he needed
a different kind of power. The power that came from
the villagers' belief in him,
from their trust.
This healing could give him that power.
But if these were the twins. . .he shut his eyes wishing he had
time to think.
If he merged
the twins into one -- into one half-white man -- would they still have
the power foretold by his dreams?
Elsie moaned and the murmuring stopped as the eyes in the room went to
her and then fixed on him. And he knew then that whatever his fears about a living
child, if the twins died in the womb, their death would destroy him. One way
another, this night was going to live in the memories of the people.
"Have it your way," he said fiercely to Nan.
He lifted the crystal from its pouch round his neck, aware of the
stillness in the room, and squatted once more beside Elsie. He began moving
the crystal in ever-shrinking circles around her
belly, visualizing the two infants
merging into one. As he repeated the
pattern, the vision washed over him,
consumed him, until his whole body
burned with will, till every part of him
When the crystal flared and seared his hand, he knew
it was done.
"Help me turn her."
He gestured to the women who had been attending Elsie,
but it was
Nan who took her daughter's head and arms.
Together they put her in
the proper birthing position, on her hands and knees. He gently massaged her
belly, pushing, prodding.
Turn, you bastard, he ordered silently, get your head
down. And stay out of my way for the rest of your life, because I know
you are and I'm ready for you.
And then Elsie screamed and shuddered and the baby came sliding out so
fast that Nahutiwa almost didn't catch it.
The baby cried its greeting to the world
while Nan quickly pulled
a hair from Elsie's head and tied it around the umbilical
Nahutiwa sat back on his heels, drained, dazed, only half
efforts to expel the afterbirth.
Then he looked at the squalling infant in his arms
and almost laughed out loud.
It was a girl. All
his fears, and it was only a girl.
She might become a
two-heart like her grandmother, this half-bahana
troublemaker, but he could
He handed the infant to one of the women and rose to leave. Nan was still
working with Elsie. A futile attempt, he thought for death was on Elsie's face
and the grief in Nan's eyes showed she knew it.
He strode from the room conscious of the awe in the faces of
those who had
witnessed the birth.
Only a girl. The
thought warmed him on the icy journey
He entered his room, fell down on his mat, and for the first time
slept deep and long, untroubled by dreams.
"Grandmother, tell me again how I got my name," said
Movi. She was
snuggled down deep against the soft expanse of Nan's
bosom and her face
bounced with the rumble of laughter that came from
"Again?" asked Nan.
"Always you want the same story."
Movi felt the vibrations of Nan's voice, soft and low, as the
story began of
her mother's death, of Nan's great love for her (even
though, Nan always added,
Movi was fussy and stubborn as an infant and
occasionally even now). As
talked, Movi ran her hand across Nan's neck, cracked and lined like
a dry bed of
clay, but somehow soft.
Nan's arms, smelling faintly of wood smoke and corn
wrapped around her, shielding her like the shucks round a growing ear
corn or the cocoon round a caterpillar.
Nan's voice droned on and Movi's eyes grew heavy.
She tried to force them
open, to stay awake for the part about
the yucca root, how it was tough but the
suds that came from it were
gentle and had, in times past, formed an essential part
ceremony. Then would come Movi's favorite part, how Nan had called
that feisty infant after the
yucca root. Movi.
But long before Nan got to her
naming, Movi had fallen asleep.
Movi watched the red juice run down the corners of Johnnie Begay's mouth
as he sat against the stone wall of his house eating a
melon. Her own mouth was dry
with longing for a taste of it, but
Johnnie merely grinned at her, spat out the
seeds, and then dipped his
face back into the juicy red pulp, smacking and
A big piece. Big
enough to give a few bites away without missing them.
day was hot, too, even in the shade cast by the row of
houses. It wasn't as if,
whenever Nan gave her a pouch of parched corn, Movi didn't give him half
scrupulously counting out the pieces so they would each have the
A stunted yellow puppy, it's skin stretched tight over its bones,
sidled up to
Johnnie, who was too engrossed in the melon to notice.
Movi wondered whether
to warn him, but the dog moved before she
decided, snapping off a good-sized
chunk of the fruit and barely missing
"You maggot-brained coyote!"
Johnnie kicked at the dog, which shied out
of reach and then sat
down, tongue hanging, eyeing Johnnie and his melon.
Johnnie gave the dog a murderous look, then set the melon on the
"Keep an eye
on it," he said to Movi. Grabbing
a handful of stones, he took
off after the dog, his shouts and the dog's
yelps mingling into one sound as
they tore round the corner towards the plaza.
Movi looked at the melon. It
was mostly gone, less than half left, the half
that should have been
hers anyway. Johnnie had
kicked some dirt on it when
he chased off after the dog.
She picked it up and brushed away the dirt, her
with its sweetness, then licked her fingers, dirt and all. That was
mistake, because it only made her tongue ache for more. Deep red, the
was one of the last of the season.
No more until next summer, and Johnnie was
going to come back and
eat every bite.
I'll just eat it, she thought, and raised the melon to her mouth
suddenly self-conscious. The
eyes of the houses bored holes through her.
She clutched the watermelon to her side and bolted between the
to the trail that led down the mesa. She
had every right. It was her
Johnnie owed it to her. She half-jumped,
half-slid down the steep trail, knowing
that a false step could mean a
broken ankle. When she was
about a third of the
way down, she heard a shout.
Johnnie stood at the edge of the mesa above her,
yelling something unintelligible, though she had a pretty good idea
he was saying.
And then to her horror he twisted and swayed on the mesa's edge
forward over the cliff, his scream cutting through her.
Then he hit the ground.
With a little sob, Movi dropped the melon and tore back up the trail, then
turned and ran along the face of the cliff until she came to
where Johnnie lay
crumpled on his side, his head twisted unnaturally.
Blood flowed out his nose,
lining the corners of his mouth where
the watermelon juice had run earlier. At
first she thought he was dead, but when she put her hand against his neck she
felt a faint pulse.
A pulse, for what? To
push the blood slowly out of his body, to drain away
the traces of life
that were still in him? She
couldn't think, but stared at him
She had meant only to take his melon but along with it she had
stolen his life.
She stood and looked toward the trail, wishing for help but
explanations that would have to be made.
And then a voice behind her said,
Movi whirled around. But
no one was there. She
turned back to Johnnie,
watching him closely.
Could he have. . .?
Johnnie hadn't moved, hadn't spoken, she was certain.
She turned again,
heart pounding, and slowly looked in all four
"Crush me against the rock with your hands."
Then, on top of a boulder the height of her knees, she saw a wolf
as big and black as a tarantula but smoother and more delicately
"Crush me and heal the boy."
"I don't understand," said
The spider didn't answer.
"Help me," Movi cried.
"I don't understand."
She thought of her hand against the flesh of the spider and
As if it read her mind, the spider began moving away from her.
Johnnie was dying and it was her fault and the spider was just walking away.
"Help me!" she screamed at it, and her anger rising,
black as the spider. She
bent over and thrust her hand against it, feeling the crunch as its body
beneath her weight.
She stood there shaking, staring at the dark stain on her hand,
her other hand against the pulp on the rock.
Crush me and heal the boy, it had said.
She knelt beside Johnnie, her hands
black with the spider's
lifeblood, and laid them on his head.
was a command, a plea, a yearning, a prayer.
The blood cleared from Johnnie's nose and mouth.
Movi moved her hands to his neck, still skewed at an impossible
"Heal," she whispered.
And Johnnie's neck straightened. Slowly she worked
her way down, touching every part of his broken body with her own hands
bloodied from the spider's broken body.
Before she had finished she heard shouts and running footsteps and knew
that others had finally come to help.
But she couldn't stop. Her hands
compelled her. She
couldn't stop until his body was whole.
At last, she lifted
her hands from Johnnie's feet and raised her
head, only to see Nahutiwa looking
down at her, his face rigid with
anger. He had not come alone, and Movi
recognized Johnnie's mother among
the others with him. Johnnie
opened his eyes, and then sat up.
Nahutiwa's eyes flicked to Johnnie then turned back to
Movi. "What are
you" doing?" he asked. And,
as if his voice had given them the permission, everyone began talking at
once, their questions and accusations pelting her like stones.
It was too much. How
could she explain it when she didn't know herself
what had happened? Her
very bones ached with exhaustion, more than if she |
had worked in the sun
all day weeding corn. She
wanted Nan's arms around
her, stroking her hair and murmuring comfort,
easing the strange grief in her
She jumped up and with only a glance at the surprise on
darted around him and the cluster of people. Back to
the trail she ran, back up
the mesa, to her own house, startling Nan
who, after one look at her, opened
wide her arms. Movi inhaled the familiar scent of corn dust and wood smoke
burrowed deep into Nan, safe once more.
But safe in Nan's arms, Movi still heard Johnnie's voice as he
after her hoarse with anger.
"Thieving white witch!"
Now she wondered what he had meant. Why had he called her white
everyone knew her mother had been Hopi?
And did the healing of Johnnie
(the spider's healing, really)
make her a witch? Pressing deep into Nan, she
asked her, then felt
rather than saw Nan's frown and long sigh.
It was time for a new story.
"I tell you, she's a two-heart."
Johnnie was showing no effects from his fall, thought
Nahutiwa. He was
talking non-stop as they walked slowly back up the mesa. But Nahutiwa hardly
heard him. Johnnie, healthy, vigorous after
his fall off the mesa was an example
of a type of power Nahutiwa had never had, and the envy of it burned like hot
coals in his stomach.
"She stole my melon and then ran down the mesa, and when she
yelling at her, she took the form of a whirlwind and pushed me
off the cliff."
Nahutiwa doubted it, but Johnnie's mother and aunt, flanking him
made shocked exclamations.
"You should bring it up at the council," said Johnnie's
mother, a sour-faced
woman with a reputation for laziness. "We
don't need a two-heart here in the
village. She can go live with the whites."
"And where is that?" asked Nahutiwa dryly. As angry as
he was about Movi,
it seemed to Nahutiwa that Johnnie and his family
were manifestly ungrateful.
His question brought silence even from Johnnie because no one
Delbert Polacca's son
was the only one who had left the village since the war,
and he had never been heard from again.
Johnnie finally found his tongue. "If she's a two-heart, she
can find them."
"She's only eight, and she did save your life,"
Nahutiwa reminded him.
Expulsion was as close as the village got to a
"If she hadn't pushed me she wouldn't have needed to,"
he said so callously
that Nahutiwa wondered, not for the first time that
morning, why Movi had
was relieved when they reached the top of the mesa and separated.
He came to his house and stopped at the stone box beside his
door. The women of the
village often left food here, payment of sorts for the services he
them. Inside the box, with its heavy stone lid, the food was safe
half-starved dogs that gleaned the streets. He pried off the
lid and was rewarded
by the sight of some corn tortillas and an earthen
bowl full of mutton stew.
He carried the food to his table, a crude affair with twisted
juniper legs that sent
his mind back to the pre-war days of his
childhood. Formica tables, microwave
ovens, and food that knew no end to
its variety. In his memory,
that way of
living seemed more magical than the crystal he used for
Movi hadn't used a crystal.
As far as he could see she hadn't used anything.
A lifetime he'd searched to find stones that held healing power and an eight-year
old girl did it without anything.
Last week the twins had suddenly returned to his dreams and now
why. He had thought
that a half-white girl wouldn't be a threat -- the only talent
the white people had was for war, not healing. He should have remembered,
that twins came from the antelope people and that a child such as Movi,
formed from twins, had the antelope people's healing powers.
How could he
have been so blind?
Because on that night eight years ago he had had no choice. Nan had made
sure of that, challenging him in front of
everyone in the room. The
left him no choice either, for to have refused it when its
warmth told of healing
would have been to cut himself off from its
power. And he had come
doing that very thing. He
thought, grudgingly, that he ought to be grateful to
Nan for preventing him, but he still didn't trust her, those dark eyes that saw too
He opened one of the tortillas, still warm, and poured some of the stew into it,
his mind reeling with ways to discredit Movi and the
healing. Given Johnnie's
attitude, it wouldn't be hard.
Why should she steal away the respect and power
he had worked a
lifetime to earn?
And then, he remembered how she had bounded past him and run up
the mesa --
as frightened and as agile as if she were indeed an
antelope. Thin and dark, with
nothing to show her father was white, she
hadn't looked like a witch or a great healer.
She had just looked
Nahutiwa stared at his plate and sighed.
It was too complicated. Was
supposed to fight a child?
He rolled the tortilla around the stew and took a bite, but
found, after all, that
he had no appetite.
Movi heard the voice outside her door shrilly calling her name.
"Come in," she answered reluctantly.
Lately, the only visitors were people
in need of healing and
today she didn't want to be interrupted. She was making
pikami, spooning blue corn pudding onto dried corn leaves and then tightly
wrapping them to be ready for steaming. It was one of Nan's favorite dishes.
Lucy Yazzie pushed her way through the blanketed doorway. At ten, a year
younger than Movi, she was chubby and usually
Movi listened to Lucy's tearful account of her father's illness,
though her heart
sank at the thought of having to interrupt her cooking.
"Nothing's worked, and he can't stop coughing, so he can't
sleep or get any
rest or hold down any food." Lucy rubbed her eyes
with a dirty hand. "My
mother sent me to ask you to come."
Movi gave a despairing look at the unfinished
She had wanted
it in time for supper, to tempt Nan, who seemed to
eat less every day. "You
understand that I might not be able to help."
"I know. But please, just come," said Lucy with such
pleading that Movi
knew Lucy had missed what she was trying to tell her. That Movi only could
heal when a spider appeared, that it had
nothing to do with her own power or
"I'll come," she said, flinching at Lucy's ecstatic
response. On the way out,
she picked up the medicine bag that contained
the herbs Nan had taught her to
Just in case.
"I brought her," Lucy announced happily as soon as they
had both ducked
through the doorway into the room.
Silence, then the sharp barks of a man coughing.
A faint smell of vomit and
sweat hung in the air.
Lucy's father lay on a mat in the far corner of the room. A man,
beside him, had his back to the door. Lucy's mother stood
behind the man.
rested on Movi briefly, then escaped to the floor.
The squatting man turned and stood up. "Who?" he asked
in a deep voice.
saw suddenly, as recognition darkened the man's face, that it was
She hadn't even considered the possibility that Nahutiwa would be
her healings; everyone in the village knew that, though Nan said
never made a formal complaint to the village councils.
"Did you send for her?" Nahutiwa asked Lucy's mother in
a tight voice. She
shrugged, her eyes still lowered.
Nahutiwa fingered a transparent stone that sat in leather netting and hung from
a thong around his neck.
"For three days I've sat beside him and not once has
the crystal warmed." His voice challenged her -- dared her to heal
where he had
not been able to.
"I didn't know you were here," Movi stammered, and fled
back toward the
door. Nahutiwa's wisdom and knowledge about healing were
could she succeed where he had failed?
She needed to get back to Nan.
as she bent to go through the doorway, she caught a motion on the floor. A
wolf spider. She drew her breath in sharply.
Not now. Not
in front of him.
She shut her eyes tight and opened them again, hoping the spider
gone. But it wasn't. And
she thought of going through the door as if she had
never seen the
spider, but then the death of Lucy's father would follow her home,
would eat and sleep with her.
Unhappily she sank down on one knee and pressed her hand hard against
the spider. As
always, she felt a wrenching inside her, as if a giant hand were
squeezing the blood from her heart.
Though it happened at every healing, the
pain of it always took
her by surprise. She rubbed
her other hand against the
crushed spider, then walked quickly over to
Lucy's father, head down, avoiding
She laid her hands on the sick man's head and chest and throat, each time
commanding him, in a low voice, to heal.
She dared not look up at Nahutiwa,
but she felt his anger anyway,
scorching the room.
Lucy's father stopped coughing, drew a long easy breath and then his face
split in a huge grin that told Movi where Lucy got her smile. And for a moment,
just a moment, Movi basked in his relief and happiness
and forgot the pain and
the anger that had gone before.
"Thank you," said Lucy's father, but before Movi could
voice cut through the room.
"How are you doing this?"
Movi finally met his eyes. Anger
there, as she had expected, and outrage, but
a genuine puzzlement, too.
That more than the anger surprised her.
"I don't know," she stammered.
"If a spider comes, then there's a healing."
"Spider?" he asked incredulously. "Why a
Movi shook her head and felt her face go red.
She didn't know why the
spiders came or where they came from. Or
why one hadn't appeared for Nan.
"If you don't know the source of your power, it could be
evil." The anger
surged back into Nahutiwa's voice.
"It could be witchcraft." And with that
he turned and strode out of the house.
He left a silence in his wake and a room full of people who
meet her eyes.
Movi stole a last look at Lucy's father, then left the house
without a word.
Once outside, she ran all the way home.
The aroma of steaming pikami hit her as she came through the
door, and Nan,
slumped against the wall on the stone bench that ran
along the west side of the
room, sat up.
"I thought I'd finish it for you," said Nan.
But what it had cost her was all too evident.
She seemed almost too tired to
speak. Lifting the lid off the
pottery bowl on the wood stove, Movi flipped a
couple of the wrapped
bundles into a flat dish and carried it over to Nan.
sat in silence for a moment, gingerly unwrapping the hot
"Did a spider come?" Nan asked.
Movi nodded and almost told Nan about her encounter with
instead she asked, "Where do the spiders come
Nan's fingers stilled; she leaned against the wall with her eyes
"Nobody remembers the old ways anymore," she said, and to Movi's dismay
Nan's eyes began to water. It had been this way lately; the tears that
scarcely remember seeing on Nan's face came easily now.
And the soft words
Movi had grown up with were more often now
"My mother or my grandmother would have known," said
were healers, too, though they didn't have your gift.
But we. . ." two more
tears tracked down her cheeks, "we have forgotten everything.
right about that."
A long pause. Then
Nan opened her eyes and said, "I think they come
Spider Grandmother had a shrine in front of a cave on the east side of
the mesa. That was
all Movi knew about her, except for the stories that had
circulated among the children in hushed voices, that Spider Grandmother
cave jealously and that anyone who entered it would be swept
"Tell me about her," said Movi, but Nan shook her head.
"I can't remember."
The despair in her voice unnerved Movi "I can't remember
stories." She set down
her bowl and rose stiffly to her feet, walking with tired,
to her mat. She lay down with her back to Movi, pulling the rough wool
blanket over her shoulders.
The blanket moved, shuddering in the rhythm of tears though Movi
sound. And Movi felt her own heart contract with each movement.
When was it
going to end?
Nan's pikami was virtually untouched.
Movi rewrapped it as tenderly as if she
were blanketing Nan
herself and carried the bowls back to the wood stove, forcing
high, forbidding it to drop to the floor and search for a spider, as it
searched day after day until her eyes hurt from the looking.
This time she wouldn't
look, because she couldn't bear not seeing
Tomorrow, she would go to the shrine and ask Spider Grandmother to send
Spider Grandmother was keeping her own company.
Movi had visited her
shrine daily, had piled it high with
offerings of cornmeal and dried ears of corn.
But the birds and the chipmunks seemed to be the only ones
interested in the
corn atop the mound of rocks in front of Spider
Grandmother's cave. If
Grandmother noticed, she gave no sign.
One desperate day, Movi had even entered the cave. That morning
come early so that she could be at the shrine to greet the sun's
rising. The sky to
above Antelope Mesa changed from indigo to pink to gold and suddenly
the sun flashed on the horizon, catching Movi by surprise and blinding her. She
turned away but the light still played in her eyes and
she thought she saw an ear
of corn. A young ear of corn. And as she
watched, she saw its shucks being
ripped off one by one, until, stripped
naked in the unyielding sun, the ear dried
up and died.
"Please," she whispered to the shrine, "I can't
live without her. Please,
In the silence, her eyes kept coming back to the cave's entrance. All the
stories she had heard about the cave, stories about the
underworld and Spider
Grandmother and her tricks, flooded over her.
But she had no more time for
Each day Nan's skin hung on more loosely on her bones. Slowly,
Movi walked to the entrance of the cave.
The hole leading into it was so low to the ground that she had to
crawl through but after a few feet the ceiling arched and she
stood up, her heart
all her fears, the cave seemed ordinary -- sand and bare rock.
No underworld here, she thought, relief mingled with
disappointment. And then
she realized the walls weren't bare after all.
Hundreds, thousands of webs lined
the cave's interior as uncountable spiders wove their silk homes across the dark
crevices in the rock. No wonder people thought the cave belonged
She searched, her eyes straining in the dim light, for the one
spider she knew
she wouldn't find.
When she finally gave up and crawled back out of the cave,
the brilliance of the morning made a mockery of the darkness inside her.
Not everyone who had died in those numbing years immediately
war had been buried. So
many died so fast, frequently whole families at the same
often there were no survivors to care.
Corpses rotted on the ground.
And the stench -- for the few left to be aware of it -- the
stench made the very
earth and air seem unclean.
But in those early days after the war, Nahutiwa had journeyed
twice to the
edge of the mesa for a burial.
The first time he and his younger brother Eldon
the weight of their father's body, until they came to the crevice
out by his mother. They dropped him down the split between the rocks
then spent the rest of the afternoon piling rocks upon the body --
from predators. Nahutiwa's mother had watched with a face as hard as the
grave-stones, not speaking until they had finished.
"It's not right," she said then. "There should
have been corn pollen and
someone to do the prayers."
Shoulders sagging, she walked in silence back
to the village.
Neither boy had answered her.
What could they have said? The clan leader
who knew the prayers had been among the first to die.
Now, as Nahutiwa piled stone after stone into another crevice, he was
reminded of the second time. The
weight had been less for it was Eldon he
And his mother, seeing Eldon's small frame against the rocks,
hadn't had the strength that time to remain silent.
She had wept just as Betty
Yazzie wept now as she looked now into
crack where her nine-year-old son
And Nahutiwa felt as helpless in the face of Betty's grief as he
winter day standing beside his mother. As empty-handed. Nothing
to give --
no ritual, no ceremony to ease the passage of the dead one
and offer even a
tenuous strand of comfort to the living.
Then he had been a boy. But
now, past his sixtieth birthday and facing old
age, he still stood by
the crevice as empty-handed as he had been when he was
ten. All that knowledge, so painstakingly collected, even the power
from the crystal, failed to gain him the villagers'
"How do you know?" they asked again and again at the
councils. "How do
you know that these will be the ceremonies the gods want." He was a scholar
and a healer, but they wanted a prophet.
And when he died, his knowledge would die with him, and still the
would have no comfort at their burials.
The enormity of it overwhelmed him.
He reached out to Betty and pulled her to him, clung to her as
"I'm sorry," he said, his own eyes watering. "I'm
Movi kept going to the shrine.
What else could she do? One day she
returned to find Nan wrapped in a blanket in front of the stove,
death itself, but with a smile dancing in her eyes for the
first time in weeks.
"Movi!" Nan's greeting vibrated with joy, with life,
and Movi's heart leapt.
Maybe Spider Grandmother had heard her after
Nan's hair, coarse and
grey, hung loose reaching almost to her waist. She
pushed it back
from her face, grimaced ruefully, then asked, "Help me?"
Nodding, Movi moved behind Nan and ran her fingers gently through her
hair, smoothing it in preparation for putting it in a bun.
thousand times she
had done this, only this time her hands were shaking
and she wanted to bury
her face in Nan's hair and squeeze her hard and
shout for the joy of seeing her
smile. But she forced her hands into the
old patterns and pulled the sides back
and twisted the hair into the oblong bun shape, then began securing it with a
piece of cotton string.
Until what she saw made her hands freeze in midair.
A lump on Nan's neck,
a lump the size of a turkey egg lying just
below her ear. It was death
she was looking at. Death growing on Nan's neck, hiding like a coward under her skin.
And now Movi knew what was devouring Nan, eating the
life from her.
Nan turned and her smile faded; her eyes filled with pity.
"So you've seen it,"
she said at last.
"I'll heal you," said Movi. "It'll go away. You're
Nan shook her head. "I'm
not better, Movi, I'm happier. Because I know . . .
I had a dream, Movi. I saw Spider Grandmother. She told me to get ready, that
journey to the underground was soon."
"No!" She hadn't meant to shout but that's how it came
out. Was Nan just
going to give up? Nan, who fought for
everything, who was the only one in the village with the courage to
stand up to Nahutiwa, was she just going to lie down
on her mat
Nan reached out to Movi and drew her close, holding her tight, rocking
slightly as she used to do when Movi was a small child.
Only now the strong
brown arms were trembling sticks and the
"I dreamt of the underworld," said Nan, and the joy
crept back into her voice.
"Spider Grandmother was there.
Did you know she dresses as a Navajo?
mother and your mother, Elsie, were there and I remembered all
the old stories."
Movi found she couldn't speak.
After a long silence Nan said, "My poor
Movi," and Movi
felt the warmth
of tears dropping on her hair.
Tears for her, for Movi, not for the pain and death
ahead for Nan.
Movi pushed free of Nan's arms. "I'll heal you. I'll heal you or I'll never
"Don't say that," said Nan, the old fire flashing in
her eyes. "How can you
say that? You've been watching for a spider
ever since I got sick. And
you seen one? No. Because I am to make this journey."
Had she seen one though her eyes had searched the stone floor,
every crack in the stone walls, searched until they ached from the searching?
Suddenly the room was suffocating her; there was no air left to breathe.
ran out the door, and then down the trail that wound down the
mesa, ran in a
furious, mindless descent. Her breath came now in ragged gasps but she didn't
stop until she
reached Spider Grandmother's cave.
No more sitting in silence.
No more begging. She
dove into the entrance
of the cave and scraped across the rocks,
heedless of the flesh she was leaving
"I hate you!" She
whispered first, then screamed, pounding her hands into
the webs on the
rocks, smashing the spiders. She
would kill them, as Spider
Grandmother was killing Nan.
She beat her hands against the rocks, ignoring
the blood that ran
down her arms, ignoring the stab in her heart as each spider
died. She would search them out, just as she had searched for a
wolf spider in
vain, and she would crush them all.
Her hands throbbed from the beating; still
she slammed them
against the bodies of the spiders.
"I hate you," she screamed, and suddenly realized it
was Nan's face she was
seeing, Nan she was pummeling with her bloody
hands. And the horror of it was
a knife cutting her in two, but she
could not stop. She killed spider after spider,
pounding the rocks again
and again and again. How could Nan leave her? Did the
before the butterfly was formed? Did
the shucks fall off before
the ear was ripe?
Finally she dropped face down on the ground, too tired to move.
How long she lay there, she couldn't tell but suddenly she felt a
of air. Turning on her back, she gasped. The cave had vanished
and she stared
at the stars in the night sky. And even as she watched, a
part of the sky began
to glow, and it intensified and took the shape of
a woman, tall and graceful,
the gathered skirt and blue velveteen shirt of the Navajos, her silver
swept back gracefully into a bun. Her mouth was tender and
flowed like rivers from her eyes. She extended an arm and
from it floated a
thread that fell with silken grace from the sky. A
mountain sprang from where
the thread touched the earth.
Another thread covered the mountain with trees. Another brought
bluebirds, sparrows and hawks to inhabit the trees. Movi
watched as the
woman sent thread after thread until the earth was a jumble of
a web so intricate that only its maker, connected to it in every way,
could comprehend it.
Then the woman reached out, and from the maze of threads netted
her, she pulled a single one, hand over hand on the silver thread, she pulled it
to her. At
the other end was Nan. And as Nan, drawn by the silver strand, lifted
from the earth and began crossing the gulf of sky between her and the
Movi saw that another thread extended from Nan to the earth. She
see where it led and then, in astonishment, found it coming
from her heart, a
thread of silver, sticky to the touch.
And then she saw that there were many
threads connected to her,
sparkling in the starlight, but two shone the brightest:
the one to the
woman and the one to Nan.
It is Spider Grandmother, thought Movi. And she watched as Nan
her journey across the sky and into Spider Grandmother's
thread to Nan was still intact; Movi felt warmth
pulsing through it and when she
touched her fingers to it, she smelled
wood smoke and corn dust.
But then the sky darkened and Spider Grandmother faded and Movi
the close, stale air of the cave. The pain in her hands and
arms throbbed to life.
"Come back," she called, but her voice echoed
Then in despair she cried out to the empty cave, "If you
won't help me, who
And out of the darkness came a woman's voice, faint but distinct.
When Nahutiwa awoke, sweating and shivering, frightened and reassured all
at the same time, he was certain he had dreamed the last
dream. Never before had
he been able to see the faces of the twins.
This time, though, they dragged him
deep into the cave and began
to devour him, starting with his feet and eating their
way slowly up his body. Suddenly they were at
his head, looming over him large
as the night sky, swallowing him in
their immensity. One face
belonged to Movi.
was his own.
What puzzled him most was the sense of well-being he had felt at the end of
the dream. Only
the gods would make being eaten alive seem like a good thing.
But what did it matter?
If there was one lesson he'd learned, it was that
thought he knew what the gods had planned for him, he was wrong.
He had thought some powerful twins would threaten him but instead
the gods had
sent a little girl to steal from him the villagers'
confidence he had tried so hard to
He had given up trying to understand.
Given it up the day he found a lump
growing at the base of his
neck. Once he thought he
walked the path of a great
healer, a restorer of ancient rituals, but
now he knew where his path led: to death.
He rose and washed the sweat off his face from a bowl of water he
his table. The
light was fading; it was almost time for a fire.
What was supposed to have been a short nap had
taken most of the afternoon.
began breaking up some branches, starter for the fire, when he heard a
at the door. A timid knock, so soft he thought he might be
imagining it. But when he
opened the door, he saw Movi.
He tried to cover his astonishment.
She was filthy, caked with dirt and blood,
tear-streaked, her hair wild. . .
"Your hands," he gasped.
"What have you been doing?"
He was even more astonished when, in a broken voice, she told him that she'd
seen Spider Grandmother, who had sent Movi to him.
What did he have to do
with Spider Grandmother?
"Help me," she pleaded, fresh tears in her eyes. She looked on the verge of
collapse. "Please. Please
come with me."
He stepped toward her and she evidently took that as consent for she turned
and started back down the alley.
He had to stretch his legs to catch up with her.
He followed her without speaking to her home, into the house he
had last entered
at Movi's birthing.
Nan lay on a mat in the far corner of the room, the corner
where Elsie had lain
twelve years before. One look at her, emaciated, struggling for air, and he knew
why Movi had brought him.
"Please," Movi's low voice didn't conceal her
desperation. "Heal her."
Nahutiwa touched the crystal on the thong round his neck, but he knew even
before it chilled his fingers that it was useless.
He knelt beside Nan and circled
the stone, cold and lifeless in
his hand, around her body. Nothing.
He turned to Movi, who stood rigid with hope, and hated the words that
came from his mouth. "It
has no power," he said with a touch to the crystal. "She's
dying, Movi. Tell her goodbye. Send
her in peace."
He thought she was going to refuse, but at last she went over and
Nan's head in her arms. She
spoke in such low tones that he couldn't hear what
she said, but soon she didn't speak at all and the movement of Nan's breathing
The silence was taut with Movi's grief.
A motion caught his eye. A
spider, a black wolf spider, crawling across the
Nahutiwa heard Movi gasp, saw her ease out from under Nan's body,
her squat beside the spider. She crushed it and rubbed her hands in
quickly returned to Nan. She
laid her hands on Nan's head. "Heal!" she
Nahutiwa watched, his heart breaking.
For now he finally understood what
the gods wanted. He watched as
she tried again and again, losing confidence
with each command.
When at last she turned to him, stunned incomprehension
face, he said softly, each word a stone in his mouth, "I think the
was meant for me."
She stared, not understanding.
He pointed to the lump on his neck. She
stood motionless for so long that he thought she still didn't
came to him and lifted her hands towards his neck.
"Wait," Nahutiwa said.
She paused, hands in air.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"The gods don't consult us in their decisions.
A ghost of a bitter smile and then her hands rested on his neck. And, as he
felt the surge of life flow from them, he knew the meaning of the
each other -- she the disease that ravaged his body, and he the grief
that crushed her soul. And together, they would heal the spiritual wound left gaping by the war.
For they were twins, two healers, one who talked with the gods
and one who
had preserved the knowledge that came from them. Two that
together could bring
his people an understanding, a ritual of comfort and binding and healing. He
old, but the gods would grant him the time.
Already, his strength was returning.
Movi dropped her hands, the healing completed.
Now it was his turn. He
pulled her to him, encircled her with his arms, with his love, with his
and held her against his chest while she wept.
© Susan J. Kroupa 2001