by Sharma Shields

Chapter One

Redemption

The streetwalker was killed by a reputable husband and father.  He buried her in his backyard, not far from his bedroom window.  His wife, unknowing, planted flowers.

There was also May, the suffragist, the Best Cook of the Coeur d’Alenes.  She, too, came from nothing.  She hated the Seattle suffragists.  Militant cows, she said.  May married rich, bought an elegant apartment downtown, and descended from it patiently to persuade the fine gentleman to her cause.  They held the doors open for her, polite if irritated.  They reminded her of her blind, helpless grandfather, and she treated them with a similar care and condescension.

Hangman Creek is now known as Latah.  Long ago, a daughter of Red Echo was executed there.  On misty days she materializes alongside her Palus brothers, the gray doors of their bodies not so much as hanging, but opening.

Chapter Two

Birth

As a young girl, the streetwalker captured butterflies. Her brother was alive then, vibrant, jeering. He fashioned her prisoners to the corkboard with a shining silver pin. Years later, exhausted and hungry, she looked down at the Spokane Falls, admiring the violent rapids, which fluttered and folded over themselves like white gossamer wings.

May cared for her ailing grandfather until he passed.  A famous philosopher once commented: Women learn about life from giving birth, and men learn about life from observing death.  May watched Grandfather thrum with his last breath, the flower of her life finally blooming.

The Palus woman, contrarily, did learn a bit about life from giving birth.  She was a child, too, slim-legged, small-breasted, when the infant emerged.  It was summer.  She lay spent beside the baby in the dark, nursing him. Horses, slaughtered by howitzers, were buried nearby.

Chapter Three

Guilt (or: About the author)

The streetwalker says: “What right does she have? She knows nothing about me. This is all fiction. The dirt is heavy on my face. It tastes like nothing, like dirt. Above me are the flowers, and the weeds.”

May says: “She’s a nice person, I guess. A little dull. Unfocused. Sometimes she stares at the Internet while her children scream and protest. She’ll pass an entire day in sweatpants and fuzzy pink socks. I’m not saying she needs to borrow my corset or anything, but I question her life choices.”

The Palus woman says: “I don’t know much about her.  I’ve heard she’s irresponsible with money, newly broke. The view from her front window includes beautiful winter trees and a house with a missing shutter. As a girl, she owned a horse: Molly. She did not take good care of that horse.”

~

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