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Authors: Tracey Lindberg

Birdie

BOOK: Birdie
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BIRDIE
Tracey Lindberg
A NOVEL

Dedication

For Cindy

 

Kakinow anniki okawipanak, nimisinanak, niseeminanak, kaki mantotacik, apo anniki westawow mekwac eka ka piswenemicik, kiwicikapowistatinan, kakinow annis omma kiwakotonanow.

To all of the mothers and little mothers, sisters and cousins who are murdered, missing, disappeared or who feel invisible. We are one. We are with you. We are family.

CONTENTS

Dedication

Map

Prologue
Where she is now – when she made two journeys
ôtah mâcipayiw
: It starts from here

1: WHO SHE IS
nayahcikewiyiniw
: a person who bears things on her/his back

2: AT HOME
witokemakan
: one who lives with the family

3: BERNICE TRAVELS LIGHTLY
awasispihk
: before. the time before

4: WHERE SHE IS
kasakes
: a glutton, one who eats a lot

5: MANY TRIPS, MANY SUFFERINGS
misiwanacihow
: someone who fell victim to suffering

6: NOWHERE
anisinowin
: lost. the act of losing one’s way or being lost

7: WHO WILL LOVE YOU
awîyak ka kehnipat
: someone who slept

8: WHERE SHE WAS
kakosoweht
: s/he is the one who is afraid of people

9: WHAT WAS DONE WAS DONE
wahkewisiw
: s/he is vulnerable to sickness

10: SHE WRITES HER OWN STORY
omekinawew
: one who shares food

11: THE LAST TRAVEL BEFORE THE FINAL DESTINATION
nakipayiw
: s/he stops travelling, s/he stops driving

12: LOVE THE ONE THAT BRUNG YOU
Mîcimâpôhkêw
: s/he makes stew, s/he makes broth

13: HOME COMING/COMING HOME
Kiwehtahiwew
: s/he takes people home with him/her

14: CEREMONY – WHAT SHE MUST DO
iskwew
: woman

15: THE SHIFT-WHO SHE HAS BECOME
otâcimow
: a Storyteller, one who tells legends

Epilogue
WHERE SHE BEGINS – WHEN MAGGIE MADE TWO JOURNEYS
ati-itohtew
: s/he begins going along

Acknowledgements

For Book Clubs:
An Author Interview

About the Author

Praise for BIRDIE

Credits

Copyright

About the Publisher

Map

BERNICE’S JOURNEY

1.
Home
Loon Lake

2. Christly School and the Pecker Palace

3. Care: Ingelson family

4. Street life (Edmonton)

5. The San

6.
Lola’s
Home

Prologue

WHERE SHE IS NOW – WHEN SHE MADE TWO JOURNEYS

ôtah mâcipayiw
: It starts from here

M
AGGIE SITS IN THE OLD TAVERN
, amongst friends. The only spirits in the place, in the place with the endless celebration, are those that swirl around them, little tornadoes of light, laughter, love and grace. She reaches out and touches one, is lit up, feels her littlebigwomandaughter/mother and knows the love by heart. The sensation is one of satiation: full and fed. With the same light, laughter, love and grace. She was peaceful the moment she left. She is at peace when she touches the spirit she knows is in Bernice. Her girl is rich, rich with possibility and lifeforce. It fills Maggie and the room and everyone is awed for a moment while it passes through and over them. Her girl is filled with feelings that Maggie only gets to feel now, in this place.

She feelhears clatter and clapping as someone enters the bar. It’s
Kohkom,
dressed for ceremony. With some red heels on, to boot.

And, ready to dance.

1

WHO SHE IS

nayahcikewiyiniw
: a person who bears things on her/his back

pawatamowin
*

In her dream, she’s not in the lean-to in front of
Pimatisewin,

but in Gastown in Vancouver. She is flying in her nightie, through the cobbled streets, amazed by the smells of spices and food. She opens the door to a kitchen cuisine store. As the red door opens she sees the figure of a portly denim-clad white man with his back to her. When he turns to face her, the Frugal Gourmet holds out his hand and, taking her claw, pulls her to the window of the little shop.

He points outside to
Pimatisewin
and says to her in Cree, “She needs some tiramisu.”

*
Dream.


Life. Shorthand. Tree of Life.

B
ERNICE OWNS TWO PAIRS OF SHOES
. She thinks you can tell a lot about someone by the shoes she wears. She owns a pair of sneakers for work and a pair of five-inch heels she found at a Sally Ann. Both serve a purpose. Neither, she thinks, tells you anything about her except how she spends her time. You can tell a lot about
most
people by their shoes, she thinks.

How she spends her time is more and more often a mystery to her. Hours seem to slip away without her noticing. Once in a while, Bernice will find herself sitting so still and quiet that she might be asleep. She is not, though. While she is not entirely sure what she is doing, she is quite sure of what she is not doing. And. Sleeping. Is not on the list.

When she first started to feel that something was happening, it was her body that informed her, and not her mind. Sometimes, she would become aware that her legs were cramping. From sitting in one place or position for too long. Or. Maybe. From the control it took not to be where she was. She couldn’t tell. The odd time, it happened when someone was around. During those moments she was not aware of what she was doing but was almost always aware of “coming back.” When she did. Back when she did come back. Inevitably, someone without patience or kindness would be snapping their fingers at her, pushing at her with their foot, or, on one occasion, yelling at her. (“Hey you fucking dummy, I am talking to you!”)

Sometimes, she would sit (she presumes motionless) for so long in the cold or wind that her scars felt papery with the cold air and her eyes were dry.

Back when she did come back, she would sit in the park, watching the fishing boats come in and the wind whip up the water. Moving and immobile at the same time, she had been content to just sit, watch and stare herself into her time. She would not try this at home. Would never have done so in Edmonton. But Gibsons is just safe. Enough.

Many people, she thinks, might have found this … this vacancy of her self – confusing or terrifying. Bernice didn’t. That vacancy she felt was somehow absorbing; it sopped up everything around her, making her lighter. Lying in her bed, now, she thinks of that period as the time when she learned to leave. It became part of her, a continuum of change, growing in her until she could fully move and bend. Memories. Bad thoughts. Time. It felt like a rock skipping on water, so much so that she strangely is not shocked when she sinks. She has been strange for so long that she cannot even attempt to understand what normal might feel like. For her, coming back into her self after her time felt precisely normal. She may have felt this, but when she found cuts on her feet or bruises on her hands after one of these spells, or when she remembers the one time she came back with blood in and on her mouth and no cut, she did wonder where she had been. On that day, the last day of the boats on the water, she looked down and saw a note in her scarred and cut scabby hand:

muskeg

grapefruit

lemon

cumin

It is not her writing. It never is. She doesn’t recognize her own handwriting anymore, though. It would have been hard to write through the bandages she had on her fingers anyway. In the time before she sank, her skin became mottled with some sort of fungus. Then, it looked scabby and raw. Now, in the light of her bedroom, it looks a bit like the blister rust that clings to the side of the lodgepole (pine) trees back home. When it first showed up, she would meticulously pick and scrape the rough scaly skin off what was first only her elbows, but which has now become attached to her calves, knees, hips, left thigh and, most recently, her fingers. The skin, which she peeled and let thicken, looks nothing like new skin from a fresh cut now. It resembles a peeled section of grapefruit, with the layering of tissue organized and neat. As the blisters spread she feels, instead of alienated from her skin, more at home in it. Like it is starting to look like she feels inside of it.

The more she scratched at it, the more it seemed to spread. She didn’t mind, though, she thinks of herself as habitable. Desirable by something. More importantly, she thinks that she is somehow becoming. Something. Else.

It was hard to hide her hands from Lola and she feels relief now that no one pays attention to such things as sores. Back before – before she changed? Lay down? Sank? Before now, each day when she went in to work she would tape her fingers, wear long-sleeved shirts, favour the side of her neck without the creeping growth and hope that Lola would not notice. Bernice doesn’t like conflict and Lola most certainly would have expressed her disapproval of her brown and angry red hands touching pastries, cake dough and mixing bowls if
she’d got a look at it. Lola has an opinion about everything and she most certainly would not have hesitated to make hers known. Bernice shudders – to an outsider it would look like a little tremor – to think what would happen if Lola found out that she ended up in Gibsons because of
The Beachcombers.

She’s not sure when it started, this – well, she hates to say, obsession. Somewhere along the way (before the Academy, before the Ingelsons, before Edmonton and before Gibsons), though, she seemed to have become preoccupied with these, these thoughts about Pat John. She didn’t think it was out of control or anything. She just thinks he seems like a really nice guy. Like, getting his family parts on
The Beachcombers
whenever there was a need for more Indians.

Like everyone else, she watched his skinny arms in a cutoff T-shirt when the show came on in the early seventies. She waited for him to fall in love, but he never really did. And yes, she even followed him in the eighties when he seemed to be living on a diet of starch and sugar. But her love for Pat John flourished when he was playing young Jesse. Twenty years older than her, but still achievable: a healthy, working Indian man.

Anyhow, that’s how she got here, to Gibsons, B.C. Well, actually, she got here via her friend Lettie from Sechelt. Lettie’s old man was in the San at the same time as Bernice. They offered her some smoked salmon at lunch in the minty green hospital cafeteria, and while she never talked to them, just listened, Bernice found out they lived in Sechelt. So, once released and it became clear what she had to do, it seemed natural that she should show up on their doorstep. If Lettie
thought it odd that a big Cree woman who had never spoken to her and who was institutionalized with her husband a year earlier should show up on her doorstep, she never let on. She (her old man was off fishing) let Bernice in, fed her some fish and bannock and was happy to have someone to talk to. Bernice took care of the kids while Lettie went shopping, cleaned the house and cooked. Even in her silence, even as she learned to absent her body, she kept Lettie company. One time Lettie took her and the kids to the Sechelt inlet, and while the kids ran around playing Bernice took in the water, the mountains and the air. The air smelled so clean. She had forgotten the smell of air, water, animal and life.

Lettie’s people lived in four little villages, not really like a rez at all. Many of the men worked in fishing and fisheries and some of the women, like Lettie, worked in town. While she liked staying with Lettie and while the kids really latched on to her, Bernice wanted some quiet once in a while. It was a bit of a relief when Lettie’s old man came home. Bernice took that to mean it was her time to go. She didn’t feel too comfortable under the same roof as him, anyhow, so the next day she went into Gibsons to look for a job. From a Help Wanted sign set in an immaculate-looking window with precise letters that read “Lola’s Little Slice of Heaven” Bernice found herself both a job and a home. After requiring her to make biscuits from scratch, Lola hired Bernice and offered her the apartment above the shop as well. It didn’t seem to bother her that Bernice didn’t do more than nod or slowly smile during the interview; in fact, she probably hadn’t noticed. Lola, as it turned out, was a chatterer. As a result, Bernice
moved into the apartment above the restaurant (moved in: the Aer Lingus bag, a poster tube and a scabby old suitcase that brought to mind couches that you find on the street). It has been precisely three months since she left the San. Three months since she has been on the road. Three months since she had the dream.

The dream. In the dream, Jesse, Pat John, carved a ring from a tree and asked her to live with him. She left the hospital the morning after she had the dream. And, since Gibsons housed the actual Molly’s Reach where TV Jesse worked – there she was.

She knows she is lucky to get this job, especially since Lola’s Little Slice of Heaven did not include much interaction with, as Lola called all people with her own lack of pigmentation, “brownies.” It wasn’t so bad. Although, Bernice did have to shame her into changing the name of her “Happy Squaw Squares!” to brown sugar kisses. And Lola was not, well actually she was, as bad as you might think. But Bernice thinks that Lola has a really big heart and a head for numbers. You have to admire those parts of her even if you wouldn’t invite her over for dinner, she supposes. She’d run into Lolas before in her life. Sure, her name was different and sometimes she was even a he, but it was the same person. Lolas were almost always fascinated because they had never met an Indian before.

I wonder how fascinated she’d be if she knew that I’d been fucked before I was eleven,
Bernice thinks.
That I smoked pot every day; that I have read every Jackie Collins novel ever written – even the bad ones. Nope, that dying savage thing is what floats her boat.

Lola had even called her “stoic” one day. That time, Bernice
laughed and smiled and spat in the old bird’s coffee when she turned to answer the phone.

So, her brief stay at the bakery has not been without friction. But, the thing that she keeps reminding herself of is that she came here with a goal in mind and that someday all of this sacrifice will be worth it. Sometimes she imagines it – Jesse walking in for some mocha cheesecake or for a snack. Later, she corrects the thought – just because he worked in Gibsons does not mean that he lives there.

Maybe, though, he will come back and visit,
she thinks.

Anyhow, most often she pictures him alone, travelling in a jeep, stopping in at Starbucks (which would have to replace Ben’s Bean There, Done That coffee shop) across the street. He’d be just about to hop in the jeep and then something would cause him to look into Lola’s. He’d walk over, with that look he had when he decided to leave Molly’s Reach that time. Serious and driven, the look told Bernice. He would walk into Lola’s serious and driven.

Perplexed and torn (which is almost as good as serious and driven), he’d saunter, coffee in hand, into the restaurant. He was never actually perplexed or torn on
The Beachcombers,
but he was a real person after all. She always stopped on this part because she cannot drum up feelings for whomever Pat John looks like now. She is the same age he was when he took the role on the show. That would make him forty-five or fifty now, at least.

She has never told anyone about Jesse. Sure, family figured it out – what with her precisely scheduled TV shows and with the pictures she kept. But no one outside of the house
knew about her Jesse love. Especially not those guys she dated from home. Sometimes, if the guy had long hair, she pressed her lashes close together and looked at him through the lashed slits and he would almost look a bit like Jesse in the episode where he had two full lines to speak. Two verbs and even an adverb.

Nobody in Gibsons looks like Jesse. Everyone in Gibsons is very tanned – much darker than Bernice. And they also have good teeth. Lola told her there is fluoride in the water at Gibsons and that they probably didn’t have it up north. Bernice keeps meaning to ask someone about that, but she can’t do it. She doesn’t want Auntie Val to worry – she was pretty freaked out when Bernice left. When she decided to go, she just took down her ancient pictures of Jesse (stolen from the Edmonton CBC office door) which she had since she was eleven, packed up a few things and was gone.

Thinking about the way she felt, about packing to move to be near Pat John, she feels a little silly. After all, he is likely an old man now. If she were to open her eyes, she knows she would see his picture from where she lies on her bed. It now hangs on what were the bare walls of the little studio above the bakery.

When she got there the place was sorely in need of some decorating. She didn’t put up her pictures right away – she kept trying to figure out if the posters were the problem or if the posters came after the problem. Ordering seemed difficult, and she could not decide if her mind was skipping ahead to another time when she didn’t want the posters up or if they needed to be there, like a reference book.

There’s one that she knew she won’t put up, that she never put up, of Jesse in a 1983 episode, the one where he punched a wall because he was so angry with Relic. She remembers that episode, that whole season, really clearly because that was the year that the show started coming on a half-hour later. She was still going to her uncle’s even though her mom had quit macramé. Now instead, every Sunday, her mom and Auntie Maisie drove to bingo while uncle Larry watched her alone. Her mom and auntie were both on a losing streak that year. All that remained of the macramé class was nubby wall hangings, nubby plant hangers and nubby placemats. Her dad had taken off by then and she spent a lot of time thinking about the Cunninghams, Partridges and Bradys. Their white skin, white teeth and white walls without flaws.

BOOK: Birdie
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