Love Song With Hummingbirds

Exerpt from her novel Sweet Grass Season

Judith Nakken

Copyright 2002 by Judith Nakken


Photo (c) 2003 by Richard Loller.
Photo (c) 2003 by Richard Loller.

Tally Jo Carver waved to her staff of one Caucasian and four Sioux or Assiniboine women. They’d done some good catch-up work in the month she’d been working as Controller of the Fort Peck Tribes, and her smile of goodnight was not forced.

Now she was, indeed, alone. She had not heard from Joshua, and must sit quietly to make her decision. That done, Tally left the office quickly and drove to the other end of the reservation. She parked in front of the oddly placed arbors that created Grandfather Raymond’s entrance. Honeysuckle was blooming on several, its scent so fragrant in the warm afternoon air that it warned how cloying it would be in the cool of early morning. Busy hummingbirds whirred just above her head as she gathered her nerve and walked through the atrium to the door of the screened porch. “Grandfather Raymond? Are you there?” When there was no answer she knocked, staccato on the aluminum door.

Dora came, white streaks on a strawberry apron. “Tally Carver!” The housekeeper spoke loudly, for Raymond to hear. “How nice to see you again. Raymond is just finishing his supper. We eat early, so I can get on home. Come on in, Tally.” She unhooked the screen door and leaned to speak softly to the young woman who looked so different than the last time she was there.

“Hope this isn’t bad news,” Dora whispered. “Joshua didn’t come to lunch Sunday. I’ll say a prayer.” Dora led the way into the dining room where Tally had to do all the required turning down of an extra plate, a drink, some dessert? She finally buttered one of Raymond’s cooling corn biscuits and nibbled at it. When polite chatter had ended and Tally was impaled on the point of Joshua’s grandfather’s gaze, she realized he had not yet said a word.

“I’ll just clear the last of these condiments,” Dora said, “and go on home now. Tally, will you put Raymond’s cup and spoon in the dishwasher before you go?” Zip, buzz, and the aging, nosy, loving woman was gone.

“I’ll go to the porch now, Wy-no-na,” he said, raising himself with the aid of a gnarled walking stick. “The honeysuckle hangs heavy and sooths my spirit. You bring my tea.” Raymond Wooden Headdress struggled with the revolver and holster hanging on his chair, placed it on his shoulder. Tally followed his halting progress to the rocker he commandeered on the porch, and sat on a low stool in front of him. “Got to keep moving, Wy-no-na. Good for the legs. Good for the whole man.” He sat in meditation, tea mug untouched. Tally welcomed the quiet and waited for him to speak.

“My grandson did not come for lunch Sunday. I have heated the rocks each morning, yet he does not come. His chos-kay has now been cleared of all wrongdoing, yes? Still he stays away, and you are here. You seek advice about the proud man, my grandson.”

Tally dug into the briefcase at her side. “Actually, Grandfather Raymond, I need to return the gift. Your wife’s brooch. Joshua has - well - left me, I guess. I don’t understand, and…”

“You had not shared the pallet when you were here together, I think. Yet your love for one another shone for all to see. I cannot believe he has left you. A discord, perhaps. Harmony must be practiced, Wy-no-na.”

“It’s about red and white I think, Grandfather. Maybe some jealousy about Mr. Marsden who lives in my building. Now it’s four days and his last words were ‘forget about it.’ So, I must try to forget about it.”

Raymond did not immediately respond. His leathery face tested the air and filled his lungs with honeysuckle. His words were measured and careful when he spoke and his all-knowing eyes exuded the wisdom of his ninety-three years.

“You could do that. It might even be easier, at first. Yes, you could do that.”

Tally waited for the patriarch to resume speaking, absently polishing the petals of the daisy pin through the tissue in which it was wrapped. His eyes were now closed, and Tally thought he might have nodded off. “But you want me to do something else?”

Raymond Wooden Headdress squared his shoulders, for he had decided to tell the story. “My Cecelia and I were not yet blessed with Joshua’s mother when I went with the men on a Saturday. We broke some horses and drank a lot of whiskey and there were two women in Scobey who took Indians. They left me there, sitting up beside the building of the women, like the drunk Indian I was.”

“She would know immediately, and I did not go home. I went to the ranch where we broke the horses and stayed in the bunkhouse and broke more horses in the dust and the August heat and sweated the whiskey from my body. She came, driving alone in a rickety, borrowed Model-A and our child large in her. She was so brave, my Cecelia.”

“’A terrible bomb has been dropped. The white man’s war is over,’ she said. ‘Ours will not begin. You will come home now, and we will forget the one sour note you piped in the entire song of our life together.’ And I went with her, home. And honored her all of my life.”

Tally wept without ceasing. Great courses of tears washed her cheeks even as she tried to hush her sobs. Raymond leaned to place a hand on each of her shoulders.

“Go to him, child. Tell him there is no war. Tell him your love will insulate him and his love will protect you in all the days of your lives. Trample his false pride once and for all. Will you let your true love pipe past your window and be gone forever because one note was sour?” He leaned back and sucked at the dregs of the tea in his mug.

Sniffling, Tally nodded her head. “I have to try, don’t I. I can’t just let him stay away without - you know, trying to save us. Oh, Grandfather, thanks for the story.” She gathered her body to stand when Raymond took the brooch from her hand and stripped it of its wrapping.

“Lean down here, Tally Carver.” His shaky hands pinned the black and diamond daisies on her left lapel. “Feel the spirit of Cecelia.” Tally wept again.

“And don’t cry!” Raymond scolded her. “Our clan is not drawn to weeping women!”

“Now,” he went on, “my grandson is surely at Red Bottom, for his chos-kay and wy-no-na will be involved in the feast that’s going on right now. You will want to find him in mid-afternoon tomorrow. I would be in prayer tonight, child. I would ask the Great Spirit for relief from the bondage of self, and for a life that honored my love.”

“That’s what I would do,” he concluded, handed over his mug and spoon and closed his eyes again. Tally was dismissed. On the return trip from the dishwasher she breathed her thanks and wasn’t sure he heard. She patted Cecelia’s pin for courage and faith and strolled down the walk, luxuriating in the sweet fragrance there.

Fluorescent hummingbirds were busy at the honeysuckle, their darting sips becoming fuel for the chill night ahead. Redheaded and green-backed, they buzzed at her head but did not flit far from their blossoms. Sundown would come too soon.

She watched them from the car for a long minute. Every day, the tiny birds operated on the faith that there would be enough nectar to get through the night. I could learn something from hummingbirds, she mused as she started the Oldsmobile’s engine.

Love Song With Hummingbirds, is an excerpt from Judith's book Sweet Grass Season published by Imago Press in 2003. It earned a 5-star review from Midwest Book Review and is still available from Amazon or on order from your favorite bookstore.

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