‘. . . there was nothing to break the light of the sun’
– words attributed to Chief Ten Bears in the 1860s;
his memory of the plains before the white men came.
My squaw, she bellows like the ox. She is calling my name, but her great noise offends my ears so I do not answer. Instead, like the hedgehog, I sit very still and hope she will not realise where I am. I can see her through the narrow gap of my tipi. She stands some distance away and seems to be looking straight at me. But I know she cannot see me squatting like the toad in the gloom of my refuge. I fear that she will approach, but I call on the eagle spirit inside my chest to will her away. Away, squaw, your great groans thunder through my brain. Away, woman, leave your husband in peace. Unblinking like the lizard, she stares in my direction. Her anger is keen and her face red, but no she cannot see me. She shouts again – ‘ALAN, WILL YOU PLEASE COME IN FOR YOUR DINNER’ – and then she steps back inside the patio door, which rattles like the snake when she slams it shut.
She has left me alone and I am satisfied with the power of the eagle spirit. I know that it is strong within me and I know that I have chosen the right path for my life. I return to my painting. It is tradition for a man to decorate the inside of his tipi, although it is hard to work on polythene walls. Buffalo hide is best for tipi. There are no buffalo in Ayrshire but bin bags will serve. I reach into the tin that hold my son’s felt pens and take out the red one.
I am busy painting the great event of my life: the day the Great Spirit came down from the sky and communicated to me through the body of Clint, out mini dachshund. This happened during the last moon, a time of great stress. At home, Squaw was discontented. She complained that I was not paying attention to her and our boy and spent too many hours watching videos of westerns. She did not understand that I did this to escape my troubles. At work a cull of the men was taking place. I was told to decide who should be sacrificed, a task which sank me low. One evening I sat at the dining table, struggling with the ache in my conscience. Like the hunted deer, I was fragile and tired. Then I heard our dog moving quickly from the kitchen, his claws clicking on the floor. I was aware of him coming to sit at my feet. I thought he wanted his bone.
I looked down. He stared up. There was a glow in his normally sedate eyes and when his jaws opened a booming voice emerged. I knew something was not right.
‘Alan,’ the dog said.
‘Yes,’ I answered. It felt like the right thing to do.
‘I am Wanka Tanka, the Great Spirit, the Wise One From Above who knows better than all other creatures.’
This sounded true. My dog was small but his eyes beamed like glow-worms. I believed it must be big medicine that could make his jaws work up and down just like a man’s.
‘I have read about you,’ I said.
‘You have, but now the time has come to listen. Alan, your life falls to the earth like the wounded crow. You have tried hard, but now you must give it up. You have not known it, but your soul was born on the plains and to the plains you must return.’ The dog trotted over to the patio and lifted his pay to the glass. He nodded his head towards the grass of the back garden. ‘Return to the old ways, Alan. Return to the prairie where the wind blows free and there is nothing to break the light of the sun.’
These were wise words which made sense. Inside I had heard them all my life, only I had no courage to listen to their lure. But now that the Great Spirit had spoken, I knew I could believe them. The dog looked at me with great eyes, a long stare that passed through to my soul. The he barked, his body wobbled like the jellyfish, and he peed all over the floor.
Squaw bustled in, shrieking when she saw the large puddle the dog had made. ‘For Christ’s sake Alan, why didn’t you let the dog out?’ she roared, shooing the beast out of the way.
Still dazzled by the revelation which had changed my life, I could not answer.
‘Why didn’t you let the dog out?’ she demanded again.
I could give her only silence.
She stood above me with unbelief. ‘Look, he’s peed everywhere.’
But what did I care? I got up and moved her gently aside. I opened the patio door. I stepped through it and onto the plain. The landscape was vast and animal spirits whispered on the breeze. The sky loomed large. There was nothing to break the light of the sun.
Copyright © David Pettigrew, 2014.
Originally published in Glasgow Kiss, 11:9.
Please do not reproduce this story elsewhere or print out without David’s permission.