Friday, 24 August 2007


Maxtla stares into the cold heart of the fire and tastes her racing heartbeats. A dark shadow, the aura of a raven’s wing, drifts across her eyes, blocking her view of the flames. Her heartbeats taste as wet earth on tired bones. Her breathing deepens and her heartbeats slow: the shadow lifts and takes the taste away. She knows that something is about to happen. A headache forms deep in the nape of her neck as the muscles tighten.

The scent of burning fat rises from the fire. Maxtla stirs as a memory of a warmer day floats into the air. She looks into the flames and sees an older woman holding a leg bone that was once her father. ‘Moon’, a voice screeches in the back of her head. ‘Watch for the moon’, says the wise woman who listens to the screeching crone. Her mother raises the leg bone higher and passes through the flames. She starts to chant phrases from her past.

‘Tonight, Maxtla,’ mother commands. ‘It must be tonight. Look at the moon.’ Maxtla looks up and the clouds clear to show the face of the full Sap moon. A shaft of white light illuminates the darkness as her mother fades into shadow. The old crone jabbers ‘Now’, and the wise woman advises, ‘be ready’. Images from her girlhood drift across the fire, she tastes red droplets on her lips and hears a scream of separation; she now knows that the evening will grow much darker. Her legs shoot pain upwards and tell her to move. She rises and bows her head to the spirit of flames.

Beside Maxtla sleeps Tronkyin, an ailing child, one whom the gods seek. Breathing fitfully, with short wheezing breaths, the baby’s grip on the present is weakening. Maxtla strips bark from a young willow branch and rubs the juice on the child’s lips. Tronkyin licks the juice, winces at the bitter sweetness and falls into a deeper slumber.

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