Green Man Red Woman
A story in 14 parts, based on Pacific Northwest mythology
Miniature icicles on the telephone wires outside her second-floor window crackle, and gusts of wind toss tiny shattered remnants of ice against the windowpane. Below, snow-covered sidewalks sparkle in the bright streetlight. Cherise O’Byrne takes a sip of tea and places the tiny hand-painted cup into its saucer on the windowsill. The tea set was a gift from her grandma—not her real grandmother, whom she’s never met, but her adopted mother’s mother.
She sighs. 3 o’clock in the morning, and the temperature has dipped below 20 degrees, a rare early December cold snap. A bit more like home than the ceaseless Portland rain she’s experienced since arriving for college in September. Too late for a walk — nothing would be open within easy walking distance. In any case, she doesn’t have the ID to buy alcohol, the only thing that might help her sleep. Without sleep, she’s destined for another zombie shift at The Nethers later this morning, followed by a nod-filled Western Civ class at noon.
She should study for next week’s finals, but she lacks any enthusiasm for that. College has been a disappointment when it comes right down to it. All this emphasis on dead white men and theories that have nothing to do with real life. Native Studies is marginally better — at least it’s more interesting — but she doesn’t want to be a college professor, and for the life of her she can’t see what good it will do her.
“It’s your roots,” she hears her mother say.
“My roots are here with you guys,” she remembers answering. She’s never known her birth parents. She’s never lived on the rez or got an Indian blood quantum card. It’s only her black hair and dark skin that sets her apart from her middle-class white neighbors, right? Yet, she knows she’s been sheltered from the worst of the taunting prejudice by her over-protective parents. The subtle pull of identity tugged at her throughout high school, a desire to fit in with the few other NDN kids, yet it didn’t feel right when she was with them, either. She always felt like an outsider in both worlds.
She lifts her teacup and sips again. It’s tepid, like her mood. She wipes a small circle of fog from the window with her palm and gazes out at the wind-swept street. Then she sees the deer, a full-grown stag, as white as the snow, sauntering along Couch Street toward the Pearl. She lets out a small involuntary gasp and rubs the circle larger, but when she looks out again the stag has vanished, leaving only a line of tracks down the center of the street.
A brief vertigo makes her woozy. She sits back on the sofa and waits for it to pass. Then, without another thought, she’s on her feet again, crossing the room to her closet, grabbing winter trousers and boots. She’ll never be able to catch up with the deer, but she can follow its tracks like a hunter! Her heart beats a little faster as she pulls her old cardigan over her head, wraps her scarf around her neck. Grabbing her gloves and parka, making sure the apartment keys are in her pocket, she closes the door quietly and takes the stairs two-at-a-time.
For the next episode of our novelette go to Part Two.