Another image. One hot Alberta summer when her mom and her Auntie Val were in their cups, she heard them become loud louder loudest after a night of drinking. She didn’t really understand the link between the booze and the joy that was coming from the kitchen and pictured the two sisters sitting close and laughing like best friends over their near-empty glasses. The Canadian Club bottle, she had imagined, would be sitting between them as they by turns laughed and swung their long black hair over their shoulders, and curled over their chairs with laughter.
They were so pure in their appreciation of and love for one another that she felt lightheaded. That night, she had thought about waking Freda up to see this joy, but that girl slept like her conscience was clear. Which it shouldn’t be, Bernice reminds herself.
Listening to the sounds from the kitchen, she had imagined them braiding each other’s hair and whispering secrets to one another whenever the room got silent. She pressed her ear to the wall separating the kitchen from her tiny bedroom and heard:
Her auntie saying, with pure emotion, “Sister, promise me when I get old that you will pluck my chin.”
Maggie responding, with all of the seriousness of a bride at the altar, “I will, sister, I will.”
From this evening, she learned two things. First, she was likely to have a facial hair problem when she grew up. It was okay, she had a sister (well, Skinny Freda anyhow) too. Also, she would have to learn to do anything for one other person in her life. She would find a person with whom she could exchange a solemn vow when they were in their cups. And they too would be alive in her memory.
Excerpt from: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg © 2015.
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
from the book jacket
Bernice Meetoos will not be broken. A big, beautiful Cree woman with a dark secret in her past, Bernice (Birdie) has left her home in northern Alberta to travel to Gibsons B.C. She is on something of a vision quest, looking for family, for home, for understanding. She is also driven by the leftover teenaged desire to meet Pat John—Jesse from The Beachcombers—because he is, as she says, a working, healthy Indian man. Birdie heads for Molly’s Reach to find answers, but they are not the ones she expected.
PHOTO CREDIT: STACY SWANSON
Tracey Lindberg is a citizen of As’in’i’wa’chi Ni’yaw Nation Rocky Mountain Cree and hails from the Kelly Lake Cree Nation community. She is an award-winning academic writer and teacher of Indigenous studies and Indigenous law at two universities in Canada. She sings the blues loudly, talks quietly and is next in a long line of argumentative Cree women. This is her first novel.
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