River 24 and 25 - Beloved

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Two chapters for the price of one this week.

River

By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 24 and 25

Chapter 24
So far: The events in Stone Ledge reach a conclusion, and not a happy one. However Marilyn receives a treasure, and the flotilla heads back to the reserve in record time. The loss of Virginia Audette is not yet a completed story, however.

As Marilyn and Nick admired their tiny new baby, River came over. “It isn’t over,” she said. “The river said that there will be a hearing the day after tomorrow, before Ginny’s funeral. Something to do with Ginny’s parents. They will send someone down asking us to attend.”

“Who is us?” Nick asked.

“Do we have to do the canoe trip again?” Marilyn said.

“No, we can go by car, or truck. It is only an hour by road. We only used the canoe trip the first time to highlight our heritage. The other bands that Rod will visit will be by truck. We’ll have to get a camper or two rigged out.” She turned to Nick. “Rod, Ria, Marilyn, Shelly and of course Beloved will be expected. You should go as well, both as the new father, and in case your legal abilities are useful. I think I should attend, along with some of the elders from here: Edith and Harold, I think. A car or truck from Stone Ledge will drop by tomorrow to officially invite us, when they come to pick up the kids that came down on the canoe. The river is just giving us some advance warning.”

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The next morning River accompanied Nick and Marilyn to the hospital to have the baby examined by the doctor. River, in her early morning visit to the river was surprised to find a canoe resting on the bank, with the new family all bundled up sleeping in it. Marilyn’s arm hung over the side, to receive energy from the water, and she woke in the early morning to give Luv a feeding. She noticed River sitting in the water nearby, and gave her a wink, but didn’t say anything lest she wake Nick.

River learned more from the river about what was happening up in Stone Ledge. Apparently the people there were quite upset about Ginny’s mother, and were blaming the suicide on her. The girl’s father was completely distraught, and had spent the night with his sister and her husband rather in the house that no longer was home to his beloved daughter.

When morning finally broke, River went over to Nick and nudged him awake. Marilyn was also up, as was Luv, who apparently needed to be changed. “You don’t need to stay by the river anymore,” River said. “Luv is past the point of danger. She is still small, but everything inside is now healed and healthy.”

“Thank God,” Nick said. “That was probably the most uncomfortable night I have ever spent. I know there is an old joke that being Canadian means being able to make love in a canoe, but that is ridiculous. I could hardly sleep at all.”

“You seemed to be doing all right the times I looked,” River laughed. “But tonight you will be able to sleep in a bed. Expect to be wakened in the middle of the night at least once by a crying baby. Luv is special, but she is just a normal newborn baby in most ways. Have you decided where you will live?”

“We could stay with Mom and Dad,” Marilyn said. “They are thrilled at being grandparents.”

“So are my parents,” Nick said. “But I really want a home for my family of my own. How soon before your Dad gets those houses finished?”

“Ours won’t be ready until early October,” River said. “I’m not sure how long it will be until a second one is done. At least another couple weeks. You’d have to ask Dad.”

“I will. I definitely want one of those houses.”

“But they are so expensive,” Marilyn noted.

“I will get a lot of money from selling my place in Toronto. We,” he emphasized the ‘we’, “can afford it.”

“We have the doctor this morning,” River said. “I understand he is an early bird, and should be at work at 7. Do you want breakfast first?”

“I really don’t need any,” Marilyn said. “The river nourished me all night. But Nick probably is hungry. My mom will be up, and will trade a few breakfasts for a chance to hold Luv for a few minutes.”

“If she can get her away from Liesl and Shelly,” River joked.

“Mare, do you think we could head down to Sault when we are finished with the doctor? There are a ton of things that we will need to get for a baby. Maybe take Shelly along too? She might know more things we need.”

“If that is the case, we should take Mom too,” Marilyn said. “After all, she is the one who is the expert in having babies.”

After breakfast at the Stormcloud house the trip to the hospital at 7 was an expedition, with Helen, Shelly and Liesl all insisting on coming along. With River, even Nick’s big car was full. Luv sat on Marilyn’s lap, as Nick mentally added ‘carseat’ to his mental list of things to buy in the city.

The doctor looked much better than he had the last time River had seen him. He had put weight on since his cancer was cured, and he was smiling at them, something River could not remember from past visits. He cooed over the baby to the satisfaction of the women in the party, and gave her a full physical.

“According to what you have told me, and her diminutive size, I really should keep her here in an incubator for a few weeks. But something tells me you aren’t going to accept that, are you?”

“If you found something wrong with her, she would definitely stay,” Nick said. “But if it is just a precautionary step, then no. We will keep her with us. Love has kept her alive so far, and we don’t want to give her up.”

“I understand. It is just that premature babies like little Beloved here often have internal organs that are not completely developed, and we like to watch them closely for complications that might come up. But I suspect that your healing river has had something to do with her apparent good health.”

“Yes, it has in fact,” River said. “Until this morning Luv has been in nearly constant contact with the river, and it has been healing her all this time. It told me this morning that she was now healthy and no longer needed to be in contact with it. The Summerstorms hope to take her to Sault today to buy baby supplies.”

“Good luck,” Dr. Mitchell said. “She looks quite ready for a trip, although I don’t think I’ve ever said that about a two-day-old seven-month preemie before.” He turned to River. “About your river. My doctors in Sault and Sudbury cannot believe the way it cured me. They want to do some tests. If your river can cure cancer, it will be a godsend for thousands.”

“And a curse for the people of the reservation who have to deal with thousands who come hoping to be cured,” River snapped. “The river decides who and when it will heal people, and while it mostly heals our people, it will occasionally heal someone who is helping us, like yourself. But the river belongs to all. Your doctors are welcome to come and see it, and bring others along, if they want, but don’t expect it to cure them.”

“I don’t understand why you keep referring to the river as if it was a person, and has a will of its own. Isn’t it something you control? It was you that healed me.”

“No, I didn’t heal you. I was merely there.”

“Can you be there for the experiment?” the doctor pressed.

“I am at the river every morning at two a.m. until sunrise,” River finally said. “And I think I am going to have to make 4 p.m. a regular time as well. People from other bands are starting to come to the river as a sort of pilgrimage, and I need to be there for them. If your doctors come at, say, 5 p.m. I will be able to talk with them.”

“Could you do it earlier?” Dr. Mitchell said. “Coming in from Sault, five is a bit late.”

“They are welcome at 2 a.m. then,” River said.

“Five will be fine,” the doctor said. “I will let you know when they plan on arriving.”

River walked to the store while the others headed off to Sault. Connie was already in, and she spent a few hours there, and then visited with the young people who had paddled downriver with Rod and Ria. Most had camped in tents in the park. They were a bit surprised that she was also going to start grade nine with them in a few weeks. She joined them for the tour of the school with principal Tweed. They also visited pretty much each business in town, but were most taken by the Rube machine outside the co-operative.

River realized that the complex device was going to be one of the most significant attractions for teens to the town. It had already become the teen hangout for St. Mary’s, with kids from both the reserve and the town congregating there. A few picnic tables had been moved in by someone, and the vacant lot had become the ‘hang out’ spot for the teens, much like malls were in the cities. Kids would buy snacks and pops down the street at the store, and then hang out for hours, taking turns on the device.

That afternoon, as expected, a delegation from Stone Ledge came by to invite the elders to the hearing they planned the next day. Several of the women of the group asked to see Luv, and when they were told she was not available, they said they hadn’t thought that she would be able to survive being born so early. They were amazed to learn that she was not dead, but on a trip to the city to buy baby supplies with her new parents. River promised that she would be in Stone Ledge the next day for all to see.

River then led all the visitors from Stone Ledge to the river meeting place. Rod had to go to the store and almost drag back some of the young people who wanted to wait for another chance on the Goldberg device. Luckily his new status as the Prophet was enough to get them all to pile into the back of his truck, getting to the river just as River was about to start.

River sang them the song of the history of the people, and once again the river taught the language to the people who hadn’t known it before. After an hour, the ceremony was over and the people congregated on the riverbank. River was told several times to expect more people in the future, when the people from today’s sessions got back and told their friends and relatives how important it was to visit the river. River noted that she would be at the river each day at 4 p.m., unless she was out of town, as she would be tomorrow.

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River was up early again, and when she entered the water in her normal spot, the river told her to wade downstream a mile or two. She did so, and when she did she came to the Stormcloud house. It was dark, and there was no moon, so she could barely see the great hulk that was parked on the lawn in front of the shed. By starlight, and with river-amplified vision she soon made out that the shape was a 45-foot Winnebago trailer. Nick had gotten a home for his family.

When River got out of the water at sun up she heard a baby crying, and then speaking from within the trailer, so she tapped quietly on the door. Nick opened it, wearing only pajama pants.

“River, come in. Welcome to Casa Summerstorm.”

“Hi River,” Marilyn said from the back of the vehicle. “Did little Luv bother your time in the river? She has quite the set of lungs on her. I’m so glad we weren’t in the house last night. She would have woken everyone.”

“And none of them would complain. She certainly lives up to her name,” River said. “Everyone loves her.”

“None as much as me,” Marilyn said. “I wasn’t sure if I would ever have a child again, but now I know we will. Nick is the perfect father, and the perfect husband, and we will have the happiest family on the reserve. Starting with this little one.”

“Feel free to add compliments of your own, River,” Nick joked.

“Did you buy this thing?” River asked in amazement.

“Yes we did,” Nick said. “It is used. I wanted a new one, but they need a few days to kit one of those out. This one had been returned by the couple that had bought it after using it for a season and finding that RVing was not the way of life for them. It took a bit of hassle getting the bank in Toronto to wire the money up to Sault, but once the dealer had the cash, we had the boat.”

“Boat? Like a tug?” River teased. “Are you going to be taking everyone in the band for rides in this like you did in your car?”

“Mom wants the car,” Marilyn said. “She drove it back from Sault while we came in this. Shelly and Liesl came with us, and Mom said she didn’t mind the trip back alone at all in that car. She says if she can just get some country song CDs for the stereo, she will be happy.”

“No, Wayne is selling the car,” Nick told River. “And there will be no trips in this thing. It is parked. It is a home, not a vehicle. Ben said we could park it here until your dad gets a house ready for us. Then we will turn this over to Rod and Ria for the trips out to the distant reservations, if they are still doing that.”

River gasped. “You are going to donate it? Wow. You must really love your sister.”

Nick laughed. “I do, but I love what she and Rod are doing more. I’ve seen what can happen to our people in the cities. I think if we can keep them on the reservations whenever possible, it is better. I know it has been way better for me, and there were people who were pointing me out as a model, successful First Nations man who had a promising legal future. But I had this great hole in me that was filled the first time I stood in your river.”

“Not my river,” River said. “It belongs to all the people.”

Chapter 25

River had breakfast with the Stormclouds again, and then they headed up to Stone Ledge. Shelly, River, Marilyn, Luv and Nick drove in his car. Rod and Ria went in Rod’s pickup of many colors, while Edith and Harold drove up in Harold’s slightly nicer pickup.

At the meeting the people from the river found that the Stone Ledge band was holding the hearing to determine if the parents of Ginny Audette were to be banished from the band. Nick explained the situation to River as the meeting was being set up.

“All land on a reserve is owned communally. The band owns the land, but the homeowners own their buildings. It really isn’t the best system, but we are forced into it through tradition and the government. Because you can’t normally sell your house, unless it is to be moved away, many people don’t show the same care and pride of ownership that white people show. If the band banishes someone, they retain their First Nations status, but they are no longer allowed to have a home on the reserve. The Audettes will have to move to a different reserve, or to a city. It is a pretty harsh punishment.”

An elder of the Stone Ledge group called the meeting to order. He announced that the funeral services for Ginny Audette would be held after the meeting. He asked if the river people would serve as judges. Harold and Edith looked to River, who spoke for them. “I don’t think that would be appropriate. We are not really impartial, as Beloved is now a member of our band. However, I have to ability to discern the truth of statements, if I am standing in the river. You might want to make use of that ability as you try to understand what really happened.”

With that, the decision was made to move the meeting a few hundred yards, down to the river. River walked out into the middle of the shallow water, and then kneeled down in it. The elder again called for order.

What happened then was pretty much a trial or inquest. Ria and Rod were called first to explain what they had seen, and then Marilyn testified. Before she did she presented Beloved to the people of Stone Ledge, and the little sweetheart lived up to her name, stealing the love of almost all she met. The one exception seemed to be Sarah Audette, her grandmother, who refused to look at the baby.

Once things settled down Marilyn testified that when Ginny was brought down from the tree she felt the river tell her that there was still life within the body. As a result she rushed the body to the river, in hopes of reviving the girl. Instead, the river told her that the girl had died, but that her child lived on within her, and then in the cold water the body expelled the tiny babe. She knew immediately what to do, and as Rod cut the umbilical cord, she lifted her bra and suckled the baby, after rapping it gently on the back to start its breathing. As she nursed, she felt the river feeding power and strength into her, and from her into the baby, finishing the development of premature organs and keeping the tiny baby alive.

Those who had seen the baby after it was born were amazed. It was still tiny, but had gained several pounds in two days, almost half its original body weight.

Shelly told her part of the story, followed by Rod and then the two boys. Gail Brownhawk, Ginny’s aunt, testified next. She told about the scene after the suicide first, and how she had led the women in laying out the body for burial, normally a task that would have fallen to the mother of a girl so young. She also testified that Ginny had come to her home many times over the past three or four years, often with bruises on her arms and back. The girl told her that her mother had beaten her for some minor misdemeanor. It seemed that whatever the girl did was not good enough for her mother, who insisted that she must be better, and prettier, and smarter than the other girls in the band.

Sarah Audette sneered at that, and claimed that her sister-in-law was lying, and that she never had harmed her daughter.

“That testimony is correct and true,” River said. “The river verifies what Mrs. Brownhawk said. It does note that Mrs. Audette is lying when she said she never hit her daughter.”

The next to give evidence was Neil Audette, Ginny’s father. He admitted that he was away most of the time, working at the mines in Sudbury, a long drive away. He returned on some weekends, when his shifts would give him three or four days off. Often he was away for several weeks to a month.

He admitted that he was weak and emotionally his wife dominated him. He said things had gotten worse in the spring, when Ginny was discovered to be pregnant. When he came home the next time he found that Sarah had taken Ginny out of school, and was keeping her locked up at home. He confessed that he knew the girl was upset, and broke down several times trying to explain how she had begged him to let her go to her aunt’s house, but he had been too weak to overrule his wife’s orders.

After that powerful and alarming testimony, which River pronounced entirely factual, Mrs. Audette was asked to testify. She refused, claiming that the hearing was nothing more than a kangaroo court, with no merit.

Nick then presented his credentials to her, and the others, and pointed out that the hearing was legitimate and legal, and had the power to evict one or both of the Audettes from the community. “They cannot take your house,” he said. “But if they rule that you must leave, then you will have 90 days to remove it or lose it to the band. You could auction it off, and the highest bidder, if he or she is a member in good standing of the band, would take possession. It is a rather large house, and I doubt that it would be able to be moved easily.”

Sarah blanched at the thought of losing her beloved home. She knew that her reputation, groomed so carefully over the years, was destroyed with these people. She would have to move away and start to rebuild her life. Perhaps in a city; somewhere big enough to show her talents and let them shine. She would have to get rid of her worthless excuse of a husband, but that could be done easily, if not cheaply. “I wish to auction off the house. As soon as possible,” she said.

“Your husband will have to agree,” Nick said. “He will get half of the proceeds.”

“What?” Sarah snapped. “I look after the money in our household. I make these decisions.”

“Nonetheless he will have to agree to a sale,” Nick said. “And we are a bit premature to be discussing the sale, when you have not yet been banished. That decision will have to be made first.”

“Oh, they have all decided,” Sarah sneered.

The elder then announced that no more testimony was deemed necessary, and called for a vote. Apparently every adult in the band was to get a vote, and the first vote was on Sarah Audette. When the call was made, every hand in the crowd went up in favor of expelling her. The woman turned in rage and stormed away.

The second vote was much closer. About half the hands went up on the call to expel Neil Audette, and a recorded vote was required to determine that he too was expelled, but only by a 231-205 vote. The small man sagged as he heard the numbers, and then stood to speak.

“I understand. I blame myself for my daughter’s death, so this punishment is far less than what I already face … a life without my beloved Ginny. There is only one thing I ask, and I will understand if it is not granted. Ginny is to be buried here tonight, and her grave will be here forever. I only ask permission to be able to come and visit her grave from time to time. It would mean a lot to me.”

“I think we can grant that wish,” the elder said. “The banishment only says that you can no longer have a home on the reserve. I know you have kin here, and you can also come and visit them if you wish, so long as you don’t live here. Does everyone agree with that?”

There was a general nodding of approval, and there was no need for a second vote on that.

“Thank you so much,” Neil said as he looked over his neighbors. “And like Sarah says, I agree to the house being auctioned.”

“This would be the best time to do so,” the elder said. “All the eligible people who can bid are here. Can I have a first bid?”

For a long time no one spoke, and then another elder spoke up. “I bid $100 on behalf of the band.” There was a gasp heard among the people. A house without land does not command the kind of money that normal real estate does, but bids would be expected to be in the $50,000-plus range for such a nice building.

Several women in the gathering looked to their husband. Sarah Audette’s house had been envied by many of the others in the community, and to be able to get it for a few hundred dollars would be wonderful. But their husbands knew what was happening, and each shook his head at the enquiring glance from his wife.

Nick looked on, concerned. Finally he decided to speak. “I think I understand what is happening here, and it is not a good thing. If a house is sold for such a small price, then a court will be easy to convince that the sale was not done fairly. An auction where there is only one bid, by one person is not going to be deemed fair by most judges, and you could be forced to hold another auction.”

The elder thought for a moment. “We want this to be done legally. You are a lawyer. What type of price would be considered a legal sale?”

“I can’t really say,” Nick said. “Even $1000 is too small. $5000 would be questionable. I think that you would be safe at $10,000 though for a house without land. It still could be contested, but it then would be seen as a bargain, which is not illegal. It would also be better if the auction had several bidders, not just a single bid by the band.”

“That means that woman will get $5,000,” a woman in the crowd sneered. “She doesn’t deserve it.”

“That may be,” Nick said, noting that the objection of the people only seemed to be for Sarah, not Neil. “But the band will be getting a fine building at a bargain. The only thing is that it would be difficult to sell the building at a later time for a significantly higher price. Not to mention the bad feelings that might occur if the house goes to one family and not another.”

With that the auction restarted, and now there were several bidders, raising the price by $100 increments until it neared the $10,000 level. Nick noted that many of the bidders were those men whose wife had shown interest before. In one case a woman was bidding.

The $10,000 bid was issued by the same band elder who had made the initial $100 bid, on behalf of the band, and at that point a quiet fell over the group. After several minutes with no further bids, the elder declared the auction over, and said that the house would become band property, with its use to be determined at a later time.

With the session over, River had risen and walked to the bank, easily stepping out from the shallow water. “If I can make a suggestion,” she said. “One use of the house would be to make it a center for the boys and girls of the community. Adult meetings could be held in a meeting room, but other parts of the house could be a place for the young people to congregate and interact. It could be called Ginny’s House, because really, that is what it is. It would be a place for kids to come and meet. I’m told that since Rod spoke with the kids earlier in the week, there has been an upsurge in interest in the old ways, and the elders of the band could pass on their lore and history to the young ones in those rooms.”

There was an instant murmur of agreement through the crowd. ‘That is a wonderful idea, River,” the elder said. “I can see why you are such a treasure to your band. However, now we have a more somber task. The burial rites for Ginny Audette, taken from us far too soon.”

Ginny’s burial took over an hour. River was asked to speak and did briefly, mentioning how Ginny lived on through her daughter, and asked that the people of Stone Ledge adopt Luv as well as the people of the river had. The biggest impact of the rite came when Ginny’s body was laid into her grave. River broke out into song, singing in Ojibwe. She sang the song of departure traditionally sung when the warriors left the tribe to go to battle. The words were apt for the journey Ginny was taking, and soon the entire tribe was singing. What was amazing was that even those people who didn’t speak the language knew the words, and their meaning, and were able to join in with those who did.

After the funeral River saw Neil Audette talking to Edith and Harold. She approached with Nick.

“This is who you should speak with,” Edith said then turned to River. “Mr. Audette is asking if he might join our band. It will be close to his daughter’s grave, so he can visit it regularly.”

“I will understand if you say no,” the man said. “I mean, Beloved is down there, and she already has new grandparents, as I understand it. A third grandfather would just be confusing. I would like to see her from time to time though, even if she doesn’t know who I am. She is the spitting image of her mother when she was born, and seeing her … it will be like seeing Ginny again, in a way.”

“I cannot allow that,” River said. “You will see your granddaughter, and you will be a part of her life. There is going to be a time when she learns she is adopted, and when that time comes you are the only person who can answer her questions about her birth mother. I certainly hope that you can become a member of our band. Beloved deserves a third grandfather, and I hope that Marilyn and Nick will consider you a part of the family.”

Nick nodded his head in agreement. “We could even find you a space in our mobile home, and certainly one in our house when it is built.”

“I thank you for your generosity, young man,” Neil said. “I can see that my granddaughter will have a fine father. And a mother as well,” he added as Marilyn and Luv joined the group.

“We were just saying that Neil would be welcome in our house,” Nick told her. “He wants to join our reserve.”

“No, I will find a place of my own, or build one,” Neil said. “I am going to leave the mines. I only put up with working there to feed my ex-wife’s need for money. Without her I can live comfortably on welfare until something comes up. I just need a place to sleep and eat, and a room for Luv, when she is old enough to come visit.”

“Do you want to hold your granddaughter,” Marilyn said, holding out the baby. “I don’t think you’ve had the chance yet.”

“What? Yes, please,” the man took the tiny baby and gently cradled her to his chest.

“I think she likes it there,” Marilyn said smiling at the look of contentment on the man’s face.

“She knows she is loved,” River said as she watched the anguish and pain melt away from Neil’s face as he held the tiny tot.

“She doesn’t weigh anything,” Neil said. “Precious, so precious.” He looked up at Marilyn, with real tears in his eyes. “Thank you so much for this. You don’t know how much it means to me. To have held my little angel.” He finally, and reluctantly, handed the baby back.

“It would have been hard for Ginny to raise Luv,” he admitted. “Without support from Sarah, I don’t know if she could have done it. She was so young. You and Nick are more mature, the right age for parenting. I’m sure you will do well for her.”

“Come walk with me, Mr. Audette,” River said. “I would like to have a little chat with you. Do you mind wading?” River stepped off the bank into the water. Hesitatingly Neil followed.

“Normally the river is too cold to stand in, but this is nice,” Neil said.

“A perk of being rivertalker,” River said. “I detected something in the way you were talking. You aren’t planning on doing anything foolish, are you?”

The older man broke down over the next three seconds, and soon was sobbing on River’s shoulder. “I can’t go on now,” he moaned. “Not without my Ginny. You don’t know how much I loved that girl, and I failed her. She is gone forever and it is all my fault. I would be better off with her where she is now.”

River held the sobbing man tightly, and felt the river also feeding him support. “Don’t be foolish,” she said, a little harshly. “If you did … that, what would Luv think? First her mother commits suicide, and then her grandfather? Are you planning to teach her that this is the way people handle rough times?”

Neil pulled back in shock. “Oh no, I could never … I mean … no. Just no. I can’t let that happen to Luv.”

“Then you have to be there for her,” River said. “Be there when she takes her first steps, when she says her first words. Be there the first time she calls you Grampa. That is a little girl that needs a whole lot of love. I think you have it in you to share with her, and to be with her as she grows up. I want you to be there when she walks down the aisle in a wedding dress. I want you to be there when she places her own baby on grandpa’s lap for the first time. Do you really want to miss all that?”

“No, no, no,” Neil wailed. “You are right. There is so much more for me here. I will miss Ginny every day of my life, but I have to keep living for Luv. I am so stupid. Why do people like you care about an old fool like me?”

“Because you are special,” River said in a comforting voice. “Manitou loves all his children. The people, the trees, the animals, even the rocks. He looks after you, and wants you to do what is right. Do you know what is right?”

“I do. Now. Thanks for talking with me, River. I feel better now. You have a way with people.”

“It is easy when you are in the river,” she said. “It connects us directly to Manitou. Come now, lets go back to the others.”

“I can’t. They will see I have been crying,” Neil said.

“So what? You just buried your only daughter. You have a right to have been crying.”

“I guess so.” They walked together back to the others.

“Everything all right?” Edith asked tactfully.

“It is now,” Neil said. “River just had to tell me a few things that needed to be said. I am much better now, and ready to head south with you when go. I will pick up a few things from the house. Most of it belongs to Sarah, and I will take my truck. She will get the car, I guess.

“She has left already,” Nick said. “She was not happy when she found what the house sold for. I’m not sure where she went. Do you want me to make sure that she doesn’t clear out all your bank accounts and such? I suspect she will empty them.”

“No need,” Neil said. “She is the only one with access to them. I got an allowance from her and she cashed my pay checks into her account.”

“But half of everything is yours,” Nick insisted.

“No, she can have it. But what you can do is start divorce proceedings for me. I want to be rid of that woman.”

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Sarah Audette looked around the tiny apartment she had rented in Thunder Bay. She had seen nicer ones, but the cost was higher. And many places insisted that the apartment being shown had already been rented when they saw that she was First Nations. She had finally gotten this one-bedroom unit over a store. The owner, who ran the variety store below, had the audacity to suggest that she might work in the store if she wanted. Sarah Audette, variety store clerk? Certainly not, she thought.

The apartment was tiny, but she was able to pay the rent with the money in her savings account. She never let Neil know how much she had saved, and the lawyer she had hired in the divorce proceedings that Neil had started said that was a good thing.

Then the divorce came through. Neil had quit his job at the mines in Sudbury, and was living on welfare, so Sarah’s hopes of a hefty alimony were dashed. The judge had taken a dislike for her, and said she could not get anything out of his welfare check. She did rule that if Neil got a job off the reserve, then he would have to pay her a third of his net pay. But it looked clear to Sarah that the lazy bum would never leave for a good job. He had only worked because she had pushed him, and now that he was out from under her finger he seemed to have reverted to his lazy ways.

After paying the lawyer, Sarah had enough money to live on for another fourteen months. She had applied for welfare as soon as she got the apartment, but she had expensive habits, including going shopping whenever she felt down about things. As a result she was spending three dollars for each dollar that was coming in, eating away at the savings.

Perhaps working in a variety store would not be such a bad thing.



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