That's more like it. Another chapter within a week, and one more is at the editors. Another is half done, so we should be able to get it to you guys shortly.
By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric
So far: things are moving along nicely. Alison and Mark are on the road north again, now permanently, with Nick escorting them. River has seen another couple given a special treat by the river, as her store starts to come together. And the expedition north is days ahead of schedule.
Connie called in sick on Thursday, her third day in a row. “Lovesick,” she joked to River, as they worked setting up the store. She planned to drive back to Sault on Friday and hand in her notice. A fourth consecutive day of absence would require a medical certificate. She would give two weeks notice, and be back at the store full time after that. Meanwhile, she was busy setting up systems and training the women from the reserve who had volunteered to staff the store. River was glad of the assistance. Neither River, nor the river, had the knowledge of retailing that Connie had.
Nelson hung around a lot when his agency had no customers, and River even put him to work. He was eager to do anything, particularly when it meant he could be close to the love of his life. He seemed to be a changed man. River had thought he was rather dour when she had first met him, but now he seemed cheerful and jovial. His customers noted it as well. Once River was close to the agency, hanging a display of dreamcatchers on the wall, when she heard a male customer note that ‘getting lucky’ seemed to have improved his disposition. River couldn’t see Nelson’s face at the comment, but surmised from his silence that he must have gotten red faced.
Nelson even suggested that the agency not be a separate store, but just a department in the larger store, but Nick shot that one down after he returned. The liquor act stated that alcohol could only be sold in a separate building that was inaccessible to people under the age of 19. However there were no rules against having a door between the stores, and Nelson and Connie made good use of it, taking their breaks and meals together, usually in the agency, where Nelson could look after any patrons that came in.
Connie also did some advising for Nelson over the coming weeks. She suggested that he add a smoke shop to the inventory of the store, including specialty items like fine cigars and American imported cigarettes. They didn’t bother adding conventional cigarettes. Although the rate of smokers was high amongst the First Nations people, cigarettes were tax-free across the road on the reserve shop at the gas station, killing sales anywhere taxes had to be charged. Tobacco was not even sold in the general store. But Connie’s idea worked, and the specialty items sold modestly, and added to Nelson’s reduced sales volume.
Where her ideas worked best was in fine wines. Connie recommended that Nelson add a selection of fine wines to his inventory, and he sold these over the Internet on a page that Colin RedHawk put together for him. These sold well across Ontario, and with Nick’s help he was able to maneuver around the legal roadblocks to selling in other provinces and exporting to the United States. A few of the First Nations people became enamored of the wines, buying quality instead of quantity in their liquor purchases, and the townspeople of St. Mary’s and Terrace Bay started coming into the shop at a greater rate. Sales were still down, but the store was becoming a thriving boutique operation rather than a ‘booze can’ aimed at the First Nations people.
After lunch on Thursday Alison, Nick and Mark returned to town. They stopped first at the store, which was now totally transformed from a derelict building into a clean, modern looking shop, only lacking the sign that Carl Bluelake was nearly done preparing. River practically leapt into her mother’s arms when she entered the store, but was set aback a bit by her brother, who now was bigger than she was for the first time in their lives.
Nick entered soon after, and saw Liesl working on a display, and went to talk to her, hoping for word about her sister Marilyn. The Waters all got into the van and headed to the housing site to find Dale for a more complete reunion, and to take a look at the house that would soon be theirs. Dale announced that a completion date of October 1 now seemed likely, and the kids ran about trying to decide which of the five bedrooms would be theirs. Finally River wanted to take them all to the river, feeling that Alison and Mark would need help after their hardships in Toronto.
At the river, the four all entered the water together. River held her mother close first, and the river showed her what Alison had gone through in the bank tower. River was incensed by the actions of the bank employees, who clearly had conspired against Alison. The river told them to ignore the perpetrators, promising that they would eventually pay for what they tried to do to Alison, and had clearly done to others. Alison was content to leave the payback to the river, although she still intended to have Nick work to get her a fair settlement.
River let her mother go, and she moved over to her husband for solace while River approached her bother.
“You are so big,” she noted.
“Yeah. You can’t call me ‘little brother’ any more,” Mark said proudly.
“Come here,” River said, “or are you too big to give your sister a hug?”
Mark gladly moved into the arms of his sister, and let her lean her head on his shoulder for the first time. As they embraced, the river again showed River the story of his experiences in Toronto: first at the mall, and then later at the police station. As River saw the story, the river also calmed the event for the boy, making it seem that he was reliving it with a skilled therapist, and stopping any post-traumatic stress disorder effects that might otherwise occur.
“I guess I have to get ahold of Lisa Stromen,” River finally said. “I had kinda forgotten about her.”
“Something tells me she isn’t going to believe you when you tell her what you look like now,” Mark said with a smirk.
“Yeah. I guess I will tell her that I am transgendered, and will be living as a girl up here.”
“That might work. She seemed to accept that I was bigger than the little 10-year-old she used to know, although I wasn’t this big until after the jail. How did this growing thing happen anyway?”
The river flowed the information to both of them at the same time. Both the mall and the police station, although several miles apart, sat over a buried river that had been named Taddle Creek in the old days. As development of the city encroached, and then overran the stream, it was buried. But it continued to run in conduits as a part of the city’s storm drainage system. This left the river close enough to provide Mark with a boost in both strength and size when he needed it. The size remained, but the super-human strength had been temporary, and would only occur when Mark was close to flowing water. Not just the river, but any water that was connected to the river no matter how distant.
That is any water on the planet, then? River asked.
Pretty much, the river replied. There are some stagnant waters I can’t get to, and a few other things. Mark still is strong for a boy his size, let alone his age, but he can’t expect to throw adults 20 feet at will, without my help. He should rely on his size and the fighting techniques I have taught him.
“Wow,” Mark said. “That is way cool.” River realized for the first time that he could also hear the voice of the river.
Also Mark, the river continued. I have a task for you. Your sister is the Rivertalker, and leader of the people. Rod is the prophet, and is responsible for spreading her word to the other bands of the people. And you will be the protector. Your task is to protect the people. You will be their guardian, and will look after the people. When you are an adult, I will have you seek to redress the big problem of dealing with the men who prey after the women of the people. Some white men feel that it is okay to use a woman of the people sexually, and then kill her. Hundreds of unsolved deaths exist, and the white police seem unable or unwilling to solve these crimes. This will be your task when you come of age.
“But not yet,” River argued. “He is big, but still a little boy. Only 10.”
He is young in years, but not in size, and no longer in maturity. His mission will not start for another six or eight years. But until then, he is still guardian. His mission for these years will be to protect the people, and others, from those who would be bullies or aggressive towards others. His mission is to help each and every person he can, whenever he can.
“I accept this mission,” Mark vowed.
On the ride back to the camp site River noted her mother holding her father’s hand as he drove with the other hand.
“Do you feel better now?” she asked.
“Yes I do, honey,” Alison said. “That river of yours is the best therapist in the world. I didn’t realize how much hate I had for those people in Toronto, but now, knowing the river will take care of them, I really don’t even think about it. I’m just anxious to get the house down there sold, and everything moved up here so we can get on with our lives. This is such a great place to live, and grow up, and to raise a family.”
“I’m sorry you didn’t get the bank branch,” River said. “What will you do? Work for Dad?”
“No honey,” Alison said. “Nick and I talked a lot about this on the way back home, and we have decided to look into starting a credit union for the town. It will provide all the banking services that a bank branch would, but will be much easier to start up. We will have to have meetings with the band officials, and people from the community, but I think there is a good chance we can get something going. Would you have a corner left in your store where we could locate a small branch? We would need room for two teller positions and a private office.”
“Wow,” River said. “We would love to have you in the store. I’d have to talk to Connie about it. We have pretty much allocated all the space in the store to product, but maybe we can move some things around.”
“What about the corner where the storeroom and offices are?” Dale suggested. “They don’t need the high ceilings that the rest of the store has. You could double up, and move the store management offices onto a second floor, and have the credit union on the same space on the ground floor. That way Connie’s office would look over the entire store from above.”
River instantly saw what he was saying, and could visualize it perfectly. “That would be perfect,” she said. “I’ll still need to run it by Connie, but I don’t see how she could object.”
“And we still have a lot of work to do before we even know that a credit union is possible,” Alison said. “That will be my job, starting next week. Tomorrow I have to see about getting the two of you registered for school.”
River was registered for school Friday morning. The only possible roadblock was that all her records were for Ricky, a male. River, a female, would be attending the high school. Nick accompanied Alison to the meeting with the high school principal, and eased the situation by noting that the school board had an established policy on transgendered students, implying that this applied to River. The principal attempted to exclude River from physical education and any activities that would involve changing rooms, but Nick quickly pointed out that River was completely female in all respects, and no such restrictions would be required. The principal wavered, and then agreed to drop the restrictions, on submission of a letter from a doctor or medical official.
The afternoon session in Terrace Bay was not as simple. The situation in schools was that the high school was in St. Mary’s, with the students from Terrace Bay bused in, while for the middle school, the students from St. Mary’s and the reserve were bused there. Each town had a primary school for kindergarten to grade four attached to the other schools. Mark, starting grade five, would go to Terrace Bay on the bus.
But at Terrace Bay the principal of the middle school was surprised when her appointment to register a grade five student saw a woman who looked to be 25, a slightly older man, and a boy who looked to be ready for grade 10. Cindy Karsen, principal, listened as the man, who turned out to be a lawyer and not the father or brother of the boy, explained the situation without getting into magical transformations by the river. It was simply expressed that Mark was very large for his age, but was ready for Grade 5, having finished Grade 4 in Toronto the year before.
Ms. Karsen immediately read into the story. She assumed that the boy had been a troublemaker in Toronto and the family was moving north to avoid his reputation. She pressed hard for an assessment of Mark’s abilities, expecting that he would fall short of the standards for Grade 5, and she might be able to shift the problem to the primary school in St. Mary’s.
Nick objected to the assessments, mainly because there was no cause for them, but Alison agreed, and Mark spent the next two hours writing half hour tests in English, Math, Science and French. A half hour after that, Ms. Karsen reconvened after marking the assessments.
“I am astonished at Mark’s abilities in English,” she said. “He is easily at a high school level in that subject. I wish his other subjects were as good, since then we could let him into high school, where his size would not be so much of a … distraction. But his math results are only slightly ahead of a grade five level, not more than grade six at best. Science is about the same, and his French is somewhat behind. Perhaps we could register him in Grade 6?” she asked questioningly.
“So rather than a good Grade 5 student, you want to make him into a struggling Grade 6?” Alison asked. “Can you explain the benefits of that?”
“Well, his size …”
“Would also stand out in Grade 6, wouldn’t it?” Nick finished her sentence.
“Yes, I suppose it would. You see, we have had a problem in the past with bullying in the school,” Ms Karsen explained. “We don’t want to see that problem expanded.”
“Well I don’t think we have to worry about anyone bullying Mark,” Alison said confidently.
“No, I was suggesting it might be the other way around,” the principal said meekly.
“Are you accusing Mark of being a bully?” Nick nearly shouted. “You have been with him for less than three hours. What has led you to this conclusion?”
The principal was cowed by the outburst. “Well, his size, of course. He really should be with students his own … size. That is why we seldom hold back students any more. And the fact that he has left Toronto and come north to … an Indian Reservation: it just doesn’t feel right.”
“It certainly doesn’t feel right,” Nick said. “Your apparent prejudice to First Nations peoples is clear, in spite of having them as a third of your student body. I am a proud Ojibwe man, and I have to say that your use of the term ‘Indian’ for our people offends me greatly, not to mention the suggestion that our homeland is a refuge for the misfits of your white society.”
Ms. Karsen cringed. This was going from bad to worse. As soon as she had said the word ‘Indian’ she knew she had misspoke. Her sensitivity training in dealing with First Nations issues had stressed that repeatedly. “I apologize, Mr Summerstorm,” she said contritely. “I misspoke, and should have used the proper term ‘First Nations’. As you mention, many of our students are from the reservation, and I feel they add a great cultural diversity to the school. And I certainly did not intend to suggest that your lands are in any way a refuge or are in any way less important than the towns and communities that the school serves. As you suggest, I have been hasty in prejudging your son … I mean client, in any way. We will start the paperwork immediately to get him enrolled to our school for September. Welcome Mark.” She held out his hand, and was impressed by the way that he politely shook it.
Nevertheless, as the trio left her office Ms. Karsen decided to call down to Mark’s old school and find out if the boy had been a discipline problem there, as well as requesting his transcripts.
While Mark was undertaking his ordeal in Terrace Bay, River had one of her own to deal with in St. Mary’s. She went to the hospital to get a letter from the doctor to attest to her femaleness for the high school. She wasn’t looking forward to the examination, but it was something that needed to be done.
At the hospital she saw Desmond Kraud, the administrator, at the front counter and he greeted her in a friendly way. “Our first prenatal clinic for the reserve ladies was held last night, and eleven showed up,” he said enthusiastically, “And tomorrow we are planning a diabetes clinic, with nearly 20 pre-registered. These things really will help us keep our numbers up. What can we do for you today?”
“I need to talk to the doctor,” River said tentatively. “Female problems.”
“Oh dear,” Desmond replied. “Dr. Mitchell is off for a few days. He had to go to Sault for a medical issue of his own. I expect him back today, but is this something that our nurse practitioner can help with?”
“Oh yes, that would be much better,” River said, relieved that it would be a woman who did the examination. She sat in the waiting room for only a few moments before a large woman of about 40 came for her.
“River Waters,” she asked, and led River into the examination room. “What can I do for you? I am not a doctor, but a nurse practitioner. There are some things I can’t handle that will have to wait for a doctor, when we get one, or you could go to the doctor in Terrace Bay.”
“I just need a letter for the school,” River explained. “I was born a boy, but I am a girl now, and the school needs a letter to testify that I don’t have any boy bits. Can you do that?”
“Oh certainly,” the jovial nurse said. “Let me just take a look.”
During the examination the nurse muttered a bit, and finally sat back up, telling River to cover up. “I’ve never dealt with a transsexual before,” she admitted, “but I swear that you are completely female down there. Who did your operation?”
“Well, there really wasn’t an operation,” River said tentatively. “I guess it was more that I was always a girl, but everyone just thought I was a boy. I do have periods and such now.”
“Well, as far as I know that is a sure sign that you are totally female,” the nurse said as River got dressed again. “I’ll write a letter to that effect if it will help.”
“No, just one saying that there are no traces of maleness visible,” River said. It would be best if the school thought she was a transsexual rather than investigating with her old school. “Earlier you spoke as if there was no doctor here. What happened to Dr. Mitchell?”
“Oh. I probably shouldn’t have said that,” the nurse said. “But he is in Sault right now at the regional hospital talking with cancer specialists. He had several biopsies done, and should get the results today. I pray to God that they are negative, but I really don’t hold up much hope. I’ve seen cancer onset before, and he shows all the symptoms. I’m just hoping that it is treatable.”
River just listened, amazed at how much personal information about the doctor the gossipy nurse was spreading. She wondered how much the woman would say about her situation. She resolved to wait for the doctor in the future.
River was leaving the hospital when she saw Dr. Mitchell enter. The man looked to be a shell of the man she had recently had run-ins with. He looked 15 years older, wan and exhausted-looking. Desmond was still in the waiting room, and the two men spoke without noticing River’s presence.
“How did it go?” Desmond asked.
“Bad,” the doctor said. “All three biopsies were positive. Liver, kidneys and prostate. Any one of them could kill me. Not even a chance chemo will work. You better start looking for a new doctor.”
“No,” River said, causing the two men to notice her. “You need to come with me to the river.”
“Your medicine man treatments can’t help me, dear,” the doctor said sadly. “I’m too far gone.”
“Don’t quit on me,” River said. “The river can’t hurt you. I don’t know if it can cure you or not, but at least it can cut down on the pain. Is it painful?”
“Very,” Dr. Mitchell said. “I couldn’t take the painkillers while I was driving back, so it is really pretty intense right now.”
“Then we need to get you to the river right now,” River said. Turning to Desmond: “Can you drive us?”
Thus they were at the river 10 minutes later. The doctor was complaining about the pain, and begging to go home so he could take some of the painkillers he had brought from the Sault. River insisted that he spend at least a few minutes in the water, and the weakened man agreed.
Once the two of them were in the river, the doctor stopped complaining. The pain disappeared almost immediately, and he attributed it to the freezing water. Except that the water around them didn’t seem that cold. Over the next hour the doctor felt that he was going through delirium. At one point River held him in her arms, and sang to him and he felt that he was back in the arms of his deceased mother, a child safe from all harm. Other times he felt he was a young man again, strong and virile, and ready to take on the world. Finally he came out of it and looked at the young girl standing next to him. She spoke: “It is finished. Everything is gone. Let’s go back to town.”
“It can’t be gone,” the doctor said as they climbed up the riverbank. “I saw the biopsy results myself. The cancer is malignant and extensive. It has probably spread to other organs that we didn’t check.”
“How do you feel now?” River asked.
The doctor paused a bit, then spoke slowly. “Better. I don’t feel any pain at all. It must have been the cold water. The pain will probably return when my core temperature returns to normal.”
“Well you certainly look better,” Desmond said. “You looked like an old man going into the river, but now you look like yourself again.”
River looked closely at the doctor. The river had not made him any younger, but the cancer had made him look older than his 58 years. Now he looked that age again. She knew that the cancer was gone, but didn’t want to argue with the man. They drove back to town in silence, parking at the hospital.
“Do you want me to take you home, Fred?” Desmond asked.
“No, I think I will putter around a bit in here,” the doctor replied. “I want to send to the hospital in Sault and get them to send up my biopsy results. I need to look at them again.”
“I’m going to just head down to the store,” River said, leaving the two men, smiling.
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