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Fleur took the small roads,the rutted paths through the woods traversing slough edge andheavy underbrush, trackless, unmapped, unknown and alwaysbearing east. She took the roads that the deer took, trails thathadn't a name yet and stopped abruptly or petered out in uselessditch. She took the roads she had to make herself, chopping alderand flattening reeds. She crossed fields and skirted lakes, pulledher cart over farmland and pasture, heard the small clock andshift of her ancestors' bones when she halted, spent of all but thecore of her spirit. Through rain she slept beneath the cart's bed.When the sun shone with slant warmth she rose and went on,kept walking until she came to the iron road.
The road had two trails, parallel and slender. This was thepath she had been looking for, the one she wanted. The man whohad stolen her trees took this same way. She followed his tracks.
She nailed tin grooves to the wheels of her cart and kept goingon that road, taking one step and then the next step, and the next.She wore her makizinan to shreds, then stole a pair of boots offthe porch of a farmhouse, strangling a fat dog to do it. She skinnedthe dog, boiled and ate it, leaving only the bones behind, suckedhollow. She dug cattails from the potholes and roasted the sweetroot. She ate mud hens and snared muskrats, and still she traveledeast. She traveled until the iron road met up with another, untilthe twin roads grew hot from the thunder and lightning of so manytrains passing and she had to walk beside.
The night before she reached the city the sky opened and itsnowed. The ground wasn't frozen and her fire kept her warm. Shethought hard. She found a tree and under it she buried the bonesand the clan markers, tied a red prayer flag to the highest branches,and then slept beneath the tree. That was the night she took hermother's secret name to herself, named her spirit. Four Souls, shewas called. She would need the name where she was going.
The next morning, Fleur pushed the cart into heavy brambleand piled brush over to hide it. She washed herself in ditch water,braided her hair, and tied the braids together in a loop that hungdown her back. She put on the one dress she had that wasn't rippedand torn, a quiet brown. And the heavy boots. A blanket for a shawl.Then she began to walk toward the city, carrying her bundle, thinkingof the man who had taken her land and her trees.
She was still following his trail.
Far across the fields she could hear the city rumbling as she came near, breathing in and out like a great sleeping animal. Thecold deepened. The rushing sound of wheels in slush made herdizzy, and the odor that poured, hot, from the doorways and windowsand back porches caused her throat to shut. She sat downon a rock by the side of the road and ate the last pinch of pemmicanfrom a sack at her waist. The familiar taste of the poundedweyass, the dried berries, nearly brought tears to her eyes.Exhaustion and longing filled her. She sang her mother's song,low, then louder, until her heart strengthened, and when shecould feel her dead around her, gathering, she straightened herback. She kept on going, passed into the first whitened streetsand on into the swirling heart of horns and traffic. The movementof mechanical, random things sickened her. The buildings uponbuildings piled together shocked her eyes. The strange lack ofplant growth confused her. The people stared through her asthough she were invisible until she thought she was, and walkedmore easily then, just a cloud reflected in a stream.
Below the heart of the city, where the stomach would be,strange meadows opened made of stuff clipped and green. For along while she stood before a leafless box hedge, upset into a stateof wonder at its square shape, amazed that it should grow in sounusual a fashion, its twigs gnarled in smooth planes. She lookedup into the bank of stone walls, of brick houses and woodencurlicued porches that towered farther uphill. In the white distanceone mansion shimmered, light glancing bold off its blankwindowpanes and turrets and painted rails. Fleur blinked andpassed her hand across her eyes. But then, behind the warmshadow of her fingers, she recovered her inner sight and slowlyacross her face there passed a haunted, white, wolf grin.
Sometimes an old man doesn't know how he knows things. Hecan't remember where knowledge came from. Sometimes it is clear.Fleur told me all about this part of her life some years after shelived it. For the rest, though, my long talks with Father Damienresulted in a history of the great house that Fleur grinned up at thatday. I pieced together the story of how it was formed. The priestand I sat long on the benches set against my little house, or at aslow fire, or even inside at the table carefully arranged on thelinoleum floor over which Margaret got so particular. During thoselong conversations Father Damien and I exchanged rumors, word,and speculation about Fleur's life and about the great house whereshe went. What else did we have to talk about? The snow fell deep.The same people lived in the same old shacks here. Over endlessgames of cards or chess we amused ourselves by wondering aboutFleur Pillager. For instance, we guessed that she followed her treesand, from that, we grew convinced that she was determined to cutdown the man who took them. She had lived among those oak andpine trees when their roots grew deep beneath her and their leavesthick above.Four Souls
Excerpted from Four Souls: A Novel by Louise Erdrich
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