“Other Lives” (Story Dice Sundays)

20160320_110940Amy wandered through the halls of her house. Each room was a memory waiting to be unlocked by her mind. Her bedroom. The closet where she’d hide when playing hide and seek. The sun room where she’d find quiet and solace. The kitchen where the maid always readied the day’s meals. Absent from her memories were her parents—in fact, they were absent for most of her life.

The world seemed much simpler then: just grow up, finish school, become an astronaut. Nothing to mention of bills, boyfriends, drugs, counsellors, medication, funerals…

***

Red Sky awoke, pulled off the beaver pelt blanket and dressed himself before stepping out of the tipi. The morning was slowly breaking. A few children were already running in the grassy field near the settlement. A few lone fires were burning low in their pits, as the day’s long work of smoking the meat from yesterday’s kills began—a deer and four fish, enough to last the tribe at least a week.

First-To-Wander joined Red Sky, and the two began stringing bows, collecting arrows and sharpening knives for the hunt.

***

Amy looked out the large bay window in the living room. The cul-de-sac outside seemed to stuck in an infinite loop, the road leading out obscured by a small island of grass and shrubs in the middle of the concrete road. She remembered looking out that window and wondering what it would be like if the entire world was just these eight houses. Her own little planet. Just her and her brother.

He used to push her on the swing. Even though he was younger he always wanted to push her on the swing. The only time she ever pushed him was in a wheelchair.

***

Red Sky bade his mother and sisters farewell. His mother held onto him just a little too long before he left. But he knew why. He, First-To-Wander and the other men left the settlement. They tread through the forest quietly. The journey would take a day and a night, but if the herd was still in the area it could very well be their new settlement.

First-To-Wander kept close to Red Sky. Red Sky knew why—it’s what uncles were for: to be there when the father wasn’t.

***

Amy sat at the kitchen table, a massive marble-topped thing that seemed too large for a family of four (especially considering all four were rarely present at the table). A journal lay open on the table. A clever fiction she had devised with her brother: their everyday lives, extrapolated and expanded into new worlds and adventures where anything was possible. A walk to school became a trek through the wilderness. Homework became a puzzle to solve to stop the world from blowing up. A trip to the beach was a mission to colonize an alien planet.

Their last adventure together: a hunt through a ruined city to uncover a lost artifact. She penned that one mostly, after she lost her earring on the playground.

Her ongoing adventure with him: keeping him alive in her memory.

***

The men camped at night, the smoke from their fire rising high into the night sky. Red Sky listened intently to the stories passing around the fire. He would be the keeper of them now. And he would pass them on to his children. And they would pass it on, and so on. He wondered how long they would go on for; if they would be remembered like the stars in the sky, always hanging over them—or like the smoke from the fire, strong and thick before dissipating into wisps in the air.

First-To-Wander kept close. He told them of the legend of a great hunter. He could see the world differently; the simplest things, like the trees and the animals, became erudite beauties in his eyes. When he took them, he did so with kindness and gratitude. He knew that someday he would leave this world, and he knew that those who came after him would soon forget him. But he taught them not to forget his ways. Though his name would be forgotten, his lessons would be remembered.

Red Sky smiled and looked up at the stars through the haze of the smoke.


Commentary

The story dice were almost complete opposites of each other, and so I wanted to write something that showed juxtaposition.

Juxtaposition is when you place two opposites close to each other in a narrative to highlight the differences—and sometimes similarities—between them. It can be a powerful tool because you’re literally showing black and white side-by-side. It can be done with opposite characters, settings, and narratives, and is particularly powerful in film.

I didn’t know exactly what it was I wanted to juxtapose, though, so I ended up making it up as the story went along. Eventually it became a story about loss and remembrance, and how these two different characters from completely different situations end up finding some form of peace with their loss. I never wanted to come right out and say “she lost her brother” or “he lost his father”, and instead let the narrative and characters tell the story themselves. Though in the second set of stories from the two characters, I may have been a bit too on-the-nose (eg “The only time she ever pushed him was in a wheelchair).

As a side note, I’m also cautious whenever I’m writing about Indigenous culture. Despite having Indigenous ancestry, there’s still very little I know of the way they lived. I’ve started reading “The Ways of My Grandmothers” by Beverley Hungry Wolf as a means of better understanding Indigenous culture. Ultimately, whenever you write about a culture other than your own it’s best to ere on the side of caution, lest you fall into offensive stereotypes. I tried to keep details about Red Sky’s tribe vague, going only off of what I knew.

 

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