Friday, July 11, 2014

Introducing Dorcas Little Deer

Dorcas sat as tall as she could in an attempt to get air to the bottom of her lungs. She smoothed the black taffeta flounces, watching the fabric shimmer like the lake on a calm night. She idly imagined what a broad border of beading would look like, flowers and animals in glittering bits of trade glass with borders of variegated porcupine quills. Maybe some brightly colored ribbon to dress up the edges. Mother Barton would never approve, even though she had insisted Dorcas and her sister-in-law have the finest mourning dresses. These awkward metal hoops and yards of flounces were the latest style, brought to the upper reaches of the old Northwest Territory by the wealthy summer residents rapidly taking over the sleepy trading village of Harbor Springs.
Tawah tah, but this corset crushed! She didn't remember it being this tight eight years ago and the stays were still a finger-width further apart than she'd easily pulled them then. However, since it would be unseen and had almost never been worn, it was decided she'd make use of the corset she'd worn in her wedding on the day she laid her groom to rest. The same economic considerations meant other Mrs. Bartons also hid old support garments under new hoops and silks.
She hid her grimace as the jostling cart made inhaling even more difficult, but then realized it might have been better to let her discomfort show. Her mother-in-law's family began muttering about her stoicism before the bodies of her husband, his brother and his father were found in the smoldering ashes of the lumber camp on Crooked Lake. What she’d just done to her hair then only made the tongues wag faster. She had learned to ignore the behind-the-hand chatter, the muttering of the creek behind her house had more meaning to her. 
Her hair. Mother Barton hadn’t noticed yet, so overwhelmed by her three-fold loss. When it was apparent her eldest son had set his heart on on a “savage”, Mother Barton followed her husband’s lead and accepted his choice. But she didn’t take the decision with complete pacifism. Dorcas was quickly taken under the matron’s wing and taught how to style her hair, wear these unreasonable dresses and act like the wife of a respectable businessman. Dorcas was a good student, eager to please her groom and his family. Even if she did wear her old moccasins under the floor-length skirts instead of the ridiculously small and uncomfortable leather boots Mother Barton had supplied. She always returned to westernized traditional dress whenever she wasn’t going into “town”.
Today, of course, she wore the boots. But her hair was not up in the expected neat bun with careful curls framing her face. It was cascading down her back, long, unbraided and as black as the satin, except for the thick fringe above her eyes where she’d cut her hair short. It was to mark her grief that she risked scandalizing the Wasichu. Her sister-in-law, a cousin, had painted her face with coals mixed with pine pitch. If those gossips could be bothered to learn about the Odawa ways they’d understand the deep respect of that action. It meant she was in mourning and would not consider remarriage until the paint wore off - which could take year.
At the moment all those voices were silent. Creaking wheels were the only sounds as the long line of wagons traveled from the church to the cemetery. The dense blanket of autumn leaves turned the clattering of horses’ hooves to soft rustling. She was grateful. She desperately needed the peace after the endless chattering she'd endured these past few days. Callers at the house every hour, loaded with gifts and gossip. Under the thin disguise of condolences, they'd pried for information about the forest fire, the state of the lumber camp, and the solvency of the Barton lumber business.
Dorcas longed to return to her family, where she would have been sheltered from such impudent questions and be allowed to mourn her husband, father-in-law and brother-in-law at her own pace. Her father had abandoned the traditional bark-covered wigwam for a wasichu-style cabin long before she was born. Even so, that home was full of traditional comforts. Her aunts, uncles and cousins would intercept all messengers, letting through only the most necessary. If she had married an Odawa brave, her grief would be wrapped in the comfort of her grandmother's embroidered trading blanket, not on public display.
Her parents had walked on years ago and the old cabin had been taken in the same fire as her husband. Her marriage into an English family meant her aunts, uncles and cousins were forced to observe her grief from afar rather than help her bear it.

As much as she had come to love her new family, some traditions made no sense at all.

Wasichu means "fat-taker", what the Odawa called the early fur traders who showed no respect for nature, taking only the very best of the animal and wasting the rest of it.

Jane Wells has always gravitated toward reading material that pushed other people’s buttons. In 2nd grade it was a dinosaur book that upset her teacher at a Baptist school. Now it’s vampires and dystopias that catch her imagination. In them she finds parables and allegories illustrating God’s ancient plan in a language that is uniquely modern – and easily understood by people who may have never set foot inside a church. Glitter in the Sun and Bird on Fire are the results.
Always a writer, Jane’s “real jobs” have included newspaper journalism, youth ministry, sewing machine sales and marketing for a publishing house. Currently she is back to “just a writer” again, while juggling all the typical domestic duties of wife and mother, homeschooling two boys, managing two needy Golden Retrievers and answering to two very demanding cats.

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