Heart Berries

You finally sold your book. You messaged that you had left your girlfriend, for me. You didn’t jump to buy things. The Spanish radio station you put on during our drives. You expected me to do things and wondered why I wanted everything on the menu. We were somewhere mountainous, and it was snowing. It was a different exploitation. Some of my stories were fabricated. Sometimes grief is a nothing feeling. I feel things I would rather feel alone. You had a jawline, and I wanted to crawl under your gaze – under your chin. The man I had been conditioning was not happy with me. You didn’t take out your wallet and tell me who I was. Falling in love felt fluid. He seemed offended when I told him I needed a warmer sweater, matching gloves, and that the breakfast we had wasn’t right. He seemed surprised that I was not fun loving. The place always smelled like manure but not in the worst of winter. Scents can freeze. You were my teacher, and we discussed my fiction. I tried to bathe alone and he played a guitar on the other side of the door. Solutions are simple, and problems are laid out simply. I thought of the first healer, who was just a boy. I wore a brown corduroy jacket most days, and I remember waiting to be with you – putting my fingers in the jacket pockets until the pockets couldn’t contain my incessant want. You had a hard-on for my oratory. I knew that the way I had been living was too complicated for you to see up close. I reached out and touched them – they were double mine and whiter. I knew better. The first few nights you tell me things. My friend Denise told me the story. Those moments never came. I thought my cup was overflowing. I went horseback riding with the man. Her heaving seemed bloody and reminded him of his mother. You said you’d be on the other side of the door. He asked the elders what he should do, and they told him their own dreams, and that he should introduce himself by name and lineage to a bear and follow her until she gave him a gift. She called him Heart Berry Boy, or O’dimin. They looked at each other.  
We started to argue about autonomy and the agency I lacked with you. Bear told him she was not his mother. He planned a tour of a haunted house, but I said no. He was seven, and his fingers were perpetually sticky. You were patient with him, and I watched you both put together a Lego set. I told you I go away. I try to think that the things I do to you, I won’t ever do harder to someone else. I told you that I lock myself in the bathroom to cry when I remember his milk breath. What I notice with you is that I look outside whenever I’m close to a window, and I wonder how many women feel that way.  
Your agent called. Our life felt brighter together. I learned that any power asks you to dedicate your life to its expansion. There was a time when we dictated our beliefs and told ourselves what was real, or what was wrong or right. Story is inhuman and beyond me, and I’m not sure you ever recognized that. I tell you that I’d burn my life down for you. While I waited, I went on a trip with a man I barely liked. It was winter. There weren’t any abstractions. Our lives became less productive when productivity was pivotal. My work was skeletal, before you. I didn’t sleep the night before. She said, ‘You can’t expect me to unearth medicine and give you power unless you give your life to this.’ She was willing to die to keep her secrets from weak people. We’re always trying to see the world the way our ancestors did – we feel less of a relationship to the natural world. Our room had a skylight. You didn’t pamper me like the men I had conditioned. So many things were signs. I was underneath your chin, burying my nose into your chest and searching with my hands. Your hands were shaking. I remember pulling threads, looking in the mirror, and seeing myself how you might see me. We knew that our language came before the world. It comes from a traditional upbringing and regarding my work as something more sacred than generations of effort or study. He collected some berries and brought them to the people. I told him my friend was coming. We went back to our respective lives.  
The above is an excerpt from Heart Berries, available now from Bloomsbury. I told the man I was ready to go home. You received him so well. You asked me for my secret. Your neighbors had horses and chickens, but the land was insufficiently small. The people in his village were sick and dying because the Indian world was shifting. I feel abject without your passion. I waited for the right silence and then said flatly that I liked you. I should have consulted a healer before I went further with you. It’s something on a continuum, so far reaching you know it came from an inhuman place. Our culture is based in the profundity things carry. ‘I’d burn my life down for you,’ you said. He was almost jaundiced – he was so sick in love with me. I knew that your skin wasn’t rough. I want you to will my pain away. I knew what it felt like to sleep next to him in bed, and he was just gone. That’s how perfect love is at first. You were hairy and large. Neither one of us could pull away, so things erupted. White people are brutally awkward, even you. We agreed to talk about it sometime soon. A sin committed and a prayer answered, you said. Instead of feeling the gasping pain of my powerlessness, I straddle it and put your hands on my breasts. He knew something was wrong, and that’s when I wondered if maybe falling in love looked like a crisis to an observer. Every time I start to cry, you tell me that you can’t keep me from leaving. Everything seemed less real. You let him be weird. Safety wasn’t familiar – not with men. Problems seem to unfurl themselves like crumpled bills on a nightstand. ‘I want to be on a horse,’ I said. Every bathroom floor is different, but no mourning I do feels familiar. I wanted as much of the world as I could take, and I didn’t have the conscience to be ashamed. He spent the morning calling stalls and asking for rates. She started to feel sick. My fingers felt swollen with focus and desire. I knew that I was not going to be the same person for loving you. She told him to let her rest, but he didn’t. ‘What?’ he said. You asked me how soon we could meet. I feel uncontrollable with you. It snowed when we fell in love. I see you, Casey. I found myself caressing my own face. You didn’t call for two days. You thought of us as equals. He fell asleep and spun a restlessness that comes when people are waiting to die. You messaged me when I was playing slots with the man. You will always love me in a shadow. There was still so much to tell you – things too ugly to know or say. Image © Krysten Newby I had authority – a thing that people like you haven’t witnessed. Both of us had jobs and commitments. I wanted to know what I looked like to you. You knew to be excited in proximity to my power. Eventually, he started to plant and show others what he learned. I guess heartbreak is simple. Denise and I struggled and came up together – she named her son after the boy. It feels brand new. Everything reminded me of warm milk. I was rude and gratuitous. He walked alone in the valley, and, when Bear presented herself, she stood tall. We started the affair in a small booth at Village Inn. Every door is the same when I kneel in a corner – with a hand over my mouth. This was how the first medicine man came to be. And that I might need wool socks as well. She put her claws into a strawberry patch and produced ripe berries. With you, things don’t feel right sometimes. I knew I was not well. It’s not torturous to be with you when I consider being without. The boy lost his mother. My son was a smaller bolt of lightning – uncontained and sweeter than me. It was urgent. You ruined me with touch. New. O’dimin became a sorrowful kid who found solace in the dream world. I couldn’t enjoy anything without acknowledging he was in the room. He sat with her. In bed, daylight breaks through our tented sheets. You said you were ‘trying to immerse yourself in the language.’
I sunk into myself. Things have become more real with you. His name means ‘strawberry’ in the language. I believe you obstruct my healing. She sunk her paws into wet dirt, and then he told her his name. ‘Do we get a hotel?’ you said. We try to remember each other this way, and I’m not sure how many times I can do this to you before I forget myself. You looked like a hamburger fried in a donut. She ate and slept. I told you about the son who didn’t live with me. My son and I let you visit. He put on a Batman costume and hid behind the couch until you came. I knew, before I was close to you, that your cotton-blue hoodie smelled like smoke, and I could put my entire body beneath it. He followed her. The spirits finally came to him in a dream and told him to leave the village. He planned to go ice-skating, but I said no. The first night that I locked myself away, you didn’t even notice I was gone. ‘Any minute.’
When you arrived, Isaiah sprung out and stood quietly. He insisted on sleeping in the same bed in our cabin. Things feel continuous when I think of my gifts and heritage. I was desirous to be beneath you. ‘When is he coming?’ Isaiah said. I was bored and asked for horses.