Whipple’s sense of estrangement from her community is strongly portrayed in this story of a mother who reluctantly allows her only son to enlist. Elements of both feminism and pacifism are readily apparent, as is Whipple’s sensitivity for the Pueblo culture—an aspect which broadens the story’s theme and expands its setting from a 1940’s southwestern town to the red canyons of its distant past.
After Whipple’s first draft of the story in 1941, her literary agent, Max Lieber, told her that “the piece is out of step with the country’s [patriotic] mood.” Perhaps in her title Whipple found hope that her work on behalf of Elsie Hafen and countless other mothers would eventually see the light of day. She wrote four drafts of the story in the 1940s, experimenting with different narrators, and continued to try to find a publisher until as late as 1949. In 1991, Veda Hale and Whipple collaborated on a revision of the story. The 1991 version is Whipple’s last piece of creative writing.
Lizards aren't interested in tears. When the springs of your life run dry lizards are excellent company.
She watched them, fugitive and aimless, dart away from her feet among the rubble. Man had no business patronizing lizards—lizards who at least had sense enough to mind their own business. She pitched a stone and quite astonishingly hit the tail of one sunning on a rock. With what dispatch it scurried away to lick its wounds! That's what I am doing, she thought, licking my wounds. What else was there for a woman to do in a world managed by men? A woman who must be efficient as a lizard in hiding, too, so as not to annoy men with her grief! Her throat ached with helpless anger.
Pulling herself up over the steep footway which worked the lungs of city dwellers to bursting, she stopped to rest and stared upward at the terraced ruins just showing above the flat top of the mesa. It seemed more as if the great rock pedestal had grown windows and doors than as if those ancient masonries had been built by man.
Thinking to snare the tourist whose dollars were the life-blood of this crazy country, the townsfolk had cut steps out of the sandstone, lured him to climb to this "point of interest" by an easy stairway.
"THIS WAY!" shrieked the signs along every highway. "THIS WAY TO THE INDIAN RELICS!" The community was still so childishly proud of its museum. She thought, THIS WAY TO THE RELICS FROM VIOLATED GRAVES! How would you like to think your baby would someday be a "curiosity" for "civilized" folk to stare at?
But even then, the "civilized" folk weren't safe from civic pride. That mockery of a monument to the World War dead, that old cannon inscribed with their names on the courthouse lawn. She wondered why the Elder Statesmen didn't come out in the open, didn't line the highways with signs proclaiming their actual intent: THIS WAY TO THE CEMETERIES OF YOUNG MEN! THIS WAY TO THE GRAVES OF THE BOYS WHO DIED THAT WE MIGHT GET RICH!
What a bright idea, she thought. Funny the Chamber of Commerce hadn't cooked it up long ago. As a matter of fact, she'd have had a lot more respect for them if they'd used signs like that in the parade. But at the memory of the parade, the hard lump in the pit of her stomach began to swell again . . .
The usual trouble with a parade, she had decided, was that everyone wanted to be in it and there was no one left to watch. But this time it was different. The press of bodies, necks craning behind her, tag-ends of conversation. . .
"'Scuse me! Didn't mean to push you in the ditch!"
Recovering her footing among the slippery weeds, she turned to smile politely into his quizzical,
She almost hated turning around, almost hated to look. It would be too hard to mask the hurt in her eyes. Funny, the different way men and women regarded these things. While the man behind her saw only the young swashbuckling columns, his two strapping boys, she saw waste. The Elder Statesmen all over again, strutting like small boys showing off, beating drums, flying flags, mouthing big words, and getting rich.
Bud was not quite eighteen. She could have kept him out by so little a thing, just refusing to sign a paper. But he had presented his viewpoint with such earnestness: "This is right, Ma. When I remember that my great-grand-dad fought in '76, my grand-dad in '6l, Dad in 1917, why I--"
Words threadbare with time and overwork. Listening, she only wondered if all the other mothers who had listened felt as thwarted as she. For that was the vicious thing about it all, of course. Sooner or later the Elder Statesmen convinced youth itself. Or was it that the lust for war was inherent, even in a man-child?
But here came the parade. First the mayor on his black stallion, its silver trappings flashing in the sunlight. With a blaze of sound, the band started up at the end of the line, two blocks down, and the stallion curved and pirouetted, his lovely mane tossing, his hoofs striking the paved road in delicate staccato. The mayor doffed his ten-gallon hat, its band of snake rattles whirring, rose in his stirrups, and bowed right and left.
She tightened her lips. Even the hammered-silver splendor of his belt could not hide his growing paunch. She remembered that time at the rodeo he had ridden up before the stands, reined in with a flourish--and miscalculated and slid off the stallion's rear end in the dust. She remembered the delighted roar of the audience.
"But, Ma," Bud had said, "you ain't fair. Lookit the Eagle Scout cave he gave us up among the ruins--"
His young bewilderment. No, she wasn't fair. She hated this town with its sand, interminable sun, cliff-dwellings. She'd hated it for fifteen years. Lately, since Bud had gone overboard about this Boy Scout business, she'd hated it even more. All this flummery about Indian lore--
All over both plateau and desert are evidences of these early races, the local guidebooks simpered. They were immigrants from the Old World, footing it through Bering Strait ten or fifteen thousand years ago. They preached no sermons and carved no names and yet left an undying record . . .
Silly, meaningless words. She hated it all.
"Ma," Bud would say hesitantly, his eyes diffident and pleading, "if you'd just come out to this one jamboree--"
Knowing he'd never understand, she'd try to be humorous. "Darling, I can't climb over your old rocks with these high heels!"
It was a sore point between them, and she hated this country all the more for weaning her son away from her. But she could not explain to him the instinct for self-preservation which drove her to deny the local sandals and bare feet, to cling so stubbornly to the high heels which were a symbol of the pavement-and-delicatessen existence she'd loved.
For fifteen years she'd held herself aloof, done her daily stint in the bank--thank God, figures were impersonal, unemotional. Year after year she'd smiled politely at customers. Yes, the weather was hot. Yes, it was fine that Mrs. Brown was better. And refused to be one of them, had preserved her own neutrality. Whenever she passed the local spit-n-whittle gang on the curbstone or on the furniture store steps or a group of housewives visiting in the post office, she knew their polite nods veiled curiosity. She could feel them conjecturing behind her back. It was as if, belonging, they instantly arrayed themselves against this alien who refused to run with the pack. Always she could feel them trying to peer beyond her imperturbable courtesy, to crack the poise she wore like a mask, to break down and assimilate this tall angular woman so thin they could almost see through her and yet with a resistant strength like that of fine wire--a woman whose sharpened features were compressed like the profile on a coin, a woman who refused to indulge in a permanent, who wore even her straight hair in a severe knot on her neck; a woman whose only concession was the amused scorn that sometimes flashed far back in her dark eyes.
She knew what they thought, what they saw. She didn't care. Soon, now, she'd have enough saved. An eastern college for Bud . . .
"Here come the vets!" the man behind her cried, peering around her.
The American Legion had managed to scare up puttees and overseas caps for the two men carrying the American flag. The rest of the Legionnaires trudged along behind, their middle-aged bodies self-conscious in the march, their middle-aged bellies keeping time to the trudge, trudge of middle-aged feet. They were marching mostly out of step, thanks to arthritis and corns and fallen arches. Sweat half-mooning their armpits outside their vests, they marched in the clothes of their trades. Here the carpenter, one gallus secured by a nail, here the shoemaker, still in his leather apron, several farmers in overalls and heavy work shoes. But they all had one thing in common--as the music swelled and they strode more easily with the rhythm, their self-conscious grins faded, their faces assumed a nostalgic exaltation, as if they were listening to long-gone music, as if their hearts echoed to some forgotten knight-errantry. As if they were remembering . . .
Watching them, she remembered, too, and the memory traveled its accustomed groove of pain like the aching of an abscessed tooth.
The Holy Grail. Making the world safe for democracy. They had both been so incredibly young and gullible in 1917. Yet even now her heart recognized the exaltation on those middle-aged faces going by. They had dedicated their generation to sacrifice so that future generations--
Don't be a sentimental fool, she said savagely to herself. Don't you suppose thousands of women are feeling like this all over the country?
But her mind went on picturing that last moment at the railroad station. The shining of his eyes, the sense of consecration beneath their matter-of-factness. And the shambling wraith of a man who eventually came home, with his bitter eyes and his cough. Like thousands of other women, she called it asthma, brought him to Arizona, and watched him die over and over. Until one day she stepped out of the room, heard the shot, and ran back in to find him lying there with his brains all over the pillow. This is it, she thought. This is the Holy Grail. And snatched up the kid desperately. Poor puny little shaver. He'd never had a break. But she'd make it up to him. She knew all about the Elder Statesmen now; she knew about giving up your life for Democracy.
"Pardon me," said the man behind her, shoving her into the ditch. "Here comes the band!"
The resplendent drum majorettes, cavorting there in the roadway like diminutive peacocks. The high school band sweating in satin uniforms, blowing their horns like grim death, harrumping on by . . .
The man beside her choked with excitement.
"Here come the Lions!"
The Lions in their gaudy purple shirts. The town's young attorney, the young dentist astride white horses, carrying between them the purple banner with its flamboyant insignia, the others marching. The Lions, and the Lionesses in purple shirts and white skirts.
A murmur behind her grew and swelled.
At last! The boys, themselves! The boys!
Thank God, they were through with the show-offs, she thought. The show-offs sending boys to war and making a Roman holiday out of it. The band blared ahead. The boys came on, and her tears spilled.
Damn it! He'll never forgive you if you bawl!
Eyes straight ahead they marched in their Sunday suits, proud and excited, innocently aglow with the lust for adventure, for glory. Forever through with school and growing-up.
"Coupla years," said the man behind her. "Can't last more'n a couple of years. Make a man out of him--"
But she knew. The Elder Statesmen were just finding new ways to bluff a sucker.
There, Bud saw her! Gaze straight ahead, but that quick, conspiratorial droop of his left eyelid. How brown he was. He walked so self-consciously ramrod-straight, with such a soldierly step. But his shoes were all dusty, and the bottoms of his pants-- In a momentary lull of the music she was acutely conscious of the rhythmic slap of marching feet on cement. Her neck kinked as she strained to watch the retreating columns.
Suddenly wild panic assailed her. He was all she had! She shook with the effort to keep from throwing herself after them, beating her breast and crying aloud. Much as she hated Indians, there was something to be said for the uninhibited native woman.
The crowd began to push out into the street after the boys. She let herself be swept along, exchanging mechanical platitudes. When they reached the square, the parade had already disbanded, the boys lolling at their ease on the steps of the auditorium. Like other parents, she was supposed to go up to him now. Interested but casual. The light touch. A little amused. "Quite a parade, feller!" But try as she would, she couldn't get the catch out of her voice. As he came toward her and caught her tenseness, his eagerness fled. He frowned. She could almost hear him protest, "But, Ma, we've been through all that before!" And so, she smiled, willing the smile to stay put of its own volition.
How white his teeth were against the brown of his skin! He'd never shaved yet, and there was fine golden fuzz on his cheeks like the down on a peach . . . Funny, they never seemed grown-up to you, even when they grew so tall you had to look up to them.
"Well, darling, aren't you tired with all that marching?"
"Hell, no! I like it! Oh, Ma--" He gulped with excitement. Animation rippled over his face. But he was tongue-tied and ill at ease with her.
Why should you be? she wanted to cry. I'm letting you go without a word!
The bugle sounded.
"Be seein' you!"
He patted her awkwardly on the arm and ran to join his comrades forming on the square.
And there was the band again, the music flooding out into the warm air, the sunlight striking off the silver instruments. "Stars and Stripes Forever . . . Dum-dum! Dum-dum-dum! Dum-dum-dum! She was absorbed in those rows of boys. The young faces intent. Here and there a suspicious shining of eyes.
She knew that expression. A quickening of the blood, a sense of adventure. She had seen it before on the eve of war, nearly twenty-five years ago. Humanity hadn't learned much in a quarter of a century. They still demanded the pick of your youth, the clean and strong and courageous. They still took a heart gay and innocent, free from brutality, and deliberately primed it with hate, the lust to kill. They preached to him of sacred causes. And when the cannons were through with him, only then did they send what was left back to you. That time he'd had pneumonia. She wondered if other mothers were thinking, even as herself, that it would have been far better not to have raised him at all.
The band had stopped. The mayor was introducing the president of the DAR in lace-trimmed garden hat and corsage. She thinks it's a picnic! The good lady was presenting the community's gift, a flag with its three-cornered fold, the field of blue all properly uppermost. The boys stood smartly at salute. Madam President's majestic bosom waggled with importance and earnestness. Her voice had all the sticky sweetness of pink lemonade. Sweat dewed her upper lip.
"Your flag and my flag
And how it waves today,
O'er your land and my land . . . "
The voice was sugary, but a hush fell upon the restless high school students of the band, upon the spectators, upon the boys themselves. People cleared their throats solemnly.
And now at last the ceremony was over. The boys were saying their goodbyes. The crowd milled about in the square, filling the air with the babble of voices, laughter, tears. Dust rose from gregarious feet and spread upward like steam.
But she had always been an alien. She still was. No one existed save she and Bud. In spite of herself, she forgot her resolve: "Remember, son, if you get a cold, I put your Vicks Drops--"
He flushed. "Gosh sakes, Ma!"
"Never mind, darling--" (hastily).
The scream of the whistle.
"Well, good-bye, Ma. I'll write."
He was gone now, running with others to the sidewalk where the bus was waiting. She followed with the rest of the crowd.
The bus began to move. A waving of hands, voices shouting. There he was . . . her Bud!
"Don't worry, Ma! I'll write!"
A woman was weeping audibly. But her own eyes were dry. Her lips ached in keeping a smile pasted there.
He was gone. The bus roared on up the road. Suddenly the sidewalks were almost empty. People were going home.
"San Louie Obispo ain't so far away. Don't cry, Katie. We'll drive down there in the fall--"
Fool! What good would that do? Don't you know they've got him?
At the thought, violent denial ran along her nerves like a shriek. She stopped. What did other mothers do at a time like this? Why, go about their business, of course. But that was it--she couldn't go back to the figures in a bank. Suddenly the taste of life was flat and bitter. Too bitter to be borne.
The sandstone steps spiraled upward around rocky sky-edged corners. Often she had to pause with madly pumping heart. Each new step was a challenge. The high dry air sang in her lungs. Soon she was carrying her jacket. Soon, her slippers, oblivious of the damage to silken-clad feet. The fierce sun beat down, even as it had done a millennium ago when the trail was merely a series of hand-and-foot holds which her dark-hued sisters had scaled like mountain goats. And strangely, along with the effort of climbing, some of their ancient stoicism began to eat at her grief.
A strange serenity came up to her from the cloud-shadowed desert which stretched out beyond her gaze like a sea of sand. From here the alkali flats and colored clays lay stratified like an earthen rainbow. So easy to forget the town down there and imagine the shimmering distance flecked with only the tiny patches of green which must have marked the ancient cornfields. A land of cactus and iridescent lizards, read her travel folders.
She gazed as if under a spell, her old prejudice exorcised.
There was the tuft of evergreen by the spring at the base of the mesa. In olden days, that evergreen would have been tied with cotton, an offering to the clouds which it resembled. Farther on, feathers once peeped from a cave, where rainwater still stood in a sandstone hollow, the haunt of some god. Here on silent feet padded the women with the ancient water jars on their heads, and naked children splashed in their one real bathtub. Water, blessed and holy in a way that only desert people can understand.
She pulled herself up the final step where the flat rock jutted out like a table top. Her eyes came on a level with the mesa summit and the gray unevenness which had seemed to be part of the hill resolved itself into broken walls and flat roofs, built of the same sandstone as the mesa itself. Facing south to get the sun, the houses rose from a height of one room at the front to three, four, and five at the back.
Here was a long ladder of notched poles leading to the upper stories. She tested the bottom rung with her foot; reassured, she put her whole weight on it and began to climb. Not all the power of the centuries had weakened its ancient craftmanship.
A little dizzy, she marveled at the thought of the ancient sandaled housewife, a jar of water from the spring on her head, climbing the notched pole like her, perhaps a series of notched poles to the roof of her house. She marveled at the thought of her, still balancing the jug, climbing through her front door, a square hatchway in the roof, and (yes, there was a down going ladder) descending to her home below.
Nothing existed save the silence, the whispering ghosts, and the accumulated sand underfoot. Oblivious of her torn skirt, the reddening welt where her arm had rubbed against the stone masonry, she knelt on that sand and sank her fingers into it. Beneath it was the packed clay floor of which that other woman was once so proud. Warm silken sand climbed almost to her elbows before she touched solid, and a sense of reverence possessed her, an immersion of self in a sense of timelessness that was vast and frightening.
All those other women down through the centuries---had they, too, known the might of the Elder Statesmen? Had they, too, hated war? Did nothing remain of all their struggling and loving and dreaming but a few bits of broken pottery?
The gaily colored folders asked questions, too. The high bare plateau still remains as it was twenty centuries ago, shouted the folders, a waterless land of brilliant skies, wild thunderstorms, glaring heat and windy chill. And the shelf-like caves scoured by the wind high up in the sandstone cliffs of the plateau walls, still shelter our first apartment houses . . . But there were duck and fish in the desert river below. Why then, demanded the folders, why then did the Ancients choose the plateau?
But the white woman sifted the powdered, timeless sand and shook her head. Kneeling before that other woman's stove, a pit in the floor still ash-filled and blackened, she could imagine fat pods of the giant yucca roasting over the coals. And here were corn cobs, still in the ashes. Tenderly she ran the palm of her hand down that other woman's walls--she had plastered them with clay, now cracked and fallen, although in places the imprint of her fingermarks could still plainly be seen. No, there was a human pulse-beat here that the smart folders, the tourists, even the archaeologists had missed.
Musing through the crumbling rooms, she could have sworn that a housewifely ghost walked by her side. From the thick sand her feet scuffled up obsidian arrow points, bone awls, bits of striated pottery. Here on one of that other woman's walls were drawings of stick-men dancing in worship, and, below, the soft gray ashes of that long-gone altar fire were even yet a foot or more in thickness.
Here was a rare window that led to the roof of the lower house in front, that other woman's balcony. Perhaps, thought the modern woman, perhaps she sat, even as I am sitting, on these warm time-weathered stones and stared out over her dooryard, this thousand-foot precipice.
Down below, the heat waves wriggled upward from village and farm like bright volatile snakes. Down below, where little creatures rushed about with all the furious activity of red ants. But all about the woman on the balcony there was suddenly a larger sense of life, thousands and thousands of lives flaming upward for an instant, flickering out, crowding about her, clamoring with their eons of accumulated wisdom.
The travel folders were explicit: Here in this cave we find the broken walls of a daubed mud pueblo built one upon another clear to the arching roof. Or here in another cave, a more pretentious structure, posts to support a roof of brush and mud. Or, over there in a shelf-space of sandstone indenting the side of the cliff between the talus slope of the valley and the frowning mesa top, inaccessible except by ropes---clinging like a crow's nest half way up that vast rocky wall--we find still another dwelling. Inevitably a question poses itself: Did centuries separate each home? Centuries that had reduced to mounds solid-walled adobe-type houses, and on these mounds had crumbled the remains of mud-and-daub houses--ruin piled upon run, homesites occupied at least three different times or periods? Did the people of those days flee only to return and rebuild their destroyed homes time after time, or did three different races occupy three different sites?
Words, words . . . The woman on the balcony tried to shake them off impatiently.
Finally, when we turn up in the ancient dust of one home fragments of a grooved stone hammer, bird-bone whistles, slim graceful ollas; or when we unearth in another, still lovelier pots decorated over a varnished luster; and when we find in a third, muskrat bones split to get out the marrow, and only the clumsiest kind of fat gray pottery crumbling at a touch--the picture is complete and we marvel at these races of men piled one on top of another like layers on a cake, each layer separated by thousands and thousands of years but each forever clinging to its own poetry.
Glib words. That housewifely presence at her side, that long-ago maiden---hers was the real secret. And she heard it, the spirit thing, whisper with the wind among fancied smoke wraiths, stir the ancient embers into little eddies of dust that shhurahed and whirled and settled again.
Suddenly, as she stared, the town below rose up like a phantom thing, and like a mammoth dust-devil, dissolved into the bright, sunlit air.
Clear to the horizon the desert flows, vast and barren and empty. From its farthest extremity bounded by the deep gorges of Tots-qua-qui-toa (Black-Colored Country), over its bosom, striped with the burnt-orange, red, and yellow clays of Unka Caru, to the river Ma-pat-pah (Muddy Water) crawling below the mesa, there is just one sign of life--an Indian pueblo, huddled close to the banks of the river. But it is a prosperous pueblo, built of logs from the nearby mountain, and surrounded by the living green of many cornfields. Its people are known as the Peaceful Ones.
There is a dance in the plaza. You peer closer. It is a ceremonial dance, for the women are in snow-white mantles and the men in fearsome masks and trappings of spruce boughs.
And there, just crossing the courtyard to her lover's house, is the reason for the dance---your long-ago maiden. Straight as a spruce stump, she walks proudly, for she knows that she is not only good to look upon but fleet to chase her goats until they wait with lolling tongues.
Once inside the house she is solemn. This is the beginning of the four days' ceremony. Solemnly she kneels on the floor, before the granite metate, and solemnly she begins to push the cylindrical grinding stone around and around over the kernels of corn. Only when her cornmeal is light as powder will she stop.
Although she is pretty, with high cheek bones and slanting eyes and straight black hair cut across her forehead like that of a medieval page, she knows that prettiness isn't enough. Although she has washed her braids with Muk-unk, the oose soap, until they shine even indoors, although she wears properly her tight-fitting little cap of woven willows to protect her head from getting raw where the strap from the water-jug is slung or the strap from a papoose cradle may someday rub, although she has twisted the rabbit skin strips of her dress so that the furry surface is inside and out and rolled them and sewed them together with yucca fiber, although she has adorned herself with many necklaces of the claws and teeth of small animals, she still must prove to her lover's family that she is industrious.
Outside in the plaza the dancers stamp and chant. Listening she shivers with delight and bends more diligently to her work. This time it is for her sake, the Dance of Fertility.
Across the courtyard her lover will be listening, too. He and his male relatives are weaving the wedding outfit. White tasseled bridal robe and mantle, and moccasins from a whole white buckskin topped with thick puttees to make her tiny feet look even smaller.
As the grinding wears on, she dreams of their future together. It will be very sweet. Her people of the pueblo meet life with a smiling ease. They have a government and a religion which have kept them happy for a thousand years. There are no police and no penalties. Hospitality, modesty, and kindness are the duties of all good citizens. And the worst fault in the world is to offend a neighbor. Not that she is consciously aware of such reasons for happiness, but rather of a settled shining somewhere deep in her being.
And then the four days are over. After the maiden has been escorted with her new bridal possessions home to her mother, there comes the final ceremony. Heaping her extra-size basketry bridal tray with her ground meal she walks back across the courtyard to "pay for" her husband. He is strong and handsome, and the gods of the cornfields are his friends. Oblivious of the long line of dancers still stamping the earth, the chanting and jesting and laughter, she stands in her new white tasseled bridal robe and gazes up into his eyes. And your heart goes out to her. That look is the same in any age.
Suddenly there are shouts outside the pueblo. The sound of blows, savage whoops, thundering hoofs among the cornfields. Carnage and disaster. The scene dissolves in confusion as a scene reflected in clear water will dissolve if you stir it with a stick.
The Peaceful Ones, having ever shunned war and the arts of war, try to placate the attacker. You watch the maidens load the arms of their young men with all the winter corn and blankets. But in spite of the peace offering, the enemy comes again and yet again. No longer are voices gay in the courtyard. The pueblo lies silent and frozen in the grip of an inescapable menace. The Peaceful Ones take counsel in the kiva: More important to them than peace is their own integrity, their invincible democracy. And so one dawn, all the young men advance upon the desert. But of course, they are no match for the tall, rangy Navajo who rides them down with his fleet horse and rips them open with his spear.
Alone upon your ledge, you weep for the Peaceful Ones. For your long-ago maiden and all her sisters creeping out at nightfall to retrieve the slaughtered bodies of their young men. You weep for the girl, on her knees beside her lover, tugging at the embedded arrows, her face so expressionless and her eyes so alive. You weep for the old men casting longing eyes at the pinnacle where you sit. Up here their culture would be safe. Up here, with the blank rear walls for defense and look-out towers below . . . You weep, and your heart aches at what you see down the vista of time . . .
Once more the scene changes. Gone are the screams of terror. Now flowing about the mesa top where you sit, daily life has a gentle hum. Faces are pleasant and voices are low. Once more the masked gods dance in the plaza. And once more there is your long-ago maiden.
Every evening in the summer she sits on her balcony and watches for the dwarfed figure that is her lover, in loincloth and sandals, returning with his sharp stick from the cornfields where he runs every day to water and weed. He knows she will be sitting there, working at her pottery and basketry. He waves a hand in salute and she salutes him in return. For he is eager to reach her, although she is no longer as straight as a spruce stump. It is as if those months of siege sprouting like sores through the long past when her people could get no water but that which settled in the rain reservoir on the mesa's summit--as if those ages of adaptation to a more hostile environment had dwarfed her, shrunk her.
But this moment she is smiling. See her, lying on that bed of warm sand. Beside her is a newborn baby. On the ground by the baby lies a perfect ear of corn, symbol of life, and beside the mother a divided one, symbol of fertility. Soon now, the baby will be taken out and presented to the Sun Father while his elders sprinkle holy cornmeal. As you watch, she smiles again at her baby and you know that inwardly she is the same as her more fortunate sister who once dwelt on the plains below. She smiles at her baby and you know that the heart does not change.
Abruptly her smile dies. Cutting like a thrown dagger through the gentle hum of life on the hilltop comes a shout from the sentry in the look-out tower below. Startled, you peer over the edge. Strange and terrifying beings in glittering helmets and leather jackets and steel corselets are gesticulating upward at the little fortress. Swiftly, the priests take counsel in the kiva. Clearly these strangers must be another version of the ancient enemy plundering through the centuries. But first, we will placate. Long lines of priests in stately procession go down to meet the visitors with presents of food.
But in spite of the sacred cornmeal strewn over the trail to keep out invaders, the gentle Franciscan padre leads the captain and his soldiers up the path. They have come to impose the white man's god, his own omnipotent haughty god. They speak of the gods of the Peaceful Ones as devils. They laugh at the sacred Sun Priest and Rain Priest and Bow Priest. They help themselves to the stores of food, the pretty maidens.
The air is murky with anger and hate. The Peaceful Ones, resenting the need for war, make their prayer sticks and fall upon the white men and kill all who do not jump off. But there are so many Spaniards! New parties gather under the mesa wall like flies on a carcass.
"Here is a wagon-load of food!" The Spanish sergeant tempts the besieged Peaceful Ones.
For answer in a last furious crescendo the fighting men launch all their arrows--and astounded watch them bounce back harmlessly from the steel corselets. Then, with the terrible anger born of desperation, all the Peaceful Ones, even women and children, roll and push heavy boulders until the earth shakes with the crashing. But when the dust clears away there are still the glittering helmets, taunting, uncrushed. Until at last some of the white soldiers scale the mesa by a back way, cross a chasm on a log, and fall upon the Peaceful Ones from behind.
"Submit!" orders the Spanish sergeant.
But even the priests come out to help the young men do battle.
"It is better to die on our feet than live on our knees!" urge the women from within the houses.
There is your long-ago maiden telling her husband good-bye. Her eyes are merely patient. One goes on giving to the race, to preserve a way of life.
You turn away your head. The air is hideous with the sound of blows, the hiss of the sword, the screams of the wounded. When once again you look, the plaza runs with blood. All the fighting men, even the old men and the priests are strewn about it, breasts torn open, heads gashed, bodies slashed in two.
See that white soldier pause to catch his breath, to wipe his sword. He stares at the houses: women and children next--
Your heart leaps! There is your long-ago maiden! Strapped in the cradleboard on its mother's back, her child coos delightedly, fondling something that looks like the clay from which she fashions her pottery. Her child coos delightedly, unaware of horror, unaware of despair and grim resolve, unaware of the stealth with which your maiden creeps toward the rear of the mesa. There is a little-known pathway . . .
Shaking the sleep from her eyes, the woman on the cliff jumped to her feet, dazed yet compelled. Behind her the ruins dozed. Below her the town on the plain lazed about its business. A wonder possessed her, a strange urgency. She tried to bring herself back to the present, to her grief, to the son whom the Elder Statesmen had seduced to war. But the dream still held.
That presence at her side, that hand on her shoulder . . . Down the footpath she hurried until her knees throbbed, around to the rear of the mesa, laboring like one driven over the tumbled rocks.
Bud's scout cave. Coolness and gloom in here . . . Panting, she sank down on the sand and stared up at the vaulted roof where the striated rock arched and the shadows made maroon twilight. Dust motes swam in a splinter of sunlight. She watched a lizard run into a tiny hole in the wall. And suddenly the silence once again whispered about her. The spirit thing rose up like an incense . . .
Just her hand idly playing with a loose stone against the wall. But it was as if the spirit thing were there, prompting . . . Curious, she pulled away that stone, grasped eagerly at others as a man might go after hidden treasure. And after all it was such a tiny hole, there in the wall of the larger cave. She wriggled through it.
A tiny perfect room, streaked with scarlet where the sudden light shot through, but eerie with the thick murk of centuries. The dry, timeless feeling of sand sifting from the rock through her pressing fingers, the airless sense of the crouching tons of boulder. And the spirit thing, whispering in the corners. Then it was, when her eyes grew used to the gloom, that she saw them, lying around the edges, lying in their woven robes of yucca fiber, lying on their woven mats of cedar bark. Swathed eloquent little bones. A baby burial vault! The safest, most hidden place, the longest sacred from prying eyes. All those other bereft mothers hundreds of years ago knowing just as she knew what it was like to give up flesh of her flesh.
And at last, here against the wall, her long-ago maiden. A crumbling skeleton, but upon its breast, still in the yucca burial robes, its child. She peered more closely. She reached out her hand. There in the baby's arms was a doll. A figurine made of clay with flattened mud knobs for the eyes and nose and mouth. Even a miniature hooded clay cradle-board. And the modern woman could see that other woman sitting there, molding the clay, molding her hostage for the future that should somehow speak of all her own heartbreak, defiance, and indomitable hope. She could see that other woman sitting there, soothing her child, patiently waiting for death.
A sense of the unquenchable past's dim mystery came up to her from the crumbling mud in her hand, and something more--a sense of the tender love that had fashioned that clay, the passionate denial. Suddenly she was ashamed; and in the midst of her shame, she knew what it was all those other women down through the ages had been trying to tell her: Love always survives. Hate and lust cannot kill it. Why should you mourn, you, to whom war is a thing to be prevented? A thousand years ago, war was a taken-for-granted thing, like one of the elements. Just as surely as men have died for freedom, so as surely will the weak hands of all those women gone before you someday point an end to war.
 Refers to soap made from a yucca plant. Mary Ann Hafen, Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860: A Woman’s Life on the Mormon Frontier. University of Nebraska Press, 1983, p. 41. The soap was also called “Muk-unk” in Southern Utah. John W. Van Cott. Utah Place Names. University of Utah Press, 1990, p. 266.