Cedar Tea: An Indian Thing
Bird was looking at the horizon. I could see the same thing. I think it can’t be fireflies. I mean, can they? They seem too big to be fireflies. As we watch the lights move around over the house we can’t help but feel spooked. The lights danced around in the air over the house. Bird says “It’s Roger Black’s house. He’s such a bad guy. He beats his girlfriend all the time and never gets charged.” The lights disappeared as quickly as they came. There’s about 6 or more lights. “Weird, eh?” I wondered what in the heck it was. I figured Bird would have an idea. Bird was one of those guys who spent a lot of his time with the old people in the Reserve. He really liked being in the bush. Many times he would disappear for days and just show up for a cup of tea at my home. If it was some kind of “Indian thing” then Bird would know for sure or at least know someone who would know. “So what do you think” I asked. “UFO man, UFO” He laughs. I like Bird. He is pretty cool for guy. He is dark lean lanky scruffy with the classic Indian Squanto look. Girls may like that look. Me I think the other girls in the Rez are crazy. You can’t even look at a guy and they want to fight you. They really can’t fight, those fatties; pull hair and scratch, that’s not fighting. Heck with that noise. I’ll hang with Bird, he doesn’t get after me and there’s no drama. I mean he’s not cute or anything but I am not sure if he goes with girls. Some say he floats with the butterflies but I don’t know me. “I’ll walk you home Kiddo” he says.
As we walk he starts mumbling about the “handsome stranger” story told by the old Grannies in the Rez. It’s always the same kind of story about this handsome guy who shows up at the party or dance, looking like Tom Jones and just has everyone getting around him. He dances with all the ladies. During the dance someone keeps hearing a clack-clack noise. Finally one of the party goers sees his feet and he has the hooves of a goat. Tom Jones burns a big hole through the wall of the house and flees into the night. Leaving everyone to know they partied with the Devil. Those old ladies always trying to scare the be-jesus out of you for drinking. Bird tells me “You know there is some truth to what those old holy roller ladies say.” I balk at this, “Get out of here. If it’s true how come the handsome stranger only shows up where Indians are? And Tom Jones?” Bird laughed, “Okay maybe Evan Adams.” “Nope Adam Beach, now he’s a Devil I would dance with.” Snot blew out of my nose as I laughed hard.
I was never one to really believe in the scary stuff. But I must admit when I have to walk home at night, down this god damn gravel road, the noise my feet make scares the pee right out me. Sometimes I run home from a visit at the Band hall. “No, really” Billy says. “I’ll let you know that we saw it tonight. Roger’s girlfriend has an uncle from Sandy Lake. This guy has the jazz if you know what I mean. He has power. You don’t mess with this guy. You ever see someone with a crooked face? Their mouth and eye drooped over? This guy can do that. What you saw tonight was the guy’s jazz.”
I hadn’t seen Bird for a week after the night of jazz, the light show. I guess he must have gone back for one of his treks in the bush or maybe visiting the Old Man who lives on the other side of the river. Never really see the Old Man around much. I’ve been thinking about Roger and his girlfriend. Everyone knows the story of them. He’s the rich one’s son. They think they’re better than everyone ‘cause they have the store. The girl, April is always looking down at the ground and doesn’t have too much friends anymore. She’s pretty but looks scared all the time, hardly talks. People say she’s snobby but I think she’s scared to talk to anyone because Roger will get all green giant on her. I wonder what the lights really mean? Maybe it’s just one of those, what you call phenomenon of science, like Northern lights or something. Jazz my arse.
Bird sat on the floor of the Old Man’s house. It was a small shack of a house, a one room building. A wood stove in the corner and a couch for a bed. Wood, tobacco and Cedar smoke filled the air. The Old Man sat on the only chair in room. He spoke quietly and Bird had to strain to hear. “You saw a Beast. The Beast doesn’t go unless he is asked. Someone sent the Beast out.” “What does the Beast look like?” Bird asked. The Old Man slapped Bird in the face and laughed. “He looks like you. It was you.” Bird couldn’t hide his guilt with a false smile. “Grandfather, I’m sorry. The guy is a douche. He’s a bully. He’s going to kill April. April has always been nice to me. She was my first; my first friend.” The Old Man could have scolded Bird for his actions. The act of calling the Beast was not without danger. The Beast if not satisfied would turn on the caller. The Beast can be a finicky eater, his appetite needs to be satisfied. “My nephew don’t call me Grandfather. I still entertain Women. I’m Uncle.” The Old Man picked up his Pipe and acknowledged the Creator. To Bird he said, “You know bad is out there. Doing good with bad is the same as doing bad. Now let’s have some tea.”
April was sitting on the couch having a cup of tea and looking through a copy of Chatelaine magazine. She had her legs and feet tucked under her bum. Comfortable and lost in thought; a fantasy of living in the city, away from the Rez and all the ugly talk. She sang quietly to herself as she sipped her Blue Ribbon tea black. She wondered what in the world did she do to deserve a life of anguish and hurt. The beatings started early in their relationship. At first it was just the unkind words. Then it went onto the putting down of friends and family. Roger didn’t like April talking to anyone, guys and girls. April stopped going out for tea with friends and family. April soon found herself with only Roger and his family; a family of bullies. The beatings were not too bad at first. A slap, a hair pull and a push. It became worse and worse. It was like the old story of the boiling frog; put him in the cold water and slowly it heats up until it is boiling. By the time you are in hot water it’s to god-damn late to get out. The latest beating was last week. It was a bad one. She felt like something was torn inside her stomach. Roger beat her in the body for what felt like forever. If it wasn’t for the loud scratching noise on the roof, he might have killed her. She thought she was dying as she could see the bright lights dancing around the room. Roger froze in mid-kick and stopped the beating. He hasn’t hit her lately. Small miracles.
I decided I would go and look for Bird today. I would go behind the Old Man’s place as there is a trail there into the bush. After a half hour walk in the bush I heard the crackling of fire, I smelled the wood smoke and Cedar Tea. Bird was sitting around a small fire. He had a bunch of twigs in his hands and he had a Toad. “What you doing with the Toad? How in the heck you find a Toad this time of year, it’s kind of cold.” Bird eyes got big and he got mad. “What you doing here? Not right you sneaking around being all sneaky and stuff. What are you, a ninja?” The toad was a big fat one, all brown and nasty looking. I don’t remember ever seeing a toad that big around here. “So what’s with the toad?” Bird grinned like I know him to when he has a secret. Guys don’t know how to hide stuff from girls, even guys like Bird. “Oh this little beast? Just found him under a log as I was going around picking up sticks to burn. He looked cold so I wanted to warm him up. What you doing here anyway? I’m making Cedar Tea want to share a cup?” I let the lie go so we sat, drank tea and gossiped about the crazy arse girls on the Rez. Which girl was cheating on which boy and who got into a fight at the Band office. We laughed about Tommy being slapped around by his Grannie. Tommy was a local drug dealer. His grannie saw him handing pills to one of the girls at the store. Grannies don’t like that kind of thing.
Old Man sat on his couch. It was dark out. He knew. He knew the Beast was out. The Beast had a hunger. It would only go to sleep after the hunger was gone. Stupid nephew, wanting to do right but this was not the way to do it. Old Man knew he had to feed the Beast so Nephew could not get hurt. A soft glow of red was in the room. The heat of the wood stove felt good. Time for some tea.
Roger hummed as he rode around the gravel road on his quad. He liked to cruise around the reserve at night. He drank the last of his beer and tossed the bottle. He stopped at the edge of the creek north side of the reserve. Took a leak and whistled. Lighting up some of the weed his cousin brought from the city, just felt so right tonight. The wind was quiet and the stars were bright. Northern lights danced all green purple white blue and red. He whistled real loud trying to get the lights to dance. Everyone knew you whistled to get the lights dancing. Crack! Sounded like something broke a tree behind him. Roger felt the goose bumps rise on his arms. His neck felt like a snake licked him. The fear gripped him instantly. The joint fell out of his fingers as he tried to move. It was like one of those horror dreams where you can’t move or can’t scream. But it wasn’t a dream. Roger couldn’t even whimper as he looked at the dark bush move. He could see it. It looked like…
I ran into Bird at the Health Centre. “Hey Bird did you hear about Roger? He had an accident out by Raven’s Creek. They say he flew off his quad and hit a tree.” The Band cops had found Roger that afternoon. He didn’t show up for work and his Dad called the Band office to see if anyone saw him. Band cops just drove around and found the quad by the creek off a dirt path. It took a while to find Roger. There he was impaled on a tree branch. He must have been riding real fast and just flew off the quad they figure. How else could he have gotten up in the tree? Bird didn’t have any questions on the reserve gossip. His only reply to the local news was “Drunk I bet.” It was kind of weird for Bird to be so quiet, after all this was class “A” gossip in a world where gossip is gold.
The Old Man chopped wood for an hour. He sat in the yard on a big stump. The sun was shining and his forehead wet with sweat. It feels good to work. As Bird walked out of the bush he saw the Old Man sitting on a stump drinking tea from an old sealer. “Did you hear about the Black’s boy?” The Old Man looked at Bird. Bird replied “Who cares, he’s a piece of shit anyway.” The Old Man looked sad. “Nephew I know what you did. The Beast, he was hungry and you woke his need. It was your anger which woke him. No amount of Cedar Tea would have pleased him. I know you asked Toad to go see him. The Toad didn’t go to the boy.” Bird started to cry. “Grandfather I just wanted to scare him. I asked Toad just to talk to him. Show him the sparks of the Toad. I only used small Tamarack twigs for the sparks. I gave him ribbon and some coins. Guess he didn’t like the colour of ribbon or the nickels.” The Old Man led Bird into his home. “Nephew you wanted so bad to hurt the Black boy. Your anger woke the Beast. The Toad didn’t answer your offering. The Beast woke with a hunger. Yes the Tamarack flew the first time. I saw the Fireballs you sent. They were bright. But then I heard the Trees cracking. I knew Beast was waking. So I sent Toad home to sleep. Beast was going to come for you. I had to make a choice, let Beast come for you or give him the Black boy. I gave him the boy and now I have to live with that. Makes no difference if he was a piece of shit.” Bird cried and moaned. “I’m sorry Grandfather, I’m sorry”.
It was weeks since I saw Bird. Gossip around the Reserve was April’s uncle from Sandy Lake did medicine on Roger and his family. The family responded to the gossip by bringing in a Medicine Woman from another reserve. They also raised the price of Blue Ribbon tea – bastards. People are saying so much medicine flying around the Reserve is going to glow. Me I know what really happened. You see I was out there the night Roger had his accident. The Old Man is my Grandpa. Poor Bird thinks he can talk to the animal spirits. The night the Fireball flew over Roger and April’s house I figured something was going to happen. I never saw a Fireball before but heard of them. Didn’t realize what it was until Grandpa told me. Didn’t know Bird had it in him to send a real Fireball. Grandpa said Mom actually caught one when she was a little girl. He said when she opened her hand it was a ball of twigs, diamond willow.
Poor Roger he just smoked the wrong weed. Turns out the weed had LSD laced in it. Tommy is a little sneaky like that with his weed. Speeding while you’re drugged out is a recipe for disaster. It was gross and neat the way he flew in the air after hitting the log laid across the path. Roger was known to drive drunk and fast around the reserve. I saw him driving around earlier. Just thought we would slow him down a bit. Grandpa knows his way around a chain saw. Roger was so high he didn’t even slow down the path to Raven’s Creek. Unlucky trip for him. I didn’t expect he would fly so high; his arms flapping with him screaming. I wonder what he had seen? The Tamarack Tree branches impaled him through his eyes and torso. Poor Roger only a matter of time he would pay for all the hurt he caused. I didn’t hate him, even when he attacked me by the creek all those years ago. I was just a dumb kid. Didn’t know he was that evil. Since then I have not had anything stronger to drink than Cedar Tea. Oh yeah, the old Medicine Woman the Black’s got looking to send medicine back to the “uncle”, she is not going to do anything. Turns out she is an old girlfriend of Grandpa. If you want to talk about Jazz, now he has Jazz.