GHOSTS in the GRAVEYARD

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Chapter Twenty

In the morning, Jolie found herself tucked in under the star quilt in Rose’s back bedroom.

Hello? Is anybody there?

She turned her attention inward, tentatively scanning for the demon’s presence within her. Not a growl responded.

They’re gone. A sense of relief swept through her.

The events of the night before were like bits of smashed china. Looking at the different pieces you could suss out something of the original pattern, but the shards would never fit back together into a whole.

Jolie remembered the uwipi flitting around her head, weaving in and out of the woven star structure at the top of the lodge. She remembered the magical way the lodge’s coverings had disappeared so that she could look out at the night sky and see all the layers of stars.

There were other less pleasant memories, too: confused images her brain was already overwriting. Some memories just didn’t earn a “cherished” definition. Being possessed was definitely one of them. Jolie might never remember everything about the previous night, but she was okay with that. Having a demon banished from you in the presence of your boyfriend was akin to upchucking onstage in front of the whole student body.

Jolie took a long slow deep breath, feeling the energy moving freely through her. There was dirt between her toes and under her fingernails. She got out of bed. Her jeans and shirt had disappeared but she was dressed in a clean cotton shift like the ones Rose used for lodges. Her hair, caked with dust and frizzed from steam, was wild and stiff, threatening to curl into dreadlocks. Her cheeks were smeared with dirt.

She caught an image of herself in the round frameless dressing mirror, confirming she was a mess.

It didn’t matter; she was finally free.

Jolie picked up her shoes and padded out to the main room of the house.

The morning sun flooded the big room, dust moats dancing on sunbeams as they tumbled along to the floor.

“Rose?” she called out.

“I’m out here, Jo,” her hostess answered from out back.

Jolie hesitated, lingering in the doorway. She had never been in this part of the property before. The high curved wall of the courtyard swept in and out like the changing course of a river. Made of mud, red sand, and clay, its surface had been polished to a subtle sheen. The courtyard floor was covered with red stone pavers and fine red gravel. A large mesquite tree grew in the center of the yard, gently shading everything from the incessant Southwestern sun.

A wrought iron gate led out of the courtyard toward the south where Jolie could see a pair of horses munching hay.

A round earthen oven had been built into one of the alcoves in the courtyard’s curved wall. A long handled wooden paddle lay on the flat surface next to the oven. A basket covered by a cotton towel could only be fresh bread from the smell of it. Jolie’s mouth began to water. When was the last time she had eaten? She couldn’t remember.

A larger silver kiln and a potter’s wheel sat in the center of the area to her left, its legs splattered with red sand from rains past. At the end of the courtyard, three weathered garbage cans sat pressed against the mud wall. Beside them, blocks of clay, a box of red sand, and bits of broken pottery had been organized onto rough wooden shelves. Dried mesquite leaves and cobwebs told the story of their abandonment.

Rose was at the other end of the courtyard, sitting behind a large free-standing loom, weaving: her suntanned hands deftly winding and tying off wool threads.

Jolie drifted forward.

“That’s really beautiful,” she told Rose.

“It’s a pictorial style piece,” Rose explained.

“It looks like a sunset?” Jolie pointed. “And those designs look like mountains?”

“Yes. You have a good eye.” Rose began to unbind a different set of threads, preparing to work with them.

“How do you figure out the geometric patterns you use on the edge?

Rose shrugged. “They just come to me.”

“Do they have symbolic meaning, or are they just shapes?”

Rose laughed softly. “Well now, that’s kind of a loaded question. Is anything an artist does just shapes?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful,” Jolie apologized.

“You weren’t. It’s an honest question. Some university did a study and found that some of the patterns that traditional weavers have been using for centuries look remarkably like DNA. Of course, weavers were using the patterns long before anyone knew anything about DNA, so the discovery increases the mystery for one school of thought and validates the Great Mystery for another. So, your question, do the shapes have meaning? Maybe more than we understand.”

Jolie gazed wistfully at the weaver’s work. “When did you start weaving, Rose?”

“One of my Auntie’s was from the Dine’ people, the Hopi. She taught me when I was a little girl, but I didn’t come back to it until I was much older.”

“Why? You’re so good at it.”

“I just lost my way for awhile during my early twenties. My birth family was not traditional. I grew up seeing the worst parts of the white world. I was a mature woman before I found the Red Road. This place and the man who brought me here gave me the patience to reconnect with what I had lost.” She smiled at Jolie. “So, how are you feeling today?”

Jolie looked at the blue sky and the red mountains breathed in the desert scents of sage and chaparral and smiled.

“Like somebody gave my insides a good spring cleaning.”

Rose nodded. “You’re going to be very open right now--too vulnerable to be out in the world. You’ll need to take special care of yourself, at least for the next four days. It’s best to try to avoid difficult people and situations.”

Jolie wondered how she was going to do that. “It’s Friday. I should be at school.”

“I think under the circumstances, they’ll understand,” Rose suggested.

“Yeah, I guess. I do need to go to the hospital though and see my mom.”

“Remy will take you when he gets out of school. She won’t be released for a few days, though. I thought maybe you’d like to stay here for the time being?”

Jolie bit her lip. “I don’t want to be any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. I’m glad to have the company.” Rose glanced at the potter’s wheel at the far end of the courtyard. “My husband and I always lived isolated lives together.” Jolie looked at the abandoned potter’s wheel and understood that Rose’s husband had been the potter, but he had died, and now she lived alone. “You’re not exactly a chatterbox, so I think we’ll manage for a few days. It would be nice to have someone around but not underfoot. You might want to spend some time exploring the Basin.”

“I’d like that,” Jolie agreed.

“Good. The number for the hospital is by the phone.” Rose went back to her work. “When Remy comes, he can take you back to your apartment to get whatever you need.”

“Do you know where my jeans are?” Jolie plucked at the cotton shift.

“They’re in a bundle by the fire pit.” Rose lifted her chin in the direction of the lodge. “I thought you might want to burn them as a symbolic gesture of closure after what happened.”

Jolie thought about that. “It’s a nice idea, but I don’t have that many clothes,” she admitted, feeling a little awkward about admitting it.

“Then we’ll just wash them.” Rose smiled.

“Maybe I could hang them out in the sun to dry,” Jolie suggested. “That ought to get rid of any bad juju that’s left.”

“There’s no bad juju left for you to worry about, Jo. That’s been taken care of,” Rose assured her. “There’s fresh bread in the basket there. Just tear some off, and there’s lots of leftovers from the last feast. You can rummage around in the fridge until you find something that looks good.

Jolie helped herself to a hunk of bread.

“This is amazing, Rose,” she muttered as the bread’s warmth filled her mouth, spreading comfort through her distressed body.

“I thought that would hit the spot. I don’t think you had anything left in your stomach after last night.”

“You could probably see right through me.”

“There were moments,” Rose agreed.

Jolie popped the last bite of bread into her mouth and went back inside the house. The hospital’s number was where Rose had said, right by the phone, but Jolie couldn’t quite face thinking about Jessie Lynn and the future yet. She found some fruit salad in the fridge, poured herself a glass of orange juice, then went back to sit on the step in the doorway where she could watch Rose work.

The Native woman hummed as she wove the wool weft threads through the vertical warp strings, pushing them down firmly into place with a wooden stick.

“Why do the spirits come when you sing those songs, Rose?” Jolie asked. “I’ve seen them coming. I know it’s not just music.”

“A spirit calling song is a prayer. We don’t sing sacred songs just anyplace or without the intention of them having an effect. We only sing them when we mean it. That way they keep their power.”

Jolie considered the explanation while eating a second piece of bread.

“There are a lot of spirits in this place,” she noted.

“Red earth: it’s ancient sacred land,” Rose agreed.

“Sacred to your people?”

“This is Paiute land.” Rose continued to work as she talked, taking some threads and weaving them into the pattern, then tying them off and moving to others. “But some places are sacred to all people. You feel it when you are near them.” She pushed down the newly woven threads, sliding them into place within the pattern. “There is just something special about them, like the earth’s awareness, is very close in those spots. Sometimes, when I am working here and all the tourists have left the Basin, it gets very quiet, and I feel like I can hear spirits talking.” Rose stopped, listening. “Like that just there.” The weaver seemed to exude light, her face sweetly joyful. “Did you hear that?”

“No,” Jolie admitted. She longed to feel the kind of peace that Rose lived with here. She had never been anywhere the energy was so strong, but there was also a real world outside of the basin, and that was where Jolie had to live.

“Whenever I look out at Red Rock, no matter where I am in the city, it just makes me smile,” she confessed.

“A lot of people feel that,” Rose said. “You’ve seen how the tourists stop just over the rise when they first see the red mountains? They feel it, too. They just don’t know what it is. There are other sacred places that give you this feeling of awe or joy. There are also others that feel terribly sad, or incredibly powerful, even some that are downright frightening, especially after sundown.”

“You’re not Paiute are you, Rose? I thought you were Lakota, like Remy?”

“My husband was Lakota, but there are not so many of us who follow a traditional path here in Las Vegas that we can afford to be exclusive. Remy and I are not blood family, but we are lodge family. He calls me auntie out of respect.”

“But Hoke is his blood uncle, right?”

“Yes. Hoke is Remy’s mother’s older brother, that is why he teaches Remy. It is the traditional role of the mother’s brother.” Her eyes wandered again to the abandoned potter’s wheel. “We honor the gift of those who have come before us by passing their teaching on to a new generation.”

Jolie let the deep silence of the desert basin settle around them, thinking about what Rose had said.

“Would you teach me, Rose?” she asked after a few minutes.

Rose smiled. “What is it you want to learn, Jolie? You already see the world as it is, not as most people see it, and I suspect that you have had that ability for a long time.”

“My whole life,” Jolie admitted.

“You are very lucky not to have unlearned what you saw, and understood naturally as a child.” Rose continued weaving the tapestry before her as she talked. “You never pushed away your truth to accept other people’s view of the world.”

“It wasn’t a conscious choice. I’m not brave or smart,” Jolie insisted. “If I could have thrown this gift away, I would have done it in a minute. If I’d believed that my prayers would be answered, I would have prayed until my knees were raw just to be like other people.”

Rose seemed to think about this for awhile before she spoke again. “Henry taught me that it’s right and correct to see the world as connected and alive. Treating it like it’s separate and inanimate is what causes us so many problems.

“There are good people and bad people among us, Jolie. It is when we accept our true nature and realize we are beings of infinite magic that our path begins to become more clear. Spiritual seekers throughout history have put themselves through terrible trials trying for a few moments of what you live with every day: true sight. What more is it that you are looking for, Jo?”

“Answers. Understanding,” Jolie replied. “It’s true that I see things. but I don’t understand them, and I have no idea what I am supposed to do about them. You know how these things work, Rose. I need to know how to control things. You can teach me that.”

Rose frowned. “Only a foolish, or a very egotistical person would try to do that. I am neither. Don’t make me into something I’m not, Jolie. I’m a weaver who sometimes pours water. I am just a common woman.”

Yeah, and Hoke is just a cowboy, Jolie thought.

“Come crawl into a lodge with the women,” Rose encouraged Jolie. “You’ll learn a lot about yourself. The women are very compassionate with newcomers.”

“Could Hoke teach me? ” Jolie persisted.

Rose frowned. “It would not be appropriate for Hoke to teach a young woman.”

“He couldn’t teach me because I’m a girl? Seriously?”

“The Lakota have a lot of rules, Jo. Sometimes a modern woman can find them hard to understand, but keeping the old ways is how we honor our teachers.” Rose shrugged. “People who can’t make their peace with that, move on and find something else. But once you start looking for your truth, it doesn’t matter if you stop along the way to rest, or take a fork in the road. What matters is that you have begun. Everything that comes afterward is part of the journey.”

Rose wove a new line while Jolie watched, giving silence another turn in their conversation.

“What is that blue line that you’re adding, there, Rose?” Jolie pointed to the new strand. The rest of the threads were in purples and grays, progressing from deep, saturated colors to paler shades as the weaving advanced.

“That thread is you.”

“Me? Why did you weave me in?”

“Because you needed a place to belong.

Jolie followed the sinuous blue line weaving its bulkier, less cultivated wool through the pattern. It disrupted the established pattern but gave the weaving a focal point, a character that pulled the whole design together. Jolie felt her chest swell.

“You’re not going to tell anybody, are you?” she whispered.

“No. I won’t tell anyone,” Rose answered. “It is just for you and me and the thread to know. Now, if you’ve finished your breakfast, there’s a package of tobacco on the coffee table. You might want to take it with you when you go exploring.”

“I don’t smoke.”

Rose chuckled. “It’s not to smoke, honey. I thought you might want to thank the spirits for their help last night. It’s good manners to offer something in return and tobacco is traditional.”

“I wouldn’t know what to say.”

“Just say: ‘ho, mitakuye oyasin’, or you can say the English version: all my relations. Then take some tobacco in your hand, and say the words that come into your heart. When you’re done, let the tobacco go.” Jolie turned back into the house. “Watch the sky,” Rose added. “And stay out of the washes if it starts to rain. There are thunderheads building in the southeast. ” She gave Jolie an encouraging smile.

Jolie found her tennis shoes by the door, picked up the tobacco pouch and a bottle of water from the twelve pack on the floor. With one more look at the number by the phone, she turned, and stepped out of the house.

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