In the days after Nector’s death, Marie spends most of her time cleaning the house. She goes through Nector’s clothes and books, deciding what to keep and give away, and finds his pipe in an old skin bag. The pipe pulls apart in two pieces, and Marie holds them in her hand before putting them back in the case where they are joined as one. Nector had told her that when the pipe is together, it connects heaven and earth. Marie decides to give the pipe to Lipsha.
Just as Marie does during other times of stress, she escapes into domestic chores, which again suggests she finds comfort and clarity within this traditional, gendered role. In giving the pipe to Lipsha, Marie not only connects Lipsha to Nector, but to June as well, which also suggests that Marie is beginning to let go of her sole claim to Lipsha.
In the kitchen, Marie begins to ready the corn for boiling when she sees Gordie walking up to the house. He is obviously drunk, and his clothes, which used to fit before he started drinking, hang off his wasting body. He sways back and forth before falling down into the grass near the back porch. Marie goes outside to Gordie and covers him with an old quilt. She flips him over so he is on his stomach, and she goes back into the house.
Marie takes care of Gordie with an efficiency that suggests she has dealt with drunkenness several times before. She doesn’t bother to move him, but she still rolls Gordie on his stomach so he remains safe in the event he vomits and chokes. Gordie is clearly drinking himself to death on account of his guilt over June’s death.
After a sleepless night, Marie can hear Gordie rummaging around in the kitchen. He is looking for the secret money she usually keeps hidden, but Marie has recently starting using a new spot. As Marie enters the kitchen, Gordie greets her and immediately asks for a shot of whiskey. She tells him that she doesn’t keep any liquor in the house, but he doesn’t believe her. He thought she took a little milk in her whiskey, he says, and as he moves closer to her, Marie picks up a small paring knife. Gordie again asks for a shot of whiskey, this time with anger, and goes to grab Marie. She reaches out with the knife and slices Gordie in the palm of his hand. He sits down, and she tosses him a rag to wrap his bleeding hand.
Marie’s self-defense is further evidence of her strength and independence as a woman. Gordie clearly thinks that he can intimidate Marie and force her into giving him what he wants—alcohol or money—but she refuses to be a victim. Marie’s quick slash with the paring knife not only implies that she won’t put up with Gordie’s aggression, but it also speaks to their connection as mother and son. Marie has a scar on her palm, and now Gordie has a wound to match.
Outside, Marie stands on the porch watching as shadows pass over the trees she had planted. She loses track of time and doesn’t think to check on Gordie until she smells a strong chemical odor. She goes inside and finds Gordie in her storage closet with an empty bottle of Lysol and a loaf of white bread, jerking and seizing about the small room, knocking cleaners and waxes to the floor. He bounces out the door and down the hall to the bedroom, where he falls on the bed and continues to shake. Marie approaches him and can smell Lysol on his breath. She turns and leaves the room.
Gordie’s alcoholism and need for more and more liquor has caused him to drink Lysol, a cleaning and disinfecting product, out of desperation for the alcohol content. Gordie has obviously poisoned himself with the harsh cleaner and has, presumably, attempted to absorb the poison by eating bread, which doesn’t appear to be working. The extreme lengths Gordie will go to in order to get drunk and forget about June is more evidence of his guilt over having abused her.
Marie goes to the kitchen and picks up the axe from near the stove. She sits at the table, holding the axe in her lap. She is exhausted and closes her eyes. Marie falls asleep and is suddenly startled awake. Her hands grasp the axe handle in her lap, and she looks down the hall to see Gordie moving in the bedroom. He stumbles toward the kitchen and stands in the doorway. Marie stands up, holding the axe at her side. Gordie disappears from the doorway, and Marie considers just opening the front door and telling him to leave. But Marie knows if she lets Gordie go, he will surely die. He is her son and she can’t bring herself to kick him out. Marie sits back at the table and holds the axe firmly in her lap.
As Marie sits with the axe, it is another display of her power and independence as a woman. She again refuses to be a victim, even if that means she must arm herself against her own son. The nonchalant way in which Marie grabs the axe suggests that she has had to protect herself against potential violence in the past, and this again underscores the disproportionate amount of violence and abuse against women in the Native community. This is obviously not the first time Marie has been in an unsafe situation.