The narrator, a man named David, reflects on the “summer of his twelfth year” in 1948 and tells us that the images remaining from this summer are “indelible”—the years have not erased or faded them. They are of a young Sioux woman, coughing so hard in a bed in David’s house that David is afraid she will die. Another image of David’s father, kneeling on the kitchen floor, begging David’s mother for help in an unfamiliar, frantic voice. The third is of his mother in the window, on a hot and windy day, loading his father’s shotgun.
This introduction establishes the role that David’s memory plays in reconstructing the story. It highlights the time that has passed, and the importance of these events, which have never faded from David’s memory. Already we can see traditional parental behaviors breaking down: a crying father, a mother with her husband’s shotgun—images that would startle a young boy.
David mentions other images—broken glass, rotting vegetables—but notes that his memory does not separate these images into a chronological list. They all coexist chaotically at once. That summer was forty years ago. Two months ago, David’s mother died, suddenly and quickly, of a heart attack. His father died a slow and painful death of cancer 10 years ago. He will not tell us about the fate of Marie Little Soldier, because to do so would be to give too much of the story away. David notes that there may still be someone in the small Montana town of his childhood who also remembers this story, but no one who knew these three people as well as him, and no one who loved them more.
We learn that David is most likely the last living member of the family he’s just described. The death of David’s parents underscores David’s adulthood, his aloneness. He also considers himself more fit to tell the story than anyone else who might know it because he knew these characters better and loved them better than anyone else. This again emphasizes the crucial role that perspective plays in this story: David’s growth and perspective is as crucial to the development of the story as the actual events in it.