Pauline Puyat Quotes in Tracks
But he scorned me when I would not bead, when I refused to prick my fingers with quills, or hid rather than rub brains on the stiff skins of animals. “I was made for better,” I told him. “Send me down to your sister.”
It wasn't that Fleur won that hooked them in so, because she lost hands, too. It was rather that she never had a freak deal or even anything above a straight. She only took on her low cards, which didn’t sit right. By chance, Fleur should have gotten a full or a flush by now. The irritating thing was she beat with pairs and never bluffed, because she couldn’t, and still she ended each night with exactly one dollar. Lily couldn’t believe, first of all, that a woman could be smart enough to play cards, but even if she was, that she would then be stupid enough to cheat for a dollar a night.
That spring, I went to help out in her cabin when she bore the child, whose green eyes and skin the color of an old penny have made more talk, as no one can decide if the child is mixed blood or what, fathered in a smokehouse, or by a man with brass scales, or by the lake. The girl is bold, smiling in her sleep, as if she knows what people wonder, as if she hears the old men talk, turning the story over. It comes up different every time, and has no ending, no beginning. They get the middle wrong too. They only know they don’t know anything.
I am a man so I don’t know exactly what happened when the bear came into the birth house, but they talk among themselves, the women, and sometimes they forget I’m listening. So I know that when Fleur saw the bear in the house she was filled with such fear and power that she raised herself on the mound of blankets and gave birth. Then Pauline took down the gun and shot point-blank, filling the bear’s heart. She says so anyway. But she says that the lead only gave the bear strength, and I’ll support that. For I heard the gun go off and then saw the creature whirl and roar from the house. It barreled past me, crashed through the brush into the woods, and was not seen after. It left no trail either, so it could have been a spirit bear. I don’t know.
In the morning, before they washed in Matchimanito, they smelled like animals, wild and heady, and sometimes in the dusk their fingers left tracks like snails, glistening and wet. They made my head hurt. A heaviness spread between my legs and ached. The tips of my breasts chafed and wore themselves to points and a yawning eagerness gripped me.
The Virgin stared down. Her brow was clear, Her cheeks bone-pale, Her lips urgently forming a secret syllable, all of a sudden trembled. That’s when I saw the first tear. There were more. Although Her expression never changed, She wept a hail of rain from Her wide brown eyes. Her tears froze to hard drops, stuck invisibly in the corners of Her mouth, formed a transparent glaze along her column throat, rolled down the stiff folds of Her gown and struck the poised snake.
After that we made a plan together to hide the fact of my condition. We were both clever with materials and scissors, and between us we devised a concealing dress that would allow me to accompany Bernadette until I became too advanced. Once that happened, I would not venture off the farm. She would deliver me, having knowledge in her hands of birth as well as death.
“Accept this,” I asked Him when night after night the cold gripped me in tight claws and I shook so hard I could not sleep. “And this,” every time I sat to eat and halved my bread. When my stomach pinched, “This also, my Lord.” When the blood rushed back into my frozen hands after taking the sheets off the line, “This too. This. And this.”
As a young man, he had guided a buffalo expedition for whites. He said the animals understood what was happening, how they were dwindling. He said that when the smoke cleared and hulks lay scattered everywhere, a day’s worth of shooting for only the tongues and the hides, the beasts that survived grew strange and unusual. They lost their minds. They bucked, screamed and stamped, tossed the carcasses and grazed on flesh. They tried their best to cripple one another, to fall or die. They tried suicide. They tried to do away with their young. They knew they were going, saw their end.
He also wanted to see my hairshirt, insisted on it no matter how many times I denied I wore one. But at last, in a distracted moment, I confessed that I had made a set of underwear from potato sacks, and when I wore it the chafing reminded me of Christ’s sacrifice. This delighted him, encouraged him. He was curious to know how the undergarments were sewed, if I had to take them off to perform the low functions. He suggested after mock-serious thought that I might secretly enjoy the scratch of the rough material against my thighs.
Then Fleur washed me, but I warned myself not to experience any pleasure. I sat down in the water, felts its heat as a sharp danger, but then I forgot. The child soaped my back with a slick plant, and scrubbed the agonizing itch of rough twine and harsh woolens. I gave her my hand. She washed each finger, then each toe. Fleur pared the overgrown nails with a knife. The girl rinsed away the sting of nettles, aggravation of hooked burrs. She dislodged the invisible strands of screwgrass that had woven into my skin. Fleur poured a pitcher of warm water over me and then began to shampoo my head and hair. It was so terrible, so pleasant, that I abandoned my Lord and all His rules and special requirements.
What I told them to do, then, they accomplished. My fingers closed like hasps of iron, locked on the strong rosary chain, wrenched and twisted the beads close about his neck until his face darkened and he lunged away. I hung on while he bucked and gagged and finally fell, his long tongue dragging down my thighs. I kicked and kicked away the husk, drove it before me with the blows of my feet. A light began to open in the sky and the thing grew a human shape, one that I recognized in gradual stages. Eventually, it took on the physical form of Napoleon Morrissey.
For Christ’s purpose is not for us to fathom. His love is a hook sunk deep into our flesh, a question mark that pulls with every breath. Some can dull themselves to the barb’s presence. I cannot. I answer with the ring of fidelity, with the veil. I will pray while my hair is chopped from my head with a pair of shears. I will pray as I put on my camphor-smelling robes, and thereafter I’ll answer to the name I drew from Superior’s hand.