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It’s a Wonderful Life

(Excerpt from NAHTAY, Dreamer; Chapter 2: Harry Chalo Dickie)

By Kerissa Dickie

There were two fires lit—one set inside a snowy rectangle mapped out with stakes in the graveyard to help the ground thaw enough to dig, and one in the camp beside his house that would be stoked to burn for three days and nights to help light his journey to the spirit world. Christmas was only a few days away, but any charm or magic was stripped away, much like the way the windchill nearing minus 50 degrees celcius was leeching moisture and colour from the skin of my hands and cheeks so that it hurt to touch. The trip home up north was unexpected, unplanned. Death called me from my life attending university on the island. It was a rude invitation, thoughtless, really… back into the deep freeze—the life and death kind of cold that could turn a walk outside into mortality. 

His daughters, granddaughters—we were given squares of black lace, handkerchiefs, to wear over our hair, and tie under our chin before we entered the church. There were so many people attending that people spilled out of the church basement and watched the service being streamed with rapt eyes. He told me once that his very first memory was when he was three years old, and he had escaped from the Church Convent to be with his mother in her tent, five miles away, and he woke up to the sound of the priest’s robes swishing against the tent to take him back. Every cell in my body heard him tell me this story, low in my ear, as I watched the priest light smelly herbs in what looked like a large loose tea basket and swirl smoke over his casket, while repeating incantations and marking crosses through the fumes like performance art. The wood of the pew would not warm beneath me; parts of me felt numb, parts of me hurt too much, and I dully thought about the supernatural occurrence of people dying of a broken heart.

And then we’re huddled around the open grave, just a simple plywood box below us. For this great Chief. The only man who never hurt me. It’s so cold that I am no longer numb. The cold winter wind is licking at me with a needled tongue, gasps gather inside my throat and I squeeze my eyes shut tight as if it will insulate me. Community members lay blankets from the backseats of their vehicles over our shoulders and tuck them around us. This gesture is what breaks my tears free, and I begin to sob freely, my eyelashes freeze together. We remove our black lace handkerchiefs, wipe the tears and snot from our faces and toss them down on top of the grave—our grief goes into the cold earth with him.

1 thought on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

  1. A well-deserved 1st Place!
    I love your way with words. I always have.
    It was like I was right there inside the story with you. You made me feel what you felt.
    Congratulations, Kerissa!

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