As Jess’s life spirals out of control, she mysteriously starts to make contact with Piah, a member of the Native American Molalla tribe who lived on the riverbanks of the Nesika two hundred years before Jess. Piah, too, faces a terrible threat that could destroy all that’s left of her world. As the veil between their two worlds begins to lift, each woman learns important lessons from the other about how to love, and to rekindle their faith in the future—even in the face of tragic loss and uncertainty.
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|Publisher:||She Writes Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.80(d)|
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This was the first time she had been alone in the house since the accident. Looking out the kitchen window, Jess watched a white-gray osprey tilt and plunge into the curve of the summer river. She could see the Nesika turning amid its green banks just down the low slope of lawn from the house, insistent and determined.
Her body felt unusually heavy as she bent over to place a glass in the top tray of the dishwasher. She was fourteen and used to the lightness and strength of her fast track-star form. Sometimes, when the heaviness of her grief became too much to bear, she would sink into it and let it hold her, wanting to understand why it was there and whether it would ever release her.
She stood and leaned against the sharp edge of the stained Formica counter. It was the middle of the afternoon, her parents were still at work, and she had just walked home from the school bus. Pushing away from the counter, Jess turned, made her way slowly down the dark hallway, and stood in front of the closed bedroom door.
Her hand seemed detached from her body as she reached out and grasped the brass doorknob. How could something so familiar, so normal, have become so painful? She opened the door tenderly. The room seemed frozen in time. Monica's bed was made perfectly, her lavender quilt folded, the lace edging the pillows soft and still. Her dolls were lined up patiently along the wall; a pink hairbrush waited on the dresser by her mirror. Monica's sweet girl smell seemed to reach out to Jess like an invisible hand as she stepped into the sun-filled room.
Lying down on the bed, Jess tried to remember her little sister. Monica's face and lanky arms had seemed to have an expressive life of their own. Jess let the weight of the memories pull her into the small bed and felt something hold her there, a presence, oppressive but not unwelcome, a knowing that had been braided into her flesh, shaping the life in her cells. She was bound to the river in a desperate way, Monica's death now dragging her through life like an inescapable undertow.
Jess's body broke into a sobbing cascade of release. Her tears felt like the currents of the river, and she followed them down into the torn chasms of her broken heart. Fighting them would only cause the river to swallow her; instead, Jess knew from swimming for years in the Nesika, she had to surrender, to flow with the current until the river released her back to the surface. She knew this was what had saved her that day.
She rolled onto her back and felt the sun warm her face. Its light — the light her sister would never see again, the light she had been born into and left too soon — felt cruel. She rolled to the edge of the bed and held on to her stomach. Monica's room, where Jess had held her sister during Monica's dark nightmares — maybe they had been of water, of drowning, of leaving this place too soon.
The dolls stared at her, daring her to play. They wanted Monica's hands and were mourning her loss, too, hating the river for taking her away. Jess was gripped by a desire to fling them around, mess them up, but she knew they were as lost and left behind as she was. They were misplaced, out of order, disoriented from being torn from the familiar, not knowing how or where to take the next step.
Jess wanted to touch her sister just one more time, wanted Monica to come into her room after a bad dream, begging her big sister to let her sleep in her bed. Her ears rang with the voices of the children singing at Monica's funeral, then, later, with the sobs of her family at the graveside, marked with flowers and white stones, the cold and desperate current of the river that day, and Monica's last cry.
She walked back down the hall, leaving the door to her sister's room open. She wanted her to come home now, to run through the door with her latest story. Jess looked out at the river through the glass doors that opened onto the backyard.
She wanted to hate the river — she felt a flood of anger blending with fear rising in her tense back — but she also knew that the heaviness was a longing for her lost kinship with the river and with her own emerging wildness. It was a warm June afternoon; she should have been swimming almost every day in the river by now. The accident had been just over two months earlier — was that long enough?
She opened the door very slowly and deliberately. She knew she had to go back, and she had to go alone.
At this time of year, the Nesika's turquoise water tumbled around the rocks in a constant, pulsing rhythm. She waited. Her heart raced in her ears, and she braced for the sudden cold of the dive. She looked back up the hill to her house. Her parents would be home from work now. She wondered if her mom was watching, parting the heavy curtains in the house up from the river, just out of view, just enough to see Jess standing on the bank in her green bathing suit, waiting.
The Nesika had taken Monica's life as if it had been hers to give. Now Jess was an only child, holding the hand of her grief, hoping that by going back to the river she could go back to that part of herself that laughed, that ran along the green, sloping riverbank, trusting that the ground would hold her and never questioning the certainty of each day. She'd struck an unconscious deal with her parents after Monica died: that she could hold the place of both of their daughters. Filling that role at fourteen had shattered her identity — who was she without her sister? How would the world define her? She had hated and avoided social situations, constantly fearing the question "Do you have any brothers or sisters?" Her answer ranged from the lie "No, I'm an only child" to "Yes, I had a younger sister, but she died when she was eleven." If pressed, she reluctantly offered the story of her sister, who sometimes died, sometimes drowned, and sometimes was killed by the river.
She bent down and put her hand in the water, feeling its familiar tendrils flowing around each finger. She closed her eyes and felt for a moment as if she were reaching back through time to grab the hand of a lost friend.
It was so cold. She waded in just up to her knees, enough to feel a sharp edge cutting her skin. Then she dove in. She opened her eyes underwater and saw her sister's white tennis shoe bobbing up and down with the rhythm of the current. She knew it wasn't there, but it was. She broke up through the surface and swam easily to the opposite bank. It was the same river, the same flowing current, but now there was a white sneaker that hadn't been there before.CHAPTER 2
The crash and roar of the falls numbed Piah's hearing as she leaped down the slick, wet boulders to the base of the falls. Closing her eyes, she lay back on the soft sponge of moss on the gentle slope below the canyon wall. Water from the whirling mist gathered on her skin and cooled where the sun had warmed her. Reaching out toward a swaying stem of bright orange columbine, Piah felt at home. It was finally the warm season, when all that had sprung up during the surge of the growing season seemed to rest. Piah loved this time of the cycle; she had been born fourteen warm seasons earlier and celebrated her birth time by playing in the wind and the comforting sunlight.
Looking up at the unbroken blue of the arching sky, Piah stretched her strong back against the ground and let out a loud cry. This was her home, her family, amid life-giving plants and animals, and the constant song of the river bound them all together. Runs of shining salmon pulsed with the rise and fall of the seasons, feeding osprey, herons, and eagles, bears, mountain lions, wolves, and coyotes with their bodies, spent from their journey to spawn.
Piah sang out the river's name: "Nesika, Nesika, Nesika!" Then, standing up slowly, she brushed the water from her clothing. Under her hands she could feel the changes in her body, no longer thin and willowy, her legs beginning to curve, her breasts starting to push out under her deerskin. Her long black hair hung in wet strands around her face.
Piah heard a rustling above her and turned quickly to see what or who it was. Tenas, her younger sister, had been watching her from the ledge above the river.
Piah yelled up at her, "Tenas, what are you doing? I told you not to follow me!"
Piah felt a sinking in her chest as Tenas turned and disappeared back into the forest. Tenas was Piah's only sister and followed her everywhere. Piah remembered the night of Tenas's birth. The birth dwelling was small, and Piah was given the task of tending the small fire. Piah focused on the lips of the flames as her mother began howling and crying out in her pain while the women chanted their low, growling birth song. The chanting got louder and stronger as the night dove into cold, blue darkness. Just as Piah thought she couldn't stay awake a moment longer, she had a sister.
Now, Piah sighed. She loved her sister fiercely and would give her life to keep her safe, even as Tenas was annoying her. Tenas looked more like their mother, softer and smaller, which made her seem more vulnerable. Piah was more like her father; her long legs and graceful stride hinted at being part of a hunting party, rather than in the women's hide-tanning circle.
Breathing in the cooling mist of the falls, sticking her tongue out to catch the spray, Piah closed her eyes and turned her face up to the caress of the sun. Then the roaring cadence of the falls consumed her, and, opening her eyes, she felt a summons to follow the river downstream through the warming forest.
The rushing water tumbled and slipped over the boulders, racing with Piah as she followed each turn. Eventually, the forest opened onto a clearing with a wide, still pool that looked like an open field, undulating in the bright sun.
Slipping easily out of her clothing, Piah walked to a rock ledge from which she could dive in. She stood for a moment, anticipating the strike of the chill water on her sun-warmed skin; then, holding her breath, she leaped off the rock and slipped through the water's surface. Held momentarily near the soft river bottom, Piah opened her eyes to see trout and other small fish darting away from her, and a crawdad reaching up to her in clawing protest.
Piah smiled and stroked back up to the surface. She floated for a while in the pool and felt the river hold her body. An osprey tilted in the arch of the sky and cried out, circling above her.
When Piah was young, she was taught the songs that came from the heart of the river, the pulse of the water matching the beat of her father's drum. Now, resting in the river's arms, Piah could hear the songs echoing through the stones in the riverbed as the river called to her people, letting them know when the salmon were moving through her body and when migrating eels wound up through her current to spawn in her gravel beds. It was a song of resting, of waiting, of nourishing the salmon eggs from fall and spring.
Climbing up out of the pool, Piah found a perfect place to rest. She lay naked on a large granite boulder on the soft moss, matching the curves of her body to the curves of the stone. She began humming the river song, as her heartbeat drummed along with the rhythm and the osprey's cries rang out within the canyon walls.CHAPTER 3
The smooth stones of her sister's grave were cool against Piah's cheek. It had been four seasons since Tenas had drowned in the rapids below.
She felt the loss of her younger sister rise in her chest, the clench in her lower stomach, and the surge of her tears. Piah could still hear her father's terrible cries as he carried Tenas's limp, lifeless body into camp. Piah ran to her father, and he held both of them while their mother's screams rang out through the surrounding forest. Piah sensed the rhythm of the day slide into something else. The animal sounds quieted, and the air seemed to still itself in response. Death was common to them, but this, a young woman just ready to marry, have children, and bring her family into the tribe was a deep wound.
Wiping her face, Piah leaned back against the familiar bark of the cedar next to her sister's grave. The Nesika fell from the cliffs below her into a cascade of white water. She could feel the force of the water's constant rush in her chest. The river hurt her.
Since Tenas had died, her father and mother had looked to her for something to fill the empty space left in their family, and Piah knew that the birth of her daughter, Libah, had helped them. But ever since Libah had been born, Piah had been haunted by a dream that something like a horrible and dangerous storm was coming. Now she hoped that by calling to the spirit of her sister, she would receive a vision that would help her better understand what was happening to her.
Piah closed her eyes and let her awareness wander more carefully into the feeling, inviting the place of visions, invoking the place where she could be with her sister again. Following the path of her tears like a trail through a forest, Piah began to chant to the rhythm of the river's current.
Tenas seemed to be forming from the mist of the falls, her long hair streaming around her. Her spirit image looked the same way she had the day her father had carried her body into the camp.
"Tenas, I have a baby. I named her for the river — Libah. She is ours, Tenas. She is both of us."
"Piah, come closer. I miss you so much."
Piah felt the tear in her heart from the death of her sister.
The wound still fresh, its edges bled red light into her vision.
"Piah, your baby is us; she will carry what we cannot." Piah kept her eyes closed, still seeing Tenas moved closer to her through the swirling vision. "There is much coming, Piah. She will be the one who will know the chanting, know the song. Libah will bring the medicine for so many, they will follow her even when you can no longer."
The earth under Piah began to tremble. The vision shifted, and the waterfall stopped flowing. Tenas became very clear, and Piah could see the fear and concern in her transparent eyes.
A spirit child of five or six ran up to Tenas, and Tenas stroked her long, dark hair, spoke to her, and placed a small beaded necklace around her neck. Piah realized it was Libah, grown into a young girl, and Piah's body leaped in response.
"Tenas, please keep us safe."
"I will do what I can."
The silence refilled with the sound of water. Tenas and the older Libah turned toward Piah. They gazed into each other until the mist dissolved the vision.
Piah slowly opened her eyes. She reached into the elk-skin medicine pouch she wore around her waist. The small beaded necklace from her vision was in there — clear blue beads interwoven with white crystals. She sensed the sweet power of protection emanating from them. Piah's grandmother had given her this necklace at her birth. She touched it carefully and knew it was now a gift for her baby, a sign from her sister in the spirit world that Libah would be protected and safe.
Piah's breasts ached, telling her it was time to get back to her daughter. She stood next to the stone pile for a moment longer. Large-bodied bears and other night animals around her were rustling through the undergrowth to begin their evening hunting. A female mountain lion jumped onto the granite boulder just below the falls. Piah could see the cat's tail whisk the air in response to sighting her. She stood still, and the cat turned away, bounding down the large boulder field along the Nesika into the shadows, leaving Piah alone with the rush of the current, insistent and indifferent.CHAPTER 4
The slow, cold autumn rain had not stopped all day. The clouds lay low in the forest around Jess, wandering with the swirling winds through the red tangle of vine maple, as she walked up the trail to the hot springs just up above the dam along the river.
She remembered stories that the Molalla people had bathed up here, and that they had created initiation ceremonies around the warmth of the springs. She was cold from having spent the day counting salmon, waiting for a pair to spawn so she could record their antics on her underwater video camera.
The hot spring was small, carved into the hillside by long years of water flowing from the spring. The familiar sulfur smell rose up to greet Jess, and she stood for a moment, remembering the many times she had come here to revive herself and to reconnect with the springs' healing warmth.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Same River"
Copyright © 2018 Lisa Reddick.
Excerpted by permission of She Writes Press.
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