Once upon a time there was a little girl. That much I know as true. I hesitate on the rest because I am searching for the truth now. What really happened is what really matters now. And what happens next.
Once there was a little half-breed Cherokee girl named Hepizbah. Her mother was a full-blood. Her father was a white, Scottish school-master. She grows up and marries white. Her children are white, and she lets the secret of her birth be buried by time. Is silent when she sees her Mother's people rounded up, and white families settle newly in the houses and farms. It is 1835. She has stopped speaking and reading the old way, does not hear the land being emptied out of it's spirits, and she blinds herself to the bloody footprints in the snow, heading west, while she stays on, and she buries it all so deep it can never be found again.
Three generations later they will joke about the children being as wild as Indians without a trace of irony. The Patriarch will lean over at the dinner table but get interrupted and his confidence dies in his mouth.Someone will remember him about to speak.
Four generations later, at a family reunion in old Beaufort South Carolina, much will be made of the tendency to long, straight-as-a-blade noses, the "Indian " nose, and a photograph will be taken all in profile, for a joke.
Five generations later a casual comment from one cousin to another about the family tree, and someone will scan the birth records in Columbia, glean what she can from the dry fact of names and dates. The story she can piece together will not have flesh and bone. It will not breath. But it will fester like an unhealed wound until she sees a TV documentary about the Cherokee Nation that shocks, and she knows in her heart the words and gestures, feels how extraordinary her mother's talents for sensing things. Will know the DNA is there. That her mother, taught confession and contrition for her sins by the nuns at the age of six is still, and always a wild and pagan thing. The Trickster Rabbit and The Rattlesnake Woman still live and the story is not done.
I have left another child standing at a door with the key in the lock while I catch up to her story. It is about 1970 and she turns the key and pushes. It is a smallish room, and quite dark, and it smells of the spicy scent peculiar to the plants that grow between the stones on the sunny terrace, a scent she will never forget. And of mildew. There is an old leather sofa like a lumbering shaggy animal, and books. Shelves and cases of books. It is a treasure trove and she wants it all. She wants to claim the room for herself, to spend the rest of her life in that room, reading those books, in a life where no-one tells her to stop reading and go out and play.
But she is not greedy, or rather, she knows better than to indulge in greedy behaviour, so she choses one book, a book with a green binding and a title that seems familiar. It is a fable about a King and his knights, or rather, about one particular knight, an old story and one that stirs her blood even though she is only a girl and they have never expected deeds of daring-do of her. She does not know that the sofa and the other books will be discarded because of mold. Already she knows that this is a symbolic gift, like the microscope, and the real surgeon's scalpels the Doctor across the street gave her when they dissected the frog together. A test. A promise. And because she is sure that the adults know everything, she ponders it all and waits for more signs, because she knows the test is still on.