Flash Fiction: Running Water by Ginny Kemerer
Grandmother dreamed of the sun when I was born.
My mother named me Running Water, a name of ill omen. When Mother fell through the ice into another world, it was believed to be her own fault. Still tightly bundled, I wailed on the ice beside the dark water that had taken my mother, Owl by my side.
So much bad luck, villagers agreed with pursed lips and squinted eye. Bad-Luck Bad-Luck, oh!
Their favorite rumor was that my father had been a ghost, a subject earning my tears and my grandmother’s scorn.
“Your father was a man from over the water.”
“Like Grandfather?” I knew Grandfather’s songs but not that one.
“No, your grandfather was a bear,” she said, mischievous.
“But how can anyone come over the water? You mean ice.”
Water only ran free in dangerous places, like below the sacred ice dam sometimes. To cross that you really would have to fly like a ghost.
Grandmother reached out from where she had been stitching hides to make boots and touched her bed. It was long and narrow, fitting her body with barely any room at the shoulders and was stuffed full with comfortable furs and quilts.
“This was your father’s.”
She tapped the side and it made a low thunk noise that might have been a log remembering its roots.
“This brought him over the water in the Back When.”
“In the Back When,” I said dutifully, “the Elders built the sacred ice dam-”
“Sacred as my left foot!” Grandmother snorted.
We both observed her left foot. It wasn’t very sacred at all.
“Go to the village,” she said, “Dithering Reindeer’s boots are ready.”
“Leaping Reindeer, Grandmother,” I corrected.
I took up the boots, Owl settled to my parka’s heavy shoulder, and I trudged out into air raw and sharp as a scream.
In that When were the good days, my own people avoided me. Grandmother sang stories of explorers and treasures and wonderful disasters as we cared for our small ways. My favorite was the explorer who was followed everywhere by green shoots and trees growing.
In the Now the ice dam leaks from zigzag cracks like black lightning. Even if we bad omens were allowed near it, Owl and I prefer to hunt as always in the snowfields away from the river.
Lying silent as though sired by a ghost, I watch through the uneven circle of my fur hood, snow breathing its teeth into my face to be returned as tusks of vapor.
A hare spatters snow as it breaks cover and Owl, a blur of white, is there in an instant, removing the hare’s faint squeal from existence.
Long ago I had recoiled when Owl brought me a prize, still warm and sometimes weakly struggling. Now short work with the merciful knife and the animal is a blessing of warmth and food.
We turn for home, listening to star music with a new liquid note. Flickering at the horizon, we’re stalked by the corona of a sun that never rises.
Taller in the Now, I have to stoop in our low-roofed home. Grandmother sleeps. Meat sizzles in a dab of fat. Wild roots from my gathering, add a pinch of herbs from stingy traders, melt snow down, the broth simmers.
Grandmother, however, has floated beyond sleep in her dugout canoe bed. Her seamed skin appears delicate as parchment. White braids frame her face and calloused hands clasp as though holding a baby chick.
Setting the broth down, I gently part her cold fingers and seeds spill onto the furs. Seeds! Some already sprouted.
Ice cracks loud outside and distant cries reach me, sacredness of the frost lands running away downstream.
Salt water runs down my face like an echo, dripping from my lips as my Grandmother creates the Future with her dreaming in a new world.
About the author
Ginny Kemerer, currently writing as V.G. Kemerer, hurtles through orbit in a cryogenic sleep filled with adult responsibilities. When planets align and signals permit, she beams stories to the internet here on Earth.
A graduate of Art Institute of Pittsburgh and a life-long daydreamer whose first writing forum membership was a humor forum, Ginny is an artist-turned-writer trained by clowns. Published pieces include her local paper, Cosmos: The Science of Everything, and Passages: A Writing Forums Anthology.
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