The midnight train whistle bellows in the distance. Edward’s hand is placed over his chest and if he lay still enough in his bed, he could feel his heart beat through his white t-shirt. A smile spread across his slender brown face when he heard the train again.
The whistle spoke to him, it said, “Boy, tonight you will sleep soundly and perhaps you will even dream. You will not have nightmares of your house turning into a beast that tries to swallow you whole, it’s carpeted tongue vying for your flesh. If you dream, your dreams shall be good. Your mother will rise early and make a breakfast of rolled oats and toast with melted margarine pads. After she is done she will sit at the table drinking her black bitter coffee in her pink nightgown waiting for you and your sister to awake.
You will rise and walk slowly down the hallway to find her perched on her seat at the kitchen table. Her smile will greet you before her words.
“Askae, seetah ensitz,” she will say nodding to your awaiting bowl of oatmeal and toast.
You will sit at the table and look at your mother with a silent awe because on mornings like these she looks beautiful to you; she looks noble, she looks proud. Her long black hair will be swept to one side and her eyes will hold a light that shines only sometimes.”
“Boy,” the train whistle continues, “when your sister awakes she will run down the hall and your mother will greet her with a smile as well. You will eat together and enjoy those morning moments.
Your father’s heavy footsteps will shortly follow and when he gets to the table he will playfully run his hand over your head of thick black hair. He will finish a cup of black coffee in three gulps and his food will be inhaled just as fast. When he is done, he will throw you the keys, the silver gleam catching your eye as it moves through the air, and you will catch it as you always do.
Your father will go about rolling a cigarette and you will put on your boots, the ones your cousin Elmer gave you because he grew out of them, and you will go fire up the truck. The sound of the engine will cut through the morning silence. Everything will seem clear, calm, and real. Inside the house your mother will be making sandwiches for lunch, yours with the special raspberry jam she made for you over the summer. When you come back into the house you help your sister get ready for school, pulling the pink mitten that never wants to move over her chubby brown fingers.
Mother will wave you and your sister goodbye from the door as your father throws the truck into reverse and heads towards the school. When you are far enough from the house and your mothers eagle eyes can no longer see the red Ford of your fathers, he will pull over and instruct you to jump into the driver’s seat. He will smile and then you will smile so hard it will feel like your face wants to break into several tiny pieces. When you slide into school with ease and pull it into park, your father gets that proud look on his face, like when you killed your first grouse. It will be a good day tomorrow boy.“
That is what the train whistle tells him when he can hear it. When Edward cannot hear it, his ears strain themselves trying to navigate the loud music and drunken booming voices coming from living room to find it. Sometimes the voices are laughing, sometimes they are screaming, and sometimes it is only the sound of his mother weeping. When this takes place, there will be no mother in pink night gown waiting to greet him, no melted margarine pads, and no smiling father and gleaming keys to the truck being tossed his way. Tonight though, the train whistle speaks, and tomorrow they will be a normal family. Everything will be as it should be. Edward closes his eyes with a smile still faint across his face as the train’s voice disappears behind the mountains that cradle their small reserve.
He was standing in his Grandmothers backyard, he hadn’t been there since she passed away and a new family was assigned the house by someone in the Band office. Here, in this place, it was still his Grandmother’s house and he could smell the scent of fry bread being made wafting through the screen door of the back of the house. He climbed the old wooden stairs onto the creaking porch, making sure to mind his footsteps over the broken board his Uncles heavy foot plunged through when he tried to show him how to jig.
“Just like this boy!” he hooted as he started bouncing his feet quickly until a board snapped and his calve disappeared below the porch. His Uncle let out a thundercloud of cuss words and Edward couldn’t help but turn away and snicker.
Edward grabbed the latch of the door and it croaked like a squeaky frog as he walked into his Grandmother’s house. She stood by the stove and using a fork, flipped a piece of fry bread in the pan.
“I’ve been waiting for you my boy,” she said to him.
“Seetah askae,” she instructed, nodding towards the table.
Edward listened and sat down at the table. He wondered how this was all possible. They buried her a year ago in the middle of winter but here he was. Whatever was happening, he wanted it to last.
His Grandmother walked over to the table, placing a plate full of her delicious frybread in the middle of it and sat down beside him. Her long hair was still black and she had it pulled back into a braid. There were only a few strands of grey in it which caused all the other old women on the reserve to ask her why she insisted dying her hair at her age. Grandmother never dyed her hair before. “The secret,” she said to him, “is bear grease. All those old ladies keep talking, let them talk. If I told them, I would have to share my bear grease with the whole reserve!” They would both start laughing together every time she said this and she would magically pull out a plastic bag of dry meat and hand him a piece to eat.
“Ensitz,” she said, rapping her knuckles near the plate of frybread.
“I have needed to tell you something. That is why we are here,” she told him as she waved her arm slowly, gesturing to the house.
Edward ripped a piece of his frybread off and popped it in his mouth as he watched his Grandmother.
“You have gifts my boy. Gifts that will allow you to do many things for your people but first you will have to go away.”
“Yes, you will have to go and learn somewhere. Not just in the white man’s way but learn how to see things from eyes that are connected to everything. You must learn both ways my boy”.
“What about my sister? I can’t just leave her here” Edward said. He knew he was the only one who would look out for her.
“By the time it is time for you to leave she will be able to watch over herself”.
“Why me? I mean Grandma, I’m nothin’ special. I struggle in school. Life is hard enough as it is. And my parents they..”
“Askae,” she interrupted him, “Your parent’s story is only a piece of yours, it does not define yours. Before you, your parents lived their own stories, and those were hard times for both of them. They also inherited a sadness, a sadness that will stop with you”.
“A sadness? What do you mean? Like when mom cries alone?”
“Kind of like that. It started a long time ago when things started to change for our people. When our people started getting sick from the diseases the white man brought over and we lost so many of our relatives. That sadness was passed down to the next generation. When our ceremonies were banned and our people were arrested for practicing their ways. That sadness got handed down too. Or when the children were taken away and put into those schools where bad things happened. There was so much sadness there my boy….” she said, her voice trailing off. Edward could see the tears well up in the corner of her eyes as she peered out the window.
“Askae, my boy. We have been giving this sadness to our children in different ways and none of us knew what we were doing. I did it with your mother, but now….now I see. You have the power to heal, and when you do this my boy, you will take that power back for all of us”
Edwards grandmothers face started to fade away, he cried out for her, but just like that she was gone. The table started to vibrate fast, then the chair he was sitting on, then the floor his feet were on and then Edward’s eyes opened quickly, his body trembling in his bed.
He sat up in his bed, trying to slow his breath down and calm his still shaking nerves. He looked around his room, it was real, he was there.
He woke up earlier than his 7:30 a.m. alarm this time and he rose out of bed and walked down the hallway.
“Askae,” his mom said with a jump, “Oh geez you scared me. You’re up so early for once, I didn’t even start making your food yet. Sit down and I’ll start making it now.”
Edward sat down, still shook up by his dream. He watched his mother fill the pot with water and place it on the stove, she was humming a song that he knew was a traditional one. Not because she ever told him it was, but because they learned it at school. Mom never drummed or sang too loud, she only sang when she was busy, or in the shower, or when she thought no one could hear her.
“Mom, I get it now”.
“I get why you and dad drink like you do,”
Her small frame stopped, her hand froze mid-reach for the cupboard handle. She slowly turned towards him.
“Whys that?” she asked in a small voice.
“Your sadness mom. You were both made sad as small children. Your parents were sad too, and your parents parents were sad too. Part of it is your own sadness, part of it was given to you from a long time ago. It’s really weird that sadness can be given like that though,” Edward said, not realizing the gravity of his words.
His mother started to weep silently, then she began to sob. Edward moved over to her and held her because she was going to fall to the floor. Eventually it became too much and he slid to the floor with her.
That night, and every night from then on… The train whistle spoke.