First published online on 2005 September 21.
For hours at a time, old Martin sat and stared at the woman no
one else could see. His wife, Molly, no longer interrupted either
his staring or his attempts to get the woman to speak to him...though
Molly avoided the corner of the living room where Martin said
the mystery woman sat in her rocking chair.
As much as Molly believed the woman was a product of Martins
dementia, she thought it possible that the woman was something
else. Maybe, she thought, the illness that was stealing Martins
mind had left behind a dark gift; maybe, though his intellect
and personality were tearing free, he could see things others
Whatever the woman wasdelusion or ghosthe said she was old but
beautiful. She crocheted afghans as she rocked. She stared into
space, but never in his direction. She spoke, but he could never
hear a word she said.
The name on her sewing bag was Elizabeth.
* * * * * * *
While Elizabeth rocked and crocheted, she stared at the man no
one else could see.
At first, her daughter, Rebecca, had thought he might be her father,
who had died in the Civil War. Now, Rebecca just thought the man
was a figment of Elizabeths senility.
The old woman who had once been a teacher, a champion of reason
and learning, claimed she saw an ancient Indian in the corner
of her parlor.
Often, Rebecca walked through the corner to dispel her mothers
delusion, to wake her from the childlike slumber into which her
shining mind had been sliding.
But Elizabeth wasnt coming back. She kept watching the Indian,
though he never looked in her direction. She listened when his
lips moved, though she could never hear a word he said. She spoke
to him, but he never answered.
He just sat on the floor, huddled in a blanket of skins, eyes
squinting at something Elizabeth could never see.
* * * * * * *
Old Running Clouds mind was dissipating like a morning fog. He
had lost everything, and now he was losing himself, too.
The Whiteskins, welcomed in friendship three summers ago, had
forced his tribe from their homelands. Most of his people had
been wiped out by disease, starvation, and settlers.
Now he sat, fading like the embers of his dying fire, and had
On the opposite side of the teepee, he saw a creature that looked
like a fur-covered man. The fur was gray, the creatures face
wrinkled and cracked.
The creature squatted in the dirt and weakly chipped with a stone
at a pale piece of flint. No one who entered the teepee could
see him except Running Cloud...and Running Cloud, for his part,
seemed to be invisible to the creature. The creature looked up
often, but never at Running Cloud; his eyes focused on a point
to one side, a point of nothingness on the teepees blank wall.
Either nothingness or something or someone that Running Cloud
could not see.
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