Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Not surprisingly it took several days to get the bugs out of the voice-to-text software system, to learn how to use it, and to get its dictionary filled with the more commonly used terms. For three or four days Tricia had to spend hours wrestling with it in the evenings after the office closed, getting everything corrected and printed so Molly could file it the next day. But the learning curve was steep, and soon hours turned to minutes; it turned into a huge and badly needed timesaver.
It freed up a lot of time for Tricia in the evenings. Especially in the first weeks she’d spent much of her evenings at home wrestling with the various aspects of the record keeping, but that soon dwindled away so she could spend more time reading medical literature. Even that palled a little bit after a while, and several times she turned to Ferry to Kolombanara to read a chapter or two, although she had a hard time getting into the very complicated book with its many strange names. It may not have been a bad book, but it was not her cup of tea. Sometimes, not often, evenings even got a little boring.
She’d settled into her new home in the duplex quite well by now. Heather had spent some time with her filling out her kitchen, not that she used it much. Tricia had always known that cooking for herself was not much fun, and she wasn’t much of a cook anyway; it was just making something to eat. For her, it usually involved opening a can or pulling some kind of packaged meal out of the freezer and throwing it in the microwave Danny had thoughtfully added to her furniture list without mentioning it to her.
As October drew to a close, with the brilliant display of fall leaves now coming down and turning to bare trees, the invitations out to dinner grew scarcer. There had been many in the first few weeks, and she’d tried to take advantage of them as she could. The conversations were almost always interesting, and the food usually was better than she would make for herself.
A little surprisingly, she hadn’t made it to dinner with Danny and Debbie Evachevski yet, not for wanting to avoid him, but somehow it just hadn’t worked out between being as busy as she was in the evenings and her receiving several other dinner invitations previously. Along with that, she knew that any conversation she had with Danny and Debbie over dinner was going to have to be done carefully to avoid getting into the fact that she’d known him in her former life.
That came to an end late in October, when she ran into Debbie in the Super Market one day. As it happened, Tricia was in the frozen food section, stocking up on tray meals that would feed her even though they didn’t taste that good, when Debbie commented from across the aisle, “Dr. York! What are you doing eating that stuff?”
“It’s food, and it doesn’t take any work to prepare,” she replied defensively.
“Well, you ought to come to dinner with us some evening,” Debbie said. “Danny has said several times we ought to have you over, but somehow it never seems to get as far as inviting you. Could you come over tonight?”
“I’m sure I could,” Tricia replied. “It’d be an evening I don’t have to eat one of these things. Besides, several people have said you and Danny do some pretty interesting things.”
“They’re interesting to us,” Debbie said. “Most people find it a little dull once they get past the initial explanation.”
“I’m not so sure about that,” Tricia grinned. “I know I’ve met some pretty interesting people here in Spearfish Lake, and I’ve heard some pretty good stories. This town isn’t the drab little place out in the middle of nowhere I’d been led to believe it was.”
“Oh, there are the odd stories drifting around,” Debbie grinned. “Mike says almost everybody has one, you just have to dig them out of people.”
“Mike McMahon, the editor of the Record-Herald. My opposite number, sort of. I’m the head of ad sales.”
“I didn’t even know you worked there,” Tricia smiled. “I’m still learning my way around this town after all.”
“Well, come on over,” Debbie smiled. “We might be able to add another interesting story or two to your collection.”
Danny and Debbie proved to live out on Lakeshore, a few houses up from Randy Clark’s big house; not too surprisingly, they proved to be pretty close friends with Randy and Nicole. They had two boys, Sky and Hunter; the second was the younger and had just started kindergarten. The house had quite a bit of American Indian motif to it, not surprising considering that Tricia knew both the Evachevskis had quite an interest in Debbie’s culture.
Danny was clearly a doting father and enjoyed his kids. Tricia could remember back when she’d known him in Peppermint Patty days when he’d talked about wanting to have kids, but his ex-wife had been adamantly against it; at the time he’d considered himself lucky they hadn’t. It obviously had worked out for the best this time around. She really would have liked to ask him if he’d ever heard anything from his ex-wife, but she didn’t dare, because it might have revealed how Tricia had heard about her in the first place. Maybe sometime if I get him alone, she thought. Or, maybe not. Those days were long in the past for both of them.
“One of the things I remember about you from the chamber meet and greet,” she said, “Was that you’d done a book about the Shaka . . . something. Your people.”
“Shakahatche,” Debbie grinned. “Not bad for trying, though.”
“How did that come about?”
“That’s a long story,” Debbie grinned. “You sure you want to hear it?”
“Debbie,” Tricia laughed, “almost every time I ask someone in this town about something, they tell me, ‘That’s a long story.’ When I get them to tell me, it almost always is something interesting I’ve never heard before.”
“Well, I’ll try to keep it simple,” Debbie said. “I’m what the Shakahatche call a katara, which is a word that does not translate into English very well. I can think of a dozen different words or more that touch on it but none of them very well. For this purpose ‘historian’ is probably as close as anything. Much of our history was never written down, and a small group of us is trying to do what we can to get those stories of the old days on paper before they fade from memory or people die on us, which happens all too often. Most of the good sources are very old, and when their memories are gone, they’re gone forever.”
“I imagine that is happening with increasing frequency.”
“Yes it does, and we feel the loss each time it happens. But the strange thing is, the greatest history we have of our people was not written by a Shakahatche, but by a white man, Dr. Robert Carter. He lived with the people for over thirty years, from 1858 through 1892, when he died. He was the last white man before Danny to speak the language. The important part was that he kept extensive journals that cover a huge range of topics, including some of those legends that have faded from memory.”
“That journal must be a treasure for you.”
“It is indeed. The church he founded over at Three Pines still has the originals, but when I was younger as a katara I spent a lot of time studying copies of them. They come to literally thousands of pages, and we still have the copies upstairs. Well, when Danny and I first got going together, he got interested in them, and the culture of the people as well, and we spent hours reading them to each other and discussing them. Actually, Danny did most of the reading since he can read Dr. Carter’s handwriting better than I can.”
“He had that old-fashioned copperplate handwriting,” Danny explained. “Beautiful in its way, although since you’re a doctor, I shouldn’t have to tell you what that means.”
“Uh, yeah,” Tricia shook her head. “I won’t say Dr. Luce had pretty handwriting, though. Just nearly illegible.”
“Just by accident, I happen to be able to read it pretty well. It’s pretty similar to my great-grandfather’s handwriting, and back in the day I could read it pretty well, and in German at that. Well, one day Debbie and I were going through a section that was pretty interesting, the answer to a question he’d wondered about for years. But it was pretty convoluted and not very well written. Worse, it was an entry from when he was older and his handwriting had deteriorated from arthritis. Now, my mother was a typesetter for many years, and we have a talent we share – we can type things from copy and not really try to think about them at the same time. Well, just as an experiment, I thought I’d see what happened if we split the job up. I took the couple of pages we were working on over to Debbie’s computer, and typed them out. When we read them without having to struggle with the handwriting, they made a lot more sense. In fact, it was a pretty interesting observation, just not well written.”
“And then my dear husband got the epiphany that made him something of a legend among the kataras of the people himself,” Debbie grinned.
“Not so much an epiphany,” Danny shook his head. “But it struck me that Dr. Carter’s journals might be a lot more accessible to people if they didn’t have to struggle with his handwriting. That meant having to keyboard them, and there wasn’t anybody better to do it than me.”
“It was a huge job,” Debbie explained. “It took both of us years, with Danny doing most of the typing. We had to run over to the reservation any number of times to examine the originals when we couldn’t make out what was being said from the copies. They were, uh, not the greatest.”
“In a way it was a little sad to have it done,” Danny explained. “I won’t say it was the center of our lives, but it was never far away, either. Anyway, we got it done, burned some CDs of it, and distributed them around to some people who we thought might be interested in them. One of them wound up in the hands of a Navajo university professor, who said she thought they were interesting but would be a lot more useful if the humdrum day-to-day stuff was edited out.”
“He means entries like how bad his arthritis was hurting him, how much wood he had in his woodpile, and so on and so on,” Debbie explained. “The editing took as long as the original typing, because we decided we might as well annotate it while we were at it. I mean, names and relationships, all sorts of things, plus cleaning up some of those complicated spots like Danny just mentioned. We thought it was going to be simple. It wasn’t. It took us longer than the original project.”
“Well, we had other irons in the fire by then, including the store and two kids,” Danny explained. “So often enough the project had to take a back seat. Our Navajo friend was a big help, too, and gave us a lot of help with editing and criticism. Well, to make a long story short, a little over a year ago, Man of Memory – the Journal of Rev. Dr. Robert Carter among the Shakahatche, 1858-1892 was published by the University of New Mexico Press.”
“We’re editing it again, although we’re not working too hard at it,” Debbie added. “This time it’s intended to be a vastly simplified popular edition, not a scholarly one.”
“Still,” Tricia said, hugely impressed. It was something she would have never have expected out of Danny from back when he’d been at the Redlite Ranch, although it wasn’t something she could say right then. “It had to be a heck of a project, and shows a lot of dedication. You must have learned a lot.”
“Oh, my spirits, did we ever,” Debbie shook her head. “There are hundreds of meanings and insights in there my katara friends over at Three Pines had never picked up on. It’s revolutionized the way many of the people see their history. And it’s also meant that Danny is considered the greatest living white historian of the people, even though he’s actually a little bit Shakahatche himself.”
“Only a sixteenth,” Danny smiled. “Although once in a while it seems like it’s a pretty strong sixteenth.”
“That is not something you expect out of a furniture store owner,” Tricia said, wishing she could say more, comparing him to the guy she’d met at the Redlite. “That really is pretty awesome.”
“Realistically, it’s just a hobby,” Danny shrugged. “Granted, a pretty interesting hobby for us, especially considering Debbie’s interest in her heritage. Debbie and I were already getting pretty close when we got started on the project, but we got way closer as it went along. It was something I couldn’t imagine happening when I was married to my first wife.”
“First wife?” Tricia asked, clearly making a lie out of it by indicating she’d never heard about it. Hopefully Danny would pick it up.
“Yeah,” Danny grinned at her; it was obvious he’d understood her meaning. “I was married to her for eight years, absolutely the worst eight years of my life. She bitched and whined and pissed and moaned about everything, and considered it her bound duty to make my life a living hell.”
“I met her once,” Debbie shook her head. “She didn’t know I was Danny’s wife. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more unpleasant person in my life. I don’t have any idea how Danny could have put up with her for eight minutes, let alone eight years.”
“I don’t know why I hung on with her as long as I did,” Danny sighed. “Sheer stupidity on my part, I guess. But finding her shacked up with a lesbian lover was the second best thing that ever happened in my life.”
“I’ve heard people say things like that,” Tricia grinned. “But what was the best thing?”
“That ought to be obvious, since she’s sitting here with us. It has been absolutely night and day. My life turned around one morning about nine years ago when Debbie walked into the old store and somehow the conversation changed from newspaper advertising to the Shakahatche.”
“I’ve never looked back, either,” Debbie smiled. “I’d pretty well given up on finding a man, but the spirits decided it was time for me and it was the best thing that ever happened to me, too.”
“Well, I’m glad it happened to you,” Tricia said. “I have to admit, I think I’ve pretty well given up on it happening to me. I haven’t even tried to look. I’ve spent so much of my time studying and training to be a doctor, working toward it very hard with a very narrow focus, that I haven’t had the time to even think about it, especially the last few years.”
“Perhaps the spirits will decide it’s time for you some day,” Debbie smiled. “Spirits have a funny way of doing things at times. In fact, it’s often how they operate. They have a way of picking you up and making you look at things in different ways.”
“Do you really believe in things like spirits?” Tricia asked. It may have not been the most polite thing to say, but the way Debbie said it made the question obvious.
“Oh, of course I do,” Debbie smiled. “I’m a katara after all, it goes with the job. Tricia, I take it you’re not very religious.”
“No, not particularly. Once again, it was something I didn’t pay much attention to while I was going through med school and everything else. I suppose I’m nominally a Christian, but I’ve never taken the time to pay attention to it, much less be active in it.”
“I’m nominally a Christian, too. Well, more than nominally, I’m a Presbyterian, although I don’t practice it much. But along with the belief in Christ, Christianity carries with it the acceptance of other spirit beings, such as angels. Most Christians today don’t take that part of their beliefs very seriously. My own understanding, and it’s no great trick to find people who disagree with me, is that the spirits the Shakahatche recognize are no different from the spirits talked about in the Bible. The spirits of my people are a little different from the Biblical ones since they have different things they represent and different jobs to do, but they’re just different aspects of the same thing.”
“I was a little skeptical when I first heard Debbie explain it,” Danny added. “But over time I’ve come to agree with her, at least to the extent I believe in spirits at all, which admittedly isn’t as strong as her belief. And actually, although Dr. Carter found it hard to admit, he more or less came to the same conclusion, and his understanding was greater than mine. But I have more than once had reason to believe in them.”
“I don’t know,” Tricia said. “I don’t know how much I can believe of that.”
“Tricia,” Debbie said, “most people would agree with you. But it’s my belief that spirits are often with us, guiding us and helping us. For example, spirits don’t often speak directly to us, but act upon us through things we call by other names, such as ‘luck’ or ‘insight.’ You believe in luck, don’t you?”
“Well, of course. Some pretty lucky things have happened to me in coming here.”
“Now, the question becomes, is that luck just a focus of the chaos of life, or is there a deeper meaning?”
Tricia was silent for a moment. “It’s just the way the dime happens to fall,” she shrugged. “But I can see how people can see it otherwise.”
They wound up spending much of the evening talking about tribal beliefs and tribal history. It was one of the more intense social evenings Tricia had spent in years, and her head was spinning when she finally drove home after having thoroughly enjoyed herself. There had been a great deal of food for thought, and even after she went to bed she still thought about it – but not quite in the form that the rest of the evening had taken.
Danny had sure gotten lucky with Debbie, she thought. There was an awesome depth to her, an intellectual range that she had rarely encountered. Tricia was well aware that physicians often tended to think of themselves as a bit above other people because of the length and intensity of their training, and the responsibility they bore. But right at the moment she realized that while her skills may have been deep, her knowledge and interests in other areas was shallow by comparison. Though Debbie admitted she was still a few credits shy of a college degree and might never finish it up, Tricia could hardly remember meeting someone with her level of education of quite her intellectual caliber. Clearly, not all wisdom came in a college classroom. Though she was only mildly curious at best about some of the things Debbie found fascinating, Tricia could not help but appreciate the depth and the passion of Debbie’s interests.
And Danny clearly supported his wife in her interests and shared a lot of them, although perhaps not quite at the same intensity. Still, having spent years working at what had to be quite a dull and frustrating job of transcribing those journals obviously meant he was more interested in them than in just supporting his wife. There were things there she’d never seen in him, or at least remembered about him from Redlite Ranch days, and that level of intellectual curiosity was one of them. From what she’d been able to pick up, it had to have been a hell of a job, at least a good percentage as intense as medical school – and they’d done it while holding down jobs, raising a family, and building an enviable relationship!
It was too goddamn bad she hadn’t seen that in him back when they first knew each other at the Redlite. Back then, he’d just been a temporary bartender with some personal problems eating very hard at him. If she’d seen what lay behind that façade in him then, could her life have been different?
Well, no. She would have had to have been a pretty different person, too. Though she’d just been one of the girls, she was still very focused on her goals, and had just been putting in time to get the money to do what she needed to do. It was interesting to imagine how things might have come out if things had gone a little differently back in those days, but not worth putting a lot of attention into thinking about it. What had happened, had happened, and they’d wound up following very different paths.
But still, Danny had been a pretty nice guy back then, even though he’d had plenty of problems, and he was even a nicer guy today. She couldn’t help but envy Debbie for that. But the fact remained that she and Danny shared a special something she could share with no one else in Spearfish Lake, the knowledge of her time at the Redlite. It was something that couldn’t be admitted, of course, but he was the only person in town who would have even the slightest hint of understanding of what she’d done there, or what that time had meant to her. Even then, it was nearly impossible for her to share her thoughts about those days with him.
If he weren’t so closely involved with Debbie, she could almost envision being a lot closer with Danny, for that reason if for nothing else.
Once again, the thought came to her that it would be nice to have someone to share her life with, someone she could talk to at an intense personal level, someone who could understand that part of her past. Just supposing she could find someone interesting, someone who could be that companion, even if she outed herself to him, could he understand the meaning of those days in the same way Danny could? Anyone else wouldn’t have the depth of experience to be able to comprehend what it really had been like. Even most of her clients at the Redlite wouldn’t be able to share the inside view of it that Danny could.
But there were limits to what he could understand, too. Somewhere from the depths of her mind, her thoughts turned to a day sitting around a table in the lounge in the Redlite years before, when Danny had flatly come out and said that he didn’t quite understand how she had been able to do what she’d been doing. If he had been a woman, he’d said, he couldn’t imagine doing it. There was a bridge of understanding he’d been unable to cross. Looking back at it, though, sometimes she could barely believe she’d been able to do it herself.
That was just going to have to be a part of her life that she couldn’t share with anyone – not even some of the other girls at the Redlite; few except Jennlynn ever had anything like her goals or the drive to reach them. Even Jennlynn had been coming at it from a much different angle. It was clearly something she was going to have to sort out for herself, without being able to share it with anyone.
But still, as she lay awake in her lonely bed, her mind turning over the impossible, she wished she had someone she could talk to about it. Helpless to reject it in spite of the facts, she could imagine Danny lying next to her as she struggled to put things into perspective. It couldn’t happen, but damn . . .