Mia C. Heavener

Mia C. Heavener
Mia C. Heavener lives and writes in Anchorage, Alaska. Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Alaska Women Speak, and Talking Stick.


It didn't hurt the first time I impaled myself on the broom sick. It didn't hurt the second time either, although I imagined that if I shoved the pole into my abdomen, it would stop the sick feeling from taking over. But it would only work if I felt pain. If I had known then that squeezing myself against a stick made no difference to the worry in my chest, I would have sucked on a cigarette. Instead, I kept shoving the broom stick into my abdomen and hoped that the bruises would penetrate my stomach.

"What are you doing?" My older sister, Kathy, asked as she walked into the porch. She stared at me as if I were a foreign object coming from the sky.

"Balancing," I answered, still leaning into the stick. I couldn't feel anything, but sudden hunger. I wondered if we still had salmon strips left, or if our mom had eaten them all.

"Weird," she rolled her eyes in the way that older sisters do. She stepped around me and fished for two cigarettes in the back of her pocket. "I'll be on the roof. Tell me if you hear mom."

"Yep," I answered quickly. I was the keeper of secrets, putting them in my pockets and only looking at them when I remembered. Kathy had secrets stacked like cord wood and I could hardly keep up—parties at the bunkhouse, smoking at the water tanks, taking the skiff trips to the abandoned cannery up the bay, letting Jason touch her vagina, and her preference for Camel lights and not Marlboro lights. At first they were easy to sort out, but soon I couldn't tell the difference between her secrets and my own.

I watched Kathy climb onto the oil drums next to the wall outside and balance herself for a moment before heaving herself up. She disappeared behind the ledge and I heard her swipe at her jeans to get the dirt off before she sat down.

I wanted to join her up there, perhaps take a puff or two of the cigarette, but sweeping the porch was my chore—one of my many summer tasks that felt like a long shopping list. To me summer felt like a one large chore that my family and I shared in. We commercial fished for salmon in Nushagak Bay. Every summer we boarded a Cessna 206 and landed on the windy beaches of Nushagak. We were told that we had the best fishing spot in Alaska, but it was the bluff and the long stalks of grasses that only made sense to me. The village of Nushagak with its falling buildings with empty eyes was the perfect playground. My friends and I battled in the grasses and played the Ouija board in the attic of the red house, where it was said Mary's ghost still coughed with TB.

Teej popped his head through porch door where the fishing waders hung to dry. "Nasha, you done yet?" he asked. He rubbed his dark brown eyes to adjust to the darkness. He had a round face and a habit of licking his lips until they were chapped and bright red. "I've been waiting forever. God damn, you take a long time."

Teej was what my mom called, "lazy." That was a favorite word of hers—lazy. He was also a villager, which meant he lived year round in the village. It also meant that he would amount to nothing or close to nothing. I didn't understand how she determined the nothing part, because she told Kathy that she would amount to nothing as well, and Kathy wasn't a villager. She was only a summer villager. But Teej, villager or not, had a way of looking through me, seeing me or the other side of me, which I found both unsettling and exciting. It was the shape of his eyes that made them seem so sad and at the same time ready to start a fire in an old building, like he couldn't decide what he wanted to do. Plus, he was free. No one cared whether he swept the porch or not—he would just flip his Nana off and leave.

"Almost," I pointed to the roof with the tip of the broom and motioned with my fingers like I was sucking on a cigarette. "Meet me by the kun."

It was a bizarre place to play, but the outhouse was located deep in the grasses behind the house where Teej and I played guns. Our guns were M-16s carved from alder brushes. Once the sticky leaves were stripped off the wood, the gun was the perfect shape for bloody battles. Our battles were the tough village battles—summer village kids versus the villagers. We chased each other through the brushes, the cemetery, and old smoke houses, pretending to see dead people and bears.

"Okay, I'll get everyone," he said and disappeared before I could say anything else. I returned to pounding my stomach with the broom handle until I was positive the bruises were outlined in black.

Just as I was throwing the muddy boots against the wall, my mom walked in the porch, wrinkling her nose. A red scar ran from her ear to her neck line, a prize she was left with when a fishing line snapped. The scar's deep redness used to frighten me when I was younger, but now it was her tone that scared me most. I could read her mood simply by the inflection of her words. "Is that cigarettes I smell?"

"I don't smell nothing," I answered, pretending to sniff the air too. "We need a shop-vac. No one uses brooms anymore."

My mom touched her belly and sighed. Always the same sigh—long, unwinding, and written in black and white. She carried our fishing world beneath her breasts where it settled on her stomach which was bloated and swollen from salmon. Her hands were dry and scaly and I could see the dirt underneath her fingernails. She always had dirt underneath her fingernails since my dad left. She waved to the empty village, "And where am I going to get a vacuum? You see a store around? Just dead people and buildings out there."

I shrugged and hoped she would leave the porch so I could go play. But she stood with her hands on her hips and her nose in the air. "When you see Kathy, tell her to go check the net. I'll be up at Ally's taking a maqi."

Ally was Teej's Nana, who was raising Teej after his mom ran off to Toksook Bay for herring and never returned. It was a theme in the village—leaving. Everyone seemed to do it at some point or another. My mom took maqis or steam baths with Ally, so they could gossip and sip on tea. It seemed that they took one nearly every day. When my mom took off on the four-wheeler, I tapped the roof with the broom. "Mom said—"

"I heard her," Kathy yelled.

"This time be back before she does," I answered. "I'm running out of stories."

"Yeah, yeah...go play."

I took Kathy's advice and dropped the broom. When people were over for tea and berries, Mom liked to say Kathy was at the rebellious age. But when Mom was looking for her down at the cannery, she talked about sluts and loose girls, and how loose girls would have to move to the Covenant house in Anchorage. Sometimes I had to go on these Kathy hunts, hoping we didn't see her wispy blond hair at the net loft or mess hall. I didn't want to see Kathy move just yet. I liked the way she kept our mom on her toes.

I found Teej in the grass flipping pages of a magazine with pictures of naked women. The grassy stalks whipped over his black hair as he studied each picture. They clearly weren't from the village, wearing only bottoms of red bikinis. They didn't have any goose bumps, so I imagined they were from somewhere in the lower forty eight where the sun came out for more than one day a year.

"You want to look?" he asked, clearing his throat.

I smelled soy sauce on his breath and wondered how long we would play guns together. Teej was only a year older than me, but I sensed that he was getting tired of playing war games. "Nah, we looked at that one before. Aren't the others coming?"

"Maybe we can kiss?" He asked again. "Maybe with tongue, unless you are too much of a baby."

It simultaneously made me uneasy and excited to think about putting Teej's lips on mine. It was what Kathy did with the cannery guy who worked the net crane. I saw them take the four-wheeler up to the water tanks. They didn't see me hike up the other side and spy on them through the alder brushes. The cannery guy reminded me of a golden retriever, licking her face. But then when she licked back she didn't remind me of any type of dog.

"Baby?" I pulled at the grass stalks. "Speak for yourself—you live with your Nana."

Teej stood up as the other village boys arrived with their guns. Etan and Drake scrabbled up to the outhouse, holding their sticks. Etan and Drake were cousins, but looked like brothers. They were wiry with dark skin and thin eyes and dirt around their lips. It was said that their great grandfather was a Jap from World War Two and knocked up half the women in the village. Somehow it was their fault that they were part Japanese, so when we played war, they had to be on the team of the emperor's.

"Okay, let's get this war started. The outhouse is base," Etan declared, talking with his hands. He carefully wiped at a fresh scar on his forehead, which I imagined his dad gave to him.

The rules and teams were drawn out in the dirt. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, let's play already." Etan poked Drake with a stick as if meaning to keep him in order. "We keep prisoners too and kill them if we want."

Etan and Drake took off, leaving me with Teej. While we hiked up the hill, I felt Teej's hand pass gently between my legs and electricity surge from my knees to my crotch. But I scrambled up the hill faster, ducking between the stalks of grasses and brushes. Teej couldn't move as fast, because his Nana let him eat Ding Dongs and chips all the time. I could hear him panting behind me.

"They are going to see," I whispered. "Let's go this way." I pointed to a trail between the cemetery and house. I could see Kathy still lying on out on the roof with a cigarette between her thumb and forefinger.

"You didn't run away last time," Teej panted. His breath was hot and smelled like soy sauce and fish.

I didn't answer, because I wasn't sure if I was supposed to run away. He saw me like no one else, so why would I want to leave that?

Usually a maqi calmed my mother. She would return home with a red face and wave with her hand, indicating that she wanted hot tea. But tonight, she was on a mission—another Kathy mission.

"Where's she at?" She demanded.

I was eating a peanut butter sandwich when my mom threw open the front door. She was a wild ptarmigan flapping her wings trying to get my attention as though it was hard to miss such a large woman. Some days she expanded before my eyes, and while I coated my tongue with creamy peanut butter, her head was like a seal gut balloon. I shrugged, and touched my stomach. It was tender from the broom. "She left a while ago," I answered. The way my mom stared at me made me wonder if she knew about Teej's hands and how I let them roam. The peanut butter stuck to the roof in my mouth and I could hardly swallow.

"Let's go look for that slut again," the seal gut said and marched back out the door. "She never lets me rest. Ally said she saw your sister with that cannery guy again after the tide went out. I got to put a stop to this."

I climbed on the four-wheeler and wrapped my arms around her before she shifted into gear. She took the beach route to the cannery in top gear and I hid behind her so my face wouldn't get struck by flies. Her body was fleshy, jiggling with each bump and I wondered if she was taking me on this Kathy mission because she knew of my recent wars with Teej. I wondered if the trip was a warning. I thought of getting a new broom.

I knew the drill. This wasn't the first time we went searching for Kathy, nor would it be the last. Kathy and my mom did this dance often. Kathy would take two steps sideways and mom would follow and take three steps backwards. They did it over and over, particularly in the summer. I wished I had that ability to get my mom's attention.

"What's she thinking? We have work to do and she's out getting fresh with the cannery workers," Mom huffed. I felt her back muscles tense and wondered if I should say anything, like that we were going the wrong way. Kathy went to the tundra, not the cannery. But there was something scary about interrupting my mom's rant. It was easier to let her run her course, like a river running dry.

And then she slammed on the breaks and we skidded to a halt at our fishing site. At the edge of the rocky beach, the net lay in the mud with a few salmon drying out. I could tell the tide was coming in by how the waves curled upon each other, gaining ground once more. Plus, the Japanese ships in the middle of the bay had turned on their anchors. All this meant we would have to fish in a few hours.

My mom sighed and leaned on the handle bars. She took in the scene, the water, and the drift boats bucking tide to go to the mouth of the bay and suddenly looked defeated. "I don't know what I do wrong."

I jumped off the four-wheeler, and sat down on the rocky beach, letting the sand and rocks spill through my fingers. "I don't know what you do wrong either. Must be something," I answered, holding back a grin. "Really, maybe you should tag her, you know like how Fish and Game does to the caribou. And when you want her, you can just look her up on the radio."

I wanted her to smile. I really wanted her to smile, even just a little. She didn't answer, but stared out to the ocean, unblinking. She appeared tired, her shoulders slumped and her round face was red, from stress or the remains of a maqi, I couldn't be sure. It was strange scene to witness—mom giving up. She never gave up, not on a good fishing season, on the hope that our net would sink like a rock with nothing but red salmon. I always believed in her hope.

"Look, she never even picked those fish," she said, disgusted, curling her lip. "We can't give them to the cannery baked and muddy. That's money lost."

I didn't answer, but combed my hand through the sand, feeling the wet coolness beneath my fingers.

"Don't do this to me when you are her age, don't slut around," my mom said. "Once, when I was Kathy's age I ran barefoot across mud to Ekuk cannery across the way. My mom was ten steps behind me the whole time, with an alder switch in her hand. God damn that hurt when she caught me."

I imagined my grandmother, who died the year before, gripping an alder branch and grinding her teeth. I had heard this story before, this reminder not to stress my mom more than she could take. But the way slut rolled out of her mouth caused a knot to form in my stomach. She didn't know I was already there—two steps from slut and not looking back.

"I won't," I lied. It seemed wrong to tell the truth right then, to admit that I liked to play with Teej. It seemed wrong to do anything but agree with her. I would always agree with her, I decided. I could give my mom that.

Kathy was sipping on a cup of noodles when we returned home. Her hair was wiry and a smirk was plastered to her face—two signs that she was up at the tundra, probably getting licked on. I knew this, because Kathy kept her hair perfect, even during the fishing season. Every time she returned from the boat, she would carefully brush all the scales out. They would fall to the floor like dandruff while she repeatedly said, "Gross." When she did that, I always pulled at my long ponytail, hoping to find a twig or stick, something to show that I too had a life outside our house.

I expected a storm surge to flood our kitchen between Kathy and mom, both fighting to be captains of our women's ship. Instead, my mom fell down into the chair and told me to put the kettle on the stove. I kept waiting for the blow up, but it was eerily silent. Just the sound of the waves and the incoming tide outside. I stole glances at Kathy and tried to see what she was thinking. Behind the defiant smile etched on her lips, her grin told me nothing.

How did I end up in the tool shed with Teej, smelling dried fish and outboard motor oil? I thought I should feel bad with my pants to my knees, my pink flower underwear in view to the bay. But I was curious, wanting to know what Kathy felt, what set her free. I didn't feel any more free, only bowline knots in my stomach. He was so close, breathing my air. He touched me and I touched him, like we were exchanging candy. He had a belly like my mom and I felt fat beneath my finger tips. I imagined he had seal oil under his skin, and if I kept my hands on him, I would get full of seal oil as well. The thought made me gag and I pulled up my pants.

"Where you going," Teej asked, breathing hard. "You said we were going to try." He reached into my pants, and his hands felt simultaneously good and frightening. He pinched, but I pulled away.

"I need to go fish," I said.

"It can wait a minute," he said. He pulled up his jeans and adjusted himself. "You're such a little girl. No hair yet anyway."

His words stung, because friends don't say things like that to one another. I couldn't understand why he didn't want to just play like normal. But I couldn't understand why I didn't always want to just play either. When did our war games turn to this?

"Next time, maybe in that old maqi by the cemetery. There's benches there," I said quickly and tucked my shirt in my pants. He would still be my friend if I gave him something to look forward to.

"You promise?" Teej said. "I'll tell Drake and Etan they can come and watch."

"My mom's going to yell," I said. I worried about her coming around the corner with fish in her eyes. "I gotta go." I waved at Teej and ran out of the tool shed.

"We're waiting on you," Kathy said when I came inside. "Mom's down at the site, getting crazy. We're going to be up all night..."

She already had her hip waders and gloves on, and she was tapping her foot. She stared at me with a slight knowing smile, and I wondered what she knew. I felt like I was still in my underwear, showing my pink skin to the world.

"Why you hang out with Teej? He's creepy," Kathy said. She pulled at her bangs.

I shrugged. "No one else to play with."

"I hate the way he looks at me. We see him down at the cannery sometimes, hanging out with the store girl." Kathy stared at me, unblinking.

I pulled on my hip waders, thankful to hide my body behind another layer of clothes. I didn't understand why she was telling me about Teej down at the cannery. Everyone knew he didn't have to lift a finger if he didn't want to, that his Nana just let him run off when he felt like it. I wished I could hang out at the cannery if that wouldn't make me a loose girl, although the bay's current already seemed to be pulling me in that direction. I didn't know how to make it stop.

"I don't care," I answered. "Why do I have to pick fish?"

"Because you're lazy," Kathy said. "I told mom you need to work more. You barely help out as it is."

"So," I answered, although my voice sounded whiny against hers. "I'm not lying for you anymore."

Kathy smirked. "You think I don't lie for you?"

I went cold. Maybe she knew if I was pregnant or not, although I wasn't getting licked as much as she was.

"When you are out playing all the time, I tell her that you are hauling water or checking the net."

Maybe we were both liars.

"Like that's bad," I answered.

Kathy adjusted her rain coat and licked her lips. "There's a party with the other cannery crew at Ekuk this Friday night, after we pull in the net. Jason's going."

I shrugged. "How come you don't just stay here?" I stood up. "I'm ready. Let's go get our ass kicked."

Kathy pulled on the hood of my raincoat. "It's windy today."

The incoming tide rolled the skiff as the bow acted like a sail in the wind, making it difficult to pull on the net. But the salmon kept dropping from the web, filling our bins. Soon we were up to our knees in slime and my mom couldn't have been happier. She whistled, flinging the salmon and talking to them as if they were old friends. The mood on the skiff was infectious, and soon Kathy and I relaxed. It wasn't our usual somberness of trying to work as fast as possible. The fish were there—we just had to pick them.

"This girls," My mom huffed, "is what fishing's about." Her cheeks were fire like they always were when she was excited or angry. She said it was because she didn't have sweat glands, but I was pretty sure it was because she held in all that madness and the only way out was to let it steam off in a red burn.

Kathy murmured in agreement, because that's what you did when your mom was nutty about fishing. She flipped salmon into the brailers just as quickly as mom did, if not faster.

"After we tie up the skiff, Nasha, wash the bins. Kathy and I will deliver at the cannery. Maybe you can use your hips to get us a good price, Kathy."

"Ooh, a good price. Maybe two bucks a pound instead of seventy cents," I said, wanting to be part of the conversation. For a moment I wished my hips curved like a salmon's back, even if that meant I was pregnant. Then mom would want me to deliver the fish with her as well.

"Yep, your sister can get us a good price. She'll just have to flirt a little." Mom answered. "Maybe show some skin."

"One of these days I'll deliver too," I said.

Mom looked at me, her hair wild and slimy. She stared at me that same way that Teej did, as if she were looking through me, seeing me naked. I wished I'd worn an extra sweatshirt. "Yeah, one of these days all the cannery men will be after you too. I'll show you how to get what you want then."

I don't remember how I jumped time, but I found that I could jump from the house to fishing to the grasses without walking, without seeing the path between those points. Sometimes I would find myself sitting between the lumpy stalks of grasses, smelling the wet dirt. And I would wonder how I ended up on the ground floor, letting the water soak my underwear. It was around this time I started collecting smells in addition to the secrets and began placing them in my other pocket.

Different fishing odors from the cannery and the tundra seeped into my pores—dried fish, mildew floor of the maqi, wild celery spice, outboard motor oil, rusty iron tools in the shed, and wet dirt of the grasses. I felt the smells grow on me, and I began to smell my under arms to see if I was collecting too many odors. Once I was checking out my arms pits in the outhouse when Kathy walked in on me.

"What are you doing?" Kathy asked.

"Nothing," I quickly brought my arms to my sides. "Just seeing if I had a hole in my shirt."

"You're getting weirder by the day," she said. "I'm on the roof if anyone cares." She shut the outhouse door.

"Yep, and I'm smoking Camel lights," I answered. I lingered in the outhouse longer, because Teej was waiting for me down at the old maqi. I didn't know any stories of that maqi, other than one of my relatives built it before he died.

"Come on, Nasha," Teej hollered. His voice was muffled from the wind and the distance between the maqi and the outhouse, but I could hear his whine. I could feel his hot breath on my neck.

"One minute," I yelled. I pulled down my pants to see if there was any blood. No blood, just flowery underwear. I stood there for a second before pulling my pants back up, and wondered how long I would have to stay before Teej gave up. He would tell everyone I wimped out, though.

I would have had to camp in the outhouse, because Teej, Etan, and Drake were already sitting on the benches when I arrived. The maqi was dark and smelled like wet pennies. Old pieces of cardboard were still on the dirt floor for rugs.

"You guys going to do it?" Etan asked, sucking on a peppermint stick. "It's fun."

"You don't know shit," Drake said.

"I heard my parents and they sounded like it was fun." Etan answered. "They were drunk, though." He touched the scar on his forehead carefully as if checking to make sure it was still there.

The whole time Drake and Etan were talking, Teej stared at me with a toothy grin. His bottom teeth were out of order and I felt like straightening them right then. But the smell of soy sauce was getting to me.

"Did you just eat?" I asked.

"Fish and rice," he answered. "And a little seal oil."

He stood up, and suddenly he seemed a lot older than his thirteen years. There was fuzz on his upper lip that I hadn't seen before. I wondered if I jumped time again, and went too far forward into the future. But then Drake and Etan hadn't changed a bit. Their faces were still caked with dirt and Drake's front tooth was still missing.

"It's cold in here," I said. I didn't want to have to get naked.

"We lit the stove in the other room." Drake said. "You'll get warm anyway."

Teej opened the wooden door to the steam room and led me inside. The room was hot and dark. Except for the red glow coming from the rusty oil drum, I couldn't see a thing. I couldn't tell if Teej's fat body was near or close until his hand found my butt. I heard Drake and Etan giggling on the other side. And then Teej's lips were on mine and his tongue coated the roof of my mouth. I pressed myself against him, because that's what I was supposed to do. His hands—I couldn't keep track of them. They were like seagulls, dipping and diving in all sorts of directions that neither felt good or painful. They were just there. I mimicked his hands, and found his seal oily skin beneath his shirt. Somehow I jumped time with my magic powers, but I knew of three things happening—the smell of smoke, rubbing, and warmth. And then I disappeared until my mom's voice penetrated the wooden walls.

"What the hell is going on here?" I heard my mom holler. I felt the building shift as she stepped inside as if we were going to sink into the cemetery. "There's a fucking chimney fire."

I pushed Teej away just as the door flung open. The outside light was blinding, but soon I traced my mom's round figure like a cookie cut-out in the door way. She seemed so tall.

"What you doing in here?"

The question sounded reasonable, one that I should have been able to answer easily, even if I were lying. But at that moment, I felt naked as if my nipples had been pinched and as if we had already done it.

"Pretending to take a maqi," Teej answered. He smiled, looking directly at my mom as if daring her to question him.

"Jesus Christ, you're going to start a chimney fire. This thing hasn't been lit in years." She opened the drum stove door and stuck her foot in, stomping on the flames. They crawled up her pants, as if fighting her fury, but not even fire could beat my mom. "You kids shouldn't be playing with fire."

Drake and Etan had bolted. I leaned against the wall, taking deep breaths of the dying embers and putting the smells into my pockets. Teej stayed only long enough for my mom to yell at him that he was turning out to be a good for nothing villager. And then she paused long enough to ask him if he would ask his Nana to come over for tea.

"Nasha, quit playing with the dead people." My mom tugged on my shirt and led me out of the maqi.

The evening Kathy disappeared again, I was in the back porch beating myself with the broom stick. I already had ten marks on my pelvis and hip bones. I thought of how Teej touched me and I touched him and hit myself for every touch, for every bit that felt good. To feel good meant something awful. Only the girls on the docks with the knee-high rubber boots felt good. Everyone in the village knew that.

Kathy told me where she was going earlier in the day, although I couldn't remember if it was to our cannery or Ekuk's Cannery. She made me swear not to say anything, which I thought would be easy, since I was jumping time so often now. "Swear you won't say anything," Kathy demanded as she rubbed blush into her cheeks. "We'll be back before high tide. Mom doesn't need to know a thing." And because I was mesmerized by the blush on her cheeks and the blue eye shadow, I agreed. "Just bring me back some candy—I'm low on licorice."

Mom interrupted my ritual beating with a yell that must have come from the bottom of her gut. It deepened, and I knew that we were in for a long evening of searching for Kathy.

I hopped on the four-wheeler behind her and suddenly felt dirty next to her. I smelled fresh salmon slime. She had already been to the site and back. My mom revved the engine and we took off in fifth gear down the beach and towards the cannery. We flew by the leaning homes, smoke houses, and fish racks with moss on them, so quickly that they blended in with the wavy stalks of grass. It was like a mural painting and we were speeding in it, messing it up even more.

She slowed down a bit when we reached the cannery and as we passed the cannery office. We weaved through the narrow alleyways on the boardwalk, between the mess hall, the generator building, the store, the old chinamen's bunkhouse, the native bunkhouse, and finally the worker's quarters. The whole time, she yelled out Kathy's name in a sing-song wail. Cannery men and fishermen stared our way before shaking their heads. I ducked my head behind my mom's shoulder, wishing she would stop. It was one thing to look for Kathy. It was entirely another thing for everyone to know that my mom had Kathy on a leash.

"She probably won't hear you anyway," I said, hoping she would take the hint and be quiet. Now everyone in the cannery would know that Kathy was missing. Might as well just call her a slut now and get it over with.

We drove on, continuing behind the main storehouses and to the old water tower, and the native men's maqi. We circled the cannery like seagulls searching for the last eyeballs on the fish until my mom noticed that the tide had changed, and that it was time to check the net.

"What were you doing in that maqi?" My mom asked. She parked the four-wheeler facing the net, as if it provided all the answers she wanted to hear.

"Good God, you could have burnt down the cemetery," she continued without waiting for an answer. "My brother built that maqi one summer after the fishing season. We had no place to bath, so it was a good one for us all. He died before you were born—went to Vietnam."

She was quiet, thinking about her brother. In front of us, the net corks bobbed with the roll of the waves, and occasionally one would jerk spastically, meaning there was salmon beneath the surface.

"Your grandmother is buried in that cemetery, and you could have fried her bones," my mom said again. "She would have been pissed. Probably would have come out of the ground and beat you with a stick. You would have deserved it, though."

I didn't feel particularly sorry yet, just dirty. So I sat behind her, hoping this portion of the Kathy-hunt was almost over.

"What made you guys want to start a maqi anyway?" She asked again.

I swallowed and gazed out to the water. She was poking at my secrets, getting closer to finding out how awful both her daughters were. A bolt of terror shot through my abdomen, because I would probably have to move out with Kathy if my mom ever found out anything. She would know that I was worse than Kathy, that I was the real whore in the family. And then I realized I didn't have any more room for secrets, and that I had to protect the ones I made myself. I was tired of holding on to them.

I leaned my head into the wind, feeling it sort through my hair. "Kathy went up to Ekuk's cannery with Jason and that other guy who buys our fish."

My mom sighed, not the one of defeat, but the one that gave her shot of energy. She started up the four-wheeler. "Looks like we are in for a ride on the tundra," she said.

I was surprised how easily it was for me to change the subject. It seemed that when Kathy on the on mind, then nothing else mattered.

"Could we get licorice at the cannery store before we leave," I asked.

My mom didn't answer, but shifted the machine into gear, kicking up the gravelly beach behind us. And again the village flew by us in blurry waves until it turned into the marshy tundra. Rolling hills of green flashed by and I smelled the spicy tundra tea, blueberries, and salmon berries, sweet and like the sun.