Here is my entry from Round 7 of the NPR Three Minute Fiction contest.

The First Grandmother

             “Aulea, come sit with me a moment.” Grandmother sits by the fire, warming her hands. The air is chill and her bones ache with the cold.

            The women pause in their work. The caribou hunt was good and there is much to do.

            Aulea blushes and hurries to the fire. “Yes, Grandmother.” She crouches at the far edge.

            “Tell me a story.” Grandmother fingers the worn leather pouch around her neck.

            Aulea fidgets and ducks her head. “I am not a storyteller.”

            “Please humor an old woman.” She has waited a long time to find a successor.

            “Long ago, a time so long ago not even the elders in our village remember it, a woman came out of the winter storms. She was tall and slender with skin the color of night. She carried a wooden staff in one hand and around her neck hung a leather pouch.

            “She stopped at this spot and began to speak. She spoke for seven nights and seven days. She brought the first peoples out of the snow and ice. She called the waters up out of the land and filled the sea with fish. She called forth the polar bear, the seal, the walrus. She filled the land with caribou.”

             Grandmother closes her eyes, listening to the rising and falling cadence of her story. She has chosen wisely.

            “Grandmother?” Aulea touches her shoulder. “Are you alright?”

            Grandmother opens her eyes. “I was listening.”

            Aulea laughs. “You were sleeping, Grandmother.”

            “One listens with the ears, not with the eyes.” She stirs the fire. “You have a strong voice.”

            Aulea ducks her head and stands. “I must go, Grandmother. I have work to do.”

            Grandmother removes the leather pouch from around her neck and holds it in her hand. “This was a gift from The First Grandmother.” She presses it into Aulea’s hands.

            “I cannot accept this, Grandmother.” Aulea strokes the soft leather.

            “I have watched the children when you tell your stories. You have a gift, Granddaughter.”

            Aulea blushes. “I don’t deserve this.”

            Grandmother stares into the fire. “I have emptied it of all my stories. It needs new ones to fill it.”

            The fire pops and crackles, throwing sparks into the night air.

            “Why me?” Aulea sits down, heedless of the stares from the women. Her mother starts to walk towards the fire. Aulea holds up her hand.

            “You remind me of myself when I was your age. I have waited long to find one to take my place.”

            Aulea clasps Grandmother’s hands between hers. “I am honored.”

            Grandmother picks up the wooden staff beside her, holds it out to Granddaughter. “It is time. The world beyond is unfinished. It needs a young voice to breathe life into it.”

            Aulea looks at her village. She has never ventured beyond its outskirts. Her mother turns away, goes inside. The women return to their work. She feels like a ghost. “I’m afraid. Come with me.”

            Grandmother shakes her head. “My time is past, Granddaughter.” Tears glisten on her cheeks. “I chose to remain here.”

            Aulea takes the staff. It feels heavy, solid in her hands. “Where will I go?”

            “Listen to the stories. They will guide you. Stories live through telling.”’ Grandmother’s voice dies away.

            “Grandmother?” Aulea bows her head. “Would you do me the honor?” She hands the leather pouch to Grandmother.

            Her hands shaking, Grandmother places it around her neck.

            Aulea stands, takes a last look at her childhood home.

            Grandmother has fallen asleep by the fire. Aulea kisses her on the cheek.

            “Goodbye, Grandmother,” Granddaughter whispers as she walks into the night.

copyright 2011

Roberta Codemo


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