Every good fairy tale ends with a wedding. Because this story was starting with one, I should have known it was going to be downhill from there.
Contrary to popular opinion, I was never against my mother remarrying. Everyone just assumed I was because I'm on great terms with my dad. My parents divorced before my first birthday, but by then they'd already been together for almost two decades. They just grew apart. Or at least that's what they keep saying whenever they mention the past.
After fifteen years, dad's still single and I thought mom would stay that way, too. She doesn't need to get married. Not for money or anything. She's been the mayor of Otter Falls for forever, so we've got enough to have a nice house, a decent car, and the rest to get by on. Now that my brothers are all out of the house, we finally would have gotten the chance to take a vacation to someplace warm. But then she announced her engagement to Johnny Kwanlin, so now they're getting my dream trip for their honeymoon, instead.
His last name used to be Smith (seriously, John Smith!), but Johnny had it legally changed to the old Tutchone name for the sacred area that's not too far from here. I think it means water running through the canyon, and it's supposed to show his connection to his heritage. He's a bit weird with all of that cultural stuff, but I'm still really happy for mom because she's with him for love. And at least she won't be alone when I go off to college in a few years.
Johnny's from the Wolf clan, while mom's from the Crow, so it actually worked out perfectly. Being part of a traditional First Nations wedding is also pretty cool. Sure, I've been to tons as a guest, but I've never had the opportunity to participate until now.
A tribal elder does most of the talking, but there are a lot of props involved - feathers, blankets, incense - so I help with those. Some of the guests are from the city and aren't familiar with our rituals, so the elder explains things as he goes along.
I'm trying to concentrate on keeping the eagle feather steady above mom's head, which shouldn't be too hard because I'm taller than her, but my hand is already shaking. It's not from nerves - there isn't much for me to really be worried about - but from my arm muscles complaining about having to keep the unusual pose.
I cringe, hoping no one notices. It's only been a couple of minutes, and I know there's a whole bunch more to go because the elder is still only at the part where he's explaining the matriarchal setup of our society. Thanks to this, only the woman can initiate divorce from a man and not the other way around. I always thought that this was one of the coolest things about being First Nations.
Of course, I can only claim membership on my mother's side. I don't even really look the part because even though I inherited my coloring from my mom, my features are totally from my dad. So basically, I look like a really tan Norwegian. This has never been a problem in Otter Falls because all of the kids are a mix of something. You really can't get away from it up here in the Yukon.
It's early summer, and we're outside the community lodge. The weathermen called for afternoon rains, but so far Mother Earth's cooperating. Although the temperature is probably just in the mid-sixties, it feels like more because of the unrelenting sun. We really should have done this by the Falls, the place on the Aishihik River our town was named after, where a cool breeze can always be felt coming off the water. It carries the fresh, sweet smell of the pines through the air, inviting you to take refuge in the shade of their ancient branches.
Ah, shade! What I wouldn't give to be able to enjoy some now. I don't know whose bright idea it was to hold the ceremony in this clearing, but I'm sure as not letting them plan my wedding. My wedding? What am I thinking? I must be getting heatstroke.
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Between Earth and Sky | ✓Short Story
Once Upon Now Grand Prize Winner published by Gallery Books. Sixteen-year-old Mira Sighansen never questions her place in the majestic wilderness of the Yukon Territory until she witnesses her brothers' oil rig explode. Refusing to believe the young...