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The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

Chapter One

The Message

On most winter days, Lulu Lamartine did not stir until the sun cast a patch of warmth for her to bask in and purr. She then rose, brewed fresh coffee, heated a pan of cream, and drank the mix from a china cup at her apartment table. Sipping, brooding, she entered the snowy world. A pale sweet roll, a doughnut gem, occasionally a bowl of cereal, followed that coffee, then more coffee, and on and on, until finally Lulu pronounced herself awake and took on the day's business of running the tribe. We know her routine--many of us even shared it--so when she was sighted before her normal get-up time approaching her car door in the unsheltered cold of the parking lot, we called on others to look. Sure enough, she was dressed for action. She got into her brown Citation wearing hosiery, spike-heeled boots, and, beneath her puffy purple winter coat, a flowered dress cut evening low. She adjusted her rearview mirror, settled her eyeglasses on her nose. She started the engine, pulled away onto the downslope winding road. From the hill, we saw her pass into the heart of the reservation.

She rolled along in quiet purpose, stopping at the signs, even yielding, traveling toward one of two places open at that early hour. The gas pumps--she could be starting out on a longer trip--or the post office. These were the two choices that we figured out among ourselves. When she passed the first, we knew it must be the second, and from there, we relied on Day Twin Horse to tell us how Lulu entered the post office beneath the flags of the United States, the Great Seal of North Dakota, and the emblem of our Chippewa Nation, and then lingered, looking all around, warming herself like a cat at the heat register and tapping at her lips with a painted fingernail.Day Twin Horse watched her, that is, until she turned, saw him looking, and set confusion into motion. First she glared a witch gaze that caused him to tape a finger to the postal scale. The tape seemed to have a surprising life all of its own so that, as he leaned over, extracting the finger, balling up the tape, Day Twin Horse became more and more agitated. For while he struggled with the sticky underside, Mrs. Josette Bizhieu entered, impatient as always, carrying three packages. Tending to her needs, Postmaster Twin Horse was unable to keep an eye on Lulu as she wandered, flicking at the dials of the tiny boxes that held other people's bills. He did not see her pause to read the directions on the Xerox machine, or lean over the glass display case showing pen sets, stamp mugs, albums that could be purchased by collectors. He did not see her stop before the wanted posters, flick through quickly, silently, riffling the heavy roll until she came to the picture of her son.It was Josette herself, sharp and wary as her namesake bobcat, who tipped her chin down, turned her face just a fraction to watch Lulu Lamartine as she reached into the fall of criminals and with one quick tug, evenly, as if she were removing a paper towel from a toothed dispenser, tear away government property. Holding the paper, Lulu walked over to the copier. She carefully slid the picture onto the machine's face, inserted two coins into the coin box. Satisfaction lit her face as the machine's drum flashed and whirred. She removed the original, then the copy of the picture as it emerged. She folded it into an envelope and carried it quickly to the Out of Town slot, where Josette now held her packages as if deciding which to mail first. Seeing the drop of Josette's gaze, Lulu quickly posted the letter, but not before Josette caught the city part of the address, already written onto the outside of the stamped envelope.Fargo, North Dakota. There it was--the well-known whereabouts of that stray grandson whom Lulu Lamartine and Marie Kashpaw shared uneasily between themselves. So Lulu Lamartine was sending the picture of the father to the son. Perhaps it was a summons home. A warning. Surely, it meant something. There was always a reason behind the things Lulu did, although it took a while to find them, to work her ciphers out for meaning. Now Lulu walked directly through the glass front doors, leaving Josette and Day Twin Horse in the post office.The two gazed after her, frowning and pensive. Around them, suddenly, they felt the drift of chance and possibility, for the post office is a place of near misses, lit by numbers. Their gazes fixed upon the metal postal box doors--so strictly aligned and easily mistaken for one another. And then the racks constructed for the necessary array of identical-looking rubber stamps that nevertheless could send a letter halfway around the world. Of course, there were the stamps themselves, either booklets or sheets sold in waxed cellophane envelopes. Eagles. Flowers. Hot air balloons. Love dogs. Wild Bill Hickok. The ordinary world suddenly seemed tenuous, odd. Josette reared back in suspicion, narrowing her clever eyes. Day Twin Horse regarded his olive-colored tape. The roll again was docile and orderly in his hands. He ran his fingernail across the surface searching for the ridge to pull, the cut, but the plastic was seamless, frustrating, perfect, like the small incident with Lulu. He couldn't find where to pull and yet he knew that in her small act there was complicated motive and a larger story.As it turned out, however, there was not much more to know about the things Lulu did on that particular day. It was later on that we should have worried about, the long-term consequences. All the same, we tried to keep a close eye upon her doings, so we know that soon after she left the post office Lulu Lamartine purchased, from the fanciest gift shop in Hoopdance, a brass and crystal picture frame. She brought it back to her apartment, laid it down upon her kitchen table. Josette, who sat right there with a glass of water, winding down from all her errands, told how Lulu used her nail file to press aside the tiny clamps that held in the backing. She removed the fuzz-coated cardboard, then the inner corrugated square, and lastly, the flimsy reproduction of a happy wedding couple. She tossed the sentimental photograph aside, positioned the wanted poster against the glass. She smoothed down the cheap paper, replaced the backing, then turned the portrait around front to gaze upon the latest picture of her famous criminal boy.

Even in the mug-shot photographer's flash, the Nanapush eyes showed, Pillager bones, the gleam of one earring at his cheek. Gerry Nanapush had a shy rage, serious wonder, a lot of hair. She looked for traces of herself--the nose surely--and of his father--the grin, the smile held in and hidden, wolf-white, gleaming. Looking down the length of her rounded arms, her face was thoughtful, Josette said, too shrewd, bent on calculation. In fact, we never thought Lulu Lamartine wore the proper expression anyway--that of a mother resigned. Her undevout eyes were always dangerously bright, her grin was always trying to get loose and work a spell. Her face was supple, her arms strong, and even touched with arthritis, she had the hands of a safecracker. Still, we thought the business would end with the picture sitting on the shelf. After all, he was recently caught and locked up again for good. We never thought she'd go so far as she finally managed. We believed Lulu Lamartine would content herself with changing the picture's resting spot, carrying it back and forth until she finally centered it upon her knickknack shelf, a place where you couldn't help noticing it upon first entering her apartment.Lulu's totaling glance followed Josette that day, not the picture's rigid stare, but the two pairs of eyes were so alike that it always took a decision of avoidance to enter the place. Some of us tried to resist, yet were pulled in just the same. We were curious to know more, even though we'd never grasp the whole of it. The story comes around, pushing at our brains, and soon we are trying to ravel back to the beginning, trying to put families into order and make sense of things. But we start with one person, and soon another and another follows, and still another, until we are lost in the connections.We could pull any string from Lulu, anyway, it wouldn't matter, it would all come out the same degree of tangle. Start with her wanted-poster boy, Gerry Nanapush, for example. Go down the line of her sons, the brothers and half brothers, until you get to the youngest, Lyman Lamartine. Here was a man everybody knew and yet did not know, a dark-minded schemer, a bitter and yet shaman-pleasant entrepreneur who skipped money from behind the ears of Uncle Sam, who joked to pull the wool down, who carved up this reservation the way his blood father Nector Kashpaw did, who had his own interest so mingled with his people's that he couldn't tell his personal ambition from the pride of the Kashpaws. Lyman went so far as to court a much younger woman. He loved and failed, but that has never kept down Kashpaws, or a Lamartine either, for very long.Keep a hand on the frail rope. There's a storm coming up, a blizzard. June Morrissey still walks through that sudden Easter snow. She was a beautiful woman, much loved and very troubled. She left her son to die and left his father to the mercy of another woman and left her suitcase packed in her room to which the doorknob was missing. Her memory never was recovered except within the thoughts of her niece, Albertine--a Kashpaw, a Johnson, a little of everything, but free of nothing.

Excerpted from THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE © Copyright 2001 by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse
by by Louise Erdrich

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins
  • ISBN-10: 0060187271
  • ISBN-13: 9780060187279