I was thinking all yesterday. All afternoon and through supper and my programs on TV, right up to my bedtime, though not once my head hit the pillow because I sleep like a sack of rocks. Always have. It was yesterday that Nolie Dulebohn, that would be my cousin Beryl’s grandson, well, he does the Mozhay Masine’igan, the reservation newsletter that comes out once a month, and he came to Elder Housing for lunch. He wanted to interview me because I am the oldest Mozhay elder. By far (I am adding this part myself). He wanted to know about the old days, which all the younger people like to read about because they are so different from things today that to them Mozhay in those times might have been like living on the planet Jupiter.
Elder Housing is a nice place, and I am glad to live here, on the ridge that runs along the southern shore of Lost Lake. There is a nice view here out of every one of our rooms, and out of the dining room, too, where Nolie ate every scrap of his macaroni and cheese and half of mine while I talked. The portions are not enough for younger people, and because Nolie can’t ever hang on to his money, I think he probably didn’t have enough to buy a second lunch for himself. He ended the interview by asking me the secret to a long life. When people ask me that, they are really asking me why in the world I am not dead yet, and I mean this in a good way.
“Whiskey and cigars,” I answered, which made him laugh, but then I told him what these oshki-Pointers would expect to read in the Masine’igan, that every morning the first thing I do is thank God for making me an Indian and then try my best to walk the path of Bimaadiziwin, the traditional Anishinaabe way of living a good life. Then Nolie packed up his laptop computer that he was taking notes on, shook my hand in a thoughtfully gentle way that didn’t hurt my fingers, which are sore and strangely crooked with the arthritis, and said it was an honor to interview me (Before you die, which could be any minute, I could tell he was thinking).
The truth is, of course, that I don’t smoke cigars, and I don’t drink, at least not in the way my mother Maggie and her sister Helen did, though I do like a glass of wine while I watch my programs. The reason I have lived longer than anyone, even Beryl’s husband, Noel, who was older than sin, is because I never married. Nobody ever asked me or even showed interest; I was never chosen and so my heart never took the beating that other women’s do. Maggie’s held out as long as it could, but between my father and then Louis, and then her children and all the Mozhay and Duluth relatives, it wore out when she was just sixty. Mine is still beating, steady and slow, never subject to the highs and lows of emotions, the long-term sorrowful slowing and abrupt jarring of the joys and frights that people like Maggie experienced. My secret to a long life is also my secret to a clear head and memory: I am untouched and bear no scars on my heart that beats as slow and cold-blooded as a turtle’s. The Creator blessed me in this; it’s a gift.
Although it is not by blood, although she is a Gallette and I am a Robineau, Loretta and I are related in the Indian way. Her father, Albert Gallette, and Louis Gallette were cousins, and my mother Maggie and Louis’s sons, Vernon and Buster Gallette, were my half-brothers. As Loretta’s auntie in the Indian way, I will tell you that there is more to Loretta’s story than her disappearance and more to her disappearance than the story. Stories like Loretta’s were and are sadly so common that it didn’t even merit mention in the news, that an Indian woman who lived a rough life had lost her children to the County and dropped off the face of the earth without anyone even noticing for the longest time. Loretta was one of those women, one of how many we will never know, and just as it was with Loretta it was for them, that the story is more than any individual lost woman’s failings, more than speculation about the mystery, surely more than rumor and gossip and any satisfaction that it was her own fault, or that what goes around comes around, that you reap what you sow, that people get what they deserve. It’s our history, the loss of land, of course, but there’s more to it: the Old Indians, they knew how to live in the good ways but then so much became lost, with everything that was happening—people getting moved all over the place, the Indian schools and the families that lost their children, and then the drinking, the wrecking of lives—it leads directly to all that is Indian Country today, including the disappearance of Indian women, who the Creator intended to be the heart and spirit, the continuity of the people. That includes Loretta.
The Gallettes at Miskwaa River hadn’t been in touch with Loretta since the last time she had left for Duluth, for Louis Gallette’s funeral. She lived in Duluth for a while after that, where, if the rumor is true, she had a baby boy that she never saw because it was adopted out; it is where she lived when a couple of years later her first little girl Rainfall Dawn was born, then up north in Mesabi, she had her second, Azure Sky. Sometime after that she moved to Minneapolis, then back and forth between Minneapolis and Duluth so many times nobody ever kept track of where she was. It was in Duluth that she lost her children to the County; by the time people began asking if anybody had heard anything from Loretta lately, she was nowhere to be found, and her little girls had been lost, or hidden, somewhere within the foster system.
Miskwaa is a hard place to live. Miskwaa Ziibens is what it used to be called, the little red river that runs along the western edge of the Mozhay Point Reservation, a hundred miles or so north of Duluth. The name sounds pretty—doesn’t it?— the little red river, and it is a beautiful place out there in the bush of rocky riverbanks and wild forest. Two hundred years ago fur traders and Indian trappers negotiated their business deals on the banks of a natural harbor below the rapids; a settlement grew around the trading post. When the fur trade failed and the post was abandoned, Waabishkaa Waboos and his son Half-Dime LaForce moved into the building, which they used as a trading place and store for the settlement and the Indians, lumberjacks, and homesteaders in the area. An able trader and skilled woodsman, eligible bachelor Half-Dime was married at a young age to Artense DuCharme the half-breed daughter of a lumber company clerk, a business arrangement that was lucrative for everyone, even the initially reluctant but heavily dowered Artense.
In the early 1890s, this would have been right around when my mother, Maggie LaForce, was born, the Mozhay Point Reservation Lands were divided into allotments, acreage that was assigned to band members, except for the half-mile-wide Miskwaa settlement along the eastern bank. That land was set aside for unallotted, displaced Indians who had no place to go because the allotted Mozhay Pointers were moving in. Half-Dime, as a signer of the treaty, was allotted forty acres near Lost Lake, which meant that the LaForces had to close up their store at Miskwaa Ziigens and move; the Lost Lake families, the unallotted Indians, relocated to the riverbanks. The unallotted Muskrat family, whose name was changed by the Indian agent to Washington, had to move from where they had been living, which was now assigned to the LaForces; displaced, they were the first to move to the eastern banks of the Miskwaa. They were shortly joined by the Ricebirds, Etiennes, Dommages, Beavers, and Gallettes (who were double-cousins to the Dionnes but had not signed the treaty). They were all promised that they could stay on the Miskwaa River banks until the government should decide they would have to leave. This never happened, and as unrecognized Indians, the little Miskwaa River community and its people were forgotten by the federal government, by the Mozhay Point Reservation Indian agent and, sad to say, by the Mozhay Point band members much of the time, too. Those displaced Miskwaa River people lived on the trapping and harvesting that a half-mile riverbank strip provided, on welfare checks from the county, and the liquor trade, since liquor sales were illegal at Mozhay Point.
When Loretta Gallette was born, the ragged little Miskaa River settlement, if you could call it that, consisted of scattered tar-papered houses of one to three rooms, most without plumbing or electricity, and a one-room post office and general store added onto the original Etienne house by Kiiwizens Etienne, the old man of the family, who had been born in the bedroom. Mail was delivered via a contracted star route once a week; Mary Etienne, the postmistress, paid the star route driver extra to deliver supplies from Mesabi with the mail. The Etiennes had become the most prosperous family at Miskwaa, and the Dommages and Gallettes the heaviest drinkers. Loretta’s father, Albert Gallette, cousin to Louis Gallette and my mother Maggie LaForce’s second husband in the Indian way, which meant not through the Church; my father was Andre Robineau, Maggie’s first husband. So again, although it is not by blood, I am related to Loretta. In the Indian way.
I am telling you all of this not to make excuses for anyone but so that you can understand how the past has an influence on the present and, in fact, never goes away.
At first, after their removal, the Miskwaa River Indians were very old-time in how they lived; today we would call them “traditional,” but that word is somewhat misleading. It is true that the people there practiced the old-style religion and customs, that they hunted, fished, riced, and maple-sugared, and they continued the custom of dividing up the meat after a kill so that each of the families was fed. And although they still spoke the old-style Ojibwe language in their everyday lives, that language that should have reinforced all that was desirable in living in the ways of the old Anishinaabeg, the trials of life were simply too much for the Miskwaa River outcasts. The treaty Indians, who became known as the Mozhay Pointers, had gotten the better deal because of their land allotments: they became property owners, free to lose their land through swindle or theft, but property owners nonetheless. As for the people banished to the Miskwaa River banks, well, the pride their grandparents had taken in not admitting defeat by signing their homeland away resulted in their relocation and in their not owning anything at all, as a tribe or individually, except for the little houses they put up by themselves and might or might not be able to stay on the next day, or the next year. The treaty-signing Mozhay Pointers had prospered, the unallotted Miskwaa River Anishinaabeg had not: cold, hungry, and sick as they were, we could hardly blame them for neglecting the sacred teaching of generosity, tested as it was by hardship as well as the distances in land and legal standing between them and the treaty Indians, the Mozhay Pointers.
So, I am telling you this in case you were thinking that Miskwaa River, isolated like that, must have been like one of those hippie communes of the 1960s, free children of nature skipping around all happy through the woods and skinny-dipping in Miskwaa Ziibens. Their lives were hard, hard; they scrabbled for food and to stay alive during the winters. They were only human. Rough though their lives became, their pride was their history and their use of the old-time Ojibwe tongue and continuation of the old religious practices and customs. They considered themselves to be the “real” Indians, and the Mozhay Pointers considered them that, too. But the Miskwaa River people, the unallotted Indians, in spite of their pride and their best intentions, were unable to hold on to everything, and much that was precious to them eroded.
You can see it was complicated, and in one way they were simply unlucky, in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were not completely forgotten by the federal government, because of the Indian agent, whose job it was to report on the Native communities of his assigned region, which did not stop at the western boundary of the Mozhay Point Reservation. The Miskwaa River families—and those were big extended families of lots of relatives, unallotted and denied the fruits of reservation status, such as they were, enjoyed by the Mozhay Pointers—were nevertheless recognized as Indians in that their children, too, were removed from their families around the age of five or six and sent away to Indian boarding schools: Pipestone, Vermilion Lake, St. Veronique, Red Lake Government, Red Lake Mission, Tomah, St. Mary, Flandreau, Haskell, and finally, Harrod, which is where most of the Mozhay Point and Miskwaa River children ended up.
And that is what really linked the people of Miskwaa and Mozhay, their missing children. They who were schooled, ate, slept, punished, locked up, beaten, and abused, and who found each other and much more at institutions far away from home. My mother, Maggie LaForce, went to St. Veronique’s in Canada, and my father, Andre Robineau, to the Harrod Indian School in Minnesota. Their children were John, me, and George. At Harrod, when Maggie was working as the matron’s helper and Andre as a handyman, they both met Louis Gallette, a little boy with whom twenty years later Maggie would have two sons and my half-brothers, Vernon (Giizis) and Jerome (Buster; Biik) Gallette. Vernon disappeared in Italy during the Second World War without knowing that his girlfriend Dolly was expecting a baby, who Dolly named Vernon Gallette Jr. That baby, who his mother called Junior, was raised in Duluth and Dolly took the surname Gallette, which pleased Maggie and allowed Dolly the status of widowhood in the eyes of the landlord and the neighbors. Louis Gallette died shortly before his grandson Vernon Junior returned home to Duluth after his first enlistment in the Army. It was at Louis’s funeral that Junior would see his cousin Loretta for the first time since she was a little girl.
Except for Louis’s sister Lisette, I was the oldest person at his funeral, but not so old yet that I couldn’t walk easily on my own to the coffin. One of Lisette’s grandsons held out an arm for me to take; I shrugged it away.
“Can you see all right in here, Auntie?” he asked. I nodded.
When I was a girl some damage to my corneas had left me just about blinded to light. I can see fairly well if the lights in the room are dim or outside at twilight or on stormy days, but under electric or fluorescent lights, or outside in the sun, shards of brightness cut their way in zigzags across anything I try to look at. Dougherty’s was my favorite place to go to funerals because the sconces on the walls were shaded by heavy amber glass, which cut the glare into just about nothing and was perfect for me. Approaching Louis’s coffin, I looked down at what was left of the man who had been my mother’s true love, both when they were together and when they were not, which was most of the time up to her death at the age of sixty. My mother, Maggie, who had lived for a good fifteen years past the Indian life expectancy at the time of her death, had looked so tired and worn; against the gray silk that lined the coffin and matched her hair she looked defeated. Louis, on the other hand, lasted a good twenty-five years past the Indian life expectancy and, for all his hard living and hard times, looked distinguished in his son Buster’s sport coat, shirt, and tie; his face, an unlined bronze touched up by a little pink rouge on his sharp cheekbones, had an expression that was dignified and resolute.
I knelt on the padded bench in front of Louis’s coffin, my knees and hips not much trouble at all yet in those days (although people were starting to act as if I could tip over and die at any moment—well, I didn’t then and I am still around), and held my clasped hands in front of my chin. Perhaps I would pray, although of course Louis was gone; it was the fourth day, and his spirit would have reached the next world, and perhaps he was already with Maggie. As far as I could possibly know and have seen, he had been faithful to her and loved her truly, and he had earned the prayer.
“Bimosen, you must walk now, you who loved my mother. Bimosen noongoom, you must walk now, and don’t look back; gawiin aabanaabi siin, gii gawbimin. . . .” My eyes dropped to Louis’s fine-knuckled bronze hands that were arranged artistically on his chest, folded around a small crucifix. I pictured his walk through the travails of the four days and his arrival, Maggie grasping his hands in hers as she pulled him those last few steps from the cold of the river to the dryness of the shore.
The velvet padding shifted under my knees; next to me Dolly Gallette’s bright yellow curls bobbed as she settled uneasily; as a Baptist she was not used to kneeling or to being that close to a crucifix. Vernon Junior stood behind his mother silently, then he shifted his weight from one foot to the other and cleared his throat. As I was about to rise and pat his arm—Louis was his grandfather, after all, even if he had seen him less than a dozen times, and Louis sober probably less than half of those—Vernon’s eyes shifted to the side aisle of the viewing room, where a young woman walking toward the coffin had stopped about six feet back.
She stood there hesitantly, dressed in a yellow dotted-Swiss dress too summery for October, with her hands in the pockets of a light jacket that was too small. One hand left its pocket and smoothed, then brushed her hair away from that side of her face, exposing it to the room, yet it was not her face I recognized but her hair: dark brown, nearly black, with red highlights that caught and reflected light from the somber glow of the funeral hall sconces. I had seen that same color hair on Louis and on Lisette. It was Gallette hair, Miskwaa River hair, and the awkward girl with the round face who had walked into the intersecting histories of our lives and who Vernon Junior could not take his eyes off had to be one of the Gallette cousins.
Dolly recognized her right away.
My cousin Loretta came to live with us for a while in Duluth the summer before we both started first grade. Although I had imagined us walking that block from our house to the St. Jean Baptiste School together every morning, holding hands and carrying our snacks for morning break, not long after Loretta arrived, her father, Albert Gallette, decided to move back up to Miskwaa River, past the far western edge of Mozhay Point Reservation, and took Loretta with him.
What I remember about that summer: getting things ready for Loretta; her arrival and how she looked at our house as though it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen and she was the most fortunate girl in the world; and that she whispered to me in front of Junior that she loved him.
In the days leading up to Loretta’s arrival my little sister Suzanne and I watched as our mother, Patsy, emptied a drawer in the dresser and then sorted through our clothes, even our underpants and socks, setting aside the largest for Loretta, who our mother said might not have extras, and who was just a little older and a little bigger than we were. Buster, my dad and Loretta’s uncle, stacked our twin beds and brought in a single-size rollaway bed, borrowed from Patsy’s dad’s house. Suzanne could move to the rollaway, he said, and Loretta would have Suzanne’s bed, which was now the lower bunk.
“Where will Betsy sleep?” Suzanne asked. Betsy was the cat, who slept on Suzanne’s bed; she was weaving in and out of the legs of the bottom bunk, sniffing suspiciously at the clean sheets Patsy was tucking in mitered corners.
“With you . . . look.” Patsy spread Suzanne’s blanket on the rollaway and set Suzanne’s turquoise plush stuffed puppy in the center. “Lay down, see what she does.” The cat leaped onto the rollaway and settled against the stuffed toy. “See? I’ll bet that’s where she’ll sleep.”
“We’ll have to be really nice to Loretta,” Patsy told us. “She might be lonesome, and she’ll have to get used to us.”
As it turned out, Loretta was so used to staying at different houses that she got used to us, as Patsy would say, right away. At the same time, she didn’t get used to us all, confused by Patsy’s schedule of mealtimes and bath times, and mystified by Patsy’s insistence on handwashing. When Buster brought her home after work the next day she got right out of the car and walked to the front door ahead of him, carrying a small wadded-up bundle of clothes that she held in two hands as he opened the door for her. She was dressed in a pair of denim overalls that were out at the knees and much too wide for her slight build, a limp white T-shirt, and broken-down buckled sandals; her thick dark red–brown hair, which I immediately envied because it reached to her waist, was bunched messily into a rubber band. She had the whitest teeth I had ever seen, with pointy, fang-like incisors and an eager smile. She looked, as Auntie Girlie would have said, full of beans and mischief.
“Say hello to your cousin Loretta,” Buster said. “You remember Artense, and Suzanne, and here’s Joseph, and Eveline.” Loretta set the bundle of clothes on the floor. “Artense!” she said, took both of my hands, and began to jump up and down.
“Why don’t you kids come in the kitchen and wash your hands for supper?” Patsy asked. “Artense, you can bring Loretta upstairs and show her the bunk beds and where she is going to put her things in the dresser, and you can wash your hands in the bathroom.”
Loretta ran ahead of me, up the stairs, and then danced from room to room. In the bedroom she tossed her clothes onto the lower bunk, then kept the door open when she used the toilet and ignored me when I reminded her that we were supposed to wash our hands.
“Supper’s ready; are you coming down?” Patsy called.
At the table Joseph watched, fascinated, by the speed with which Loretta ate her Spam and brown beans. She then ran a finger around her plate to pick up any leftover bean sauce, licked the sauce from her finger, and wiped her mouth on the bib of her overalls. “That was so good,” she said.
Patsy, whose own mother had died when Patsy was three, mothered in a scenario set with what she had longed for in her own childhood and what she read in ladies’ magazines and watched on the television that she and Buster had saved for and recently bought. Acting on both instinct and those acquired lessons she felt her way along, practicing, thinking, and then practicing again the accouterments of motherly consciousness and competence. Suzanne, Joseph, and I thought that Patsy could do anything. She sewed Halloween costumes, Red Riding Hood for me and a cotton Blue Fairy dress for Suzanne that she could also wear for everyday; at Thanksgiving she plucked the pinfeathers from a shockingly naked turkey and roasted and garnished it to look like a picture from her Redbook magazine; when Buster was at work she kept the furnace heating evenly, shoveling in coal with her strong, stringy arms; she carved a baby buggy figurine from a bar of Ivory soap and set it out as a decoration on the table in the bathroom, wrapping the leftover chips into a washcloth that she sewed all around and made into a soft scrubber for bath time. She had endless skills and talents, we thought, and when she applied some of those to Loretta we just regarded that as something she did and expected that she would, of course, succeed.
The first night Loretta spent in the lower bunk she slept in one of Patsy’s nightgowns, shortened, a lacy pink rayon that Patsy said was the kind Queen Elizabeth wore to bed. Loretta stayed in that nightgown all the next day, twirling from time to time, which she explained was how Queen Elizabeth danced, while Patsy laundered her clothes in the wringer washer, turning the hand crank energetically for the overalls and gently for everything else. Patsy then hung everything on the clothesline in the backyard, commenting that it was a good drying day. We ate lunch and played princess in the dining room while we waited for Loretta’s clothes to dry, then Patsy drew pictures of princesses and babies for us to color while she ironed Loretta’s clothes. We let Loretta use the biggest, most whole crayons because she was still company; she pressed too hard and broke them. Eveline wept.
“Want to see what I’m doing with Loretta’s overalls?” Patsy asked. “Not too close; the iron is hot.” Patsy had cut two red iron-on patches into heart shapes, which she pressed over the knees of Loretta’s overalls, which were in fact not knees at all but large holes. On the underside she had placed two pieces from the rag bag, which the hearts adhered to within the holes.
“Aren’t these cute? They’re Valentine pants!” said Patsy. She helped Loretta step into her clean, patched overalls and ironed T-shirt. For the rest of the day Loretta walked stiff-legged, in order to not bend the Valentines on her knees.
Valentine pants were just the kind of thing we had come to expect from our mother. Because Patsy could do anything, it never entered our heads that Loretta’s first day at our house would be the best one, and that things would go downhill from there, and quickly.
I doubted that Patsy was calling me just to gab. Although she was on the phone all the time with her sisters and her girlfriends, she never called me, not that I expected it. After all, I was out working all day and she was home with her little kids, and she really kept herself busy, and I had just Junior at home and he was a big boy, going into junior high school that fall. So when Patsy called “just to gab,” as she put it, I knew there had to be something she wanted to talk about, and so I waited through her running, worried conversation that was really with herself and not me: she and Buster were going to get school shoes for Artense and Suzanne, saddle shoes always looked nice if you kept the white leather clean; Buster had a lot of work lately and they were putting some money away for winter, you know how the house painting business is in January; did I hear that Donna LaForce had her baby up in Cloquet at the Indian Hospital, a boy; wasn’t her shower fun? Then . . .
“Dolly, did you know that Albert’s little girl, Loretta, has been here?”
“Yes, I heard that; how’s that going?”
“He’s taking her back; he told Buster they want her closer to Miskwaa River and so he’s coming to get her tomorrow. She’s going to stay with the Etiennes for the winter while Albert’s at logging camp.”
“Oh, the poor little thing, always getting moved around. I bet she’ll miss your kids.”
“They’ve been having fun, but if she’s going to move to Miskwaa, it’s just as well to take her there now, better sooner than later so she can start first grade and stay there for the whole year. I hope Albert stays on the job all winter and doesn’t move her again after she’s settled.”
“Settled for this time, you mean. Poor little thing.”
“Ye-e-e-es . . . Look, you know Albert; you get along with him, don’t you? How would you like to come here tomorrow for coffee? Buster’s working and I don’t even want to look at Albert if he shows up before Buster gets home.”
“Sure, after lunch sometime, do you think? I’ll bring some cookies for the kids.”
The afternoon Loretta left for Mozhay Point was one of those hot September afternoons, just the right weather for the city truck to come through on Second Street, patching and tarring the beat-up blacktop. We could smell it from the bus stop, a block away from Patsy’s.
Vernon Junior hadn’t especially wanted to take the bus to Patsy and Buster’s on the Saturday before school started, but he was a good boy and always willing to do just about anything I asked, and so although he probably would have liked to roam around with his friends when I told him Patsy needed some help, he didn’t argue; in fact, he even offered to make a batch of brownies to bring along. Junior took pride in his cooking—he fixed supper just about every day and had it ready when I got home from work—and didn’t use a mix for the brownies either, which he layered between sheets of waxed paper inside the shoebox that he carried from the bus stop to Patsy’s house.
Little Joseph was sitting on the front stairs, holding a gray-striped cat that jumped from his lap and under the porch when it saw Junior. “Mama says to tell you to come in,” he said politely and held the door.
Inside, the front hallway, which was scattered with the day’s mail, a toy metal dump truck, a turquoise plush puppy, several picture books, a half-eaten egg salad sandwich, and what appeared to be dirty laundry, reeked of oil. In the middle of the hallway was a semi-cleared path into the living room where on a newspaper were a small pair of balled-up anklets and a pair of sandals streaked with tar, the source of the smell. Artense, holding Eveline, walked the floor between living and dining room, jiggling the infant, who was fussy. “Careful,” she said, a pint-sized version of her father pointing with her lips toward the newspaper. “Don’t step on the tar.”
Patsy was nowhere to be seen. “Where’s your mother?” I asked.
“She’s busy washing Loretta,” answered Suzanne. “We’re supposed to be cleaning up this mess. Come on, Joseph; the clothes go in the basket, and the toys go in the toy box.”
Patsy called from the back of the house, “Dolly? I’m in the kitchen!” Her voice was strained and breathy. “Watch out; there’s tar on the linoleum.”
On the white-painted doorway to the kitchen were several black smears of tar, about the height of where a little girl’s hands would have reached, and on the floor several black streaks leading from the back door and as far into the dining room as Loretta had gotten when Patsy noticed.
Loretta and Patsy were at the kitchen sink, Patsy rubbing a bar of Ivory soap into a washcloth and Loretta, wearing only underpants, seated on the drain board with her feet in the sink. Next to her feet a green plaid play dress soaked in a dishpan of soapy water. “Almost done here,” Patsy said and scrubbed at Loretta’s knees.
“Eeek! A boy!” Loretta squealed. Junior quickly turned around, the shoebox of brownies in his hands.
“He didn’t see anything—here, put these on.” Patsy rinsed the washcloth and gave the little legs one more wipe-down, pulled a fresh blouse around Loretta, and lifted her to the floor, where she quickly pulled the clean Valentine overalls up over Loretta’s small-boned body and buckled the shoulder straps. “You can wear Artense’s shoes. It’s hot out, you don’t need socks.”
Loretta pulled the baggy legs of her overalls wide and curtseyed. “This is how the queen does it,” she said to Junior. “Now, you bow.”
“Hand her majesty the brownies, why don’t you, Junior?” I directed.
Patsy, squeezing rinse water out of the dress and then rinsing the dishpan, set it upside down on the drain board with enough force that it clattered. “I’ll make some coffee,” she said. “Albert should be here pretty soon.” She looked exhausted, just worn out.
“I’ll do it,” I said. “Here, Junior, why don’t you give each of the kids a brownie—have them sit at the dining room table—and then maybe you can take Loretta and Artense out for a walk around the block. Would you girls like to go for a walk around the block with Junior? When you get back you can tidy up the house a little. Here, Patsy; you just sit and take a load off. I’ll take care of this.”
Patsy, who ordinarily would have insisted that she do it all herself, dried her hands on a dish towel, then sat and watched me and Junior get the kids settled, before Junior headed out the back door with Artense and Loretta. Then Patsy set her coffee cup into its saucer and told me about her week with Loretta—whose fault it wasn’t that she, Patsy, could not get the poor little thing aligned with Patsy’s efforts to run a calm, orderly household that produced children who would be clean, well-behaved, and smart in school, children who would have and be all that she and Buster dreamed for them.
“It’s not her fault,” she repeated. “It’s mine, and I think Buster knew how glad I am that she’s leaving.”
What I told her was not just to make her feel better; it was also the truth. There was only so much a person could do, I told her, only so far one person could stretch. Albert had his troubles, but he would always have troubles, and Patsy was right, it wasn’t Loretta’s fault. But neither was it Patsy’s. She was just one person, just one human being, like everybody else. Like me.
“You’ve done what you could,” I said. “Look what nice shape her clothes are in now, and how cute she looks with her bangs trimmed. Don’t you feel bad, and don’t you worry about anything.”
Patsy took a sip of water and grimaced.
“She’ll be fine,” I continued, not certain about that but wanting to buck Patsy up. “And this way she can see Albert when he’s done with logging season.”
Patsy looked thoughtfully at the ceiling, swallowed twice, said “I’ll be right back,” and ran upstairs to the bathroom, where she threw up. I didn’t ask if she was expecting again.
Dolly had given Junior a nickel and told him to take me and Loretta down to Crawford’s, the corner store, for penny candy for each of us and enough to bring back for Suzanne and Joseph (“Don’t get hard candy for the little kids; I don’t want anybody choking to death,” she had ordered). In back of the glassed-in candy counter Mrs. Crawford, bent almost double with her head inside the sliding doors, pressed her hand into the small of her aching back as she hovered over the displays, left to right from Chum Gum to chocolate babies to candy dots to peppermint sticks, fishing out our selections and telling us that once she touched a piece it was ours, no changing, so make sure you have your mind made up.
We left with the candy in a brown paper sack: a rainbow strip of candy dots each for me and Loretta; orange slices for Suzanne and Joseph, and two twists of red licorice for Vernon Junior. Outside, the tar truck had parked and three men were taking a break, drinking coffee from their thermos mugs. Junior told us to wait on the sidewalk for a minute and not to move, he’d be right back. He walked up to the men and spoke to the man who was leaning on a shovel, who reached into the bed of the truck and handed Junior a small wad of tar.
“Let’s go back,” Junior said to us. “Thanks,” he called back to the man with the shovel, who lifted one hand in a half-wave.
“What are you going to do with that?” I asked.
“Chew it like gum; see?” He popped it into his mouth; horrified, I stared. “I didn’t have to spend money on gum, so I bought licorice, and I still have something to chew. And it makes nice snoose.” He spat a little stream to the side, into the grass. “Don’t tell my ma.”
“Can I carry the bag of candy?” I didn’t want Patsy or Dolly to see tar on the bag.
Junior held the bag out in my direction, and as I reached for it Loretta said, “I want to!” and grabbed it out of my hand. I grabbed it back, and Junior took the bag out of my hand and held it over our heads. Loretta leaped, knocking the bag out of Junior’s grip; the bag sailed onto the grass and landed upright, with the neat double-fold crimped by Mrs. Crawford across the top intact. Loretta was not as fortunate; she stumbled, falling to her hands and knees. Sitting up she swiped at her nose with one hand, looked down, and cried, “Ow, ow, ow, I’m bleeding! Where’s the candy?”
I picked up the bag, which still looked clean with no sign of blood or tar, thank goodness. Junior helped Loretta to stand.
“Your nose isn’t bleeding much,” he said. “Are you bleeding anyplace else?”
The heels of Loretta’s hands were raw where the concrete had scraped the skin off and speckled with grit from the sidewalk; one of the Valentine heart patches on her knees had held up, the other had torn from the fabric and hung loose, exposing her other knee, which was as raw-looking as her hands.
Loretta snuffled again and then buried her face in Vernon’s shirt. “I don’t want to go to Miskwaa,” she mumbled wetly. “I want to stay here with Artense.”
Junior jiggled Loretta the way I did Eveline when she was fussing. “It’s nice up there,” he said, a twelve-year-old boy soothing our fanciful bleeding little cousin as he wiped away her tears and bloody, running nose with his bare hand. “My dad lived at Mozhay Point when he was a little boy; he was at Miskwaa a lot of times.”
“Where does he live now?”
“He died before I was born. I’ve been up there, though, to Mozhay and to Miskwaa, too, fishing. We’ll come up to see you sometime.”
“Will you bring Artense?”
“Sure, Artense can come.”
“I’ll give you your shoes back when you come,” Loretta said to me. “And we can all go fishing together.”
“Whatever you say, Queen Loretta,” said Junior.
“My prince,” she said to Junior.
“I love him,” she whispered to me.
Auntie Girlie recognized Loretta before I did. It had been years since I had seen her, and she had grown from that ragamuffin of a little girl into the sad, awkward young woman who showed up by herself to Louis Gallette’s funeral.
“P.G.?” I mouthed at Girlie, raising my eyebrows and shoulders.
Girlie pursed her lips around a little round O in that way the Robineau women had.
She must be in her late teens, I thought. Loretta hadn’t had a figure or that axle-grease eyeliner last time I saw her when she was still a scruffy-looking little thing, what, three or four years ago? Probably in late summer after Junior graduated from high school, not long after he left for basic training. If I am remembering it correctly, Louis’s niece Babe had some visitors from Miskwaa, some of the Gallettes who were visiting around Duluth, staying at various people’s houses until their welcome wore out. They had some of the Dommages along, too, must have been a car packed full of people for the trip, seven or eight including Annie Dommage, who had brought along her little niece Loretta, who was Albert Gallette’s daughter. I don’t know if Albert was married to Frances Dommage when Loretta was born; I am fairly certain that he wasn’t around at the time, but Frances had the hospital fill in his name on the baby girl’s birth certificate and named her Loretta Marie Gallette. Frances was a drinker, a bad alcoholic, and Loretta was raised by the Gallettes at Miskwaa, whoever was able to take her, and so she was moved from household to household.
My situation could have been like Loretta’s if it wasn’t for Maggie Robineau, whose son is the father of my boy, Vernon Gallette Jr. I met Vernon—Senior, that is—in Minneapolis, where I was living with my mother and working the mangle at a laundry right near the end of the Second World War. He and his cousin Sam Sweet were working as pin boys at the Palace Bowl, where a girlfriend and I were on a double date with some young fellows whose names I have forgotten.
Vernon. My goodness, he was so good-looking, with a nice smile and this way of ducking his head when he talked, and easy-going? Well, he had to be the easiest-going boy in the world, and dying to go into the service like his older brothers—his mother gave her signed permission for him to enlist, which he did right after his seventeenth birthday. We had a party for him at the Palace Bowl along with the other pin boys, and the boss Mr. Mountbatten, and Ingrum who worked there, and Ingrum’s lady love, Winifred. Now Mother wasn’t too crazy about my having this Indian boyfriend, but she would have come to the party, glad to see him leave, except for her job at the flour mill, where she worked second shift. Still, she sent her wishes for good luck—if she had known that I was thinking that I might be expecting at the time, I don’t know what she would have done about the party, or about anything else.
So, I was P.G., “a girl in trouble,” as they said in those days. The circumstances—oh my, there have been other girls in my situation—eighteen years old and unmarried, expecting a baby and not wanting to tell the father. I first suspected before Vernon left, and there was no point in causing him worry. Thinking about telling Mother made me feel sick, and then things got worse: Vernon went missing in action somewhere in Italy (as far as we were ever able to tell), and we never saw or heard from him again. The news went to Vernon’s mother, Maggie, who wrote a postcard to his cousin Sam. When Sam told me and let me read the postcard, I felt like I had known it all along, isn’t that funny?
The only person who had known I even had a suspicion I was pregnant was Winnie, Ingrum’s girlfriend at the Palace. Now, because Winnie and Ingrum are long dead, and because I know you won’t go gossiping this to everybody you know, and because it was such a long time ago, I will tell you this: Winnie was, in fact, a man. Now, she was a real ladylike lady, gracious and so high-class except that she wore such heavy pancake makeup, and she was doted on by Ingrum. They were unable to tell this to anyone, of course, because of how things were during those times; certainly, they could not marry and so were living in sin, which was a big bad deal in those days, too. Their life together must have been unimaginably difficult, yet they never seemed to quarrel or appear unhappy with one another; they kept up a flirtatious, funny conversation, like sweethearts who had a little secret, which was certainly so and then some, and a cheery attitude with themselves and everyone around them. Married or not, man and wife or not, they were the most devoted couple I ever knew, and Winnie was a wonderful woman, a lady of great sentiment and generosity. And so nice to Vernon and Sam, and especially to me. I confided in her not long after Vernon left and she was kindness itself.
Once I was two months gone and really sure, Winnie thought I should write to Mother. “Why, a baby is God’s greatest blessing,” she said. “Ingrum and I would have loved children, but God has His reasons for everything.”
I reminded her of how Mother felt about Vernon. “How can I do that? I can’t even think what she’ll do, can you?” I asked as we watched Ingrum bowl. “How long can I even work? They’re not going to let me stay at the laundry once I’m showing. What will Mother do without my paycheck?”
Winnie always looked at things through rose-colored glasses. “Your mother is your best friend,” she answered. She blew a smoke ring and then two more, three perfect Os that floated over the scoring table and disappeared. “You’ll see,” she said and patted my hand. “Besides, what did she do without your paycheck before you left school? You haven’t been working for even a year.”
When I told her, Mother cried for almost two days, missing work and pay, and then she threw me out. I didn’t hold it against her; she certainly had her own troubles.
Winnie felt really terrible that she had been wrong about Mother, but she assured me that Mother would come around in her thinking eventually. She offered to let me stay with her in the boarding house (she and Ingrum as an unmarried couple rented separate rooms, of course; this was the 1940s). The landlady told her that would be all right for a while, and that I could sleep on the guest cot for free because of the circumstances, but not permanently. Once the baby was born, I would have to rent my own room if I wanted to stay.
“Well, that’s settled!” said Winnie. “And won’t it be fun to have a baby around! Don’t you worry about a thing, sweetheart; why, one of these days maybe we can even rent a house and we’ll all be together, one big happy family—and once your mama sees her grandchild, she’ll come around, wait and see. Are you hoping for a girl or a boy?”
When Winnie said that, I started to realize that not only was I expecting and in big trouble, but that the end result was going to be a new person, a baby I would have to take care of beyond just finding a place to sleep. How long did I have before I started to show? Where would I get money for a doctor, the hospital, rent, and somebody to watch the baby while I worked? Thrilled though Winnie was about the prospect, and willing though Ingrum was to keep her happy, I couldn’t take their help indefinitely, and, I am a little ashamed to say, I wanted something better in life than the boarding house, the Palace Bowl, and being swallowed up by two people who couldn’t have their own children.
Vernon had talked about his mother sometimes, about their house in Duluth and their relatives and friends there, and at the Mozhay Point Reservation. Listening to his stories about people visiting at their house, it seemed to me that Maggie helped a lot of people out. Would she help me, the mother of Vernon’s baby?
Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I told Winnie that Maggie had written to me and said that I would be welcome at her house, that she wanted to help with her grandchild, doing my best to sound like I wasn’t making this up. Winnie thought this was the best news she had ever heard, said she would miss me, but that she and Ingrum wished me all the best. A week later she and Ingrum walked with me to the bus depot where they bought me a one-way ticket to Duluth—Winnie a little tearful as she pressed a flat gift-wrapped box into my hand and Ingrum’s voice a tremolo as he gave me a bank envelope from Mr. Mountbatten, the owner at the Palace Bowl.
“If you need anything you call us at the Palace—call collect and reverse the charges,” he said. “And don’t forget to write.”
I promised I would write often and boarded, taking a window seat. The last thing I saw as the bus pulled out was Winnie and Ingrum standing right underneath my window, arm in arm and smiling. Ingrum was waving, his Adam’s apple bobbing sadly up and down, and Winnie dabbed at her eyes with one of her lacy handkerchiefs.
During most of the six-hour trip to Duluth, I pretended that Vernon was sitting on the seat next to me and kept up a running conversation in my mind with him about our new life in Duluth. He thought that we would stay with his mother until we were on our feet. “Oh, you’re going to like her,” he said, “and she is going to be crazy about you. Wait till she hears we’re getting married!” I imagined that she wouldn’t mind when I started to show, that she might even guess about the baby before that, and then thinking about his mother brought me back to what was real—Vernon missing in Italy and me on my way to surprise Maggie. I wondered what she would say when I showed up at her door, gripping Winnie’s valise full of my clothes, and pregnant. I would have to tell her about the baby right away, which reminded me of the gift-wrapped box. I opened it carefully in order to save the paper, printed with pink and blue bunnies, for a souvenir. Inside was a white machine-knit baby sweater with a matching bonnet and booties, both trimmed with white ribbon. In the envelope were five ten-dollar bills and a note: Best of luck and best wishes from your friends at the Palace Bowl. Sincerely, Montie. I rewrapped the baby gift, tucking the money inside the hat, and opened Winnie’s valise. As I tucked the box down the side I saw that Winnie had set on top of my clothes a brand-new box of Blondine, the hair lightener we both liked. They don’t make Blondine anymore and haven’t in years, but I still keep my hair that color and in curls, like Winnie’s.
Maggie took me in, just like that, and figured out that I was expecting without my even telling her. I stayed in the house almost all the time, too sad to go out, but I helped with housework and cooking, and even with never leaving the backyard, I got to know more people than I ever had before in my life. Six months later my baby, Vernon Junior, was born in Maggie’s bedroom, delivered by Maggie and her sister Helen, who had chased everyone from the house out of consideration for me. When Junior had been bathed and was placed in my arms, wrapped in a tiny patchwork quilt made by Helen, I stared and he stared back; I swear he smiled just like Vernon. He looked so much like his father that I could hardly take my eyes off him, but I handed him to Maggie, who cupped one hand over his head, stroking his fine black hair. Helen caressed his feet, feeling for them through the quilt, and wept.
Maggie and I wrote to my mother and mailed our letters in the same envelope, mine telling her about the baby and Maggie’s inviting her to come for a visit. My mother wrote back to say that she would be up soon, probably near the end of the month and would stay for a couple of days if that would be all right. She never made it, however; two weeks later we received a telegram from her boss informing us of her death, from a heart attack at work. I still tear up thinking about that; how sad it was that we lost each other twice and that she never got to see Vernon Junior, the most beautiful baby ever born.
Winnie and Ingrum took the bus up from Minneapolis for Junior’s baptism, which in honor of Maggie’s being Catholic, took place at St. Clement’s. This pleased Winnie, too, who was a devout Catholic, and the priest never knew that Vernon Jr.’s godparents were not a married couple. Or anything else. All he asked was if they had both been baptized Catholic—which they both were—at which parish, and if they were practicing Catholics. Which they both were, if the word practicing was applied in a different sense to each. The priest’s questions actually gave me the heebie-jeebies a little, since Winnie and Ingrum also promised that they would oversee Baby Vernon’s spiritual life and make sure he was raised in “the Church,” but I did it for Maggie and saw that he made his First Communion and was confirmed. After all, Winnie and Ingrum had promised. And renounced Satan for him, too, right there at the baptismal font.
We stayed at Maggie’s house for a few years, Junior and I, while I got on my feet. At first I got a job at a laundry just a few blocks away from the house, but then Maggie got me on at the mattress factory and I earned my living sewing—eventually moving on to canvas tents and awnings, work that was hard on the hands but paid well—and cleaning houses. I learned all kinds of things from Maggie, like some of the LaForce family stories as well as the Gallettes’, and I learned to talk a little Indian, not much but enough that the old people in the family were happy about it and pleased to see that Junior was being raised properly. When Maggie died—too young—I had some money that she had made sure I saved and was able to rent my own place, a two-bedroom house that eventually the landlord’s son sold to me on a contract for deed. I have lived there ever since.
Vernon Junior was, as I said, the most beautiful baby ever born, and I have the pictures to prove it. He grew to be a lot huskier than his father but had the same big, open-mouthed smile that creased his cheeks, and those same almond-shaped brown eyes that looked as though he was about to laugh, even if he wasn’t. He was a quiet boy, close to his friend Howard Dulebohn who was quiet, too, and it was through Howard that Junior began singing with Noel Dulebohn, Beryl’s husband, on the Sweetgrass drum when the men visited from Mozhay.
Right after high school Junior enlisted in the Army, and at the end of his first enlistment thought he might like to be career army, so he re-upped. Over the years he traveled all over the world, getting stationed in Germany, Hawaii, and one year somewhere in Africa; he sent me souvenirs from those places and he did end up doing two tours in Vietnam, which left him a little nervous. In fact, in the line of work he was in, communications, he regularly volunteered for night duty, which he found easier to take than the daylight. Once he had his twenty years in, he retired and came home, to live in our own little house and help out. As you can probably imagine, this was a mother’s dream.
A mother doesn’t expect to have her son to herself all her life; I expected and even hoped that while he was in the service he would meet some nice young woman and get married. I would have grandchildren, and they would come to visit every year until he retired, when they would all move to Duluth, or they would invite me to come live wherever they decided to settle. It turned out that my imagining all this was like something Winnie would have done.
It just happened that Junior was home on leave when his grandfather Louis Gallette died. We went to the funeral, which was held at Dougherty’s Funeral Home, and I was so proud for everybody to see Junior because he was so big and strong, so tanned and good-looking. A Catholic priest came to do the service, which was not a Mass I was relieved to see, as I never could get used to that kind of religion. Not that I have anything against it—Junior still goes sometimes himself. We did, however, have to go up and kneel on this fancy carved piece of furniture that looked like something out of a medieval castle or else that Vatican where the Pope of Rome lives, a little velvet-padded bench with a shelf to rest your arms on when you prayed over the coffin, two people at a time. Angeline Robineau, Maggie’s oldest daughter who she called Girlie, was already on one side of that fancy kneeler, hunched over praying like she was some of kind of nun and dangling this beadwork bracelet over the corpse, finally tucking it into Louis’s breast pocket and fanning it out so it would look nice, I guess. Junior waited behind me as I knelt next to her and looked down at Louis; they had done a nice job on him and he was wearing Buster’s sport coat and a tie; I had never seen him looking so spiffed up. I prayed for Jesus to take Louis into his loving arms and fly him to Heaven (no point in asking for flocks of angels, as I didn’t want to push it, given the life Louis had led) and then turned to Junior; I was going to give him my half of the kneeler since it looked like Girlie was going to be there a while. That’s when I noticed this girl who was standing behind Girlie, on the side opposite of Junior.
She had to be one of the Gallettes; she looked just like them, with that slight build and that hair, so dark it was almost black and with those red highlights, the same color as Junior’s. My guess was that she was from that bunch still living at Miskwaa, and I remembered well how often they and the Dommages, one of the other Miskwaa families that they had married into too often, showed up at Maggie’s house and mooched off her. Half the time they left at the end of their visits with something she felt compelled to give them: coats, blankets, food, once even her couch. They never had a pot to pee in and seemed to have no idea at all how to get one by honest work. It was really their luckiest day when Maggie went to work at the Indian boarding school over at Harrod—that was where most of the Gallette children from Miskwaa had been sent, including Louis Gallette and his sister Lisette, and that is where Louis first saw Maggie. How they ended up together years after I don’t really know. The fact is that Maggie had been married to Andre Robineau for a good ten years when Louis came into the picture, and her last two children, Vernon and Buster, were Louis’s. I am not faulting Maggie; goodness knows Andre was terrible to her and Louis sweet, though rarely around for the boys, as Vernon told me. However, once Louis arrived in the picture, it was inevitable that Maggie would have to take on the entire Gallette family, and there were a lot of them, with their issues and their problems. They came and went, and so did Maggie’s troubles.
I thought all that within two seconds as I looked over that girl. Nobody had thought much about if any of the Miskwaa Gallettes might show up at Louis’s funeral: ever broke, they would not have had the gas money, and in the shock and confusion over Louis’s unexpected death I don’t think anyone would have thought to offer them money or a place to stay. This girl, though, must have already been living in Duluth and either was hoping that she might get a good meal or was there to pay respects on behalf of the family—more likely the first, in my opinion. She certainly looked alone, and cold in that light summer dress and short jacket on that chilly day. With her arms crossed and folded across her stomach—I knew that look. Pregnant, I would have bet, and of course not married, so she was in trouble. I was about to speak to her, to say hello, when I saw that Junior was looking at her. Junior, who had never even had a serious girlfriend, was looking at this little scrap of yellow sundress, red-black hair, and goose-pimpled bare legs—did he notice her pot belly, and that her coat was pulled so tightly across her front that it rode up above her behind in the back?—as though he was ready to feed her, warm her, and take her away to care for her for the rest of their days.
The Gallette girl only glanced at Junior as she took her place on the kneeler next to Girlie. I thanked the Lord that my boy was on the side where he could see the unmarked side of her face; on the other, the faint gray shadow of a week-old black eye and the slight puffiness of a fist’s impact showed on the girl’s lip. If Junior had been standing on her other side he might have decided to rescue her then and there, and believe me, there is no way to pull a Gallette out of the quicksand that has deepened over the past century; that whole bunch at Miskwaa would only pull you right in and you’d never get out. I know it’s not their fault, but it’s not mine, either, and it is especially not Junior’s.
In the next minute the priest walked into the room and everyone stood. Junior, Girlie, and I took the nearest chairs, and the girl slipped to the back of the room.
“Was that Loretta Gallette?” Girlie whispered to me. Junior listened.
“The Lord be with you,” intoned the priest.
“And with your spirit,” I joined in with the Catholics.
Loretta must have left Dougherty’s right at the end of the service; she was nowhere to be seen, though I could see Junior looking around.
I am not proud of what I did next, but it was for the best, really. Much as I admired Maggie’s generosity with Louis’s family and everybody else, I simply was not born with the same spirit, and perhaps I was a little jealous in my guarding of my son’s attention. If I were a different kind of person, someone like Maggie, say, I might have let things run their course; if I were someone like Winnie, I would have joyfully, sentimentally grabbed the moment and made the most of the miracle. Instead I said to Junior, “Can you find Auntie Girlie and help her into the car? I promised her a ride.”
My unsaid words were “Take your mind off Loretta: you’re related to her, she’s too young for you, and she looks like a pack of trouble.” Nipped that right in the bud, I thought at the time. Distracted by the search for Girlie, who I had seen shuffling with Artense to the ladies’ room, swatting a couple of times at Artense’s offered arm, Junior hung around to await their emergence through the ladies’ room door. Still on her feet but tiring, Girlie leaned droopily onto Artense’s shoulder and allowed Junior to take her purse, which he held awkwardly. At the curb, occupied by the gymnastics required by both Junior and Artense to hold Girlie’s long, ungainly body upright and balanced in spite of her determination to shrug away their hands, and then fitted like a jigsaw puzzle piece through the car door and into the back seat, Junior’s attention was averted from seeing what I saw, which was Loretta exiting the church by the side door, all by herself. At Babe’s house, where everybody was heading for some food, he and Artense would have to unwind Girlie from the car and then up the front steps and onto Babe’s most comfortable easy chair. I would keep him waiting on the old lady and he wouldn’t have time to do much else; if Girlie got the two or three little glasses of Dubonnet she liked into her, Junior would be even busier listening to her tell him about when she learned to play the organ at the Harrod Indian school and who knows what else.
When his leave was over, Junior would be going overseas again and would forget all about Loretta, who couldn’t help it that she was a pack of trouble, and neither could I. Besides, they were cousins—not first cousins, but with the Gallettes you never can tell, God knows.
Don’t try telling me you wouldn’t have done the same.