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Fiction by Jane (Cohen) Stinson
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They loved Becky the way they had never loved Joe. Joe didn't quite belong to the reservation any more. Perhaps he never had. Perhaps he had always been just an observer and not a participant. From the time he was old enough to go to school he had wanted to get away from the reservation and its poverty and hopelessness. He didn't want to leave his family but there was no way to make money on the reservation. He made too much money now. His house was four times the size of anyone else's. He drove an expensive all-terrain vehicle to manage the back roads of the reservation. He put the other men on the reservation to shame and they hated him for shaming them. He was their success story, proof that even an Indian could succeed in the white world and they hated him for that. Joe passed the new motel on the right side of the road, overlooking the lake. It was big and tastelessly conceived but it would undoubtedly do very well because it was the last accommodation before the reservation. Tourists rarely stayed on the reservation. They only came to look from a safe distance. In his mind he could imagine Becky standing at the easel, finally making an artistic breakthrough, past the terror of her childhood with the alcoholic mother and incestuous stepfather. She had to get past that point or her painting would remain what it was when he first met her – schoolbook work with a certain charm but without insight or imagination. Sometimes Becky cried at night in bed when they were through making love because the love-making would be forever fruitless. Becky had been permanently damaged by her brutal step-father and there could be no children. But that was just as well. Becky herself was a child. There had been three psychiatrists, three modes of therapy, three failures. Becky did function, but not as an artist and that was all she had come to want. Perhaps today had been different for her. Perhaps today she forced herself past the ugliness and into the child she had been once long ago. Joe drove down the long driveway toward their house, forcing a smile. He promised himself he would not ask her how her painting had gone while he was away. She always said when he had to go to Minneapolis that she would stay behind and work, that this time, being alone, with no distractions, she could make the breakthrough that meant her happiness. So Joe always asked how it had gone when he arrived. But this time he would not. He would just talk about the drive back and where he stopped for lunch. No mention of stopping at the falls. The stereo was playing full blast when he went in the house but he didn't see Becky. She had loaded some New Age junk into the CD player. They had an extensive library of good CD's that she could play but she never did. He shut off the stereo and wandered through the house. She didn't answer when he called to her. Becky was nowhere. The living room was a mess. Empty beer cans, half-empty plates, and overfull ashtrays cluttered every table top. He climbed the stairs to the bridge that spanned the living room and connected their studios with the bedrooms. Their own bedroom was deserted, the bed unmade, large piles of her clothes draped over the chaise and the black lacquer ladderback chair he had bought for her in St. Paul. He knocked on her bathroom door. There was no answer. He pushed open the door and then recoiled at the musty smells of wet towels and unscrubbed tiles. The mirror over the sink reflected the total disarray of the room and of Becky's life. Joe gathered the towels and shoved them into the hamper.

The Witch Tree - page 4