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Fiction by Jane (Cohen) Stinson
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He went into the hall and listened for any sound. The silence was complete. He knew she wasn't in her studio. From the bridge he looked down on the living room he had conceived with such joy, conceived with a picture of Becky always in his mind. He had decorated it with unthinking extravagance to please her but it had been a useless extravagance that had brought them no joy. Becky was not in the house. She was not in her studio. He knew that but he had to see for himself. There was no sign that she had been in the room while he was away. Her brushes were dry and uncleaned. A half-finished portrait of a woman stood on the easel. It was like a half-dozen such portraits she had painted of her friends and neighbors, but the woman in every one of the portraits had the empty eyes and tight, thin mouth of Becky's mother. He went down into his studio where his new canvas awaited him. He had mounted it on the wall because of its ten foot by fourteen foot size. The painting he planned would depict the Battle of New Ulm, one of the highlights of the great Sioux uprising in Minnesota in the 1860's. He had researched the battle with the greatest care, as he had researched each of his historic paintings. No one could quarrel with his scholarship. They sold well to white insurance companies and banks whose large walls demanded large canvases. Their presence seemed to assuage the consciences of corporate officers because they were supporting an Indian in his work. The officers of the insurance companies and banks told him that women often became teary-eyed when they viewed the scenes he painted, overcome by the portrayal of atrocities committed by their ancestors against the Indian people. Joe listened to the stories. He was sure that the ladies recovered quickly and were able to complete their financial arrangements without further interference from their souls. White businessmen were his clients and he was their property. He belonged more to them than he did to his own people. At least Becky tried to paint the reality of the reservation. He hadn't tried since he was a very young man and awed by his own talent for drawing. Becky would be back soon, probably. She knew he was coming home today. Maybe she had started something for dinner. He wandered into the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator for a beer. None there. It had been drunk by a lot of freeloaders who never hesitated to take advantage of Becky. He slammed the door shut so hard that the refrigerator vibrated for a moment with the violence. She was probably down at the cafe swilling mugs of coffee with her friends. In the last few months she had taken to spending a lot of time at the cafe. There was always somebody there, usually lots of somebodies who would love to hear her funny stories. She used to tell funny stories about Joe – “the professor” she liked to call him – in a loving way. When she told them lately it was to make fun of him. “Big Brave Professor,” she called him now. “Heap Big Brave Chief Professor. Big Money. Big Shot.” The creeps who hung out at the cafe would love her derision of him, Joe knew. He finished his beer and made himself some coffee. They would follow up her funny stories with imitations of Joe, how he walked and talked. Becky was the Indian and he was the outsider. He was 48 now. Becky 32. The age difference hadn't mattered at first. It mattered now because Joe was reaching the end of his life and Becky's was just beginning. His father had died at 45. His mother at 29. His one brother out in California had died last year at 51.

The Witch Tree - page 5