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by Barbara Nishimoto 

Behind the school was a path up the mountain through the old growth.  The ground was covered with soft brown needles.  There was little underbrush, and the light filtered through the boughs and patterned the forest floor.  The trail wound up the mountain, and a quarter mile in there was a small break in the trees--like a window.  A natural place to rest a moment, to lean on one of the flat, smooth boulders.  There was a view of the bay and Egg Island, and it was there that the children found the hanging dog.

Marilyn Iwami heard about it the next morning when her students came to class.  The Tlingit-Haida boys said nothing; she knew that they had come to see her as theirs, and in a clumsy, adolescent way enjoyed revealing bits and pieces of what they knew were the harmless differences between them.  She had wrinkled her nose and frowned when they tried to tell her about hunting. Oliver had lifted his chin, smiled and said, “After three days stranded would you still be a vegetarian?”  But Jeremy, whose family was one of several who had moved up to the island to work on the road, told her all about the hanging dog.  He was a confident and friendly boy who seemed to expect others to be the same.  Freckled and fair with clear blue eyes.  His greetings were always loud and exuberant.   

“Did you hear?  Miss Iwami?  Did you hear?” 

She had been standing at the board--it was still the time of chalkboards--writing out the day’s schedule.  It was a quiet, almost sleepy part of the day.  Students arrived one at a time; they were all walkers in that little fishing village.  Low mumbled greetings.  They would collect books and shelve their packs, but insisted on wearing their jackets even in late spring.  Marilyn had always been surprised whenever the boys finally had occasion to shed their jackets--on the basketball court or during P.E.  She suddenly saw them as young men with their muscled forearms and biceps and even the beginnings of facial hair.  But in class, in the mornings, they were bundled and sleepy, and some would put their heads down on the tabletops and close their eyes.  

A group had been playing, messing around, Jeremy said.  “Throwing dirt bombs.”  He squared his shoulders, folded his arms across his chest, and nodded towards the seated boys.  “Oliver and them.  They found it.”

Oliver gave a slight shrug.  He was a thin-shouldered, tall boy with rosy cheeks and long lashes. “Almost too pretty,” one of the teachers said.  Oliver’s family had been on the island for generations.  Raven Clan.  “You weren’t even there,” Oliver mumbled.  For a moment Marilyn felt sorry for Jeremy. She said, “Someone killed the dog?”

Jeremy turned to her and lifted his chin.  “Of course.  What do you think?  It was hanging.  That’s what it means.”

“Whose dog?”

The boy shrugged and looked towards Oliver.  “Maybe one of the Kings.”

“I’d kill them if they did that to my dog,” Oliver said.

“So they don’t know who?”

“They should call the trooper,” Jeremy said.

“Is it still there?”

The boy shook his head.  “Someone cut it down.”

“Miss Marilyn.”  Rosalind hurried into the classroom and pushed between Marilyn and Jeremy.  Her backpack made her hunch forward.  For a moment she brought with her the coolness and scent of outdoors.  “Did they tell you?  Did you hear?  There’s a crazy person.”  The class was multi-aged, and Rosalind was one of the younger students.  The girl had been the first to visit, knocking on Marilyn’s trailer door and calling out, “Are you there?”  Now she was Marilyn’s constant companion.  “Your shadow,” Mr. Blake, the principal, said.  Maybe the deep voiced man had meant it as a joke, but Marilyn had detected a bit of criticism in the quick way the man had looked away.  It confused her, made her wonder if she were doing something wrong.  The little girl had a habit of leaning close, head tilted up, almost standing on tiptoe.  “What is this?  Is this what you do?”  Rosalind loved to explore the trailer and ascribe fantastic uses for all the belongings. It made Marilyn laugh.  This was Marilyn’s first teaching job, and she was far from home, and the little girl was company, and her presence made Marilyn feel less out of place and alone.

“Maybe someone off one of the fishing boats.”  The girl took Marilyn’s hand; she had a warm, moist grasp.  There was dried milk on the child’s face; her clothes smelled of cigarette smoke and kerosine.  “Kookooli.”  Marilyn nodded, put her hand on the little girl’s shoulder.  “Maybe.”

Throughout the morning, one by one, Oliver and his friends were called into Mr. Blake’s office.  As each re-entered the classroom he took his seat quietly and seemed to resume his studies.  The older boys were all sitting at one of the round tables in the back behind the bookcase.  It was Rosalind who joined the group, leaned across the table and asked what everyone else was wondering.  “What did they ask?  What did you say?”  Her arms were folded beneath her as she stretched across the table.  She stared at each boy, ignoring their silence.  “Who do they say?”

“Rosalind,” Marilyn said.  “Work on your reading assignment.”

By midmorning everyone realized that Eddie Clemmons had not come to class.  He was one of the older boys, and like Jeremy, his family was new to the island. They had moved up to work on the road crew.  He wore his hair short and oiled, and the Tlingit-Haida boys made fun of him.  “Greasy,” Oliver pantomimed, wiping his hands down the front of his jacket.  He wrinkled his nose, shivered in distaste.  “That’s how they do down south?”  Marilyn didn’t remember the boy’s response; she had only that memory of him standing by the bookcase.  White t-shirt and khakis and leather boots.  He had not tried to ingratiate himself like Jeremy.  Maybe he had been cocky, arrogant.  Maybe he had been certain that having lived in the lower forty-eight made him somehow superior.  Maybe.  But years later, thinking back, Marilyn realized that in that open, Summerhill-like classroom it was odd that she had no memory of him talking with her or to the other students.  She couldn’t remember the sound of his voice. 

After school Mr. Blake called her into his office.  Eddie was there with his parents.  “Miss Iwami.”  Her principal was standing behind his desk; he waved his arm and motioned her towards a seat.   

“You’ve heard what happened yesterday.”  Mr. Blake sat, folded his large hands on his desktop.  He was an outsider, too.  All of the faculty was.  Skilled outdoorsmen who had come not for the job, but the chance to live on the island.  Several, including Mr. Blake, had built with their own hands warm tidy cabins that overlooked the bay.  In the store and post office the villagers greeted them with smiles and nods, but sometimes the teachers would hear gossip about what was said late at night in the bar.  Mr. Blake told every new teacher how he had been greeted by one of the teenagers at the dock.  “Another white man,” the girl had sneered.  “That’s the first thing I heard when I got off the plane.”  He would open his eyes wide like a challenge and grin.  “The very first thing.”  The new person would smile, shake his head.  “Her,” Mr. Blake chuckled and nodded towards Marilyn, “they just haven’t figured out.”  He looked at her peripherally, his voice deep and loud, and she knew he meant to sound ominous.  “They will.”  In the small teacher gatherings the man displayed nervous ticks--bouncing his leg as he sat, fluttering one hand like a runner warming up.  But at school he was unwavering and still.  “Respect is crucial,” Mr. Blake had told Marilyn. He cautioned her about maintaining control.  “Pick the biggest one and send him to me.”  Mr. Blake’s paddlings were legendary; the students laughed and joked about it.  “Holy,” Oliver smiled. “Albert said you can hear it whistle.  It lifted him right off the ground.”  But they snapped into a stylized military behavior whenever the man entered the room.

“Miss Iwami.” 

The office was tiny and crowded, and Marilyn mumbled soft apologies as she stepped over and around the Clemmonses to take a seat beside Eddie.  The boy’s head was bowed, his hands pressed between his legs.  He had been crying.  Mrs. Clemmons drew a breath and nodded at Marilyn.  She was crying, too. Silently she dabbed a tissue to her eyes.

“Do what you got to do.” Mr. Clemmons leaned forward and shook his finger.  His voice was thin and sharp.  Eddie’s father was dressed in Carhartt overalls and jacket.  His heavy boots were dusty.  When Marilyn saw him around the village he would nod quickly at her.  This was the first time she had heard his voice. 

“Deke,” Mrs. Clemmons whispered.  “Deke.”

Mr. Blake nodded. “This won’t be the end.”  Mr. Clemmons shook his head, and Marilyn suddenly understood she was there as a witness. 

But she’d been a poor one.  That’s what she saw now.  She didn’t remember, did not know, why Eddie had killed the dog, or even afterwards what had happened to the boy and his family.  Throughout the year there had been gossip and whispers and jokes about all kinds of events in that little village.  When two teachers got lost and spent the night on the mountain, Oliver and the boys mimicked the adults and shook their heads and laughed.  “Don’t they know anything?”  In the spring her students insisted she see the salmon run and for some time afterwards the children and their parents greeted Marilyn by repeating in falsetto her delighted cries.  “Oh look.  Look.”  But nothing more was ever said about Eddie Clemmons and the hanging dog.  “Gone,” Rosalind had drawn a breath and sighed.  The little girl had been leafing through a picture book; she didn’t raise her head.  “Gone for good.”  

“All right.” Mr. Blake pushed back from his desk and stood.

Mr. Clemmons stood, too.  He grabbed and jerked his son’s arm.  “Get up.”

“Oh,” Mrs. Clemmons whispered. “Oh.”

Eddie drew a deep, ragged breath and began to silently sob.  He kept his head bowed, his hands pressed between his thighs.  His shoulders and rounded back shook; his face was horribly distorted, and long strands of mucus dripped from his nose and mouth.  Marilyn turned away, and in doing so caught the glance of Mrs. Clemmons.  That moment was now her most vivid memory.  Like a reflex it had come upon her, and she knew it had shown on her face.  Not compassion or sorrow but cold relief.

 

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