Robert J. Conley

Gog'ski, or Smoker, was having a big feed at Rocky Ford in the Goingsnake District of the Cherokee Nation. Rocky Ford was not a place anyone would recognize while passing through, but it was a place the Cherokees who lived there recognized as a community. The homes of the residents of Rocky Ford were scattered throughout the hills, and even when two or three families might be located within easy walking distance or even within shouting distance, they were still not within view of each other. A near neighbor's home was always obscured from sight by the thick growth of trees, the winding roads and the ups and downs of the Ozark foothills. What made Rocky Ford a community was purely and simply the sense of community of its inhabitants. They attended the same church, a Cherokee language Baptist church, and they got together frequently for community gatherings. They also knew and minded each other's business as if it were their own.

Anyway, Gog'ski was having a big feed at his home. Perhaps there was an occasion for this feed, perhaps not. That information has been obscured by the passing of a century and perhaps a decade. Hogs had been slaughtered, much food had been prepared, and a large and jovial crowd had gathered around Gog'ski's log cabin. The crowd consisted mostly of full-blood Cherokees, and the conversation was all in the Cherokee language. Gog'ski was running around acting busy, playing the host, but he finally slowed down a bit to catch his breath, stopping in a small cluster of men who had been engaged in idle chatter.

"This is a good gathering," said Walkingstick to Gog'ski.

"Everyone should get plenty to eat," said Gog'ski. "There's lots of food. I killed three hogs."

"That might not be enough if Dlanusi was here," said Yudi, and his comment was answered by a round of good-natured laughter.

"Yeah," said Gog'ski, "old Leech could really put away the hog meat. Well, I guess he still can. "

"He could if he could get to it," said Walkingstick. "I bet that's the worst part of jail for Dlanusi. They don't feed them much hog meat in there, I bet. Ask Shell."

"More like hog slop," said Shell, or Uyasga.

"Say," said Yudi. "You were over there in that Fort Smith jail with Leech, weren't you?"

"Uh huh," said Shell. "For too long."

"At least they let you out," said Gog'ski. "They won't ever let Dlanusi out. Not until they hang him, I guess."

"When will they do that?" asked Yudi.

"I'm not sure," said Gog'ski, wrinkling his brow as if in deep thought. There was a pause, and then Shell spoke again.

"Today," he said.

Everyone looked at him.

"They're supposed to do it today," he said.

The awkward silence continued until Gog'ski stood up and paced nervously.

"Today," he repeated. "I guess we shouldn't be here having such a good time. Not if they're going to hang Leech today. He could be hanging right now."

Yudi shivered, and Walkingstick looked at the ground. Gog'ski's right hand went instinctively to his own throat. He looked at Shell.

"You've only been home about a week," he said. "You were in the same cell with Dlanusi, weren't you?"

"Yes, I was," said Shell.

"Did he know then when it would be his last day?"

"Yes. He knew."

"How was he?" said Gog'ski.

"What do you mean?"

"Well," said Gog'ski, "was he sad? Was he afraid?"

"No" said Shell. "He was cheerful. He joked. He seemed happier than I, even though I knew I was getting out."

Everyone was quiet then, listening to hear what more Shell might have to say. The group had gotten a little larger since the discussion of Dlanusi, the Leech, had begun.

"It was maybe seven days before I got out," said Shell. "Sgili equa, the Big Witch, came to visit Dlanusi, and he brought some soap, the kind we make at home. There was never enough soap in the stinking jail, and the guards let Dlanusi keep it. After that, he washed every day, maybe two, three times a day. He was so clean.

"The day before they let me out, Dlanusi dipped his hands in the water bucket, and he was holding his soap. Then he stood up, and he started rubbing the soap, and he lay back on his cot. He was making a lot of bubbles, and pretty soon the bubbles started to rise up and float, and Dlanusi started to laugh, a happy sounding laugh. The bubbles were floating up and going out the window between the bars and just floating away. Dlanusi stopped laughing, but he still had a big smile on his face, and he said to me, 'You see that?' He was watching the bubbles float out the window between the bars. 'You see that?' he said. 'I can get out of here just that easy.' Then I looked closer, and inside each bubble I could see a tiny little man sitting and smiling at me as his bubble rose up slowly and floated out the window, between the bars and away, carrying him with it. That's what I saw while I was there in jail with Dlanusi."

Shell stopped talking, and the others just sat there as if stunned. At last Gog'ski got up and clapped his hands together.

"Well," he said, "does anyone want to go over there and toss some marbles with me?"

The group broke up, some following Gog'ski to play marbles, the old Cherokee game of marbles, more closely resembling lawn bowling than what white men call marbles, some others wandering until they found someone else to talk to, perhaps to repeat the strange story Shell had just told them. Shell stayed right where he had been all along. He just sat there. Later the women called out that the food was ready, and the men all lined up to be served. They were just sitting down when a horseman came riding toward the house. All watched to see who was coming, and when he got close enough to recognize, Shell was the first one to speak.

"Dlanusi," he said.

Dlanusi rode right up close. He was sitting on a shiny saddle on the back of a big, black stallion that pranced and snorted, and he was dressed flashy, like a cowboy, in black leather boots and a black vest over a clean white shirt. His long black hair folded on his shoulders, and he wore a black, flat-brimmed hat on his head. His broad grin showed his white teeth flashing out of his dark face.

"Hey," he said, in a loud and cheerful voice, "did you leave me anything to eat here?"

© 1990 Robert J. Conley

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