* Author : Kelsey Hutton
* Narrator : Laurie McDougall
* Host : Sofía Barker
* Audio Producer : Eric Valdes
* Artist : Cindy Fan
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PodCastle 761: INDIGENOUS MAGIC – The Bone Pickers is a PodCastle original.
Content Warning for themes of genocide
The Bone Pickers
by Kelsey Hutton
My last day picking buffalo bones, stooping and flinging and splintering tibia among the tall grass, was the day I lost the smell of freshly tanned leather.
The buffalo gave us so many gifts, but the finished hides were my favourite. Rich and musky-smelling, hair scraped off, with only the hide left — I remember one side was always slightly glossier than the other. Soft, supple, broken in. Ready for a skilled seamstress to transform into intricately embroidered moccasins, leggings, vests, a thousand beautiful things.
Or, there were the great shaggy buffalo robes my parents used to roll us children up in at night, tucked safely into our corner of the cabin to sleep. Those were large enough I could lie down in the middle, fan my arms and legs out like a great grey owl descending on its prey, and still not touch the edges. First thing in the morning, or last thing at night, I remember closing my eyes and inhaling huge swelling lungfuls of the scent left behind by the great animals, lii bufloo, who lived alongside us. Whose lives were twined so intimately with ours.
And of course, there were the herds themselves. As many as there were seeds in the spring, as there were stones in the riverbed. On the first day of the fall hunt, we could follow their smell more surely even than their hoofbeats. Kneeling beside a freshly killed cow, grown fat on sweet summer clover, I would bury my fingers deep in her shaggy ruff. Curled up in the warmth still emanating from her massive form, I breathed in my thanks.
These were the things I still let myself remember, around and in between the spitting-grease-hot memories of my parents, my brothers, my sisters. Those ones I never touched.
But that spring day, I realized I could only remember what the hides smelled like — earthy, smoky, slightly spicy. I couldn’t feel the smell of it in my nose, couldn’t conjure up the taste of it in my mind, beyond just . . . words.
That feeling, that slip of my memory, made me stumble where I was. Just as I thought there was nothing left for them to take from me, in fact, there was.
My knee hit the scrubby ground hard and I lurched towards the great wheel of the cart beside me, tangling myself in my skirts as I threw out a hand to stop myself. The cart’s wheel normally came as high as my nose when I stood straight; now, laden with a few hundred pounds of bones, the cart rolled by an inch from the pinky on my splayed right hand. Only a narrow rut was left behind to tell the tale.
Despite all this, the world around me moved slow, like the earliest trickles of a tapped sugar tree. I could have lost a finger, maybe more. I could have lost my hand.
I repeated that to myself a few more times, trying to care. Failing to.
“Emmaline!” Rosemarie croaked out, but her own throat was too coated in dust to raise above a barked whisper.
“I’m all right, it’s all right,” I lied, although I suppose it was also the truth. Was I well enough because I was no worse off than I had been a few moments before,