Autumn’s End by AmberLee Berringer

The one smell that you never get used to is the smell of a hospital. No matter how often you have stayed in or visited the hospital, it still smells the same. An odd mixture of death and bleach as if some special company made them this unique scent. Yet no matter what I do, the smell will never escape me in this place. I even went out and bought one of those pine tree air fresheners for my grandpa’s room, but it only masked the smell for a couple hours; it’s an unstoppable force. It makes me think that the smell wafts in the air for me to come back, and at the right opportune moment it strikes. It knows that I won’t turn back because the one person I care about the most is five floors up in this stench.

Once a person gets used to the smell, the next thing to get used to is the boredom that rains from every surface you encounter. To become an expert at hospitals you have to learn how to deal with boredom; you learn to occupy your time with anything and everything imaginable. And that’s where this story comes in, in the midst of boredom.

Looking out the window of room 514, I see almost everything the city has to offer. This room only has one window, and of course it’s facing the western horizon, so my grandfather can see the setting sun. The sun glints off the cars rolling past, whose drivers look as if they don’t have a care in the world, as if nothing could and never would go wrong. I look down at my watch on my hand and the big hand is only on the 2. I still have an hour to go before my grandfather comes out of surgery. I lean my forehead against the glass and close my eyes; the coldness against my skin calms me for a single precious moment.

“Get your head off that window.” I turn around to see my grandmother coming through the door and walking toward the dark green armchair. Everytime I see her, all I can think about is how short she is. By the time I was 12 I had already grown taller, and by the age of 13 I could put my head upon her head if I wanted to. I put my head on top of her head quite often because she would jokingly swat at me and tell me that I was only 5’2.’’ She would say that I had no room treat her like a child, and then she would smile at me like I was her world. At 20 years of age I still put my head on top of hers. It makes me feel like I can keep her with me forever. I want to see her smile like she used to, not the ghost of a smile I see now.

“Grandma, will you tell me a story?” I ask her as I walk over to the ugly light green recliner. You would think it would be comfortable because it’s ugly, yet it’s anything but. I mean one would think that the hospital would provide its patients with comfortable chairs, but obviously they don’t. They must be short of funds from buying the stench. My grandmother is currently
sitting on the only chair in this room that at least has some padding. If only I would have got to it first. I would rather sit on a cardboard chair than this creation. Yet I don’t because my grandmother would disapprove of me bringing in cardboard. My bitterness seeps through my pores just like the stench through the vents. Taking a step back the people really do try their hardest to stop the cancer from spreading in my grandfather’s lungs. It’s a coincidence that the one thing they’re trying to stop from happening in my grandfather is causing my lungs to ache with each breath.

“Sweetheart, I don’t think I can. I don’t feel up to it now.”

“Grandma, just a little one, please?” She almost never said no to my brothers and me when we asked her to tell us a story. Especially if it had to do with the myths that our Indian ancestors believed in.

“Okay. But just a little one.” I look over to Grandma and she’s closing her eyes as she starts to tell her tale. “Did I ever tell you about how Mother Nature came to be?” She opens her eyes and looks at me as I shake my head no. “Well, Mother Nature wasn’t always our Mother Earth’s caretaker, but she was once a little girl. She was born as an Indian human. She lived a human life for a while and was loved by humans. Mother Nature’s beginning is a myth our tribe believes in, and this is the tale of how it all began.” I start to close my eyes and before long I’m drifting off while my grandmother tells me her story.

The world is changing. The late autumn sky has grown pale, paler than the summer sky, and the wind is shifting its source from the north to the south. Many moons ago the tree’s limbs and hands prospered, the leaves reflections of the grasses’ color. Only a moon ago those same leaves were adjusting their colors. From the hilltop, only two bare steps from our teepee, it looks as if the trees were mimicking the animals’ colors they had seen so many times before. The red of a newly born fox, the light brown of a mother whitetail, a yellow for the eyes of a spotted owl waiting for its prey to scurry from the depths of its hiding place, and orange for a coyote’s coat.

Now, walking through the Earth’s forest, I hear the world. I hear a crunch beneath my feet. The leaves that were once upon the branches above savoring the height have now fallen, the trees sharing the color of themselves with the world below. The color won’t last long but the trees know in their hearts the cycle life goes through. They are willing to share the beauty they have created. Their leaves are dying; their place on this Earth is limited. Their part in this world almost completed. Their lives are ending with each step I take, and the last sounds they partake in are being made with the finality of the crunch it produces. I hear the limbs on the trees moving, creating the light breeze in my hair, and telling me of their sorrow. Giving up their creation year after year. Part of them, their soul.

Walking towards the trees I put my hands against one’s skin, rubbing compassion into its bark. I absently run my hand over the scar the bark lets the forest see after it gives up its leaves, the scars it forms in letting go. Many moons after the snow has been lifted and the sun creates its warmth again, the scars will go away and the tree will start to recover from its loss. But the tree has to live with its loss first, and only then will it get hopeful and remember that it’s still living. Only then will it start to bud once more. It will remember the death of its loved one, but the tree remembers that it possess the ability to create life once again upon its limbs. It will be sorrowful until then and will ache till the time is right.

Out of the corner of my eye I see my brothers Kele and Maone listening to the world around them as I am listening to the Earth’s soul. The only difference is that they hold two bows and are searching for our next meal for the tribe. I hear rustling to my left and immediately turn my eyes to the great oak. The great oak is the tree my grandmother visits daily, gaining wisdom from it to better our own chances of survival. She is the medicine woman in our tribe, and the spirits talk to her and give her advice. I move my eyes down the trunk until I see a buck searching around the great oak for grass that has not yet had the chance to die, and then I hear my brother’s movements and direction changing. I look back at them not moving, as still as the great oak stands, and see Kele’s bow being pulled and his arrow poised to fly. As I see him pull back on the horsehair, I turn back to look upon the deer. It doesn’t notice its death coming. I watch as he flicks his ears back; he hears the arrow cutting through the forest as I hear it. He turns his head and the arrow makes contact with the buck dead center with his chest.

The buck lets out a little whimper of air through his nostrils as he falls to the ground. I hear the leaves he hits crunching their death with him as he establishes his final resting place. I slowly kill the leaves as I make my way to the deer and sit in front of him. I run my hand over his head, caressing his coat while my other hand moves toward the arrow. As my right hand closes over the neck of the arrow, I slowly start to pull. The deer starts to move its head and tries to get away from the pain by trying to get up. I take my left knee and place it upon his neck to stabilize him and pull the arrow out in one tug. As I rip the arrow from his body, I hear his cry being echoed through the wind and his body shake with the pain. I place the arrow aside and move near the deer’s head and place it upon my lap, stroking his head. My brothers are getting closer as the blood on the deer’s chest darkens and widens. Death is always coming and is never avoidable. His breathing starts to get shallow, and I pull my arrow out of my satchel as I kiss the top of his head. I look into his eyes when I pull up, and I end his life with a single movement. His pain is over. One last stroke of his coat and my brothers are picking up his body to take back to our teepee to prepare for dinner.

I stand up and look at the blood that’s on my clothing and hands. The warm blood that coursed through the veins of the buck is now growing cold against the wind. I walk toward the stream that’s not far from the great oak and put my hands in the water. The water is shockingly cold and bitter against my skin as the blood runs along the stream’s current. Salmon are making their way up the stream, and I know if I really wanted to I could catch them with my bare hands. However, I don’t; we’ve already ended one life today; we don’t need to end another.

Leaving the salmon behind, I walk my way back home while the wind at my back is following my every footstep as the leaves die with every step I make. I make it back to our teepee and turn around and look at the view before me. Winter is coming soon, and a coat of snow will cover the world I see now. I know this not just from the view, but also from the smell. The frost and bitterness of winter flows through my nose and makes its pathway to my lungs. It will be here before the next full moon begins its path in the sky.

As I observe every aspect around me, the wind picks up and swirls around my feet, bringing the leaves to my knee level. I look back and see my grandmother standing at my back.

“You will one day be the beholder of all that contains this Earth. You understand the way it works and the magic that happens to it in every way. You understand what must happen and keep the cycle pure. You will be the reason the seasons change and the Earth thrives.” As she whispers this to me I keep looking upon the world. I feel the wind start to die down and the leaves make their way back to the ground. As it dies down I hear my grandmother humming a lullaby. When I turn to look at my grandmother she is no longer there, but her scent and humming are still upon the still wind.

I slowly open my eyes and I look up to the dream catcher that my mother had made hanging from a tree limb. Dream catchers serve the dream world as a spider’s net serves the spider. It catches everything the spider does not want to pass through. I sit up and look outside the flap, and snowflakes are floating their way to the ground as if gravity only plays a part in helping them fall.

It was all a dream, a dream that the spirits sent me to help me understand my part in life. My name is Nature and I am the reason the seasons change and the cycle of life continues. I may not understand the whole Earth now, but it’s the path I must take.

“Sweetheart, sweetheart, it’s time to wake up.” My grandmother’s voice floats into my dream, and I realize that I’m back in the hospital. “You were out through the whole story. Grandpa’s getting out of surgery and he’ll be back in the room in a couple minutes.”

I open my eyes and see my grandmother standing above me and I feel her hand against my skin, caressing my cheek. “Grandma, it was like I was her; I saw everything through her eyes.” I look at my grandmother, who is now walking away from me to look out the window and humming a tune that seems familiar. I vaguely remember that tune. “Grandma, is that story true, and is there more to it?” I ask as it dawns on me that she’s humming the same tune I heard in my dream.

“It’s as good as it’s ever going to get, baby doll, as good as it’s ever going to get.”