An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.
An old woman with curiously small feet stood brazenly before him, staring at his head.
Tuwa had seen this behavior before and unwound the bright red cloth he wore around his head when he became The Pochteca, the traveling trader. He handed the cloth to the woman, who worked it in her fingers and held it close to her eyes.
“What kind of dye?”
“Far to the south, many months of walking from here, men gather a small beetle and then women crush and boil them with cloth.”
“What kind of beetle?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen them.”
“What time of year?”
“The first cool breath after summer.”
“Do they dry the beetles first?”
“I don’t know.”
The woman pinched her mouth as if unhappy that Tuwa knew so little.
“Is this red common there?”
“No, very rare.”
“The beetles are rare?”
“The color is rare.”
The old woman handed him the cloth and turned away as abruptly as she’d stepped before him.
Two years later when the winds carried the first cool air after summer, Tuwa saw the woman again. She sat beside a loom and a pot of boiling water over a fire. Small bowls scattered around her, each filled with a colored dye, mostly browns, some with a bluish tint.
She did not rise as Tuwa approached and he got the impression her small feet would no longer carry her. Strands of silver hair fell over her face.
A boy ran up and dropped a pouch close to her, then he ran away without a word. She picked it up and clawed a sample that she held up to Tuwa.
“Beetles,” she said, spilling some into a bowl. She ground them to a moist mash with a mortar on a worn stone, then dipped boiling water with a small mug and dribbled it into the mash and stirred. She dipped her finger into the mixture and held it close to her eyes, then up for him to see.
“It’s not red,” said Tuwa.
She shook her head and wiped her finger on a scrap of cloth in her lap.
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