An Anasazi Story by Jeff Posey.
She stepped in front of him and stopped him in his path, her eyes fixed on his head.
Never before had she seen a cloth the color of this man’s hat. She’d heard stories of the traveling trader, The Pochteca, who wore a cloth hat of an unbelievable red. She squinted to see it more clearly, and the man, without speaking, unwound his head cloth and handed it to her. Be shocked at his behavior later, she told herself, and concentrated on the cloth. She worked it in her fingers and held it close to her eyes.
“What kind of dye?” she asked without looking at him.
“Far to the south, many months of walking from here, men gather a small beetle and then women crush and boil them.”
“What kind of beetle?”
He shrugged. “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.”
She pinched her mouth in displeasure. How could he fail to find out such crucial information?
“Is this red common there?”
“No, very rare.”
“The beetles are rare?”
“The color is rare.”
“How old is this?”
“More than six summers.”
“How does it keep its color so well?”
He shrugged again.
For the first time she looked into his eyes and she restrained herself from accusing him of not knowing much. But the crinkles around his eyes made him seem kind and people had knotted around to watch. She sighed, handed him his red cloth hat, and turned away as abruptly as she’d stepped before him.
Two years later when the winds carried the first cool air after summer, the old woman sat beside a loom and a pot of boiling water over a fire, surrounded by tiny palm-sized bowls filled with dyes of many colors, mostly browns, some with a bluish metallic tint.
From the corner of her eye, she saw someone approach and looked up. She didn’t know how, because he did not wear the hat of glorious red, but she recognized him immediately. His eyes gave him away, she supposed. She did not rise as he approached because her feet ached too much to carry her. She spent her days cajoling village children to find and bring beetles to her, and lately she’d become frantic with the cooling of the summer.
She wanted to duplicate The Pochteca’s red before the last breath spirit passed her lips. She wanted to show her people that they were as good as those murderous invaders from the south. She had no power to fight them, but if she could only make a blood-red dye, perhaps it would inspire her people to resist the Southerners.
The Pochteca man nodded his head in greeting and squatted beside her. A boy ran up and dropped a pouch close to her, gave a glance at the man, then ran away with a giggle. The old dye woman picked it up and clawed a sample that she held close to her eyes, then out for The Pochteca man.
“Beetles,” she said, spilling some into a bowl. She ground them to a moist mash with a smooth 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, angling it into the sun for better light, then held it out for him to see.
“It’s not red,” said The Pochteca man.
She shook her head, letting the sinking feeling affect her for only a moment, then she wiped her finger on a scrap of cloth in her lap and called to the boys for more beetles.
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Does this story work better from the old dye-maker woman’s point of view? (See last week’s #FridayFlash story, “It’s Not Red,” for this same story from The Pochteca’s point of view.) Do any word choices pull you out of the time and place of the story?