It’s Still Not Red

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.

# # #

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?

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24 Comments

Filed under #FridayFlash, Anasazi, Ancient Americans, Chaco Canyon, Historial Fiction

24 responses to “It’s Still Not Red

  1. I still liked this one fine. It tells enough of its side and the novelty of where this color comes from and how it’s made remains.

  2. KjM

    I liked the spareness of the previous version more – although the glimpses into the mind of the old woman here are valuable.

    I particularly liked “…Be shocked at his behavior later, she told herself”. Her focusing on what was important to her brought out a facet of her visible only indirectly in last week’s version.

  3. I think the “knowing” in this version make it a stronger piece. Your word choices give just enough information with out overwhelming the reader, the mark of a great piece of flash fiction.

  4. I think in terms of straight flash fiction, this piece is stronger. We see her spark of an idea turn into an obsessive desire to help her people. It shows us how deep the desire to keep their culture was felt in every person, regardless of how able-bodied they were. The ending depicts such a human moment, her momentary defeat and sinking feeling before attacking her mission with renewed vigor. The fact that it is Tuwa who brings this bit of hope to her is even better.

    I don’t think I would substitute one story for the other. The two amalgamate nicely.
    ~chris

  5. I liked it better from the woman’s point of view. Nice one, love the description 🙂

  6. Yes, indeed. And it provided more hints into the society at large and what was going on. I liked this one much better. The whole thing flowed more naturally and the added detail provided more interest. I hope the old lady succeeds before her last breath spirit passes.
    ~jon

  7. I read these in reverse order, starting from the woman’s perspective. That may bias my opinion. I liked the woman’s perspective more because I got a sense of her struggle and motivation for finding the source of the color. You added a nice little bit of stress because I got a sense her time was running out.

    Nice story!

  8. I read this on first and then went back and read the other. I didn’t realize that the woman was old until you said so, this changed the way I read the story from that point on. I enjoyed the sparseness and the two different perspectives.

  9. I like knowing why she wants the red dye. I had imagined it was something like why I might obsess over making a dye–the sheer joy of the color, or for some particular project.

    This story mirrors the other one very closely in timing and details noticed. I think she would notice/be aware of different details, especially regarding the dye making, not only the types of beetles that led to the new dyes, but stuff like mordants, which not only help to set a dye, but sometimes affect the color as well.

  10. I like both versions. What I like most is comparing the two. I think you could write at least one more, from a bystander’s point of view. I think of how long it must have taken to develop certain technologies ( a whole series of stories – ‘still not red’ -could ensue). I like the old woman. The detail of the little boy running up, then giggling as he ran away was nice too.

  11. Actually I preferred the first one! You let the reader do more work, which engaged me more. Although I did like the explanation in this one of her motivation. Gave an extra depth that the first one didn’t quite have. Intriguing stuff. I am loving these stories Jeff.

  12. I prefer last week’s story from the traveler’s perspective. While this one explains more, some of the explanation seems unnecessary. The first story told more with fewer words and gave the reader a stronger attachment to the main character with mystery. I believe the unspoken mystery in the previous story told volumes more compared to this one. The other one felt like it flowed better.

    What I like better: brings out more character. I feel a closer connection to the woman here compared to the Pochteca in the last.

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  14. While I enjoyed the first person story last week, I think I liked this one in the third person better. It explained more while still having a good engaging narrative.

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  16. I love the way you have them talk to each other. The crushed beetles gross me out though. Still, nicely written piece!

  17. Deanna Schrayer

    I liked the first story very much, but like this one better. This one brings out the woman’s character a lot more clearly. When reading the first story I felt she was secretive in a way, but this one shows the strength of her character.
    I don’t know why, but I still think the Pochteca man should answer with a grunt or a shrug instead of “I don’t know”. Maybe I’m viewing his character incorrectly?
    Love your stories Jeff!

  18. I love this one. It captures how this knowledge means everything to her, and her impatience that it doesn’t mean much to the man – that he didn’t bother to attend to the details.

  19. Totally different stories, mho. Both work, and well, but for different reasons. I liked the mystery of the first one, yet like the fleshed-out quality of the second.

    I have a lot of experience in craft (pottery, glass, metal-smithing) and my dear hubbers bought me a DVD on various ‘lost arts’ and the artists who keep the tradition. One man, a weaver and textile designer, discussed these Cochineal mites that gave up their bodies for the Brits red coats (among other things). I’m watching this two nights ago and thinking of you and your stories preserving tradition… Peace, Linda

  20. I quite liked it, and didn’t catch anything that knocked me out of the story.

    Apparently some colours still used in food production are derived from crushed beetles. Gross!

  21. There is a sparseness to your telling and very deliberate word choices i think that make this rendition strong and “proud” that is the sense I’m left with, she is driven by this emotion I think. This is a first rate piece that gets at the core of motivation.

  22. While I did enjoy the first one, I can see that it does work much better with this version.

    I still think, though, that it would not ruin the dialogue if you did not use contractions.

  23. Diandra

    This way, the story explains more (maybe too much?), but I think the – hmm, “time spacing” does not work so well. You keep the same “time spacing” as with the last story, but for the old woman, I think that differently chosen steps would work better. Not so much explaining, perhaps, and more showing of her experiments?

    (If I hadn’t read the first story, I would probably think different, but here we are…)

  24. I think it works better because it draws the reader into the old woman’s story. There’s more connective tissue to a conflict and the struggle to obtain a resolution. The first version didn’t quite capture what this one does.

    Thanks for sharing it.

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