Chapter 1

“June’s too common a name,” Grandma said when I was born in early summer thirty-five years ago. “And this girl, she’s going to be special.”  So Momma named me July because, except for her life-long habit of opening her legs to boys she wasn’t married to, Momma did what Grandma told her.

Sometimes Momma and Grandma called me Jul.  Grandma said that was part of being special since it sounded like “Jewel,” and that’s what I was—a precious jewel. But when Grandma turned her back, Momma twisted my hair around her fist.  “If you were really a jewel,” she whispered, pulling me close, “I’d sell you in a minute and take the cash south to Vegas to try my luck.”

So July I was and Jul, too, though more often, as I got older and went to school, kids called me “Trash Face” because everyone in Cedar Pocket knew what Momma did with the men who visited our trailer.

And my whole life, my best friend was that boy next door, big blonde Sammy Bear.

“You shoot him, and I’ll cut off his ears,” Sammy said whenever one of Momma’s men got near me.  Then we’d get to planning how we could bury the man in the woods, covering up the fresh dirt with hemlock branches.  Even picked out the best spot on Vancouver Island, at the base of an old-growth cedar that’s been there a thousand years and more.  The Grandmother Tree, they call it, because it’s surrounded by its children’s children.  But, though Sammy Bear had his nasty side and liked to catch things that squealed—squirrels, weasels, cats, an otter now and then—he never did help me kill any of Momma’s men.

Grandma said the Bears had long been trouble—bad blood will out, don’t you know?—and she told tales of banishment and crimes.  As time passed, and Sammy and me got skin-close, her tales grew more horrific, her charges touching sacred taboo and ancestral sins.  I heard bedtime stories of moons stolen, whale-women raped, cedar spirits felled against their will, dancing masks cursed, and, inevitably, intercourse with all the wrong sorts of bears.

But, though my face looked a lot like Grandma’s, our brown eyes didn’t see the same when it came to Sammy, so it wasn’t a surprise when I married him right after high school.   And, if you knew Sammy and his wandering ways, it wasn’t much of a surprise when he took off eight months after our son Josh was born.  The surprise came when he showed up sixteen years later, not long after his mother Lillian died.


  • Bert Helfinstein
    March 27, 2011 - 11:05 AM | Permalink

    My propensity to bias being noted, I find this to be amazing writing — the voice is compelling, the promise of a tale with powerful emotions unfolding in an exotic setting with overtones of First Nation culture compels me to read on to see where this story takes me.

  • steph
    April 11, 2011 - 7:35 AM | Permalink

    Can’t wait to read the whole thing. Don’t forget us little folks when you get rich & famous.

    • Margaret Rodenberg
      April 11, 2011 - 9:24 AM | Permalink

      Thanks. I hope you and lots of other readers will enjoy reading the whole book, plus the sequel I have in mind.

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    Copyright © 2011 Margaret Rodenberg