Jo pulled in to The Ancient Way Café, her old red and rusted Ford 150 idled in the gravel lot. She felt a bit nervous but figured this was her “in”. Ever since she let Granma Nola know that she wanted to take up weaving, her road to that path began opening. First a new loom lofted in the living room space next to her grandmother’s. Then a new basket, filled with her own carding brushes appeared on the coffee table before the tv. Even Grandpa Tony took them in hand during Judge Judy. In between yelling at the plaintiffs, and reaching for the remote, he would stroke out a few swipes on the wool to pluck out Goat Head Thistles.
After work Jo shed her scrubs and pulled on a flannel shirt over her tank top and her favorite pair of jeans. She perched on the edge of a wicker-backed chair and contemplated the next row on the rug that was growing from the floor sanction toward the ceiling. This was her winding down process from the workday. It enabled her to meditate and calm her thoughts before she joined Shimá sání and Shicheii at the dinner table.
Each strand of yarn tapped down into place represented a patient. How the yarn wound back and forth between the warp and weft threads was the winding path they needed to take on their road to healing. Each strand was metaphorical. Would it lay straight and tap down easily? Or would it need coaxing into place? The same could be said with her patients at Rehoboth McKinley Health Services. Would they take those steps toward health? Would they wear a mask, wash their hands, and practice social distancing? Would they circle in to their close contacts or would their community extend out far reaching? Would they believe the vaccine worked or would they doubt the bilagáana medical system that had institutionally betrayed them in the past?
Johona had finally finished her very own first rug. It had taken a while, even with Granma Nola’s persistent guidance. Sometimes her grandmother agreed that a strung needed to be unwoven and attempted again. Sometimes she reminded Jo that rugs, like people, are beautifully imperfect and those imperfections sometimes are the things that make them and us that much more valued, loved, and unique. So, her rug dazzled the eyes with a slight bulge here, or a nearly-the-same-shade yarn finishing out a line, but it was an authentic “Eye-dazzler” pattern. And for her first finished piece, she was proud.
Johona had the rug folded on the passenger seat. She brought it to The Ancient Way Café at Winslow’s suggestion. Win sells some of his piecing work there and since Traycee worked there too, Jo figured she had as good a chance as any, even if it wasn’t expertly executed like her grandmother’s pieces. She was learning, and she had the patience to get to that next level. Sitting silently with her grandmother was a new way of meditating, but it also was a means to communicate without words, but in action, with one of her most cherished people. Merely by being together, lost in their own contemplations, had helped bring the calm to Johona’s life that she had been needing.
Now that she was down Ramah way, she was nervous. Jo was excited to try to sell her piece, perhaps outright, perhaps on consignment; it would be a nice contribution to the Chee’s finances. But also, it was Johona’s subtle way of sharing part of her cultural heritage, and the generational knowledge that Granma Nola passed down to her. Win advised Jo to write a short artist’s statement that she could display next to her rug on the wall. He said that her explanation would entice those eating in the restaurant to buy because it created a personal connection with the tourist, to the place of El Morro, and to Jo’s cultural legacy shared in her weaving. Jo searched for the words to describe her connection to her piece and her grandmother. It made her feel vulnerable, yet proud.
When she arrived in the parking lot, Jo spotted Traycee walk from the RV and cabin section of the property carrying an empty laundry basket into an open-doored shed. Jo slid down from the driver’s side and whistled out to Traycee who turned, saw her sister-in-law, and waved her inside.
Stepping into the cement-floored outbuilding, Johona saw the whirring washer, and smelled the toasted fabric softener in the air. Traycee set the laundry basket on the dryer and pulled the latch wherein dried towels tumbled onto the floor. Both Traycee and Jo bent to rescue the freshly warmed towels, bumped heads, and in their wincing pain started to laugh.
“Dang, you got me just right, Jo.” Traycee rubbed her head with one hand.
Johona lifted a towel to her nose. “I love how laundry smells out of the dryer.”
“What you doing out here on a Saturday? It’s your day off, no?” asked Traycee.
“I was hoping you could walk in the café with me and help make introductions. I finished my first rug and I have an artist statement too.”
“Yah, when Win was here last he mentioned you might stop by. He says you are pretty good. Help me fold this load and put them in the cabins. Then I will walk over with you.”
Johona doubled the towel and placed it in the basket. Traycee met her hand in a fist bump. “Sisters. We are in this together.”
After placing fresh towels in the deluxe cabin, the two women walked through the piñón stands toward the café. Jo opened her passenger side of the truck, untucked the statement from the folds of the rug and handed the paper to Traycee.
“Wow. You did that?!” remarked Traycee, as Jo lofted the weaving in the air.
Jo nodded and smiled as the front door to the café opened and Traycee’s boss called to them. “Hey Traycee, bring your friend over. You’re Johona Chee, right? Let’s talk some business.
Flash Fiction by Shelli Rottschafer
Shelli Rottschafer completed her doctorate from the University of New Mexico in Latin American Contemporary Literature (2005). Since 2006, Rottschafer has taught at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI. She is a Professor of Spanish within the Department of World Languages. She teaches Spanish Language, Chicanx and Latinx Literature, Film and Gender Studies. She also teaches in the Inquiry and Expression Program, a first-year student research and Intensive Writing Course. Her classes focus on Eco-criticism, Nature Writing Nonfiction, and Native Literatures. Rottschafer writes Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Fiction. Her poetry is published through Herbaria 3.0 and the anthology We are Here to Represent. Her Travel Writing is published in Wanderlust Journal of Travel Essays. Atmosphere Press in Austin, TX published her debut novella, Stay North (2021). Her reflection on querencia “Taos: Where the Mountains Meet the Gorge” was published in the blog www.manitotrail.com Her short stories have been published in Chamisa: A Journal of Literacy, Performance, and Visual Arts of the Great Southwest and Cutthroat: Journal of the Arts. Her reviews can be found at ASAIL Journal (The Association for the Study of American Indian Literatures), Choice: Reviews for Libraries, and The Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Review. Her academic essays are published in Border-Lines: Journal of Latino/a Research at the University of Nevada, Reno.