Siena Sysko ’21
The Wind River Mine is in Wyoming. It is a gold mine on the northeastern border of the Wind River Indian Reservation. Though the two are only one mile apart, the peoples of the neighboring civilizations do their best to avoid each other. The big yellow house is the center of the land and the mine is to the north. Far down below. The land is dry and arable only to sagebrush; it is easy to dig, and we dug for all sorts of reasons.
Silver Star Mountain kneels in the sky at a frivolous height of four thousand three hundred and sixty four feet tall at its peak. In order to be more intimidating, the mountain is sometimes a volcano, but its attempts fail, seeing how it has not erupted for 20 million years. Above the mountain is the far more menacing sky. The sky brings the weather, and the Wyoming weather is unforgiving. Most days it feels as if I have never seen the sun; I long for the warmth of its rays. The mine’s heat is the only relief we have from the relentless cold. The weather brings some men Death’s hungry hand, but for others death is brought by Emily.
“It’s going to rain soon so we better eat now!” Emily calls out. Emily Dickinson is the only woman in camp; she takes care of everything for the men. The smell of death reeks for miles. Lunch must be an exquisite meal of her most recent victim. Not actually, but that’s what it looks like.
“Afternoon, Emily,” the man in the front of the line says. “How are you?”
“Dying,” Emily responds. She’s not one for conversation.
“Aren’t we all?” the man jokes. He laughs, but he hears only his own laughter. He winces.
Emily forces an uncomfortable smile.
It scares the man; he hefts his plate and hurries away. The next man shuffles to the front of the line.
“Give me food.”
Emily says, “Excuse me. Maybe if you ask nicely… I’ve never seen you before. Are you new?”
“Yes. Magi. I am Magi. Food now?” Magi is the only Indian I have ever seen. He comes from the Indian Reservation and is the first and last contact the Wind River Gold Mine had with the Wind River Indian Reservation.
“Fine.” Emily slaps a spoonful of something brown and wet onto the Magi’s plate. How are you liking the mine?”
“Whatever. This food looks disgusting.”
“What? You’ve never had liver before?”
“You mean like cow liver?”
“No, it’s John B’s. He broke a Mine rule.”
“I’m not eating some dead guy’s liver. Are you crazy, Bitch?”
A couple guys jump up, shouldering forward to help Emily, but she waves them off. They sit back down, adjusting their waistbands and bandanas, waiting. Miners hate Indians and Magi’s rudeness fits the stereotype.
“Keep talking to me that way and you will be the next John B,” Emily says. “And as for the food, I’m not sure what you were eating on the Reservation, but we don’t get much money around here so unless you want to starve, you will eat what I serve you.”
Magi leans in very close to Emily so only she could hear what he’s about to say.
He whispers, “I’m okay with starving as long as you can help me get beer.” He winks. She smirks.
Miners wait. Everyone waits.
“We don’t have that stuff around here. That’s Rule Number 1.”
“Fuck this place.” He is not interested in making friends. Magi storms off, bending into a tent. There’s no food or friends in that tent. He’ll be back out but he won’t find either. Nights are long here. Then again, something tells me Magi can ignore feeling hungry. Or lonely.
Everyone went back to talking and laughing; nothing had happened in their minds. The next person in line walked up.
The rain pours all night, the most severe thunderstorm of the year. It sinks the temperature in Wind River to 10 degrees, and rain soaks through everything, eventually rising up from the ground below, too. This is the kind of rain that bites. This is the kind of rain that soaks through souls. This is the kind of rain that can destroy. This is the kind of rain that makes Silver Star Mountain jealous because this is the feared kind of rain.
Emily works through rain. Emily stands in it until her work is done. She knows this kind of rain and bends her back to it, ducking into her tent. Magi’s inside. A third person is, too.
Emily reaches into a bag, digs down, comes up with a mug full of coffee grounds. Concentrating on the mug, she says,“These will help the shaking.” She holds out the mug. To Magi.
He growls, “It’s all your fault. White people did this to Indians. You make us like this.”
Emily shrugs. “Fine, if you don’t want it, I’ll drink it.” Opening the tent flap, she extends her wrist, disappearing the mug around the corner, then rubs her wet palms against her tightly bunned hair, smoothing it. After a minute, she reaches back outside, hooking the mug back in, rain water brimming. Coffee. She takes a big sip and sets it carefully on the ground.
“Needs sugar.” She turns around, digs into her bag again.
When Emily turns around with her sugar pouch, the cup is gone.
She snaps her eyes to Magi. He’s got the mug.
“Rude.” Emily accuses Magi.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“Hand it back.”
Emily reaches for the mug but Magi slaps her hand. Something changes about his face; his stubborn body aches with tiredness. The constant fights tire him, they seem so futile but he never stops them. Magi longs for an escape from himself, the complete solidarity is a comforting idea to him. He wants it to be reality.
Magi runs. Out of the tent into the freezing rain. He lets the cup of coffee fall onto the ground. Darkness closes around him.
The third person noiselessly gets up and leaves the tent.
Emily is left alone; she slumps on the ground and she knows what will happen to Magi. Coffee spills and seeps into the dirt below her. Drops of water leak through the tent onto the ground and mixes with it.
When Emily wakes up, the sun is just beginning to rise behind the gray clouds of the Wyoming sky. Outside the tent, it is the usual dim color; it’s like the world has soaked up the coffee water. Magi will be long gone. Trouble never stays in camp for long. She bends under the flap and steps outside, looking around, thinking of what the day’s work would be. Until her eyes stop on something. Magi.
Only Emily’s eyes move to look at him; he isn’t worth more than that to her.
He is dead.
Emily drags Magi’s body behind the tent, gets a shovel, and starts digging. Once her grave is big enough for his body, she disposes of him in it. She begins the process of burying him; her burying falls into a rhythm.
She shovels a scoop of dirt and covers Magi’s feet.
“Because I could not stop for Death –”
She shovels a scoop of dirt and covers Magi’s legs.
“He kindly stopped for me –”
Another scoop. His hips are gone.
“The Carriage held but just Ourselves –”
She shovels a scoop of dirt and covers Magi’s stomach.
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –”
Magi’s chest is covered.
The third person in the tent is not seen. He’s not actually there, but Emily knows he is. I am the third person and I am Death. I go anywhere that Emily needs me to go. We have a sort of understanding.
“…We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –”
“We passed the Setting Sun – ”
Magi’s mouth, and nose, and eyes. He is gone.
Emily starts whistling and walks over to her buffet table. She picks it up and places it right on top of where Magi lies in the ground. She notices a pair of meadowlarks; they must be starting to migrate back to Wyoming. Emily goes into her tent and gathers breakfast. Coffee. She is ready.
“We will be eating over here today because the ground was too muddy in the normal spot!” Emily calls to the remaining miners.
Emily does not need me for now, I am free to leave. As I near the peak of Silver Star Mountain, I look back on the Wind River Gold Mine. The sun is finally shining in the sky. It illuminates everything it touches in ways I’ve only dreamed about. I turn my head to look at Emily; she is the only person who isn’t smiling.