Decision of Death: The Blackfoot Legend Retold

May 21, 2012

We walk the earth, just him and me, admiring all that is around. The various trees and many sizes of pools of water around. Everything is so beautiful. Everything is so perfect. I can’t believe how amazing everything is.

My husband — the only man on earth — takes my hand silently as we listen to the birds chirping the trees we stroll by, curious to know what we are, since they’ve never seen any creatures like us before.

“Husband,” I say.

“Yes, Wife?” His voice is deep and so beautiful. It sounds different than mine, but we are different. Different is good.

“Let us come to some kind of agreement on how people will be later,” I say.

He nods his head slowly. “Alright,” he says, agreeing. “But I have the first say. I am superior, after all.”

I furrow my eyebrows. I don’t like his tone, but I’m not disagreeing. “You are stronger than me and bigger than me, so it makes sense why you should have the first say. Very well. But I want the second say.”

He smiles at me. “Of course, Wife. You deserve that much.” Then kisses my cheek, making me blush. I’ve forgotten what we’ve agreed to. “How about every person has eyes, nose, and mouth in a straight line going down their face. That would be — ”

“No!” I protest. “They should have eyes, nose, and mouth, as you said, but put the eyes horizontal, below the forehead, and the nose in between the eyes, sliding down the face and stopping right above the mouth, which will be above the chin.”

He inhales deeply, thinking about my suggestion. “Very well,” he finally says. “It shall be as you say. Now, how about fingers? I think there should be ten fingers on each hand because — ”

“What?!” I say loudly, scattering the birds. The chatter and caw at me, complaining. I ignore them, though. “That’s way too many fingers! They would get in the way. How about you divide ten, and put four fingers and one thumb on each hand?”

He pinches his lips to the side of his mouth, thinking hard about this. I wonder why he has to think so hard. It’s not like this is a life or death decision. “Very well,” he finally says. “Let it be as you wish.”

We talk for days about the way things will be. Everything he says is always so absurd, so I always come up with something better that he always ends up yielding to. Sometimes he seems upset that he doesn’t get his way, but it doesn’t really matter because people will be better off living the way I think they need to live.

Husband and I are walking along the bank of a river several days after we decided everything. He catches some fish with the patience he has and his own bare hands. I cook them for us over an open fire I’ve been kindling while waiting for Husband to finish catching the fish. As we eat in silence, he startles me with a question. “What about death?”

I allow my eyebrows to furrow together, and I say, “What about it?”

“Are we going to allow the people to live forever or are they going to die at some time? I think they should die and then come back to life four days later.”

“No!” I say. “That’s so stupid! They need to die and stay dead.”

Husband grunts. This is one that he’s upset that I’m arguing about. “I want them to live, Wife.”

“I don’t,” I say, flipping my brown hair. “If you let them live forever, they’ll never feel sorry for each other or have any sympathy at all. They have to die.”

Husband sighs depressingly. He’s about to break and allow me to have what I want. I know he is. Suddenly, he jumps up and runs off into the woods, leaving me alone with the dying fire and cooked fish. My heart sinks. I can’t believe he just left me. Why would he do that? Is it because I’ve been stubborn and rude to him?

I start crying, and I do it all night. I cry harder when the embers in the fire grow cold from the northern breeze.


I sit up quickly, my cheeks streaked with tears. It’s dark, and I can barely make out the form of Husband approaching me.

I’m so happy that I start crying, and I don’t know why. We didn’t really plan tears, but they kind of make me feel better, like I’ve released a lot of pressure from somewhere within. I jump up and hug Husband to me, squeezing him tightly.

When I let go, he hands me something that’s crusty and smells a little weird. “Take this buffalo chip and throw it into the river. If it floats, the people die and then come back to life four days later. Okay?”

I smile at him. He never really left me. He just went to find a buffalo chip. Took him forever, though. I do as Husband says, throwing the buffalo chip into the river. A few seconds pass. We look hard at the river. But, alas, the buffalo chip floats.

“No,” I say before Husband can say it is final. “Buffalo chips always float.” I look around on the ground and smile at what I find. I bend down and pick up a stone the size of my eye. “I’ll throw this rock in the water. If it floats, the people will live forever after dying for four days and coming back to life.”

Husband opens his mouth to protest, but I place my hand over his mouth, and I toss the stone into the river. It quickly sinks.

“There,” I say, smiling at Husband. I give him a quick kiss on his stunned face. “Trust me, Husband, it is better for men die and stay dead.”

He closes his eyes. I see a single tear fall down his face. “Very well, Wife,” he whispers. “Be it as you’ve said. But, be warned, my dear, this decision has consequences that I think even you won’t like. There will be mourning.”

I roll my eyes, smiling. “I doubt that, Husband.” He allows me to kiss him again, but I see that he is upset. I know he’ll get over it, though, when he sees what a great plan it is for people.

* * *

Husband sits there, watching me. I wonder why he doesn’t try comforting me. But I can hear his voice from somewhere deep in my mind, in my memory telling me that this is a consequence.

With the thought that I’ve made a horrible decision, I cry harder, clutching my daughter’s lifeless body to my chest, cradling my baby. I’d give anything to have her back. Anything at all.

“Please,” I beg Husband. He’s staring at me, but I don’t see much in his eyes. He is sad our daughter died last night while we were sleeping, but he holds his composure well. “Husband. Please! Let’s talk about the decision of death again!” I plea.

He exhales, looking away from me and away from our dead daughter, at the ground. “No,” he says, his voice hard. “As much as I love Daughter, we will not change that which we’ve agreed upon, Wife. I told you there would be mourning.”

“And I was wrong, Husband! Please!” My voice crackles with tears and I can’t stop from choking on my sobs. “I want her back! Don’t you?”

He stands and turns for the woods, taking his bow and arrows. He hunts when he’s trying to forget something. “Of course I do, my dear. Of course I do.” And he walks away, leaving me there holding our infant daughter in my arms. My dead Daughter.

Years pass and I still miss her, even though I now have several other daughters and sons. And sometimes a few will die from sickness or natural disaster. And it always hurts. It stings. And I never forget. Every time one of them die, I ask Husband to change the decision. Every time he declines. I can’t help thinking that it’s because of me. Because I never let him do things the way he wanted them done. I told him he could have first say, yet I always disregarded that decision. Not once did I consider his choices better than mine. I always thought I was smarter.

Now I know better.

The author's comments:
This is based on a Blackfoot legend that I read once, called Old Man and Old Woman. I don't believe this ever happened, of course, but I thought it was interesting. Sorry that the ending is morbid. It was in the legend, too.

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