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Strength of a Bear

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Curtis Ursane was dressed in his native regalia, to include a feathered headdress, and a gourd rattle decorated with feathers. To his left was the drum surrounded by members of the nearby Salish tribe. To his right was his wife and children and Carla, Shelly and Daniel also dressed in native garb.

Mourners were gathered around the open grave with the casket suspended over it waiting to be lowered. Those who were First Nation wore their native dress; the rest were dressed in muted colors.

The mortician, Bralathuatha Thlay, and his two assistants stood discretely by, dressed in black suits. He had planned for a tent, but when the day proved to be sunny and dry, Carla asked that it be eliminated to allow the Spirit to look down unobstructed on Randall and the family.

The heart-beat of the drum was soft and steady and penetrated everyone who joined the family to say good bye. Carla shifted unconsciously from paw to paw with the rhythm and hummed low in her throat, quietly to herself. Her eyes were closed, and she took in the music as she would the sun.

When the drumming stopped, indicating the beginning of the actual service, Carla opened her eyes and looked about. Her co-workers, neighbors, friends, even detective Williamson were there. A small figure hiding in the back on the opposite side of the grave caught her eye.

“Curtis, hold on one second.” She hurried around and through the crowd and stopped before Bian Nguyen. She held out her paw. When Bian shyly took the hand, Carla squeezed it and said, “You are one of us. You will stand with me.” To everyone’s surprise, she brought “her rival” around to stand with the family.

Bian looked about at the group of natives wearing primitive clothing. She wore a loose-fitting navy dress and gloves. Eloise had a hand-woven, beaded shawl, which she draped over Bian’s shoulders. Shelly handed Bian a rattle similar to Curtis’.

Carla nodded to her brother.

He looked around. “I can’t say my brother-in-law and I were friends; and I can’t say that after the pain he caused Carla and his kids that I liked him. But he was family for nearly 30 years, and he learned the ways of the First Nation Mammals and followed them respectfully. Carla White Heart and I agreed that a native funeral would please him. Daniel Makes Music wrote this song for Randall; it tells of his being a good father, if not a good husband.”

The drum began again with the heartbeat, Curtis shook the rattle in time then began to sing in the language of the Wabanaki. No one had to understand the words to understand the loving tone of the song.

Bian looked around her at the group of larger bears pacing to the beat in place and found herself caught up in it. She was surprised when Carla and Shelly took her paws and began to move sedately, first to the right a number of paces then to the left. Daniel, Curtis, and several other males were dancing individually as Curtis sang.

“That was beautiful, Randall truly would have appreciated it,” Bian said when the service was over, and mammals were drifting away into groups to chat or to leave.

Carla stroked her head. “As I said, you are one of us now. You carry my children’s half-sibling.” She indicated Bian’s swelling stomach. “Daniel bring the box from the car.”

When he returned with the box, Carla placed it in Bian’s arms. “These are their baby things and first-year clothes. They are for your baby. Call me when you get close; Curtis and I shall deliver the crib, dresser, and changing table.” She noted Bian’s expression of wonder. “My cellphone number is in the box. If there is ever anything which I can do to help you, let me know. How did you get here?”

“I rode the bus,” Bian explained shyly.

Daniel pressed money into her hand. “I’ll call a taxi.” He walked away dialing his cellphone.

“I… I hope it’s a girl,” Shelly said.

“Why? A male has a much better purpose in life,” Bian said.

Shelly shook her head. “No, they don’t; the struggle a girl faces will make her stronger. Besides, brothers are a pain in the ass.”

“Not nearly as much as a bossy sister,” Daniel called. “A taxi is on its way.”

They stayed with Bian until she was in the taxi and headed home. They then climbed into the back of Curtis’ pickup truck to head to their home.

Barulhenta greeted them with a squawk and flew onto Carla’s shoulder.

She eased onto the couch in the living room, the bird still on her shoulder. Her children would be leaving soon, but she felt alright with that. They had their lives to live and she had hers. She had friends and family she would enjoy. And, she would be a grandmother to Bian’s cub.