Between Earth and Sky

Between Earth and Sky

Amanda Skenandore

For my parents, Colleen and Gary,

whose love and altruism are my guiding star.

And for Steven




Philadelphia, 1906

Her past arrived that morning on page ten, tucked between a crosshatched cartoon of striking trolley workers and an advertisement for derby hats.



Alma held the newsprint up to the light and read the article twice, three times, as if the words might change upon closer inspection.

That name. She knew it as well as her own. Her lips moved around the syllables—yet familiar after all these years. The accompanying sound died in her mouth.

His face coalesced in her mind: broad cheekbones, tall forehead, coppery skin. His clever eyes once again met her own. But he was just a boy then, a youth when they’d parted. What of the man he’d become?

She drew in an overdue breath and shook her head. No, she could not picture him a killer. The journalist must have gotten it wrong. That sort of thing happened all the time. Had the paper used his real name—his Indian name—the name she’d breathed a million times, then she would know for sure.

Surely the other dailies had run the story, too, and with more detail. A different name, a different man. And if not? If it was him, what would knowing bring save more heartache?

She pushed away the paper and groped for her teacup. It slipped from her fingers and shattered atop its saucer. Hot tea bled into the tablecloth.

“You all right, Mrs. Mitchell? Heard a noise clear from—Your tea!” The maid scurried in and threw a towel over the shattered porcelain.

The clock sounded in the foyer, each chime beating in Alma’s ear. She had a ladies’ auxiliary meeting to sit through at nine. Later the Civic Club and a few laughterless games of euchre. Busyness, after all, was the best tonic for regret.

She stood, but her knees wavered. Her feet refused to move. More of that first day came back to her: wagon dust and smoke, cornbread and fire. The leather doll. She must know if it was him. “Edie, did we get the Record and the Inquirer this morning?”

“Your dress, ma’am. The tea’s done spilt onto the lovely batiste. Best get it off before the stain sets.”

She waved the maid off. “Never mind that. The papers?”

“I’ll fetch ’em, ma’am. Along with some vinegar for that stain. But sit down, won’t you? Your face has the air of the grave.”


Wisconsin, 1881

For the sixteenth time that day—she knew, for she’d counted—Alma searched the horizon. She wobbled atop her toes and craned her neck that she might see beyond the bend where the road disappeared into the forest. Empty.

She rocked back onto her heels and squeezed her eyes shut, listening for the pounding of hooves or cry of wagon wheels. A bird cawed from above. Leaves chattered. Pans clanked from the kitchen at the back of the schoolhouse. But nothing of her father, the wagons, and the Indians he promised to bring.

After another searching glance, she spun around and skipped toward the schoolhouse to see how far the hands on the grandfather clock had moved since last she’d checked.


Not the sound she’d hoped to hear.

“Yes, Mama?”

“What did I tell you about running? Now you’ve gone and rumpled your dress.”

Running and skipping were not the same thing, but the sharp look in her mother’s eyes told her it was best to mind her tongue.

“Keep to your best behavior now,” her mother said as she fussed over Alma’s dress. “These children will look to you as an example.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“But don’t be overly familiar either.” She straightened the pearl brooch at Alma’s collar. “They’re Indians, after all.”

Indians. Her mother spoke like it was a disease. Surely not. Her father wouldn’t bring them here if that were so. Surely they could still be friends without Alma falling sick to whatever it was her mother feared.

Galloping horse hooves enlivened the quiet as a pair of wagons rounded the bend into view. Their iron-rimmed wheels ground over the gravel trail. Dust swirled amid the trees. She bounced on her heels and clapped her hands, willing the sweat-slickened horses to press their gait.

At last the wagons arrived, stopping in the boxy shadow of the great schoolhouse. Her father jumped down. Alma abandoned her mother and ran . . . er . . . skipped to his side. He picked her up and kissed her, his bushy mustache tickling her cheek. “Here they are, kitten, your new classmates.”

Thirty-seven black-haired children huddled in the wagon beds. She counted each one twice, just to be sure. A smile readied on her face. She waited for her new friends to look her way, but they kept their heads down and gazes lowered, their knees drawn tight against their chests, as if the day were cold and cloudy, not sunny and fair.

Her father set her down and opened the back gates.

None of the Indians moved.

When he touched the shoulder of the nearest child, the boy shrank back as if stung.

“Come now, no one here will hurt you,” her father said.

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