It began as a very small thing.
Junior and his dad disagreed on an item made in their silversmithing shop.
That shop was kept away from the family's houses, set up in an old outbuilding because of noise.
Silversmithing was always too noisy for the dozen homes on the family's half-section of wood and meadow land.
The lapidary equipment alone made a terrible sound.
Allie, Junior's wife, used that equipment to smooth rough turquoise and coral into stones ready for silverwork. She used a spinning grinder of damp and charcoal gray stone for her main work. When Allie put a stone against that, it sounded just like the machine it was. She used a smaller spinning buffer to polish stones.
One Saturday, human voices escalated in the little, old shop about who owned a particular design.
Even Allie, using loud lapidary equipment, heard Junior and his father argue. Naturally, curiosity won and she slowed her work, listening through a thin old wall of warped plywood, an ineffectual sound barrier. She heard Junior first.
"Allie drew that design and gave it to me!" Junior shouted at his dad. "How can you call it yours?"
"That's easy," Edward Senior said. "It's mine because I own everything in this shop. You work for me."
"No!" Junior yelled. "Allie's my wife and her designs are mine! I made the first one! This one! You can't make more and call them yours!" Edward Senior seemed calm. But his was the calm in the eye of a storm.
Allie listened. She knew which design her husband meant.
It was the waterbird Allie sketched a few days ago.
The piece was an inlay design made from chips of the semi-precious stones that flew off the wheel Allie used. The silverwork was intricate. The waterbird had an outstretched neck, open wings and a flared tail. It was really a cormorant. Inside it, bits of blue and red turquoise and coral were separated by tiny silver lines. It wasn't an easy design to make.
Edward said, "I'll call anything I like in here mine, son. You can like it or leave."
Junior left, rattling the old door on the shed when he slammed it.
Allie turned her attention back to making jewelry shapes from stones.
Junior and Edward had been on tenterhooks for days. Allie sent a silent prayer up that they'd soon forget about it. She knew there was a tipi meeting that night at the homeplace. It was always best to enter those at sundown with peace in the heart. Tipi meetings were solemn events. At least they were until after the ritual was over, when those who'd taken part sat and teased each other, joking after the following dawn. While the little silversmith area stayed busy because Edward and Junior were taking other roles in the tipi, other men prepared the tipi grounds, mostly smoothing the red dirt. Then they put a twenty-two foot high white tipi around it. It was a beautiful tipi. But that didn't help.
No matter what, the real escalation still took place in the tipi meeting. Only Allie could see all that happened between father and son. Edward ran the meeting and held a position of power that way. Edward had power to spare no matter where he was, but in a tipi it was clearer to those who watched like Allie did.
Junior was asked to be the fireman for this one, just as his father was asked to run the meeting.
Junior was famous for making good fires.
That night, Allie felt unspoken undercurrents between father and son, and soon she saw them.
Edward began the meeting with Arapaho opening songs. At first the fire burned well, on the opposite side of the red dirt "moon" from Edward. Father and son had to sit on opposite sides of the tipi to do as they were bid. About fifteen men, from young to old, also sat up all night for the meeting, either because they were invited to the tall white tipi or because they'd heard about it. All were welcome, and each sang in turn when the waterdrum and staff were handed one to another inside.
But then the fire and even the songs began to go wrong. Edward simply made the fire go out. Edward Senior could do it with a thought, so he did. The bad fire made smoke fill the tipi with discomfort and discord. Allie watched her husband struggle to make his fire burn again inside the crescent of the red dirt moon. And because Junior could, he did.
Over and over before midnight, the fire went out and Junior fought to keep it burning.
Allie knew this was the "witching" she'd heard older women talk about during the day.
Junior used his "witch" power to make the fire burn well. Edward used his "witch" power to put the fire out.
Allie poured her heart into songs she sang. She sang for peace and the harmony all tipi meetings must have. She sang for Junior and his father and everyone there. Some older men left the tipi for fresh air when the fire went out, and they left far too often. Allie and Junior did not. Junior only reached through the tipi door for more wood, stored ouside. Edward never left.
Edward had to remain, both as chief of the meeting and to put the fire out simply by thinking it should be so. Their fight was obvious to Allie and she wondered if anyone else knew why Junior, a good fireman, suddenly had such trouble.
At midnight everything changed. It wasn't because Edward was tired of his game. It wasn't because of Allie's songs. It wasn't because, besides the brief entrance of the midnight water woman, everyone had to stay in the tipi at midnight.
It was because Junior won.
Allie watched him build his fire hot for the midnight water, then make the exact cormorant out of the hot coals around the fire that was the silversmith design. It was amazing. Allie had never seen anyone do anything like it with hot coals before.
Though she knew better than to watch a fire all night since it damaged eyes the way smoke damaged lungs, she was captured by the beauty of the cormorant in the burning coals and impressed by her husband's unknown skill.
His father gave up then.
Edward Senior knew it was time to quit the silent argument. He'd never seen such a thing either.
After Junior made that midnight cormorant-of-coals, the meeting was harmonious.
What a contest! Allie thought. And a very stupid one! Don't the men know what the women say? If witchcraft is used by anyone, it always circles back. It shows up either in the user's life, his children's lives or their children's lives, ever spiralling down that way. Why did they do it? Pride is a terrible thing. Creator, please let it stop! Make my plea enough for us!
It was not.
Junior gave Allie the only necklace made with that design.
She put it in a drawer and never wore it. Yet after her happy life, once Allie died it was still there, free to give away.
Her daughter wore the necklace, and she had trouble to spare.