She Will Become a Bird Scientist
by Jenny Ferguson
Rose will blame her stepfather for the path she’s on, a dry smile animating her lips. He will be an old man by then, but he will still talk about the time they drove to Coaldale and walked through the Centre, and Snoopy the Turkey Vulture captured her interest more than the eagles, owls, or hawks. The vulture with its pink-red face, stained by nature to blend its feathers with the insides of its meals. It flies in circles, wobbling in the air as it inhales death. In preparation to study it, she will learn Spanish. She will live in South America, in its ancestral home, during the winters, returning to Alberta only during the summer when the bird breeds. Her stepfather fed it, this possibility, on a Saturday when Rose was twelve, maybe thirteen. Her boyfriends will brag to their friends about the places where she lays her head in winters, about the surf on the coasts, and inland, the forests, jungles, the trees like nothing Canada has to offer. None of them will last a research season.
In early 2014, I stumbled upon a news article, “New database lists 824 murdered, missing native women in Canada,” published by the Winnipeg Free Press. I printed the database and looked through it at night before bed. The database distills women’s lives into eight columns: last name, first name, age, year missing/murdered, ethnicity, province where she went missing, status, and status details. With the exception of “status details,” the database is void of narrative.
My father’s mother hid the fact that she was Métis—effectively passing as white—from her husband and five children, a secret she carried with her when she died in 1998. To do this, she left behind her Métis culture, as well as distanced herself from family members who could not pass as effectively.
This excerpt is 185 words of a 90K novel, a possible future. Rose is the character closest to my own experience, and while she is caught up in the current Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Human Rights Crisis, she and all Indigenous women and girls deserve their possible futures.
Jenny Ferguson is Métis, an activist, a feminist, an auntie, and an accomplice with a Ph.D. She believes writing and teaching are political acts. Border Markers, her collection of linked flash fiction narratives, is available from NeWest Press.