My mother’s keening by the river was eerie. My father stood at the fire rubbing his hands together and mumbling to himself. My aunt and uncle sat with their arms around each other while she said the rosary and wept. It was my grandmother who prepared my brother’s body. She took water from the lake, dipped cedar boughs in it and washed him. I could hear her singing in the tent. The tightness in my throat almost made me cough too. No one came to ask me how I was. Instead, when the old woman finished with her ministrations, she came out of the tent and called us all to the fire.

“We will honour him in the old way,” she said. “We will carry him to a high point and lay him in the breast of the earth with his feet pointed east facing the morning sun. That way his spirit can follow the sun as it makes its journey across the sky and begin his Spirit Walk.”

“Heathen,” my mother spat. “He is my son. We will take him to the priest.”

“They will not honour him.”

“You do not honour him,” my mother cried. “You brought him to this forsaken place. You told us by coming here that we would return to how things were. But those ways are gone. Those gods are dead. We need to take my son to the priest so that he can be returned to the bosom of Christ.”

“Your grief has blinded you.” My grandmother held out the bowl that contained the sacred medicines but my mother slapped it away.

“You have no say. He is my son. He will have the rites of the Church. We’ll take this rice that cost him his life and we’ll sell it and buy him a coffin and he will have a proper burial. Not out here. Not stuck in some hole in the earth.”

My mother walked to my father and took his hand and led him away from the fire. My aunt and uncle followed. We could see them all talking by the water. My father came back alone and stood across the fire from the old lady.

“We’ll take him to the priest now,” he said. “There’s a lot of the day left and we can get a good start.”

“You know what your father would have said?” she asked.

“No,” he said. “I have not heard his voice in a long time.”

“He would have said that all gods are one.”

“She won’t hear that.”

“Do you?”

My father pinched his lips together and rocked on the balls of his feet. I could sense the struggle in him. “Kaween. No. I guess I don’t,” he said. “She said to tell you that you could either come with us or not.”

“I won’t come.”

“We’ll be gone a spell. Can you look after Saul? Better he waits here with you.”

“He’ll be fine with me. There’s food. We have snares and the net.”

“All right, then.”

“All right.”

The adults packed two canoes with the bags of rice. They left a small sack for us. They gathered their clothes and other food for the journey, and when they were ready to leave they came to the fire. At that moment my parents seemed like strangers to me. Maybe it was the grief over my brother’s death that made them move so deliberately. Sometimes I think that if I had yelled something it would have all been different. But no words were in me. I watched my uncle and my father carry my brother’s body from the tent wrapped in a blanket and lug it to the canoe. They set him in the middle, leaned back against sacks of rice. I cried. I wept harder than I ever had. I wanted to stop this, wanted to bring them all back beside the fire and hear my grandmother’s guiding voice telling us stories and showing us the direction we should go together. As they eased the canoes out into the shallows, my grandmother pulled me close to her and put a hand on my head.

Even now when I think back to that day, I can see the shimmer of the wake they left behind them, the vee of it and the divergent lines that lapped at the shoreline. I can still see the bent back of my father paddling, the slumped form of my mother in the bow waving at the water with her oar. I can see the canoe that held my brother’s body as it passed the rock cairn and slid out of my view forever.