Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 442
Pauline recalls an earlier time when a young Chippewa woman named Fleur survived a drowning. Pauline also remembers about Fleur’s association with Misshepeshu, the devil-like waterman monster of Chippewa myth. Pauline calls Fleur a woman who “messed with evil,” who laughed at the women of the tribe, wore men’s clothing, and hunted. Fleur was feared and mistrusted by her tribe.
In 1920 Fleur lived in Argus, a small town in North Dakota, where she worked at Pete Kozka’s butcher shop—a place that was part slaughterhouse and part store. Kozka hired her because of her strength. At that time the narrator also worked for Kozka. Unlike Fleur, who worked with the men, the narrator cleaned floors and stoked fires in the smokehouses. Existing only on the fringes of activities there, Pauline describes herself as invisible.
After the death of Pauline’s mother, Pauline’s stepfather, Dutch, took her out of school so that she could take her mother’s place in the home. She then had to spend half her time working at the butcher shop and the other half doing housework. Seemingly the only person aware of Pauline’s existence, Fleur treated her kindly as Pauline watched the interminable card games—the primary recreational activity of Fleur and the men.
Lily, Dutch, and Tor grew increasingly irritated with Fleur because she beat them at their own game. She never bluffed and always ended the evening with exactly one dollar until one night, when she won a huge pot and then refused to play any more. Afterward the men drank heavily and—with Pete away—raped Fleur. Pauline recalls hearing Fleur cry for help and call her name.
The next morning a tornado struck and the men disappeared. Days later, after the storm subsided, Fleur’s three attackers were found frozen to death inside the shop’s meat locker. They were hunched around a barrel on which their cards were still laid out. Pauline reveals that it was she who slammed down the great iron bar that locked the men in the ice locker. Her motives were not simple; they were probably a combination of her desire for revenge against the treatment her stepfather gave her and her desire to avenge Fleur—especially because she had failed to respond to her cries for help.
In the months following the incident, Pauline helped Fleur through the winter, when she gave birth to a child with green eyes and skin the color of an old penny. No one can decide if the child was fathered by Misshepeshu, the water god, or by one of the men who raped Fleur in the smokehouse.