The sound of waves came in at the open door; the smell of the sea and of the sun-warmed earth came in too. It was expected that very soon death would enter. A row of women sat outside the hut--they were waiting to mourn and howl when death came. The huddle of bones and withered skin on the mattress inside the hut knew death was coming. Although the woman was childless and had no husband, she knew that the women of her tribe would make sorrow-noise for her when death came. The eyes of the dying woman were glassy and half closed. I knelt beside her and put my hand over her cold bony one. My blouse touched her and she opened her eyes wide. Turning her hand, she feebly clutched the silk of my sleeve. "Is there something you want, Mary?" "Good," she whispered, still clutching the sleeve. I thought that she was dead, holding my sleeve in a death grip. One of the women came in and tried to free me. Mary's eyes opened and she spoke in Indian. "Mary wants your blouse," said the stooping woman to me. "Wants my blouse?" "Uh huh--wants for grave." "To be buried in?" "No, for grave-house." I understood. Mary had not many things now but she had been important once. They would build a little wooden room with a show window in it over her grave. Here they would display her few poor possessions, the few hoarded trifles of her strong days. My blouse would be an addition. The dying woman's eyes were on my face. I scrambled out of the blouse and into my jacket. I laid the blouse across Mary. She died with her hands upon it.
the artist and author's first book, published in 1941
Douglas & McIntyre, 2003