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[intlink id=”172″ type=”post”]Find out more about Giselle here[/intlink].
They went for the soapstone carvings. Rusidan’s parents liked the little blue Inuksuks and polar bears, so that’s what she and Sarah bought them every Christmas. Once you find a gift that works, you stick with it. It was a kind of Trojan Horse, they figured. Each little present ingratiated Sarah more and more to Rusidan’s parents. If they could fill mom and dad’s home with signifiers of Inuit culture, maybe they would begin to appreciate the incredible Inuk who’d been living with their daughter for almost four years. It wasn’t much of a plan, but it seemed to be working. They were coming around. They might even like Sarah by the time she and Rusidan announced their wedding plans.
How fitting the city’s first ever Celebration of the Arctic festival would coincide with the first major snowfall of the season. It was one of those days you’d normally only leave the house to do something really important, like give birth—if you were a city mouse like Rusidan, that is. If you were Sarah, born and raised in the frigid North, the city’s storm barely qualified as a flurry. There was relativity, even in weather.
Though she’d never admit it, Sarah was eager to get to the modest celebration of her cultural heritage. Rusidan could always tell. Even so, Sarah looked out the window at the snow-capped pines and said, “It’s okay. We don’t have to go. No big deal.”
“No way we’re missing this!” Rusidan sang. “Get your boots on, Lucy! Don’t you know you’re in the city?”
“Never mind,” she laughed. That’s what she got for spending eight hours a day in an “active lifestyle” seniors complex. Her outdated references were lost on everyone outside the workplace. “Just get dressed. We’re not going to let a little snowfall keep us home.”
Even by gazing at the back of her head, Rusidan could tell Sarah was smiling. Rusidan watched as she rested her forehead rested against the kitchen cupboard and washed up the two coffee cups and two cereal bowls from breakfast. Sarah’s hair, tied back in an effortless ponytail, was the exact colour of a chestnut.
“You should wear your special parka,” Rusidan encouraged, opening the closet door to sort through the lost land of dry cleaning bags. The anorak was pristine white with black bands stitched to create images of waterfowl across the front. The bands stretched around the wrists and the hood as well. Sarah wore it so rarely even the fringe of blue, red and black beads remained intact.
“I don’t know. I don’t want to get it dirty,” Sarah objected. After draining the sink, she dried her hands on the premature Christmas dishtowels. “It’s for special occasions.”
“A Celebration of the Arctic is a special occasion,” Rusidan encouraged.
“I want to save it for a special-er occasion,” Sarah said with an almost imperceptible blush. Their wedding. So she was serious about getting married in the snow…?
“Well, it’s not a bandage you use once and throw away. If it gets dirty, we’ll have it cleaned.” When Rusidan held the anorak up against her girl, Sarah ran her fingers across the beaded fringe like a child plucking tentatively at guitar strings. “You should wear it.”
Sarah smiled slightly, as if taken to sea by an unrelated thought. “Yeah, okay.”
That girl never could betray her inner feelings. It kept her mysterious, sure, but it was frustrating at times. She couldn’t just say, “Yeah, I’m excited about this.” Of course, that was the very quality Rusidan fell in love with: the whole take-it-or-leave-it attitude. Other girls were so needy. Sarah always kept a cautious distance. Problem was, that eternal vigilance never faded away. Sarah would always be distant and, if they were going to be married, that was something Rusidan was just going to have to swallow.
They had to take the subway almost to the end of the line to get to the festivities, but anything was better than trying to negotiate roads that wouldn’t be cleared before noon. The storm subsided, leaving the city with falling snow, fluffy like cotton balls—Sarah’s favourite kind of weather. Rusidan liked it too, because Sarah did. The showing of city dwellers at the outdoor festival was disappointing, but at least the exhibitors could take some consolation in knowing it was because of the storm. Or maybe the visitors from up North didn’t realize the modest snowfall they’d experienced was considered a storm nearer to the 49th parallel. Maybe they figured Southern Canada just wasn’t interested in their lives. Worse yet, maybe they were right.
“What should we do first?” Rusidan asked, overcompensating with enthusiasm. “It’s your day!”
Sarah cracked a smile. “Let’s see if they’re selling muktut!”
“I don’t know what that is.”
Shaking her head, Sarah explained, “Muktut was my favourite treat as a kid. It’s whale blubber.”
Scrunching her nose, Rusidan replied, “Yummy…”
“Oh, like deep fried chicken skin is so much better,” Sarah laughed.
Rusidan hadn’t seen her so giddy in ages. She had no idea how much Sarah missed her culture, living so far away from her family. Thank God they’d battled the snow to get there. It was definitely worth the journey. While Rusidan wandered toward the vendors, Sarah ran off to find the kind of food she remembered from her youth.
“They didn’t have muktut, so I got caribou jerky. Try some!” Sarah beamed. It wasn’t terrible, Rusidan had to admit. “Before we shop for your mom and dad’s gift, we should visit the indoor pavilion. Some of the athletes getting ready for the Arctic Winter Games are in there showing off.”
Who outside the Arctic had ever heard of Arctic Winter Games? Not Rusidan, that was certain.
“After that, we can watch the throat-singing,” Sarah suggested.
If ever you have the opportunity to witness first-hand the magnificent spectacle that is Inuit throat-singing, don’t pass it by. There is nothing on this planet so cosmically beautiful.
On an outdoor stage stood two young women, nothing but a microphone between them. Gripping one another, hands on forearms, they cuddled so close together their faces nearly touched. They sang a capella and needed no accompaniment. One began before the other, producing a breathy sound. Lower than low, like a sub-sonic pant, the beat of her chant pushed forward like a freight train. How could a female voice produce tones so deeply resonant?
Her partner joined in, filling the gaps. The second starter vocalized at a higher pitch, singing in fleeting, orgasmic sounds. It was like nothing ever heard in popular music. The effect was intriguing, transfixing, visceral, resonating in the core of Rusidan’s being. Rhythmic vibrations rumbled her body like the bass line at a rock concert. Who’d have thought throat-singing could be such a turn-on? Sexual and spiritual, it was the sound of divine union. Those women must have been romantic partners, Rusidan thought. The way they focused on one another, with their faces so close they could kiss, gave them away. They rocked one another’s bodies, pushing and pulling outstretched arms along with the music. They danced to the very song they created. It was stunning. Beyond stunning. It was spellbinding.
With a burst of laughter, they broke away from each other. The second partner giggled, giving the first a playful push as if to deny their beautiful act had ever taken place. Throat-singing represented pure female sensuality, to Rusidan. It seemed almost tawdry that she should witness their show of intimacy. As the women came down from the stage to circulate, she asked Sarah if was customary for women to perform this ritual act in front of other people.
“It’s just a game,” Sarah replied, rolling her eyes.
Rusidan was taken aback. “What do you mean?”
“Throat-singing is a competition to see who can keep going the longest,” Sarah explained. “We used to play at recess, like have a bit of a tournament. Two girls started out, and the first one to laugh was the loser. The winner played the next girl, and it kept going until the best one beat everyone else.”
Unable to conceal her disappointment, Rusidan said, “It’s just a game? But what about…”
An unfamiliar voice interrupted their conversation. “Sarah! Aksunai, Sarah! Over here.”
The ebullient greeting came from behind, and Sarah’s gaze followed it over Rusidan’s shoulder. She turned to see one of the throat-singers waving in their direction. It was the “loser,” the one who’d laughed first. She was a beautiful moon-faced girl with short stylish hair, molasses-coloured with golden highlights.
“You know her?” Rusidan exclaimed.
“I know them both. We grew up together.”
“Why didn’t you say so? Tell me, are they…” She couldn’t get the question out before the throat-singing pair huddled in beside them.
“Aksutik,” Sarah greeted the pair. She didn’t appear overjoyed to see them. Her face was dark and still like a Halloween mask.
The winning singer, a tallish woman with hair in a long ponytail, stared down at her shoes. Sarah did the same. What was that all about?
Somebody had to compensate for her juvenile pouting. Disturbed by the tension, Rusidan gushed, “That was incredible, what you two did on stage. I was moved, truly. You have no idea.”
“Thanks,” bubbled the girl with the warm green eyes. “It’s so great that we’re getting the chance to do this. I’ve never been to the big city before.”
Shoving her mittened hands in the pockets of her parka, Sarah lowered her head in a full-on glower. Rusidan struggled not to grit her teeth—bad for the enamel. Turning back to the moon-faced Inuk, she asked, “How are you liking the trip?”
“People get all worked up about a little bit of snow,” the taller woman snapped.
The hush was deadly until the smaller girl compensated. “I like it here. There are so many people living their lives in all kinds of ways. Even though there’s not much space to move around here in the city, there’s mental space. There’s open-mindedness. It’s different where we’re from, right Sarah?”
Sarah exhaled loudly through flared nostrils. Just when Rusidan was convinced her partner wasn’t going to respond, she answered with a reluctant, “Yeah.”
When nobody said anything, Rusidan started to ask how long the women had been performing together just as the moon-faced girl began her introductions. “This is Palluq and I’m Laura. If Sarah didn’t mention it, Palluq is…”
“…a fucking cunt, is what Palluq is!” Sarah erupted, turning on her heels to stomp away through snow up to her knees. Of course, Rusidan’s impulse was to follow, to console, but she knew from experience what that would look like. She would run after Sarah, pawing at her arm, asking what was wrong. Sarah would shift her hands away, claiming it was nothing. Just leave me alone. What was the point in going after her? If Sarah needed space, let Sarah have her space. Plus, sadly, Rusidan was more likely to get the inside scoop from this Laura girl than her own partner.
“What was that all about?” Rusidan asked, trying to keep her tone casual.
Even Laura said nothing.
“So…” Rusidan began, searching for an inane question to ask the performers. “Do you do this for a living, throat-singing? Or is it just a hobby?”
The taller woman, Palluq, threw her head back and cackled.
“We’re semi-professional, I guess you’d say,” Laura clarified.
“There isn’t a hell of a lot of money in the throat-singing industry,” Palluq carried on, her tone a little on the demeaning side. “It was almost a lost art, you know. We Inuk forgot the good it did us. Now it’s coming back into its own, after all that self-righteous Christian malice.”
Without thinking, Rusidan covered the cross around her neck. Like they could even see it, buried under thermal underwear, a sweater and a winter coat.
“She probably doesn’t know about the ban,” Laura said to Palluq.
“What ban?” Rusidan asked.
Flicking the cotton ball snowflakes from her hair, Laura replied, “Throat-singing was banned for, like, a hundred years.”
“The Christian priests murdered our culture, slaughtered everything about us that was unique. Tried to, at least,” Palluq accused. Rusidan covered over her cross with both hands.
“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think?” Laura tempered.
“Don’t be such a wimp,” Palluq replied, a little too loudly. Other people turned to look. Meeting Rusidan’s gaze for the first time—and nearly bowling her over with the most intense eyes she’d ever seen—Palluq continued, “Our people didn’t have written histories. Throat-singing is a part of us, a part of our history, and we were robbed of it for more than a hundred years by men who had no right. Any attempt to destroy our oral history is an attempt to obliterate us as a people. And see how well that worked? People like me and Laura are rebuilding, yeah, but it takes effort. If we weren’t willing to try, fifty years from now it would be like we never existed.”
Laura latched her hand around the arm of Rusidan’s jacket. Beaming, the moon-faced girl rolled her eyes and said, “Don’t listen to Palluq; she’s an extremist. We do this because we love it.” This Laura girl obviously played the softener, always trying to make her partner more palatable.
A hint of a smile broke across Palluq’s lips, so that Rusidan didn’t quite believe her when she said, “Not me. I’m just in it for the politics.”
The tension broke like a dandelion blossom and Rusidan’s lungs started taking in air again. “So, do you really hate our city so much?” she asked.
“No,” Palluq replied, intonation rising then falling. “It’s important for us to come all the way down here to the cities to show that, yeah, we Inuit are still here. We’ve held on to our culture. Sure, those bastards tried to annihilate us, but we’re still here.”
Rusidan wasn’t sure if she was more like the bastards or the throat-singers. In defensive mode, perhaps, she said, “My parents came here from Georgia when I was two.” Did she expect them to realize her intent? To show that she, that her family, hadn’t been the ones oppressing their people? “Georgia the country, not Georgia the state.”
Laura fished for something in her pocket before asking, “Georgia…in Africa?”
“No, Geography Drop-Out!” Palluq teased with a playful punch to her arm. “It’s near Russia. Anyway, we’re back on in five, so we gotta go.” Turning her gaze back, she then asked, “What did you say your name was?”
“Rusidan. Write that down, will ya, Laura?” With that, Palluq headed back to the stage without offering even the customary goodbye.
Before following her, Laura clasped Rusidan tightly by the arm. “Tell Sarah we miss her and we love her. Not just me; Palluq too, and everyone else. We hope she’s having a good life way down here.”
“I hope so too…” Rusidan replied. It was so hard to tell.
* * *
When Rusidan arrived at their front door, she could hear the hockey game right through it even before she put the key in the lock. Everything was back to normal. Sarah was sprawled on the couch, her eyes fixed on the TV. Rusidan dropped her keys into the metal bowl in the front hall from enough of a height that they made a loud clinking noise. Sarah didn’t turn around. Opening the fridge, Rusidan peered inside, then opted instead for a cup of hot chocolate. From the kitchen, she watched her lover lie there on the couch as the kettle reached its boiling point.
“Do you want some hot chocolate?”
Sarah held up her beer in response.
The kettle rumbled. “If that’s supposed to mean no thank you, then fucking say, no thank you.” When the automatic shut-off clicked, Rusidan snapped. “What’s more important, the hockey game or having a real conversation with the woman you say you want to marry? And what the fuck, Sarah? Would you like to tell me what the fuck that was all about, today? We were having a good time, you were happier than I’ve ever seen you, then you have to go and fucking ruin it! What the fuck?”
Sarah turned off the TV, gazing blankly at Rusidan’s reflection in the black screen. Setting her beer on the side table, she glided off the couch and onto the carpet. “Come, sit.”
Feeling like her lungs were bound in plastic wrap, Rusidan dragged her heels over to the living room carpet. Sarah was going to tell her she didn’t want to get married anymore. They should break up. That Palluq girl was her first love and she realized today how much she’d missed having an Inuk for a girlfriend. Reluctantly, she sat cross-legged before her partner, but Sarah hooked her feet around her back, encouraging Rusidan to do the same.
“Were they…that Palluq girl…”
With blue light glowing in from the snow-land outside, Sarah placed her hands on Rusidan’s cheeks. She kissed her lips slowly, tenderly, and then kissed her nose like a playful afterthought. “Palluq’s my cousin.”
Fears much assuaged, Rusidan smiled broadly.
“She’s the one who told my parents I’m a dyke. She’s the reason I’m an outcast.”
Rusidan’s smile faded. She felt somehow like she’d done something wrong. “What about Laura? She seemed really happy to see you. Oh, and she wanted me to let you know they love you and miss you and hope your life is going well.”
Her gaze fell to the floor, and then rebounded until it met Rusidan’s. Sarah replied, “That’s my sister for ya. She always was the caregiver.”
It wasn’t wise to probe for information. Instead, Rusidan grazed Sarah’s upturned wrists with her fingertips, brushing them slowly up her forearms and into her elbow pits. Sarah gasped. That was good to hear. Working up the nerve, Rusidan asked, “Will you teach me throat-singing? I want to try.”
Closing the gap between their bellies, Sarah offered, “We could do it the old way.”
“What’s the old way?”
“In the old days, the women would sing with their lips almost touching. They’d use each other’s mouths as a resonator, like if you speak when you’re about to drink from a glass. The sound is amplified.”
Rusidan could nearly lick Sarah’s lips, her mouth hovered so close by. Her lover grasped her forearms just like Laura and Palluq had done. “Wait, I don’t know what to do,” Rusidan pre-empted.
“It isn’t easy,” Sarah admitted. “Just follow my lead; we’ll do it like a copycat game. I’ll start with a sound and you just give it right back to me, but maybe on a higher vocal tone. It takes a lot of practise to get that deep resonance. Just remember it’s like a repetition, but it moves fast. You sing in my gaps. Does that make sense?”
“I think so.”
Barley-sweet breath filled the air as Sarah began a series of deep pants. Breathy moans filled Rusidan’s awestruck mouth as she began to echo her partner. The sounds she produced were not so low, but they were breathy like the lead-up to an orgasm. They melted into Sarah’s mouth, their singing melding to create something more powerful than music. It was prayer. It was…
A coughing fit seized Rusidan by the chest. She wanted to push forward, but she hadn’t taken in enough air. “Circular breathing,” Sarah advised, petting her back until the sputtering subsided. “You have to breathe in your gaps or else you’ll faint.”
“Am I supposed to be saying words in your language?” Rusidan inquired.
“Doesn’t matter. You can sing words or just whatever sounds come out.”
“Okay, meaningless sounds it is,” Rusidan said, “since I don’t speak Inuktitut.”
“No, not meaningless,” Sarah replied. “The sounds you produce reflect your environment, whether they come out as birdsongs or animal howls or the murmurs of sealife deep underwater. Or they could reflect children’s laughter on the playground or the cacophony of the city streets. Even nonsense sounds have meaning.”
Rusidan breathed deeply, ruminating with her partner’s words. Who knew such insight was enclosed in the sacred temple that was Sarah? Deep waters, and all that…
“Lie back for a sec,” Sarah instructed with a keen glint in her eye. “No, get up on the couch. That’s better.” Pulling off Rusidan’s cords and long underwear, Sarah sat before her, releasing hot breath on her lower lips. Clever little horn-dog! If Sarah wanted those deep moans to reverberate in Rusidan’s cunt, this sure was the best way to do it. “Now you don’t need to worry about losing.”
As Sarah approached the unfolding layers of Rusidan’s pussy, she produced those sounds like the chugging of an ethereal steam train. Lips touched lips and Rusidan leaped from her skin at the sheer electricity. She seemed to hover above her body as her hands flew backwards to grasp the sofa. Her cunt filled with the vibrations of Sarah’s meaningful non-words. Shivering and drooling, her body expanded like a mind in meditation. Laura had said the space of the city wasn’t a landscape, but a mindscape. This communion with the cunt was an element of the life Sarah couldn’t lead back home.
To the deep moaning pants, Rusidan replied with soft puffs of air. She sang in Sarah’s gaps. As the pace of her lover’s vibrating syllables increased, so did the swirling pleasure against Rusidan’s swollen lips. Her cunt filled with trembling pulsations, like a seashell imparting the secrets of its source. It was a rolling feeling, a continuity, being pulled in a cart over a series of small hills, bouncing a little when she hit the bottom, then working back up again, falling again. Yes, it was a rising and a falling, singing and gasping, giving and taking, feeling and sensing.
Rusidan grasped Sarah’s hair, completing the trembling circle of sound emanating from her partner’s core, rising up through her own. Her legs were shaking, and her feet quivering uncontrollably. Sarah’s throat-singing was lost in Rusidan’s body. It was a feeling more than a sound. The music was so deep, so resonant, it was like another voice coming through Sarah, coming through Rusidan. It was a spirit voice and, though it spoke in a whisper, it was all she could hear.
Filled with glowing, pulsating warmth, Rusidan rubbed her swollen clit against Sarah’s nose. Its puffs of warm air were no match for the heat of her cunt. Vibrations were everywhere, taking over her body right to her fingertips as she struggled to press her pussy lips into her lover’s willing face. Sarah sang harder, moaning sympathetically, but Rusidan was the first to break. She lost the game with an explosion of celestial laughter, like the happy Buddha.
When Sarah settled her cheek against Rusidan’s bare thigh, she revealed what the spirit voice had whispered. “We should get married at Christmas.”
* * *
The simple ceremony took place in the snow. There were no great surprises. They knew very well which of the invited guests would attend and which would not. They made the effort to reach out, and that was the best they could do. On Christmas Day, the winter sun sparkled against the crystalline blanket of white embracing their wonderland. Rusidan chose a long red jacket and a 1920’s-style cloche hat. Sarah wore her special parka. Their aisle was a tree-lined path, and they walked it to the mesmerizing music of Laura and Palluq’s traditional Inuit throat-singing.