Terese Marie Mailhot graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts with an M.F.A. in fiction. Mailhot’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, the Los Angeles Times, Carve Magazine, and elsewhere. The recipient of several fellowships—SWAIA Discovery Fellowship, Vermont Studio Center Fellowship, Writing by Writers Fellowship, and the Elk Writer’s Workshop Fellowship―she was recently named the Tecumseh Postdoctoral Fellow at Purdue University and resides in West Lafayette, Indiana. Heart Berries (Counterpoint, 2018), her first book, was a New York Times best seller.
An excerpt from Heart Berries:
My story was maltreated. The words were too wrong and ugly to speak. I tried to tell someone my story, but he thought it was a hustle. He marked it as solicitation. The man took me shopping with his pity. I was silenced by charity—like so many Indians. I kept my hand out. My story became the hustle.
Women asked me what my endgame was. I hadn’t thought about it. I considered marrying one of the men and sitting with my winnings, but I was too smart to sit. I took their money and went to school. I was hungry and took more. When I gained the faculty to speak my story, I realized I had given men too much.
The thing about women from the river is that our currents are endless. We sometimes outrun ourselves. I stopped answering men’s questions or their calls.
Women asked me for my story.
My grandmother told me about Jesus. We knelt to pray. She told me to close my eyes. It was the only thing she asked me to do properly. She had conviction, but she also taught me to be mindless. We started receipts and lost track. We forgot ingredients. Our cakes never rose. We started an applehead doll—the shrunken, carved head sat on a bookshelf years after she left.
When she died nobody noticed me. Indian girls can be forgotten so well they forget themselves.
My mother brought healers to our home and I thought she was trying to exorcise me—a little ghost. Psychics came. Our house was still ruptured. I started to craft ideas. I wrapped myself in a Pendleton blanket and picked blueberries. I pretended I was ancient. A healer looked at me. He was tall and his jeans were dirty.
He knelt down. I thought I was in trouble, so I told him that I had been good. He said, “You don’t need to be nice.”
My mother said that was when I became trouble. “Turn your shirt backward to confuse the ghosts,” she said, and sent me to bed.