The second cup of tea is the hottest

Kat!” He waved his arms and shouted. The horse feigned left then took off in a single-horse stampede to the edge of the river.

Bleen…!” rolled down from the chorus of men now hovering outside the yard.

This one was an ahzoh – a fighter – and I have never seen so much trouble and effort for a horse slaughter. Even after the blood stopped flowing and her head lay folded back against her neck, I could see her nostrils flair and her hooves push softly against the jumble of rope about her legs.

Before, we had been inside pushing cups of tea down the line of women to be refilled. I took a sip and almost yanked the cup back – I burned my lip on the second cup.

When we had first approached the house a group of young men stood huddled in the driveway. “Arty kairyluu bolsun,” I nodded to each man, the standard phrase of respect for funerals. “May this be behind you.” As we walked past the yurt a thin wail escaped the layers of wool draped across its roof. Ropes from the top of the tunduk hung, suspending rocks to keep the wind from blowing it away.

I had been standing, chatting with my landlord’s wife when she got the news. A student came up to her and said he died last night. She and my landlord were guests at his house yesterday.

The winter chills almost everything, inside and out. The small, bowl-like chynys used for serving tea lose their heat to the winter air and suck it back greedily as they’re filled for the first time.

Eng bir chyny ich,” she says, “Drink just one more.” I’m full but politely accept the offer. It passes the somber time spent supporting friends and neighbors who have lost a father. I pass my cup back down the line, the lip exchanging the brushes of fingers for others.

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