Fellis drove with his knee and lit a cigarette. Over the top of the high hill, morning fog hovered above miles of pines like the nests of fall webworms in the crooks of brown branches. I jerked backward as Fellis let off the gas and we coasted downhill and into the fog.
We were going to see Daryl. Not because we liked him—Fellis hated him for what he’d done—but we were going to see him because Daryl’s uncle ran the tribal museum, and for years he’d let Daryl clean the place on the weekends for a flat rate of twenty bucks. Fellis and I wanted the alarm code. Yet, I was convinced Fellis wanted more than that, and the closer we got to Daryl the more I worried that Fellis would mess up our plan.
“You ain’t going to do nothing to him, right?” I said.
We drove past a dirt road that I thought was the turn.
“Don’t screw this up,” I told him.
“Dee, I said I won’t.” Fellis flicked his ash out the tiny cracked window.
It would have been easier to get the code if Daryl hadn’t been banned from the rez. We could have gone up to his place, brought a thirty-rack of shit beer, got him drunk, and talked the numbers out of him. But instead we had to drive an hour north, all the way out to his uncle’s cabin where he was staying.
We drove by another dirt road. “Wasn’t that it?” I said.
“No, it’s still up a ways.”
I kicked the blower motor under the glove compartment to shake up the dirt and grime. The fan clicked and rattled and a gentle heat blew from the dashboard vents.
The fog finally thinned down the road, and Fellis slowed the truck. “This is the turn,” he said.
The road led to a borrow pit.
“Next one over,” Fellis said.
Down that next road, Fellis drove real slow. I smelled the woodsmoke before I saw the small cabin. Daryl’s uncle used to hunt deer and moose, but as he got older he couldn’t keep up with the cabin’s needs: fresh water, shoveling outhouse shit, chopping and stacking wood in the woodshed, plowing the dirt road, and sweeping the roof of snow in the winter months. Come winter, I couldn’t picture Daryl tending to the place.
Fellis parked the truck and we got out.
“What’s that smell?” Fellis said.
Two deer, twisted, half gutted, leaned against the small woodshed.
“Fucking waste,” Fellis said.
We walked up to an upside-down orange bucket, and I stepped onto it and knocked on the cabin door.
“He’s there,” Fellis said. “Keep knocking.”
Fellis went around the cabin while I stayed on the bucket. I looked in, squinting through the misty white curtain over the door and to the cabin’s other window at the opposite end. It was hard to see exactly, but the table by the back wall was cluttered with what looked like Daryl’s pill bottles. He probably had some good stuff.
At the far end by that table and back window, a head rose and looked at me.
“Fellis!” I yelled. “I see him! I see him!”
“That’s me, you dumb shit,” Fellis said.
Fellis came back around the cabin.
We leaned on the truck, quiet.
“Maybe he ain’t here,” I said.
“He’s here,” Fellis said. “That chimney’s going too hard for him not to be.”
Birds chirped in the pine and oak trees. Squirrels and chipmunks crunched dried leaves and snapped tiny twigs around us. The sun shone through clouds for a moment before the gray sky swallowed it. It felt and smelled like rain was coming.
“Let’s just go in,” Fellis said, and before we pushed away from the truck, a man groaned and something metal clanked. The outhouse door opened. Daryl fastened his belt and looked at the ground as he walked. He was wearing white earbuds.
Fellis picked up a glossed acorn and tossed it at Daryl who saw it fly by him. When he saw us, he tripped and tumbled down, his earbuds popping out of his head.
“This is private property!” he said. “Help! Help!”
“It’s us,” I said. “Daryl, it’s us. Dee and Fellis.”
Daryl looked pale, thin. A small red cut ran across his forehead. His black shirt hung off one shoulder like he’d been beaten up by two men, a tug of war. The tongue of his belt was too long, his waist too thin.
“What are you listening to?” I said. I gave him my hand, and his felt sweaty.
He didn’t answer me. He watched Fellis.
“I don’t know why you’re here,” Daryl said, “but I wasn’t myself.”
Fellis took out his cigarettes and opened the pack. He didn’t light one, and he put the pack back in his pocket. He looked at Daryl.
“I know you weren’t,” Fellis said. “I ain’t here to do nothing.”
“Then why’d you come?” Daryl said.
“Ain’t seen you since before you were banned,” Fellis said. “Just checking on you.”
I nudged Daryl on the shoulder. “And the tribe’s talking,” I said.
“Talking?” Daryl said.
“About letting you come home,” I told him. “Council held two meetings these past months.”
“Oh, yeah,” Fellis said. “They’re voting sometime soon.”
Daryl scratched his nose. “Why didn’t my uncle tell me?”
Fellis opened his pack of smokes again and this time he lit one. He went to the cabin door and grabbed the orange bucket. He brought it near the truck and sat down.
“Maybe he likes having someone out here,” I said. I walked toward the truck and Daryl followed. “You know, someone to tend the place since he can’t.” I sat on the hood.
“He wouldn’t do that,” Daryl said.
From his pocket, Daryl took out a pink iPod. He wrapped the headphones around it.
“Where’d you get that?” Fellis said, pointing with his cigarette.
Daryl didn’t say anything. He stared at the ground. Then at the trees. A breeze blew and leaves shivered and twirled down. Daryl’s hands shook.
“I’m tired,” Daryl said. “Haven’t slept in four nights.”
“You still on those good meds?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Fellis said. “You still on those?”
Daryl looked at me. Really, just stared at me and didn’t blink. His lips were chapped and he licked them. He rubbed his head.
Fellis and I glanced at each other.
“So,” Daryl said. “Why’d you guys come out here?”
“Told you already,” Fellis said. “To check up on you.”
Daryl stared at a line of thick pine trees behind us.
Fellis waved his hand in Daryl’s line of vision.
“What are you on?” Fellis said.
“I’m tired,” Daryl said. “Haven’t slept in five nights.”
“You just said four,” I said. “Which is it?”
“He’s on something,” Fellis said to me. He handed me the cigarette and I took three drags.
I nudged Daryl. “Here,” I said, holding out the cigarette for him. “What are you on?”
Daryl whispered, “I ain’t on nothing.” He reached for the cigarette but didn’t take it. His hand and arm shook as he pulled back. His chin and lower lip quivered and he looked up at the tree tops meeting gray sky. Then in a slow pull his head twisted on his neck until it couldn’t go any more and his hands curled up to his throat and his mouth opened—sagging cheeks, eyes rolling up—and out of his crooked mouth came a high-pitched screech.
When he dropped hard to the earth and convulsed on his back—when he screamed and frothed and spit from the mouth—I stepped back to the truck and opened the door.
“What’s a matter?” Fellis said to me.
I shut the truck door and watched.
Daryl’s fit was over quickly. His arms loosened. Mouth open, eyes to the sky. His pants were wet. He mumbled something.
The orange bucket tipped over when Fellis stood. “What’d you say?” he said.
Daryl licked his lips.
Fellis prodded him with his foot.
“I I I I I,” Daryl said.
“You you you you what?”
“I I I I home.”
Fellis shook his head. “The rez don’t want you,” he said. “You think the council would meet just for you?”
Daryl squirmed on the ground. He flailed and turned and rolled over, and on his knees he pushed himself up so he was on all fours. Dirt and leaves stuck to his back. “I home,” Daryl said directly to the ground. “I home.”
Fellis kicked him in the side. Down. Then again. Daryl’s body may not have deserved it, but Daryl did. Fellis kept kicking and I watched the trees rock in a wind.
“Piece of shit,” Fellis said.
Finally, I told Fellis to stop. But he wouldn’t. He wasn’t himself. He kicked and kicked and kicked at Daryl’s side and stomach and at his head. Once more, Daryl’s body convulsed and he screeched. Fellis couldn’t see that Daryl’s body was crying out for help. Something that was Daryl, something that rarely communicated, was signing to me in a language I didn’t know, like an earthquake speaking for the earth.
Fellis tired of kicking him and set the orange bucket upright. He spat on Daryl, sat down, and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
Daryl was barely breathing. A clump of wet dirt clung to Daryl’s face, and the brownness of the earth’s soil so close to his mouth and nose nauseated me.
“You deserve much worse than this,” Fellis said. “You ever come near my family again—especially my cousin—and I’ll set you on fire.”
I didn’t doubt it.
Fellis opened his pack of cigarettes but it was empty. He crinkled the soft pack and stuffed it in his pocket.
Crouching down, Fellis reached in Daryl’s pocket and took the pink iPod, and before he stood he slapped Daryl across the face. I didn’t understand Fellis’s anger—the only family I had left wasn’t talking to me—and it wasn’t like Daryl got after Fellis’s little cousin. Sure, the dead crow and love note written in purple was fucked up (just tucked it right into her dresser drawer too) but Daryl could have done worse. Maybe that was why Fellis did what he did to Daryl—because Daryl could have done worse.
Fellis made for the truck.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“Hold on,” I told him. I felt sick.
I brought the orange bucket to the cabin door, stepped up, and went inside. The room was dark and warm and smelled of Pine-Sol, and I wondered how Daryl—the Daryl out there on the hard ground—kept the place so clean. Maybe he could tend the place come winter. A small fire burned in the woodstove. The bed was made neatly and the wooden counters were sleek, the clean dishes stacked in the dish rack, the unclean ones in the sink covered with the customary red cloth to tell the spirits to stay away, that there was no food for offering. I moved the cloth and dry heaved once and then twice over the half-full sink. I wiped my mouth with the cloth and draped it back over the dishes.
On the small wooden table by the back wall, a cribbage board was set up, the middle of a game paused. The blue pegs were winning against the red, two hands of cards lying on opposite sides of the table. I imagined Daryl playing against himself in that dark, warm cabin.
Next to the cribbage game were what I thought I’d seen: pill bottles. Same ones Daryl always kept out and about. Heavy stuff like Lithium. I didn’t want that, didn’t need that. My therapist cut me off everything when I got on methadone. “Can’t mix this, can’t mix that”—bullshit. I picked up each bottle and read the white labels, searching for his benzos.
Then I found some. A bottle of Klonopin. No wonder Daryl was a wreck—the prescription was full, hadn’t been touched.
I put the pills in my pocket.
Fellis honked again. I stepped down on the orange bucket and glanced at Daryl. He had rolled over. I got in the truck. Fellis drove in reverse all the way down the dirt road and looked behind him the entire time while I faced forward shaking the bottle of pills in my hand and watching the puffs of smoke coil out of the chimney and up into the sky. Daryl probably didn’t even remember the code anyway.
▴ ▴ ▴
“Fuck” was the first word Fellis said. It was quarter to twelve, and we were on the main road heading for the highway.
“We’ll make it,” I said. “We have an hour before it closes.”
I kicked the blower motor.
“I ain’t worried about the methadone clinic,” he said.
Fellis pulled the truck over on the side of the road. His hands shook.
“Fuck!” He punched the steering wheel.
“Forget the code,” I said. “It’s a stupid idea anyway.”
“We’re not forgetting it,” Fellis said.
I opened the bottle of pins and held a blue one in my palm. “Here,” I offered. “Take it.”
Fellis swallowed it with spit.
“Can you drive?” he asked.
“I hate driving,” I said.
“That don’t stop you taking the truck when you want beer or smokes.”
“When’s the last time I drove this truck?”
“Last week,” Fellis said. The tires kicked dirt and dust and Fellis pulled onto the road. “I gave you twenty bucks and you drove to Overtown to get beer and crappy cigars. I didn’t want cigars. I wanted a pack of Camels. You wanted cigars so that’s what we smoked.”
“I asked if you wanted cigars and you said yes.”
“I thought you were going to get me smokes too!”
We were quiet for fifteen, twenty minutes. I watched the trees as we zipped by them. Fellis hit a pothole and the radio turned on. He turned it off. “Damn,” Fellis said. He laughed. “What milligram are those?”
I looked at the bottle. “Two.”
“I feel like fog,” he said.
On the highway, I didn’t have to kick the blower motor. The truck shook at eighty-five miles per hour and hot air barreled out of the vents. I was still cold.
Fellis rolled down his window.
“Put that up,” I said. “I’m just getting warm.”
“You got something wrong with you,” he said.
When we got off the highway in the little city, Fellis rolled up the window. Saturday traffic thickened the road. Blowout sales at Macy’s and JCPenny. Fellis drove by Burger King and McDonald’s and Wendy’s and then he turned on Myron Ave, passing Home Depot and Walmart and this little Bible store that made its money from gelato. At the last set of lights before the methadone clinic, the light turned yellow and Fellis slowed and when it turned red he stopped the truck and rested his head back on the seat and closed his eyes.
We waited. Cars zoomed in the intersection. Turned. Sped. I coughed. A car honked.
“It’s green,” I said.
I backhanded Fellis. “Wake up, it’s green.”
Fellis drove straight, turned into the clinic, and parked across two spots.
Inside, the line wasn’t long. Fellis was in front of me. Tabitha—an asshole everyone at the clinic knew who threw up her liquid methadone and sold it—stood in front of Fellis, her arms crossed, a lockbox in her hand. She bounced on her feet, and then she turned and faced us.
“Can you back up?” she asked.
“Why?” I said. “You have to fart?”
Fellis backed up even though he wasn’t close to her. Tabitha looked past him at me. “My boyfriend’s out in the car,” she whispered.
The line moved.
“You’re holding us up,” I said.
“Fuck you, Dee.” She faced forward and stepped closer to the counter. “You’re nothing.”
“I wasn’t nothing in the past, was I?”
“Okay, minuteman.” She said that loud and Fellis laughed.
Fellis dosed first and he didn’t wait for me. I drank my dose, a pink syrup, and it tasted different than the last time, as if the methadone were incomplete, like some chemist and a man in a black suit were in a white sterile room still trying to right the recipe.
Outside, Fellis sat in the passenger seat, snoozing, the keys in the ignition.
“Sneaky bastard,” I said. I started the truck, wondering if he’d feel bad if I wrecked both his truck and myself. I left the clinic with Fellis snoring.
▴ ▴ ▴
Fellis was still living with his mom, Beth. I lived with her too. Rent free. Beth was a school teacher, and a cold-blooded gossiper. She knew everything, and what she didn’t know she made up and it became so. She told people I paid rent, but that was only a front. She knew I had the real stories about her, like how much of Fellis’s bullshit she covered throughout the years.
My own mother didn’t talk to me anymore. Beth had run into her at the grocery store one weekend, and she told Beth to tell me that she sold all my stuff. Mom had owed me money, and so I hadn’t seen the big deal in selling the small ash baskets she kept in the shed, as well as the picture frames and jewelry she didn’t even wear. That was what happened, why I was at Beth’s—Mom was pissed at me, wouldn’t let me stay with her anymore. But the story Beth told everyone who asked was that my mom was charging me too much rent, and that was why I left her place for good. That became the story. Sometimes I believed that version.
I parked the truck in the driveway behind Beth’s car. Fellis’s Aunt Alice parked her green Toyota alongside the road. Her daughter was probably with her too. No one left Lily alone since the Daryl crap.
I shook Fellis. “Get up,” I said. “Look awake for your auntie.”
Fellis rubbed his eyes. “I should have took a half.”
Fellis’s house was cluttered. Beth wasn’t a hoarder—just depressed. Empty boxes and years of student papers were stacked in the living room. In the kitchen, dirty dishes filled the sink, always left uncovered at night. One night I woke Fellis and told him I heard noises—Goog’ooks, I said, spirits wanting food—and he told me to shut up, that it was the pipes in the walls.
Fellis opened the front door. Beth stood at the stove, laughing while Alice shook her head, proud of something she’d said. Lily sat at the scratched kitchen table, her head propped up by her hand, bored out of her nine-year-old skull.
“What you cooking?” Fellis said.
Beth was too busy laughing to answer.
“I bet his jeckin smells like garbage too,” Alice said.
Beth stirred a white ladle in a metal pot. “The council’s going to evict him,” she said.
“It isn’t hurting anyone,” Alice said. “If he wants to live in filth, let him.”
“Who you talking about?” Fellis said. I leaned on the wall.
“That Nelson and all his garbage.” Beth took out a pan. Melting yellow butter slid and pooled.
“Say hi to your cousin, Lil,” Alice said.
Lily turned and said hi real quick.
“Where you been?” Beth said.
“Nowhere important,” Fellis said, and then he took the pink iPod from his pocket. “I got you a present, Lil.”
Beth and Alice watched as Fellis handed the pink iPod to Lily.
“Where did you get this?” Lily said.
“Was out walking this morning,” Fellis said. “Found it in the woods.”
Lily turned it on. “This is mine,” she said.
“Yeah, I know,” Fellis said. “I’m giving it to you.”
Lily stood up. “No,” she said. “This is actually mine.”
“I’m sure it’s different,” Alice said. “Let me see.” She held it, looked it over. “Didn’t yours have stickers on it?”
“Yeah, but look,” Lily said. “You can see where they were peeled off.”
Beth left the stove and looked over Alice’s shoulder at the iPod. “I don’t see any sticker marks,” Beth said.
Lily reached across the table and traced with her finger. “Right there,” she said. “See?”
“No,” Beth said. She returned to the sink and washed her hands. “I don’t see anything.”
Lily pestered her mom for headphones.
The pan sizzled and spit hot and Beth rested two moose medallions in the pan. “Can you chop some wood?” she said to Fellis.
“In a bit,” he said, and he started for his room.
Fellis’s door didn’t have a doorknob. It broke, and since Beth didn’t like anyone coming into her house—the boxes, the student papers, the dirty dishes—she wouldn’t call Housing to come and fix it. She’d asked Fellis to fix it, but all he did was tie a checkered scarf around the hole so the cloth held the door shut.
Fellis opened his dresser and grabbed an unopened pack of cigarettes. He sat on his made bed and scooted back.
I took out the bottle of pills, shook them, and sang Native gibberish but stomped each foot twice real good, and then I set the bottle on the dresser. I sat in the beanbag chair in the corner.
“You think he’s going to tell his uncle about us?” Fellis asked.
I shrugged. “Probably not.”
“I think he will.”
We were quiet, and I wondered what Daryl was doing, if he was still on the ground out there among the fog and animal feet. I remembered his twisted body and I wondered what it felt like to have something speak on your behalf.
“We have to do it tonight,” Fellis said.
“With no code?”
“And then we’re out of here.”
I counted my fingers. “We got no money, your truck’s a piece of shit, the next arts festival ain’t till October, and we haven’t weaned off our doses.”
“We got money.”
“Yeah, okay.” I said. “You bummed twenty yesterday from your mom.”
Fellis stood up. “I’ve been bumming from my mom for thirty-one years.” He pulled the bed away from the wall. In the corner, he peeled back the carpet and picked up three envelopes from the cold wooden floor. He emptied all three on the shifted bed.
All these late boring nights we didn’t do anything because he was broke!
“Twenty-eight-hundred bucks,” Fellis said.
I knelt in front of the bed and felt the money, some bills soft like velvet, others stiff and fresh.
“I got money,” he said.
“Your truck’s still a piece of shit.”
Fellis took the money from my hands. “You don’t want to do it, do you?”
I said nothing. The whole thing was my idea. We’d been watching Antiques Roadshow one long boring moon night last week and some old dusty lady brought in an old root club that was worth five grand. Five grand! I said, “Fellis, the museum has tons of those!” and we looked at each other and got off the couch and walked fast to the head of the island, right near the bridge. We went out back of the little museum whose only visitors were white people wanting pictures. Looking through the window, Fellis had seen the alarm box blinking green.
“Do you or don’t you?” Fellis said.
“What about our doses? I ain’t getting sick if we’re on the road.”
Fellis waved the envelopes at me. “You got Tabitha’s number?”
“I’m not drinking puked-up methadone,” I said.
“She don’t puke it up,” Fellis said. “You’re retarded if you think that.”
“I heard she does.”
“She gets full take homes,” Fellis said. “You think that lockbox is her purse?”
Maybe he was right. “Even if she sells to us,” I said, “where are we going?”
“Down south to sell it all.”
“Why don’t we just learn how to make our own root clubs or baskets and sell them?”
Fellis stuffed the rest of the bills into the envelopes and put them back under the carpet. He straightened the bed.
“I ain’t got time for that,” Fellis said. “I’m doing it my way.”
I stayed sitting as Fellis left the room, and before he made it out of the house I heard Beth ask him nicely once more to chop wood. But Fellis ignored her and opened the front door and slammed it shut so hard the bedroom wall shook.
“That boy,” Alice said, and Beth told her never mind him.
I finished Alice’s thought for her—“is something else.” But then I wondered if she meant me.
The beanbag chair creaked when I sat up. I pulled the bed from the wall, peeled back the carpet, and took three twenties, one from each envelope. I stuffed them down into my sock and laced my shoe back up.
Neither Beth nor Alice said anything to me as I passed through the kitchen and living room and out the front door. Out back of the house, the sky had cleared enough for the sun to set red like light through a fingertip.
I picked up the axe and stood a log wobbling on a wide-cut oak trunk. I swung, picked up the split wood, and tossed it in a pile. Beth bought hardwood—ash—and so her house was always warm. My own mother bought softwood and sometimes late at night she’d shake me awake and we’d get in her white car and go down to the thick woods and I’d hurry through it to the tribal lumberyard on the other side and carry eight good logs back and dump it all in Mom’s trunk.
I wondered what she was doing.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Beth said as I brought in an armful of wood and dropped it in the wood box next to the woodstove. Alice and Lily were gone.
“He wasn’t going to do it,” I said, but Beth simply stirred a pot of something.
“You hungry?” she said. “I’m making fiddleheads and salted pork. And there’s moose too.”
I told her no, that I had to be somewhere. “Maybe later,” I said.
“If there’s any left,” she said, and she banged the ladle on the stove.
I snagged three more twenties from Fellis and left.
The woods were that dark shadow of dusk and I followed a jagged, rough-rocked path, heading to the back of her house. I passed by a large boulder—rolled and placed back when the reservation was a burial ground. Couldn’t tell that to anyone, though, because people talked Pet Sematary. But it was true—this reservation was for the dead.
At her house, the lights were on, the blinds swept aside. I caught a glimpse of her. She was at the sink, her silver hair tied back. Then she was gone. Sitting on the cold, leafed ground for hours, I didn’t see her come back to that window.
I was hungry when I left. The closer I got to Fellis’s, the more I felt bad about the money, Mom’s ash baskets, Daryl’s pills. No, not Daryl’s pills—he wasn’t even taking them.
From the woods, the streetlamps glowed orange. My sneakers scraped the concrete as I walked and I thought about how good those fiddleheads with salted pork and a slab of moose meat would taste after popping a pin or two (not three, then I’d just pass out). The road bent and I looked up to see Beth’s house. The driveway was crowded with police cruisers and a black van. An officer shone his flashlight in Fellis’s truck, and another talked to Beth in the driveway. Headlights poured over the trees—another tribal cop—and he pulled by Beth’s house.
I turned my ass around and split into the woods.
Star and moonlight hit the water. Down by the river, I sat on a rock, wishing I’d eaten and grabbed those pills and had a cigarette. Wishing I’d never heard of Antiques Roadshow. Maybe even wishing I was just a wenooch and didn’t live on a reservation whose history was in a little museum and could be stolen for a buck. Didn’t make any sense that parts of us were worth so much and at the same time we were worth so little. “You’re nothing.”
I grabbed a twig off the ground and pretended to smoke it. “Fuck you, Tabitha,” I said, and as I said it, the first dog barked.
I had nowhere to go, but I ran like I did. The paths all met at some point, right in the heart of the reservation, right behind the tribal lumberyard. I couldn’t hide in someone’s garage, because that would mean I’d have to get on the roads, so I stayed in the pitch-black woods. I kept going, stopping only to listen for growls and to look behind me for light.
No dogs barked and no light shone. I slowed, thinking: deny, deny, deny. You weren’t with him. Those pills? You never seen them. The iPod? You don’t know. He says you kicked him. You say he’s a liar.
I denied all night until the sun came up. I had to hide all day until the sun went down. A stench rolled off the river, and not knowing where else to go, I followed it to Nelson’s.
Ralph Nelson owned the most land on the rez, and on that land pressing against the river he kept junk. Cars that didn’t run. Piles of sheet metal and garbage and electronics like old computer monitors. Next to his house, twenty-five years’ worth of deer and moose antlers tangled and hooked in a tumbleweed of bone. Somewhere among that stuff Ralph had a sweat lodge, one that was built into the ground. No one ever sweated with him because of the garbage smell.
The sweat lodge wasn’t hard to find. Between the piles of bone and sheet metal, a small blue tarp blanketed a wide mound. Under it, a passage with hard dirt stairs spiraled down into the earth.
Ralph’s sweat lodge ran deep, and at the very bottom—a firepit in the middle, needle of light pricking through the top where smoke escaped, dirt seats, cold earth walls barred by a man-made wooden ribcage giving structure to the circularity of the mound—I stood without my head touching the roof and even when I tiptoed I still didn’t hit my head.
Sitting down, I pulled my arms and head inside my white shirt and breathed long and hot, warming myself. I dozed like that, too, inside of my white shirt, but never as deeply as those buried down below all over the rez. Each time I woke I forgot where I was. When I took my head out of my shirt I thought I was buried alive but then I remembered what I was supposed to be doing—hiding—but I didn’t know why, didn’t exactly know what for.
It was a long, cold day in that sweat lodge. I didn’t know what time it was, and I couldn’t feel my hands or feet. I climbed back up the spiraled stairs and moved the tarp over quiet-like and then untied some twine holding patches of deer hide over the wooden ribcage and flipped it back enough for the sun to shine through like a spotlight and light poured over my neck and down my arms like hot water.
Back down under I was in a half-sleep when voices startled me awake, yet they were not dream voices but real voices. Men. I crawled in dirt away from the light and pressed against the earth wall. A tree root stuck out of the dirt and scratched at me. My head throbbed like I’d held my breath too long, and down in that cold earth hole I was a barely beating heart.
Outside the lodge people were coming. Sheet metal wobbled thunderously. A dog barked.
“Don’t touch my stuff,” a man said. It was Ralph. “I ain’t said you can touch. You can look, but don’t touch.”
The men walked around up above. Every so often Ralph spoke, saying he saw no one and that no one was here.
“Why you looking for him?” Ralph asked, and I listened real good but all the police would say was that they wanted to talk to me to find out where Fellis ran off to.
“What that michigun do?” Ralph said.
The officer ignored him. “What’s that over there?” he said.
Like a great eye searching, a flashlight shone down through the peeled-back hide. I pressed against the wall and then Ralph told them to stop.
“Don’t violate the sanctity of this place,” he said.
“We need to look down here,” an officer said.
“You’re not going down there,” Ralph said. “I just blessed it yesterday for a sweat I’m running tonight. You’re more than welcome to come later and sweat, but until then no one goes down.”
Ralph flipped the hide back and tied the twine. They walked away, and a cop started asking if Ralph had permits for all that garbage.
“Get off my property,” Ralph said.
I huddled in my shirt and rocked back and forth, breathing hot. How long had I been down here? How long would I be down here? I whispered that question over and over again until the crinkly tarp and floppy deer hide flapped back and exposed me in the earth’s chest. Ralph said, “You leave at sundown,” and he set something on the stairs.
A glass plate wrapped in tinfoil. Under it, steaming brown rice and hotter-than-hell peas and a slab of tough meat. A spoon, too. I held my hands over the food as if it were a fire and when it stopped being warm, I ate the meat first and then mixed the rice and peas together and ate that last. I picked at my teeth until the sun was down.
Before leaving, I popped off my shoe and peeled back my sock for a twenty and left it on the plate and set the plate on the top of the stairs. I pocketed the spoon. Out in the woods looking through pine needles I waited for the pure dark and I watched Ralph walk back to the sweat lodge and take the plate and he looked right at me. He fanned the twenty in my direction and I knew I owed him more.
I started for her house. Halfway there the soul-shivers started and when tree limbs brushed me they scared me and my chin trembled and my nose ran as fast as I was right then trying to get to her.
The light was on but she wasn’t at the sink through the window, and I crept up the hill behind her house and opened the boiler room door—flicked the light—and I shut myself in with the warmth but I was cold sweating.
The metal chair was too warm to sit on so I sat on the concrete slab floor and slept with the light on until my soaked body woke me and I could no longer sleep to the boiler’s never-ending machine breath. I scanned the fucks that Fellis and I had scratched into the walls over the years hiding in this room from the winter cold and that was just what I said—fuck. The machine breath blew steady and my stomach hurt. Something squeezed me in my gut and out came more sweat and I bit my fingernails for a while and spit them on the concrete around me and when I bit too close to the skin I wiped the blood on my white shirt and I tried to fan cool air in my hot face but it was all warm air and I wanted to hit something so I hit the wall but it was loud and so I slapped the concrete floor around me and then I kicked and kicked and kicked the boiler and it whistled and hissed at me to stop and so I stopped and curled in a dirty dusty corner and I yelled to her.
I slapped at the walls and yelled to her again and again and again. The door flung open and the cold hit me and the dawn light shut my eyes. She was there one minute holding a root club ready to beat someone and then the next she was gone and back again with a blue Pendleton blanket. She lifted me up and covered me and I saw it was her favorite blanket and so when I threw up I pushed the blanket away and spilled rice and peas and meat onto the ground.
“Make it stop,” I said. My head fissured open and Mom said so softly into it that she would and she put the blanket back over me and we went up the steps and through the door where no machine breathed but the clock ticked slow and loud and the fridge hummed and down the hallway Mom opened my bedroom door and all my stuff was still there and she pulled back the blankets on the made bed and she took off my shirt and stripped me to my underwear and slipped me under the blankets and she was gone for a moment and when she came back she set a wastebasket lined with plastic next to me on the floor and after she’d gone again I threw up in it and she came back and changed the plastic and then brought a kitchen chair and sat down next to my twisted body in the bed.
She put a warm wet washcloth on my forehead.
My joints hurt and I wanted to roll out of bed and onto the floor and I did try but Mom pushed me back and I told her to fuck off and I started crying and Mom left and returned with a warmer washcloth and when she set it on my forehead I took it off and flung it across the room and it splattered against the wall.
I yelled at her all day and then all night and then all day and then all night and when she brought me barley soup I slapped it out of her hands because I thought it was that root club and I thought she wanted to swing at me but then I said I’m sorry and she brought me another bowl which she spooned in my mouth is that Ralph’s spoon and I wondered once and only once if I’d remember this moment and then I threw it all up and rubbed my sore throat while Mom rubbed my head.
For days I fought with Mom and I cried to her and she shushed me each time I sat up and tried to get up and at some point Mom spoke to me—not to my body—and she said “you’ll be back soon” and the next thing I knew I envisioned Fellis’s truck reversing to a stop in front of Daryl on the ground who laughed and pointed at me and said “earthquake” and I split in half.
Mom was in her chair, sleeping. The washcloth on my forehead was cold.
I touched her knee and she lazily stirred. She put her hand to my forehead.
“Did they find him?” I said, and she said yes, that Beth bailed him out and he’s home, sick like me.
My lips were cracked and peeling. “What they get him for?”
“Burglary,” she said.
“What he steal?”
“Like you don’t know,” Mom said.
My nose still ran and I wiped at it.
“How far did he get?” I asked.
“Boston,” Mom said. “It’s all over the news.”
I laughed and so did Mom. She left the room and came back with a newspaper.
“I can’t read that,” I said.
“‘Native Man Steals History,’” Mom read. She placed the newspaper over something wet on the floor. “He was caught with over one hundred thousand dollars’ worth of tribal memorabilia and a month’s worth of methadone from someone named Tricia.”
“Tabitha,” I said.
I sat up in bed.
“They looking for me?” I said.
“I showed you to them,” Mom said. “Brought the police right in here and they saw you were sick. You told one of them to go fuck themselves.”
Mom coughed. “It’s not funny. They got your friend. You were lucky.”
I was quiet.
“Take off my sock,” I said.
She did, annoyed, tired of taking care of me. The bills were stuck to the soles of my feet.
“Take it away,” I said, and Mom peeled the twenties off me.
▴ ▴ ▴
Another week and I still wasn’t feeling better, but I was well enough to get up and walk around and help Mom clean the house and wash the vomit from my clothes and bed. Mom splurged and ordered burgers from Overtown but I could only take small bites, and I threw the burger away after it got too soggy and the lettuce all burned and shriveled from so many nukes in the microwave. Mom bought me a few packs of smokes and a package of white T-shirts and when she came back from the store she sat with me on the cold concrete steps.
It rained lightly.
“Can you give me a ride?” I said.
“Where in the world do you need to go?”
“Ralph Nelson’s,” I said.
Mom asked what for.
“Can you just bring me?”
She went inside. From the steps I yelled to her. “Did you see a spoon?”
“A spoon? What do you need a spoon for?”
“No, did you see one when you found me out back?”
“Are you all right?”
“Did you see a spoon or not?” I yelled.
“I didn’t see no goddamned spoon, Dee.”
“Well would you get me one of yours?”
“One of my what?”
Mom started the car and I sat passenger holding the spoon and the wipers swiped the rain and she drove me to Ralph’s in the woods and parked in his muddy driveway. I got out and smelled garbage and went up to his door and knocked but he didn’t answer. I knocked again.
“Over here,” Ralph yelled. He was by the sweat lodge, his shirt off, kindling in his hands.
I walked toward him and waved Mom away, thanked her and yelled to her that I’d walk home and that tonight I’d make us dinner and we’d watch TV—maybe CSI or Criminal Minds. “Whatever’s on,” I said. She waved, looking forward as she reversed out of Ralph’s driveway.
I took off my shirt and pants and stood in my underwear and Ralph said, “What’s that?” and I handed him the spoon, told him it wasn’t his but it’ll do and he looked at me and laughed. He took the spoon and threw it and it clanked and bounced off the pile of sheet metal. “Grab some wood,” he said, and I did. I followed him down the spiraled earth stairs to a hot molten core. Ralph held a small handmade drum, and when I asked him how he made it, he said he’d show me another day. “Today we sweat,” he said, and down in the earth’s chest the red glowed unbearable and Ralph beat the hand drum and he sang songs I didn’t know if he made them up but they sounded and felt as real as the heat between dirt walls and in my windpipe, and right then my body sweated all that was left in it, which really wasn’t very much at all.