Trying to outrun my problems in a rusted 1972 Chevy Nova takes more than an eighth of a tank of gas.
There is only one gas station in town. It’s next to the junkyard on the other side of the bridge. The bridge is currently blocked. The bridge is blocked, because the owner of the junkyard died — leaving behind a shed stacked with dynamite.
The amount of time it will take tribal police to remove the danger is up for debate. So I don’t let my car idle. I sit at a full stop with like fifteen other cars. May sits beside me. We’re waiting for explosions . . . and gas too.
Lately I think about cutting my hair — cutting it real short, spiking it up. May says there is only one good reason for an Indian to cut her hair. She’s right, but maybe I’m tired of looking like her. Looking like me. When we fight, which isn’t much, she braids our hair together. We walk around connected, but mostly we just smoke pot. Lots of pot.
That’s what we’re doing right now. May steals weed from her mom who sells it to tourists looking to worship ancient trees and mythical Indians. Her mom knows we steal it. May’s mom beats her for the missing weed. I tell her, better to get beat than ignored. Sometimes she agrees.
I can’t remember the last time my father asked me where I’ve been. Mostly he’s drunk. Mostly he misses his wife. Mostly I just see his callused feet sticking out the edge of his bed, but only when the bedroom door’s cracked. Occasionally women come over. They toddle and trip into my father’s room. In the morning they edge and slink their way out. They always forget to close the door behind them. What are you born in a barn.
I steal my father’s keys. May shows up before I can leave. She shows up covered in dirt. It’s crusted in her eyes, clogging her ears, falling off her like fat raindrops. Tears run down her face and I mix them with the dirt. It makes a mud mask softening her skin, hiding her scars. She tells me about the party, about the boy who tried to smother her in the dirt. She says, “I’m soiled.”
We take side roads and back ways and expand the distance. We never make it past the bridge.
May likes to hot box the car, fill it up with smoke. But the sun is beating down on us and we have to open the windows. Because the widows are open, Wolfies steals our joint. His hand snakes in through the driver’s side.
I’m related to Wolfies. Everybody is related to Wolfies. Nobody knows where he lives. If you ask Wolfies how old he is, he’ll tell you, “My birthday was yesterday, but you can buy me a present tomorrow.” If you’re missing something there’s a fifty percent chance Wolfies took it, and if you pay him there is a hundred percent chance he’ll find it. Wolfies is like your favorite curse word — you only use his name when something bad happens, but man do you love to say it.
“I’m taking this as payment,” he tells me.
“What have you found?” I ask him. He takes his time — smokes the joint — dances back when I try to grab it. I watch him scrape the embers across the asphalt and throw the roach in his basket. His basket is full of slippery eels . . . and other payments.
“You know the 2,000 pounds of dynamite downtown?”
I think it’s more like fifty, but Wolfies has never been one to be bogged down by facts, and I’ve never been one to stop a good rumor. I roll my eyes and tell him everyone’s already heard that.
Wolfies smiles, shows his teeth and whispers, “It’s not the dynamite I’m telling you about.”
I know and maybe May knows too, because she stops rolling the joint in her hand, that Wolfies isn’t just telling a story and we aren’t just sitting here and everything isn’t just a coincidence.
“They found bones. Bones under the dynamite.”
I don’t move. Wolfies digs in his basket. I know what he’s getting. May starts looking for the sack of weed we keep hidden for emergencies. I hold her hand. I hold her still.
She knows, just like I know, like everyone knows — when you ask Wolfies to find something you have to settle your debts. You have to settle your debts with what you promised.
I can smell the eels on the metal. May holds my hand or maybe I’m still holding hers. I remember my mother brushing my hair, braiding it up. “Never cut your hair,” she would tell me. “Always braid it tight.” And I never cut my hair. I always braid it tight. But I know the price for calling Coyote — even if it’s to find your mother — even if she’s only bones under dynamite. I can feel the scissors on the back of my neck. There is only one good reason for an Indian to cut her hair. I’m a good Indian.
SLOAN THOMAS lives on an Indian reservation in Northern California. She enjoys listening to not-so-tall tales of old Indians and small children. She has work published in Word Riot and SmokeLong Quarterly under the name R.S. Thomas.