Friday, July 29, 2005

"One Windy Day" Chapter Ten

By now we had decided that the climax/crisis of the story -- where everything turned to the worse or the better -- was going to be a kegger and drug party. Clearly Itzy and Che in combination would get into big trouble, maybe legal and maybe medical. Heather was her same old dumb self, never catching on, so she wouldn’t even make it to the party.

It was a problem to know how Che’s old grandfather would act. Heather’s parents just wouldn’t know, but would the old man intercede, try to stop Che? We decided that the old time way was more to let people find out for themselves and then help afterwards, if that were possible. They were accepting of danger and felt that even if someone died, though it was a bad loss, it was inevitable in some way. They wouldn’t try to work magic, knowing that sometimes that just makes the price higher.

We still couldn’t decide whether Heather would get pregnant or not. But we did pick up another thread: suicide. The suicide rate on reservations is very high, so we tried to show what state of mind would make a promising young woman like Heather resort to those thoughts. Self-pity, self-hate, and no sense of any world out beyond her own famliar world. No one to listen, even though there are people all over the place.

Chapter X

After that first sweat, Che felt different. He thought, "Maybe I am a new person and now everything will be okay-- or at least better."

He didn't say anything to his grandfather. For that matter, his grandfather didn't say much to him, either. His grandfather often just sat in an old kitchen chair outside the door of the shack, basking in the sun and seeming asleep unless there was something worth watching. Che did what seemed to have to be done, though much of what his grandfather thought was important-- like airing the bedding every day-- didn't strike Che as necessary. The two of them fell into a kind of routine. For a long time it felt good, kind of healing.

But then Che began to get restless. He wondered what his old buddies were doing-- well, actually, he KNEW what they were doing: the same thing as always: raising hell. Their whole lives revolved around getting money somehow, getting booze, getting into beat-up old cars, and getting drunk as fast and as completely as possible. Then they waited until they stopped aching and their stomachs could tolerate food again, so they could start all over again. They got thin and jumpy and didn't care about much of anything. Sometimes there simply was no money to get, and then they seemed to slow down and become a little healthier. But soon they got restless again, just as Che was getting restless now. After living fast and on the edge, everything else just seemed kind of dumb. What was the point of it anyway?

In one of those moods, Che thought of Heather. He hadn't seen her for a while and there was a part of him that wanted her to see him now that he had gained a little weight and sat through several head-clearing sweats. There was enough water and firewood stashed around the cabin to last a while. The old grandfather seemed to be sleeping in his chair. Che didn't see one eye open slightly when the boy left, but the old man didn't call out or move. He just observed.

The trailer was getting hot in the sun and Itsy had gone off somewhere, something she rarely did. Heather was feeling the heat, but she was glad to have the trailer to herself, since her mother was working at the Bingo Parlor. She sprawled on her mother's bed in shorts, half-watching a soap opera. It wasn't one she usually saw, so she really didn't know what the characters were doing, but there was rarely much of anything surprising. It seemed that the young blonde girl thought she might be pregnant and she was glad, because she figured that meant that her boyfriend would marry her and they would live happily ever after. "I'll bet," thought Heather sceptically.

Then she heard Che's voice calling softly at the open front door. In her rush up the narrow hallway, she bounced off the walls and laughed at herself.

"What's so funny?" asked Che, coming in. "Where's your old lady?"

"Everybody's gone. Just me is home."

"Whatcha doin'?"

"Watchin' TV. Want some ice tea?" Heather hadn't forgotten what she had learned when Che came to call that first time, but she thought she knew him better now and could trust him more. Still, ice tea would be about right, wouldn't it? With sugar and lemon?

"I don't care." Che thought maybe he'd better take it easy with this kid. She really was pretty young. "I don't see no television set."

"Oh, it's back in the bedroom."

"What's on?" He started down the hall. Heather hadn't realized that telling him where the TV was would sound like an invitation to go there, but then she thought, why not? What's wrong with watching television? It's just a soap. The sun is shining. It's not like necking in a movie, for instance.

Che was already sprawled on the bed, looking very strange in a place she was used to seeing only her parents. He had turned the volume up, and now there were two men on the screen, evidently plotting something. Heather climbed onto the bed beside him, feeling self-conscious. They watched quietly as the endless stories unwound among the equally endless commercials. Heather began to relax. After a while, Che seemed to be asleep. He rolled onto his stomach.

She could not resist laying her hand on his back. Almost without thinking she began to gently rub. Che took this as invitation and rested a hand cautiously on her leg. When she didn't pull away, he began to stroke her soft skin.

Itsy came back to the trailer cursing under her breath. In this two-bit little dusty town she couldn't find anything she was used to buying. Even the colors of nail polish were dumb. She picked up a couple of magazines and a six-pack of pop-- that was about all there was that she could use. How was she going to get to a town with a real store?

When she stopped in the tiny kitchen to set down her pop, the television seemed louder than usual. She smelled something different, too, kind of a musky smell. Hair oil or something. When she stood still and looked around, it came to her that she was hearing a rhythmic... what? Was the old man here and getting it on in the back bedroom? Surely they would have shut the door. There was no pickup parked out front.

Through the open front door, she could see Heather's mother down the street, headed home. "Oh, no!" It suddenly dawned on her what was really happening. "I thought that kid was too young and dumb!"

Pounding down the hall, she burst into the bedroom and saw that she had been right. That Che boy was right on top of Heather. "Here comes your mom, Heather! Pull up your shorts!"

By the time Heather's mother came into the trailer, all three young people were decorously arranged at the foot of the bed, innocently watching Sesame Street. Only Heather looked a little bit flushed and stunned, but her mother--in her annoyance-- didn't notice. "Didn't anyone start supper?" demanded her mother. Three sets of amazed eyes stared at her. Supper? What a strange thought.

"Oh, the hell with it. It's too hot to cook anyway." She went into Buddy's room and threw herself on the bed. The walls of the trailer were so thin it was easy to tell what anyone was doing.

Itsy slapped Che on the shoulder. "Well, pard, it was nice you could stop by, but I guess it's time for the party to end. We'll walk you to the door, won't we, Heather."

Che wasn't entirely steady on his feet, but he managed to get out gracefully. Heather leaned helplessly in the door frame with tears welling up in her eyes. Itsy opened a couple of cans of pop. "Guess this didn't warm up too much." Heather didn't seem to be registering. "HEY! WAKE UP!" She put the can in Heather's hand. "Let's go for a walk."

Itsy sort of liked being the stage manager. These dumb kids didn't know anything. She hustled Heather on out the door and down the road to a clump of trees where they could sit in shade.

"Boy, I don't know why I don't come out here more often. It's a lot nicer than being inside when it's this hot." Itsy was amused that Heather was such a zombie. "So, okay, kid. Your first time or something?" She could see by Heather's face that it certainly was.

"What if I get pregnant?" whispered Heather.
"Geez, you're dumb."

"What if my dad finds out?"

"So how's he gonna find out? I'm not gonna tell him. I'm not a rat."


"So how'd you like it?" Itsy looked sideways as she tipped up her pop can.
"I don't know." And that was the truth. Heather hardly knew what had happened to her. It seemed to her that she had tried to resist, but had she? And what did it mean? Had she started it? Invited it? She just didn't know anything that would help her sort out her feelings and there was no one she could ask for help. This Itsy was protecting her, she knew that, but she didn't know why or what she would owe Itsy in return. And she didn't like the slightly mocking tone of her voice. She gulped some pop and burped, getting pop up her nose.

Itsy laughed and laughed. "Dumb kid!"

Che didn't come around for a few days. He felt a little sheepish. It never occurred to him that Heather might need a little reassurance. Some of his buddies had run into him on the street and he knew there was a kegger in the planning. He wanted to go, felt he needed to go. When he did show up at the trailer, only Itsy was there.

"I was gonna invite Heather to a kegger," he said, just having thought of it that minute.

"Yeah? Well, don't take a little green kid like that to a kegger. She wouldn't know what to do. She don't even hardly drink. Why don't you take me instead?"

Che shrugged. He didn't really care very much who he took so long as he got there. He was afraid of getting in too deep with Heather anyway-- what if she fell in love with him, or thought she did?

"When is it?" demanded Itsy.

"If we're going to hook a ride, I spose we ought to get to my friend's house now."

"Just let me get a jacket and my purse." She briefly considered writing a note to say where she went, but she could hardly tell the truth. The roof would blow off the trailer when her dad got home that night. He might even come looking.

The two set off together. Heather, who had been in the bathroom setting her hair, then holding her breath to hear the conversation once she heard Che's voice, came into the hallway and stood looking out the window at their disappearing backs. The tears rolled down her cheeks. She wished she would just die quietly. It was clear that no one in the whole world would care, not even her dad.

And that was the first time she thought of suicide, but not the last.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"ONE WINDY DAY" Chapter Nine

Bad girls are SO much more fun to write about than good girls like Heather! We really got a little carried away with Itsy who was all attitude and defiance, unlike Heather the Doormat. We also let the good dad slip a bit. Drinking haunts all the reservation families, even the ones who don’t normally drink.

The old culture valued shelter for everyone. People lived in family groups but not nuclear families and private rooms were not an option. The new culture teaches that everyone should have their own private room and undisturbed “things.” The two ideas run into each other all the time on a reservation where adequate housing is always a problem and families include cousins or half-sibs who come and go. Adding or subtracting this person or that can disturb the dynamics of the household, even when there is no particular tension. If there is already something simmering, it can get explosive. To add Itzy, who prided herself on saying the worst in the worst language she could summon up, to a household where the family survived through denial meant all sorts of scandals.

One of the biggest dangers in writing Itzy was making her way too attractive, but we didn’t want her to be a monster either. We wanted her to give Heather some lessons in how to have a backbone. And now Che was having to face someone stronger than he was.

Chapter IX

"No, no, no, NO, NO, NO, NO !! That girl can NOT have my room!" Heather was screaming with desperation. Somehow, for some stupid, mysterious adult reason, her half-sister was going to come live with them. "I can't stand it. I'll run away. I'll..." She ran into her little bedroom-- her BELOVED, PERSONAL, PRIVATE BEDROOM-- and threw herself onto her bed, sobbing and screaming and biting her pillow.

Heather's father looked at her mother and sighed. "Couldn't we put her in Buddy's old bedroom?"

"I don't even see why she has to come at all. I don't want her in Buddy's bedroom. I don't want anyone in Buddy's bedroom. It's the only thing I have left of my only son and I don't want it invaded by some stranger." And she went into Buddy's bedroom herself and slammed the sliding door shut. The sounds of weeping seeped under the door.

"What am I going to do?" Heather's father asked himself. "She's my daughter. She needs a home, too. Buddy is dead. He's gone. No one can hurt him. We don't need a room to remember him. We have lots of memories. But this girl needs us. I can't let her down." He sat on the couch and put his head in his hands. Pretty soon he got back up and reached a beer out of the refrigerator. The sun got in his eyes as he passed the window. It was just slipping down over the mountains.

By the time it was really dark, Heather's father was drunk and in no mood for anyone to argue with him. Both Heather and her mother stayed in the small bedrooms, but now they weren't crying anymore. They were trying not to make any noise and they were listening to see what he was doing. Mostly he was talking to himself, but occasionally they heard a crash and tried to picture whether something had been broken.

Finally he got tired of being alone. "Come out here, you goddamn complaining women!" he yelled. "Come out here and tell me to my f-- face I can't have my own daughter in this house! Whose f-- house do you think it is? Who do you think pays your goddamn bills? You think you're so goddamn fancy! Too good for this trailer, eh? Why not try living in the street? That's where my goddamn daughter has been-- in the street! What kind of f-- life is that? Think you're too good, don't you?"

He began banging on Heather's door. "Come outta there, little Miss Fancy Pants. Get a taste of life! See what it's really about. Time you grew up." Heather was holding her breath in her room. She hadn't known her father to be like this since she was little. Only in her earliest memories, so early they seemed like maybe a movie or something, did she know her father to yell at her. It was terrifying. He banged harder and harder, getting more and more angry.

She couldn't stand it. "All right, dad. All right. She can have my room." There was a silence. Then she heard her dad leave. Her mom was crying. Heather put on a tape and wished she were numb, wished she couldn't feel anything, that she didn't even exist.

The half-sister didn't arrive for another week. During the whole time Heather wished she hadn't given up her bedroom and wouldn't have to sleep on the couch. She tried to figure out some kind of way to get her dad to back down, but he was stony-faced when he was there and soon left for the week's work anyway. He would bring the mysterious newcomer when he came home the next Friday.

On Friday both Heather and her mother went around jumpy and over-alert. Every time a car door slammed their stomachs clenched. At last it really was her father's pickup that pulled into the front yard. The door opened and the half-sister more or less strutted into the room.

She was dark, like Heather, but her hair was cut in short spikes except in the back where it slid down her back in a kind of scalp lock. She wore a lot of makeup and a big baggy jacket, silver and black, over what looked like the sort of t-shirt Heather's mother would never let her wear. Her ears, all along the outside rims, were studded with-- good Lord, how many?--pierced earrings. Most shocking of all, she had a pierced NOSE !! Truly, there was a little jewel nestled in along one nostril. Involuntarily imagining the original hole being punched, Heather flinched.

Before the two women already in the room could rise, the girl flopped down. "Oh, shit!" she said, "This place is a dump." No one knew what to do. Maybe that's why the girl acted that way. No one even dared look at each other. The girl took out a can of snuff and filled her lip. Heather couldn't help but gape. The girl laughed. "Want some, babe?" She held out the can. But Heather could only shake her head.

At last Heather's father, who had a suitcase awkwardly dragging his arm down, began to wrestle it through the little hall to what had been Heather's room. Over his shoulder he said, "Heather is giving up her room to you. It wasn't easy to do."

"That right?" said the insolent girl. "Guess I'd better come check it out.

The rest of that day and most of the next few days were a blur to Heather. She could not adjust to the idea that she was related to this amazing creature, this mixture of Madonna and... what? Roseanne? She was a slob; there was no doubt about that. And she treated everyone else like dirt. Heather's father just didn't seem to know what to do about her. Heather's mother hated her on sight. She had some definite ideas about what to do, but was afraid to even speak to the creature for fear of going too far.

At least she stayed in Heather's former bedroom almost the whole time. And Heather's mother stayed in Buddy's old bedroom. In fact, she began to sleep in there and let Heather sleep in her bed when her father was out of town during the week. There was a television in there, which helped Heather keep from thinking too much.

One night everything on the boob tube was just too predictable and stupid. Heather could feel the anxiety, the unanswered questions, all rising up in her stomach. If she had something to eat, she reasoned, maybe that would settle her down and make her sleepy. Quietly, not wanting to wake her mom, she slid the bedroom door open and padded up the hall in her nighty.

She was startled to see the front door standing open, someone sitting on the doorstep with her feet out on the little sheltering shed's floor. Cigarette smoke scented the air and floated in the blue light that came in from the nightlights. Heather could see the cigarette tip in the girl's mouth get brighter and then dim. "Oh, hiya, kid," said the girl. "Didn't mean to scare ya."

"You didn't," lied Heather.

"Wanna sit for a while? There's a pretty nice little breeze in this doorway. Here I'll shove over." And she did. Heather perched gingerly, tucking her nighty skirt in around her. It WAS sort of nice there. Then she saw the girl was drinking a beer, too.

Heather tried to think of something to say. "This must be pretty different for you, huh?"

"You could say so."

"Were you with your mom before?"

"Yup. Mostly."

"Is she...I come you're not with her now?"

"Jesus, kid! Don't they tell you nuthin’ in this family?"

"No." It felt like a relief to have someone else notice that nothing got talked about. "No, they just mostly sit on everything and wait."

The cigarette glowed twice before the girl answered. "Well, my mom was killed in a car accident." Anticipating Heather before she even had time to react, she blew smoke out and snapped, "Don't feel sorry. She was turning a trick at the time and her John was drunk. She was stupid to let him drive. She wasn't that much of a mother to me. I guess you can tell. You're lucky, yourself. You got a nice little standard life here, all tucked up with mom and pop."

"My brother was killed by a car. He was your brother, too."

More glowing and smoke blowing. "Hell, I lose people I don't even know I got." They sat in silence for a long time. "Ain't there nothin' to do around here?"

"Not much."

"What do YOU do?"

"I dunno. Go to school. Hang around with friends."

"I ain't seen many friends." Long silence. "I suppose you don't want 'em comin' around and seein' what your sister is like, huh?"
This was the truth, but Heather tried to deny it, then thought she would follow her new sister's example and be honest, but she didn't have a lot of practise. "No...Well, you are kind of DIFFERENT."

"C'mon, kid! I'm a real wreck! A sleaze! A skag! No one anyone would be proud of."

"You could change."

"Not me. I wouldn't if I could. I'm doomed, baby, DOOMED. And proud of it."

She put the cigarette out on the threshold, leaving the butt right there, stood and and sauntered back to the room Heather could not keep from calling her bedroom. Pretty soon Acid Rock was coming out of the room, but it was turned low.

Heather picked up the butt, brushed the ashes away, put the butt in the empty beer can the girl had also left, and stuffed them into the trash under the sink. She felt strange, as though she'd been taken to another planet. All at once it occurred to her that she hadn't seen Che for a while. If his grandfather had had a telephone she would have called him right that moment, even though it was kind of late.

Che was suffering through his first sweat, thinking to himself, "This is crazy. I'm gonna die of heatstroke in this little old beaver house." But his grandpa, who had badgered and bossed him all day until he had the right materials collected and had put everything together in a way that suited him, was sitting across from him rocking and singing softly. He couldn't let an old man sit there and take the steam and heat better than he could. He was Che: Macho Man, Big Stud.

But he couldn't breathe. He HAD to at least stick his head out. The old man looked over at him, perhaps sensing his desperation. He laughed and threw more water on the hot stones. Che groaned, but he didn't leave.

Friday, July 22, 2005

"One Windy Day" Chapter Eight

We didn’t want the funeral for Che’s mother to be the Crisis or Climax of the story, but it was pretty intense stuff. Hard to keep up that level. So we decided we needed a chapter that was mild and ordinary, to take the story down a little bit. There can’t be trauma and emotional breaking points all the time.

We didn’t talk about post-traumatic syndrome at the time. It was before the Gulf Wars, so it didn’t come into our thinking from the military context. Some work has been done recently about the effects on descendents of the Nazi Holocaust, even down several generations. No one had really dared to name the Native American Holocaust and try to uncover the effects on descendents, even though we all knew people whose parents were victims or survivors of the Baker Massacre. The starvation deaths of the Thirties and the effects of the high rates of violence weren’t really discussed much yet. One brave school counselor in Browning began a group for grieving people, but he got into trouble for it. The culture said, “Don’t talk about it. You’ll just stir up trouble.”

What WAS being discussed a lot was the effects of being raised in boarding schools on the parenting skills of the students. There seemed to be a lot of skills that had to do with comforting and guiding that were just missing, especially for kids who were no longer little kids but not yet grown. But it was too hot a topic for us to really address. We let the mother just be passive.

Chapter VIII

Che and Heather sat together at the table in Heather's trailer. Heather's mother was across the table from them. She was helping Heather bead a new set of moccasins to wear to pow-wows. Summer was near.. The weather was so soft and warm that the windows and door of the trailer stood open and the gently drifting air smelled vaguely of the smoked and tanned elkhide and more strongly of green grass. Both the washer and the dryer were running in the trailer, so there was a soft thumping and churning. The tiny sparkling beads lay in saucers. The beading needles in the deft hands of mother and daughter went in and out, creating one of the old patterns the Blackfeet have always used, a shape round at one end and a kind of fan at the other. Che sat watching their quick hands, feeling more at peace than he had for a long time. The radio played something throbbing, the sentimental kind of cowboy music.

Heather stopped for a minute to gaze at Che. "It's just amazing that your grandfather showed up, Che! Where has he been all this time?"

"He doesn't really say. When I ask him he just gets real fuzzy and shrugs it off."

Heather's mom stopped now. "Is he your mother's father, Che?"

"No. He's my father's father. But I don't even remember my father. He took off a long time ago and my mother was so mad about it she wouldn't tell me anything." Che's hands started to move on the table, picking up the scissors, then the thread, and putting them down again. He was nervous and it helped him if he was feeling something in his hands.

"But where CAN he have been?" Sometimes Heather worried a lot about where people were, especially her father, who was gone so much.

"I don't know. Maybe up in Canada. But he's back in his own house now. You know that little old shack on the edge of town? Near the cottonwoods along the creek? The one that's always been boarded up? He says that's his house."

"Are you going to stay with him?" Heather thought that little house was charming, like a fairytale house or a long-ago house. She just liked houses in general, anyway, all kinds of houses. She could imagine herself choosing curtains and arranging things on the shelves.

"I don't know. He and my aunt and grandma have to talk. I don't get to say anything." He couldn't keep the resentment out of his voice. At his age he thought he ought to be able to make decisions, but here was everyone taking over his life again. In a very small voice, not quite meaning to say it out loud, he added, "There's a goddamn social worker, too."

Heather's mother, seeming not to have heard, rose stiffly. Her varicose veins were giving her trouble this week. "That little old place has no indoor water. I'm not even sure it has electricity. He's too old to live there, but if he thinks he must, he'll need someone to split wood and carry water. I hope you can handle living without a bathroom, Che." She began to move around the little trailer, straightening up the kitchen and carrying laundry down the hall to put in the machine. When she was out of sight, Heather looked into Che's eyes and smiled. Che, who prided himself on being tough and knowing everything and always being cool, blushed. He felt like a little kid.

Holding her beadwork at arm's length, Heather squinted at the shapes of yellow and orange against blue. She had made the traditional keyhole design. "Pretty good," admired Che.

"It's kind of lumpy. I've done better. You're distracting me," she flirted back. She hadn't known she knew how to flirt, but here she was doing it with her eyes flicking up and down and her dimples flashing. Somehow she just felt irresistible.

Shyly, gently, Che reached out as if to touch her hand, but the sound of her mother coming back along the trailer made him pull back. "Heather, I'm going next door for a minute. If the dryer goes off, will you fold the clothes please?"

"Sure." She tried not to sound too delighted, but she really wanted to talk to Che alone. As soon as the door banged shut she asked, "Are you still having nightmares?"

"No. Not as much. He picked up the scissors and began opening and closing them.

"I love you, Che." She ached to say that out loud. She said it in her head all the time. But it seemed too bold to just say to Che, after all. Maybe she could start out sort of cool. Something like, "I suppose you've gone with lots of girls." No, that would sound jealous. Maybe, "I'd really like to get close to you, Che. I mean be special, you know?" How about, "My feelings for you are strong." No, that was like a movie or something.

It turned out that she didn't say anything at all, but her face showed all the things she was thinking and Che got the message.

"You'd better be careful. I'm a bad dude. Just ask anyone. I'm worthless, just like my folks."

"Maybe now that your grandfather is here, you'll be different. He doesn't drink and he knows the old ways. Maybe he'll teach you."

"Why should I learn any old ways? The old times are long gone. There's nothing for anyone like me nowadays. I'll just party and drive fast and die young." He glanced at her sideways under his eyelashes to see how she reacted and was a little sorry when he saw her flinch as though she'd been struck"

"No, no, Che! There's a whole world! Education is the key. You just need to --well, get good grades, and..." She was a little vague about just how it worked. But everyone had always told her that doing well in school was the key to a good future.

"You're forgetting that I'm expelled. I'm not just a high school drop-out. I'm EXPELLED."
Heather was shocked. "But why would they expel you?"

"You dummy! You bonehead! Shows what you know about it!" He could see that she didn't like being called names, so he said, quickly. "Ah, jokes! No, really. I was expelled for being truant! See how smart they are? I don't come to school, so they get mad and say I can't!!" He crashed the scissors down on the table.

"Maybe if you went and explained how it was with you and asked to come back?" Heather's parents had always accepted an apology from her, so long as she was really sorry and tried to do better.

But Che's way was different. He was proud and he didn't believe anyone would help him anyway. No one had. Or at least if anyone had, he couldn't remember it. "NO! School is not for me. I won't go to school." Jumping up he looked to see where Heather's mother was. Maybe she would come back and get him out of this nasty turn of the conversation.

Heather was completely flattened. The fantasy in her head of Che as the steady hard-working father and herself as the warm and comforting mother kept falling apart. Che could tell she was disappointed. He came over and stood behind her with his hands on the back of her neck, softly kneading the muscles. She was relaxed and her shoulders were soft, surprisingly small. He was just about to lean over and kiss her when her mother came up the steps, and so, to show her he knew she was there, he pretended to strangle Heather. "Augh! Hey! Not so hard!" But she was really delighted to have his hands on her anywhere, anyhow. She would have put up with a lot more pain. Between her overactive imagination and her overreacting body, she felt as though she were electrified by any contact at all. Her mother didn't look amused, but she was tolerant.

Then there was a tall shadow in the doorway. It was Che's grandfather. He wore a tweed cap, like the old people farther North, and he took it off in courtesy as he stood there, leaning on a walking stick. He nodded formally. Heather's mother felt like a child, with this old man looking at her. "I would like to speak to my boy, Charles."

Che did not go to the door, but standing where he was, he answered with respect. "What is it, Grandfather?" Heather was astonished! Charles??

"Oki, nisohko. I need help in my house. Can you come with me? To live?"

"Yeah. That would be all right."

"Then you must come now. Lots of work to do." For a moment they all stood transfixed, gazing at each other and trying to imagine what the little house might be like to live in with an old, old Indian. Would he smudge? Would he pray? What things would he have in the house? Then the dryer buzzer broke the mood. BRRZZZZZPPP!!

As it happened, the first thing Che's grandfather wanted him to do was to dig two good deep postholes so he could string a clothes line. That much work made the sweat pour off Che, but no sooner did he get the posts set and the line strung than Grandfather wanted all the bedding taken out and hung up in the sun. It turned out there were two beds--old creaky metal beds with musty mattresses. By one of the beds was a foot locker with some of his clothes in it, the clothes that were at his aunt's house being washed when the apartment burned.

That night he lay awake for a long time. Too many things were different. His grandfather and Heather were both too new in his life. They changed the balance somehow: made him feel like he wasn't himself. Girls had liked him before, but they were never so... what was she, anyway? Motherly? And this grandfather... now he was snoring in the other bed, making a terrible racket. He thought, “What I need is a drink to make me relax.” But it was dark and he didn't know where anything was and he doubted there was anything to drink anyway. There wasn't even a refrigerator. He wished for his dog, wished he'd gone around where the apartment had burned and looked for that dog. He had seen the dog outside, safe from the fire. Hadn't the dog come over to be with him when Heather was there? That Heather! Right in front of everyone.

There was a scratching at the door. He got up, stumbled a bit in the dark, finally felt his way over and opened the door. It was his dog. She followed him in and when he got back under the old quilts--which smelled fresh from the sunshine all afternoon-- she jumped up to lie alongside him on the bed. Grandfather snored on and the dog heaved a great sigh. At last Che relaxed and sank down into sleep.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"One Windy Day" Chapter Seven

We had talked about the “arc of the story” -- how it starts by setting the scene and characters, how it continues with a rising pattern of problems until there is a climax, a crisis, and the pattern is broken or relaxed to a conclusion. So was the death of Che’s mother the climax? Couldn’t be. (Too much of the school year left. We needed more story.) Would have to be something more added to the rising action. First we would get Che’s mother buried.

This was a time when a lot of people from the reservation were in treatment and treatment concepts were circulating among us. Che would be a good illustration of “denial.” He never reflected on anything -- pretended nothing was wrong. Heather was certainly “co-dependent” and maybe “enabling.” “Co-dependent” meant that she so needed to be taken care of that she took care of other needy people, like Che. “Enabling” didn’t quite fit since there wasn’t a lot Heather could do that would keep Che in that needy place so she could keep on comforting him. She didn’t buy him alcohol or excuse his drinking. The problem was that in some ways we didn’t know enough.

And we wanted some hope -- so many people thought that drunks were hopeless, that Indians were hopeless, that reservations themselves were hopeless. We didn’t like that. Thus far, we hadn’t had any characters who were “old-timey” Indians. Maybe that’s where the hope was. So we planted that for a hook at the end of the chapter.

Chapter VII

Whenever Che had had a loss in his life--and there had been many losses -- he just shut out whatever it was that hurt him. When his dad had left, when they had moved from a place he liked to live in, when someone took a toy, when his dog was run over-- whatever it was, Che just sealed that part of himself off inside and tried never to think of it again. But his mother was hard to seal off. For one thing, he kept having to walk through all the social things that people seemed to demand: a wake, a rosary, the funeral... it all seemed to go on and on. People kept coming up to him and saying things to him that he tried not to hear. They seemed to want him to say something in return, but he didn't know what to say, so he just ducked his head and mumbled and hoped they would accept that. After looking at him funny, they went away.

The wake and rosary were at his aunt's house. The kitchen was full of food. Every other room was full of people. There were relatives who hadn't seen each other for a long time; people who had left the reservation during the relocation years; people who had refused to speak to each other since some half-forgotten feud years ago. The coffin was in the middle of the front room and there was barely enough room for all the chairs and people around it. Plastic flowers mixed with real ones, all different kinds and colors..

People moved from one cluster to another, sometimes looking sad and other times remembering funny things from long ago and stifling laughter. The windows had to be opened because of all the body heat and every now and then a puff of wind would sweep through and ruffle whatever was loose. The men kept slipping outside to stand around the pickups, leaning on the outsides with their fingers interwoven and dangling over the insides. Che wandered, letting people grab him and pump his hand, say things he couldn't hear because he didn't want to. Finally he drifted outside among the pickups. One of the men guided him along behind the pickups and slipped him a bottle in a paper bag. After that Che still wandered, but he felt warmer. He didn't care so much. He could keep from asking questions about the future.

Heather was determined to get to the rosary for Che's mother. She felt she owed it to Che somehow to participate in the ceremonies of death. But she was wary of going by herself. Finally she remembered that her father's cousin was somehow related to Che's aunt's husband. When she called, the cousin said Heather was welcome to go along with her.

Stepping into Che's aunt's house, Heather felt self-conscious, though she recognized most of the people there. The smells of food and the hot air were almost overwhelming. They were a tiny bit late, so the rosary had already begun. People repeated together the old words, some with high voices and some with low. Father gave prayers for absolution, not wearing robes, but in his ordinary dressed-up clothes and that strip of cloth around his neck. It seemed to go on forever, which was lucky, because that gave her time to get oriented and spot Che in the back of the room near the kitchen door. As soon as the rosary ended, she worked her way through the shifting bodies to get to him. When she got to where he had been, he was gone, but she caught sight of the kitchen door to the outside just closing and followed.

"Che! Che, wait for me!" She gave a quick tug to her black leatherette skirt and smoothed down her silky blouse. It was red and she knew she looked good in it, but she tried not to think about her clothes. She knew that was improper. It was dark outside, but she could see well enough by the light from the doors and windows, the streetlights and the car headlights. "CHE!"

Like a zombie he turned slowly and stared at her without recognition. She came alongside him and put her hand on her arm. "Are you all right?"


"It's so crowded in there."

"Been like that all day."

"We could walk around a little. It would do you good." She felt maternal, as though he were a small boy with an upset stomach. She tried to think what it was a person did for someone who was grieving, but the only things that came to mind were from stories and they didn't fit. She linked her arm through his, just as a half-dozen little kids ran by shrieking and almost bumped into them.

"The casket is really pretty, Che."

"I guess so."

"And the flowers are real nice. A lot of people are here. Your mom must have had a lot of relatives and friends."

That got through to Che. "Where were they when she needed help? They didn't know us then, oh, no." His head suddenly crowded with images of times there was not even money for milk to put on the dry cereal they ate for supper when there was nothing else left. Some of the places they lived smelled moldy from being cold and damp and dirty. Or rancid from smoke because the stoves used for heating didn't have tight stove-pipes. They were sticky, greasy places with bugs and mice. He remembered being cold and left all alone and having nothing to wear and being ashamed of his life, his mom... And then he managed to go numb again. He might go crazy to think of all that. He might do something drastic.

Looking earnestly into Che's face, Heather couldn't really tell what he was thinking. Even if she had known what he was thinking about, it was so much outside her experience that she couldn't have understood. Her life had been safe so far, and though her mother and father worried about money a lot and thought the place they lived wasn't the best it could be, still it was warm and she had enough to eat and nice clothes. She tried to remember how it was when her brother died, but that time was blurry. She had been younger then. Mostly she remembered crying a lot and her father holding her tight. And her mom-- her mom had wailed in the old time way, and for the first time she realized how Indian her mother really was. She thought a lot about God in those days, whether she could trust the church and believe the priest. For a while she wondered about the old ways, but she didn't know enough about them to think about it very much.

"She's not hurting now, Che. She's in heaven and everything is all right. She's not burned in heaven. She's like she was before."

Che said dully, "Just shut up. I don't want to think about it." But his mind showed him the picture of her burning again. "Burning in hell, the bitch." His feelings towards her were now hopelessly mixed between hatred and desperate love. He hated her for not coping, for not being a good mom, for dying. But he loved her, needed her, remembered times when he turned to her for comfort and she... Got to stop even thinking about it. Don't do no good.

Heather trotted along, happy to be quiet so long as she was touching Che, her arm through his arm. She felt important-- needed-- more than just a kid. He was walking swiftly down the street, not stumbling, so she had to hustle and pick her way through the stones and pothholes in her good shoes. A dog ran out to bark at them and Che broke away from her long enough to pick up a rock and swerve it at the dog. As soon as the dog ran yelping away, she recaptured Che's arm.

Dimly he could feel her alongside him. Her arm was warm. It was not a cold evening, but that arm still felt good. Who was this girl? Oh, Heather. He had stopped by her trailer and kissed her plenty good. They were interrupted. But it had felt good. He had forgotten his troubles and forgotten he was powerless. With her, he had power. He knew better. He was the stronger one, the one who knew what to do. Suddenly, he looked down at her and grinned.

She could barely make out the gleam of his grin, but it set her heart to knocking. They were passing a hedge of caraganas, untended and sprawly, and he pulled her into the opening where the concrete walkway to the house went through, so that they were hidden even if a car passed by. There was a step in the walkway and without thinking she stood up on it so that even though she was shorter it was easy to turn up her face and be kissed. This time he was rough and needy, which made her soft motherly side respond, along with something else she really couldn't describe or even recognize. It hadn't happened before.. The two stood clinging together a long time.

A low growling came from below. Che and Heather looked down to barely make out Che's dog growing at Heather. "Jealous, are you?" said Che and felt good because here were two creatures who liked him, no matter what else was going on. "Stop that. She's not hurting me." But the dog was not satisfied and went on growling and even baring her teeth. Che kicked at her, but she didn't go far off and she began to bark an alarm. The secrecy and closeness of the moment was destroyed.

"Spose I'd better go back," said Che. Heather turned obediently. Whatever Che said, she was willing to do.

The funeral mass was also crowded. Father preached on God's infinite forgiveness, his love for his mother, and how even the briefest repentance and a sincere belief in Jesus Christ could save each of us. He even hinted that because she burned at her time of death, she might be spared the fires of purgatory, but he talked carefully for fear of being taken wrongly.. Che thought to himself that so many people came only because she had been burned up in front of them all. They were just curious, that was all.

His aunt was very quiet and her husband stayed close to her. Her children were pale, dressed-up, and careful to do exactly what she told them. Che tried to lean away from them, tried to separate himself from everyone else. But it was useless: they were all mashed together in the pew.

Heather had gotten in trouble when her relative reported that she had disappeared from the rosary and that she must have gone home alone without the relative. Actually the relative was curious to know what connection Heather had with Che and what she knew about the mother-- whether she was drunk that night and what man she was with-- all those things everyone wanted to talk about.

So Heather decided to go to the funeral by herself. She was going to hitch into the bigger town, but then she spotted a carload of friends and they took her along. They weren't going to the funeral and it never occurred to them that she was.

She slipped in past Bill Riddle watching in the doorway of the Church of the Little Flower and sat at the back under the abstract King Kuka windows. The giant crucifix by Gordon Monroe was almost too much for her this time. Could being crucified be as painful as being burned alive? She knelt and prayed sincerely, for Che, for Che's mother, for the family, and for herself. She asked for the strength to be a good helper. When she sat back in the pew, the light was many-colored and the singing comforted her. Surely all would be well. She could see the back of Che's head and to her even that looked exceptionally handsome. She looked curiously at his aunt.

Che's aunt could not stop weeping. How could she have prevented this? She had dreaded it so long, had seen it coming and tried to stop it. Now what was to be done with Che and his little brothers, but especially Che? She glanced sideways at the wrinkled up little old grandmother. She couldn't handle a teenager. The little boys were almost too much for her.

Che's aunt didn't see a tall, gaunt old Indian man come in the double doors at the back, dip his fingers in the holy water, genuflect with great dignity, and slip into the pew beside a little girl in a black leatherette skirt. Around him there was peacefulness.

Monday, July 18, 2005

"One Windy Day" Chapter Six

The way to find out about characters was to put them up against circumstances. Heather had just faced the worst thing she could -- for all her loneliness and feelings of being neglected, it looked as though she was going to have to share her dad with someone else, a totally unknown half-sister. In part this was supposed to be about how a slip-up years ago (an unwanted pregnancy) could mess up a family even years and years later. And it was also about secrets and why people keep them and what the consequences are.

But that was all very psychological and theoretical. The class wanted some action. About that time an old building burned down in Browning -- winoes were in it and died. We took the idea and had no problem deciding to kill Che’s mother. We had all seen such fires. In fact, recently (2005) the Mayor of Browning has instigated a campaign to tear down many of the old wooden buildings. No one even remembered who owned some of them. Others were willing to have them torn down if it didn’t cost them anything, so the fire department volunteered to use them for practise without charging.

So we tried our hand at describing a spectacular tragedy and its effect. Also, the boys wanted to be named in the story.

Chapter VI

Aching. Cold. Cramped. Where...? Che could hardly understand where he was when he woke up. His head ached and his mouth was full of cotton. Very slowly he unfolded his legs. The beer cans scattered clattering around him. His neck was in a knot. He groaned. It was dark. He must have slept for hours. It was not the first time he had drunk himself into oblivion, so he knew he would eventually recover if he could just get moving, but it got a little harder to get moving every time, he thought.

At last he was up and weaving his way back towards the town. The streetlights showed which way to head but also he half-heard the fire siren--even from this distance. The lights of town seemed strange--flickering and more orange than usual. As he got closer, he began to pick up the smell of smoke. Then he came around the corner across from the store where his apartment was.

It was HIS apartment that was burning. A crowd milled out front, shouting at each other. Hoses snaked in every direction and the hydrants leaked water. Every window shone orange and then little dancing points of flame began to stick through the roof. He was shocked, paralyzed. He stood still with his mouth hanging open, trying hard to get it through his beer-soaked brain what was going on. When he had gotten drunk before he had never hallucinated such things, but he couldn't believe it was real. Some of the seventh grade boys-- Heather's classmates-- were standing in a little group and they turned to stare at Che, knowing it was his house.

"That woman is in there!" someone shouted. Che stared at an upper window. The flames were leaping up the side of the building, spreading and waving like a curtain in the wind, and then it was as though the wall were dissolving into flame: a dark shape seemed to writhe on the other side of the wall-- he could see her and it seemed he could hear her screaming.

"MOOOOOOOM!" The word tore out of him like a long howl. He started to run towards the conflagration.

Galen reached out and grabbed his arm. "Stay here, Che! There's nothing you can do."

"I've got to save my mother!" Che was frantic. He fought Galen off. David, Allan. and Berry all dove for Che to hold him back. There were no grown men close and Che was so strong he was flinging them aside. Emmett shouted into Che's face, "It's no use! Be sensible! You'll die, too, if you go in there!" But still Che went towards the fire with the boys desperately fighting to hold him back. Berry spotted Mitchell and yelled for help. With Mitchell's weight and muscle they could just barely hold Che.

Then the roof began to collapse in great showers of sparks, fire mingling with the spouting water and sending off great clouds of steam. Che, too, collapsed sobbing. His mother, his mother had been burned-- oh, it couldn't be true. He couldn't even make himself get angry. It was as though he were only an infant, only able to cry for his mother. "Mom, Mom, Mom," he sobbed. "I want my mom. Save my mom." In the end all the contempt for her behavior was gone and he remembered only long ago being held and fed. His mother was everything, his life, his comfort, his source. He lay on the cement sidewalk sobbing his heart out.

Heather had spotted him almost as soon as he had come. Now she couldn't stay away from him. Her heart was swollen with tenderness for him. Kneeling alongside him, she put her hand gently on his shoulder. "Oh, Che, I'm so sorry." It was as though he couldn't feel her hand. Others crowded around, some pulling at Che to try to get him to stand up. Heather pushed them away. "Leave him alone. He needs to be left alone. Can't you understand how it must be to lose your mother?" Beginning to cry herself, she put her head down on his back, her cheek against his warmth so that her tears soaked into his shirt. Only the two of them existed there in the midst of all that confusion and conflagration, only the two of them in a lost world.

Once the building had begun to collapse, the water was more effective and the fire began to die into smoke and blackened, jumbled lumber. The firemen ran to and fro, shouting at each other and tinkering with the dials on the pumper truck to keep the water pressure up. People stood in little clusters now, talking softly to each other and shifting back and forth on their feet. The women drew their sweaters around their shoulders and crossed their arms in front of them. The ambulance arrived. but it was a long time before the ruins of the old building had cooled enough for rescuers to search for the body. If there were only one. No one knew what they might finally find.

"...Her little boys. The big boy is over there, but the little boys?" "In the country. Their grandma." "Just went to the bad... not like her sister." "Did you see her? I'm sure it was her." It was too awful to think about too closely, and yet people wanted to know whether they imagined that shape, that woman-like shape behind the curtain of flame. "Those old drunks were always getting in there. Bet they did it." "Building ought to have been torn down long ago." The search for blame had begun.

Heather's parents found the two youngsters before Che's aunt did. "Heather, stand up, honey."

"I can't leave him, Mom. He needs me."

"Here comes his aunt. She'll take care of him."

The sheriff's deputy was with Che's aunt and he helped her get Che to his feet and walking. Heather and her parents were left standing together, unacknowledged and uncertain what to do. Finally her dad said, "Let's go home. This is a terrible scene."
"Where will they take Che's mother?" asked Heather.

Her father moved his shoulders without quite shrugging. "The morgue, I guess. What's left of her."

"Will there be a funeral? Will it be Catholic?"

"I suppose so." Heather's mother put her arm around her shoulders and guided her along. Their pickup was parked just outside the crowd of gawkers and the tangle of rescue equipment. Now that the fire was about out, it was dark. The three got in stiffly, as though they had aged or had been walking for a long ways. Their muscles were tense from the emergency and the unresolved emotion. It would take a long time to lose the stiffness and relax enough to sleep.

They needed to talk among themselves, to turn it all over in their minds. Heather's mother made hot chocolate and they sat at the dinette table holding their mugs, drinking very slowly and looking at the curls of steam coming off the top. "Oh, I just HATE fires!" Heather's mom almost spilled her chocolate. "One of the things I hate most about this damn trailer house is thinking about what might happen if there was a fire. These flimsy things burn so fast..."

"That's why we got all those smoke alarms. I'll check the batteries before we go to bed."

"Dad, can I ask you a question?"


"What happens when a burned person goes to heaven? Does God give them a new body?"

"Yes, I think so, Chipmunk."

"Will she look the same? I mean, when Che goes to heaven some day will he recognize his mother?"

"Well, uh, sure."

"Will she be the age she is now?"

"I suppose so."

"And will God fix it so she's not an alcoholic anymore? So she doesn't even look like an alcoholic anymore?"

Her mother interposed. "God can do anything, Heather. That's why he's God. Don't ask silly questions."

"Well, if God can do anything, then how come He let Che's mother become an alcoholic in the first place? How come He let her burn up?"

"We never know why God does things. We just have to handle them the best we can and hope it's good enough."

But somehow in that moment the idea took root in Heather's mind that God had removed Che's mother because she drank and so that Che would need her and so that she, Heather, could save him with her love. She would make his life warm and beautiful. In her concern for Che, she forgot all about her own unhappiness and loneliness. She also forgot that Che had never said anything about wanting her to save him. So far, he had only dropped in for a while and kissed her a little bit.

Still, she went off to bed full of emotion and her night swarmed with dreams, some of them terrifying scenes of burning alive and others intense moments of golden, redeeming love. Through all of them ran the memory of her cheek against Che's back, the rhythm of his sobbing. It wasn't until she was awake and clear-headed the next day that it occurred to her that he had smelled of beer.

Che's aunt was numb with the tragedy. In the same bright sunlight as the day before, she sat at her kitchen table with coffee and cigarettes but she couldn't think of anything. She couldn't remember how she got home. All she knew was that there was a lot that needed doing, but that she couldn't get started on it. Her robe didn't seem warm enough and her bare feet were cold for once. She lit another cigarette, forgetting the one that lay in the ashtray sending up a long plume of smoke through the sunlight even though she was staring right at it.

There was a knock on the door and someone came in. "Priest," she thought, but when she looked up, it was her husband.

"You look pretty rocky," he said, and pulled up a chair to sit across from her.

"Yeah." She was glad to see him. They had been through bad times together and they used to have really good times together. Before he got to drinking, they had been each other's best friends. She thought to herself, "It could just as easy been you going to sleep with a cigarette as her."

He got himself a cup of coffee by reaching with his long arms over to the counter. "They found out who started the fire."


"Couple of old winoes broke in downstairs and got cold. Too rum-dumb to remember you got to have a stove to start a fire in. They just started it in the corner. Sure scared them when it took off."

"I'll bet. I 'spose THEY never got burned up."

"Nope." There was a long silence. "I'm gonna quit drinking."


"I'm gonna quit drinking. I'll go to treatment if you want me to."

For a long time she didn't say anything. Then, almost too softly to be heard, she said, "Maybe something good will come out of this after all." Then she looked up into his eyes, looking as deep as she could for some kind of evidence that he really meant what he said.

Reaching across the table, he took her hand in his. "I DO mean it. I will."

There was another knock on the door and this time it really was the priest. There was a lot to do. More relatives would be coming soon. Che was asleep downstairs. He'd done a lot of screaming and moaning in his sleep so she had moved the kids around to put him in a room alone. What to do with him? Send him out to his grandma's? Probably she could use the help, but could she handle him? Still, it was better out there than in town. Maybe they could get him a horse to break-- keep him busy.

She was afraid to think about her sister. She was afraid to think of what it was like to burn to death. "Probably too drunk to feel anything," she thought, trying to be tough and angry. But this was her sister, the girl she grew up with, the girl who used to comb her hair, the girl whose hair she had combed and braided. She thought of her sister as a child, laughing and rolling around on the sofa. What went wrong? Why did things turn out to badly for her? God damn booze anyway!

As she put her head down and began to sob, her husband and the priest exchanged glances over her head. She was not a woman you often saw crying.

Friday, July 15, 2005

"One Windy Day" Chapter Five

It took the class a while to realize that this story was about kids like them -- they were used to thinking they were unknown and beneath notice. The larger world didn’t know they existed at all and the adults had no notion of what they thought or did. They were quite wrong.

At this point they got a grip on the idea that they could put themselves in the story if they wanted to. Each chapter was supposed to advance the plot, but in a way developing characters also advanced the plot. Che’s part was about loneliness, no other people at all and an attempt to obliterate even himself. Existence was not pleasant for him. Heather’s part was about being in a group, a community. Christie had written a story about these same kids in their earlier years when they roamed like a pack in the hills around Heart Butte. They had grown up together. In some ways they knew each other too well.

“Anne of Green Gables” was the most universal movie I had. All the grade levels, both boys and girls, loved that story though only a few would read it. We had the Canadian video. They said liking it wasn’t so much about Anne as it was about the little town where she lived, which struck them as being very much Heart Butte in the best of times: people they knew, places they knew, peculiarities that they understood, a kind of confidence that they were safe. When the worst things came along, then Heart Butte was nothing like Avonlea -- still, Avonlea had it’s problems.

Until this story, the only story about Heart Butte was the one that John Tatsey wrote as a weekly serial. This blog has an entry about Tatsey. It was not flattering, but there was the same air of familiar bemusement over what went on.

Chapter V

One of the survival lessons Che had learned well was to know when it was time to make himself scarce. When his aunt got that look in her eyes and began to hunt around for her pack of cigarettes, he knew he'd best get out of there. She only smoked when she was angry and then when she smoked she got angry at herself for doing it, so pretty soon she was even more angry. Then she got mad because she hated dirty ashtrays, and pretty soon she was housecleaning. If you stayed around you either got put to work or YOU got cleaned.

It was turning out to be a nice day, pretty warm and not much wind. With a bit of breakfast and a change of clothes Che didn't feel half bad. There was no use in going to school this late in the day, but no kids were around yet so he just ambled along until pretty soon he was out of town and following the little creek that ran along the shallow valley. He picked up an old slat out of a snowfence and waved it around, not pretending anything in particular but just enjoying the way it felt in his hand, the weight of it and the shifts of it and how he controlled it easily, slicing it through the air and even pounding the tip on things here and there. He swished his stick through the willows along the creek. The mountains were a little vague, but he never paid much attention to them, really.

Just about that time he passed a culvert where a rancher's road crossed the little creek, and his eye caught on something glittering. He almost didn't stop, but then he felt rather as though it would be good to look around since there was nothing else to do. He squatted down by the culvert, letting his stick's end get wet in the wandering water. It was dark in there and he had to shade his eyes, then duck-walk over closer to see.

Good thing he looked! Somebody had stashed a six-pack of beer in there! Probably some of the winoes that sort of hung around the creek. He stood up and casually twirled his stick around while he checked to see if anyone could see him. There was no sign of anyone. It was a sleepy sort of day and only a few anonymous birds cruised the sky. Just to be sure, he looked for a long time. One of those old guys might be sleeping it off in the brush and come charging out all of a sudden. They were usually weak and shakey and a guy could just run off, but maybe one of them might be tougher than most.

When it seemed absolutely safe, Che put one foot down into the creek so he could reach the six-pack and quickly hooked it out. He tucked it under his arm, under his jacket, curling over protectively to keep it safe. He walked on, away from town, intent on finding a place that was secluded and relatively hidden. A whole six-pack for himself! Usually a guy had to share. He could hardly believe his luck.

A half-mile farther on there was a fallen-down old cabin, which couldn't be entered anymore, but there was a sort of shed slumped behind it with enough floor and walls to make a kind of three-sided booth where a person could sit off the ground and out of sight. Some old cottonwoods grew there, planted and watered by someone eighty years ago or more. Limbs had blown down and littered the ground.

Che crawled into his little wooden cave, pushing aside some debris from other tenants both human and varmint, and popped the tab on the first can of beer. What a life! Nothing could be so bad when the present was so ideal. He had a little twinge of loneliness, but he refused to let himself think about his aunt or his mother or what might happen next. Instead he tried to just sit there and get high, not feel, be peaceful. It wasn't until he began on the fourth beer that he began to cry. He hated himself for crying.

It never occurred to him to slow down on the beer drinking. Instead he just drank every can, one right after the other, chugging himself to oblivion. He didn't particularly enjoy the taste-- he really didn't let himself taste-- he just put the stuff away like medicine for what ailed him. But he could not have told anyone what it was that ailed him. In fact, he would have gotten angry at the idea that anything was wrong with him at all. It was the rest of the world that was rotten.... It was those...

But he had gone to sleep, propped there in the corner of a fallen-down shed, completely unconscious and snoring by the time his classmates were out of school and going home with books and papers under their arms.

About the time Che left his aunt's house, Heather and her friends were hurrying into the cafeteria with their trays. This was one of the best times of the day for them, a chance to catch up on news and make plans for after school. Cindy went by, her new short haircut making her look like an otter that just poked its clever head up out of the water. "You guys!" she called, excited as usual. Cindy just loved to talk more than anything. Then came Angie, with her silken skin and Gioconda smile. "Oh, I can't wait to tell you..." Jonelle and Christy were already conferring over something and they went off to a corner. It was funny that they were so close when they seemed so different at first glance. Christy was small and sweet, but Jonelle was tall and very thin--so sharp-tongued sometimes that she made you jump. They all heard Patty shriek, but it was hard to tell where she was. It seemed like Patty was always on the move.

"Where were you yesterday, Heather? You missed a test in science!" Cindy always tried to keep track of everyone.

"Well, it's kind of a long story," began Heather. Between bites of pizza and swigs of chocolate milk she told them about Che coming over and how her dad had come home early and the long talk they had had.

"Gee, if I did anything like that, my dad would really KICK MY BUTT!" said Cindy, and she sounded as if she thought it would be the right thing to do. "Didn't he even ground you or anything?"

"No," reflected Heather. "He seemed more sad than anything else. It was kind of scarey really. My mom is always the one who just gets mad, but she's too busy with bingo to bother with me."

` "I'll bet she cares anyway," said Angie, who believed in looking at the best side of things, at least now that she'd gotten over having to move away from Bozeman. "Sometimes parents just don't show what they really feel."

"Maybe," said Heather dubiously. "But wait until I tell you what else he said. I have a HALF-SISTER and I didn't even know it!"

"What!" "Wow!"

Heather was pleased that she got such a reaction. "I don't even know her name or where she lives. But I'm going to find out."

"What if she's awful?" asked Cindy, who sometimes had strong feelings about her own relatives.

"Oh, I'll bet she's really wonderful," enthused Angie.

"Well, that's just it," mused Heather, forgetting to eat. "I don't have any idea what she might be like, so it's pretty hard to know what to do about it. I guess I'll just have to wait until I find out more."

Jonelle and Christy came over to see what the news was. They were curious about the new half-sister, too, but since they were kind of boy-crazy these days, they really wanted to hear more about Che.

"I wouldn't stand for any boy just walking into my house!" said Jonelle fiercely, and no one doubted but what she knew how to handle things like that. "But Che is really cute. I think I would let him come in, all right. But you shouldn't have let him have a beer. I don't believe in drinking. You should have given him a pop or coffee or something."

"But he just TOOK it!" protested Heather. "I didn't even have time to say anything."

"I know what you mean," sighed Christy. "But your dad must have believed you when you explained, so everything is all right now."

"No it isn't," said realistic Jonelle. "How's she going to handle him when he comes back the next time? I hear stories about that Che. Bad stuff. You better be careful, Heather. He might come around drunk or something."

Cindy gathered up her silverware and milk carton and napkins. It was just about time to go, but she couldn't resist asking again. "He only kissed you though, huh? That's as far as it went?"

Heather blushed as she gathered up her own tray. "Yes." But she didn't explain what it was like, the kissing on her collarbone and the feel of his back. Maybe she would tell one of them later, but not here in this noisy lunchroom. "Hey, you guys! It's getting late and Mrs Scriver will yell at us again!"

In English they were watching a movie called “Anne of Green Gables” and it was about a girl with red hair who lived in some old-fashioned time and place. She talked too much and had a lot of imagination and always got into trouble. Heather really liked her a lot. It all seemed to happen out in the country someplace, maybe in a small town like her own, where everyone was related and feuds between families went back decades. There was this boy who called Anne "Carrots", so she broke her slate over his head and you just knew that in the end they would end up together. Even the boys were quiet while they watched the movie, except when that old woman came on the screen, the one who scolded Anne all the time. Then they got mad and said bad things when she began on Anne, so the boys must like Anne, too.

Her mind drifted off and she saw herself hitting a notebook over Che's head. What would he do? Everytime she thought of him she got this little twist in her stomach and she wondered if it meant she was in love. Love to her was a gentle thing, made of trust and little gifts and exchanges of looks... That's not quite what Che was like, but she knew his homelife wasn't very happy. Her grasp of the facts was kind of vague, but she had heard his mother drank and he often seemed worn out or mixed up, which made her want to comfort him. It was nice to think of being the more adult one, the one who knew what to do and could soothe hurt feelings. But it was also nice for Che to be so strong and so able to just walk into the situation and take over when she didn't know what to do. Then she thought of him following her into the bedroom and her stomach gave that twist again.

Well, she knew better now. Next time her tape ran out in the bedroom, she'd just leave it. She'd just stay right there in the front room. Maybe turn the television on. And not open the refrigerator until he was sitting down and sort of watching some program. She would plan things better and be prepared. Really, this whole thing had caught her by surprise. But now she would be ready for him. IF he ever came back again. What if he didn't? Awful thought. Better watch the movie.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"One Windy Day" Chapter Four

All of us felt -- at least I did -- that our effort at creating a sympathetic, wise and supportive father was pretty dorky. No one had a father who talked to his daughter like this or called her “chipmunk.” But they would have LIKED to have a father who did stuff like that. This version just wasn’t very believable.

So the next chapter is over on Che’s side -- we were sort of alternating -- and we tried another category of extended family: aunties. We knew a lot more about aunties, many of them women just like this.

The kids had one agenda with this plot line -- they clearly wanted Heather to have baby -- and I had another, or several. I wanted them to look at realities instead of fantasies. (Their favorite movie was “Pretty Woman,” and I let them watch it with the proviso that I talked to them all through it. I pointed out every trick in lighting and costuming and soundtrack, all the lapses of logic, the jumps in plot line. They said, as they often did in my class, “You just killed it.”

“Good.” But I didn’t really. They went right back to their fantasies.

This chapter was also meant to be about dialogue, how to punctuate it, whether it sounded like real people talking, how to use bits of gesture and action mixed in.

Chapter IV

Che's aunt wore her hair in braids down her back. She had on a fresh plaid cowboy shirt over clean, pressed jeans, but she was barefoot. She always said she liked to feel the ground under her feet. "Morning, Che," she said. "Want some breakfast?"
Che nodded. He was so glad to be there he could hardly say anything. Once he had tried to move in and live with his aunt, but it had not worked because he fought with his uncle. But now his uncle seemed to have sort of left the scene for some reason. Che wasn't sure if there had been trouble between them or if it was temporary or what-- and it wasn't clear whether he should ask.
His aunt put a plate of eggs in front of him and sat down across from him with a sandwich and a cup of coffee. "Rough night?" she asked.
"Yup." When she turned her coffee cup, he saw that she was still wearing her wedding ring on her slender hand. The eggs tasted better than he thought they would.
"Your mom is in jail. It won't hurt her to be in for a while. Let her dry out. No one will post bail, I think. I'm sure I won't." She bit into her sandwich as though the trouble were its fault. Half to herself she muttered, "Let her just sit and think it over for a while. Damn drunks."
"Hmmrph," agreed Che. He never knew what to say about his mother. On the one hand he dimly remembered when she had been a real mother and he knew he should be loyal to her, but on the other hand,for a long time she had been just repulsive and he only wished to be free of her. If her own sister felt the same way about her, then why should he defend her?
Sunshine fell across the neat kitchen and glanced off the polished counters. As they ate slowly, the edge of it moved almost imperceptibly over the salt shaker, the silverware, the ketchup bottle-- creeping along as the sun crossed the sky. The radio was playing softly.
"Your uncle’s been drinking."
"I'm not gonna put up with it. I'm just not."
"So I'm gonna tell him tonight, either he goes to treatment or he's out of my life. He used to drink a long time ago but he stopped and I thought he was through with all that. Now... I don't know. Maybe it's midlife crisis or something. I thought we were doing all right-- even getting ahead a little bit-- but now it's all falling apart."
There was a long silence. Both Che and his aunt watched the sun's blade move ever so slowly across the pepper shaker. Che had no idea what to say, but it seemed as though he ought to say something. Finally he tried to sound adult, but he ended up saying what he really felt. "Isn't that kind of drastic? I mean, will they do bad stuff to him?"
"What can get worse? I mean, the last time he beat me up because he was drunk, I just swore I wouldn't let that happen again, no matter what."
"Don't you love him anymore?"
"He beats me up."
"Well... Lots of guys beat up their women and nothing happens."
"Che, can you honestly say it's all right for someone to beat his wife up?"
"I know he loves you."
"Yeah. When he's sober. But when he's drunk-- " She stopped and took a gulp of coffee. "I just can't stand it anymore, Che. I won't live like that. It's no good for anyone, the kids, me-- or him, either. He's just GOT to get sober and stay that way.
Che couldn't eat any more. If his aunt was ready to throw her own husband out--the father of her children-- maybe she would throw him out next. Maybe he would have no place to go at all. What would he do? He felt desolate, abandoned, left all alone.
And then what rose up in him was anger, a rage to cover up his hurt and fear. "Well, go ahead then! Double-cross the guy! He's right to beat you up. You deserve it for taking his home and his own children away! You've probably got your eye on someone else-- yeah, that's it. There's someone else, isn't there? No wonder he beats you up!"
His aunt looked at him, her dark eyes sad and shadowed. "It's time for you to go back home, Che."

The day was bright and not so windy as Heather and her dad worked at building a little shed around the door of the trailer. She had really needed this day off from school, even though it was putting her even farther behind than she was. But she couldn't concentrate sitting in a classroom. It gave her claustrophobia and sometimes she just felt like bursting into tears for no reason. It took a lot of energy to pretend everything was just normal and that she was thinking about school work or even her friends. Instead, she just kept feeling around inside her own head to try to figure out what was bugging her. Everything was all right, wasn't it? But why did she feel like crying then? Was this just hormones, like they talked about in health class, or was she weird some way, a nut case?
"Hand me that level, Heather. No, not the HAMMER! I'm already HOLDING a hammer! See? Hey! Are you in there?"
"Yeah, sorry, Dad. Just spaced out, I guess."
"You seem to be that way a lot these days."
"I know." She began to pick up the nails that had been dropped and to arrange them on a scrap of two-by-four with all the heads at the same end and spaced just exactly the same and...
"HEY! Am I talking to myself?"
"Sorry, Dad." She shook herself and smiled up into his face.
"Hold the end of this board, will you? I was saying maybe you might be lonesome. Since the ... accident... since your brother..."
"No, Dad. I'm fine, honest!" She didn't want him to talk about her brother. If she just didn't think about her brother, it was much better.
Her father put down his tools and sat down on the steps of the front door. It was warm now and the little roof they had made overhead --too small to shade them with the sun coming in at this angle-- nevertheless gave a feeling of shelter. "Let's just sit here for a little while. It must be time for a break."
"Okay." Heather sat one step lower and leaned comfortably against her dad's strong blue-jeaned legs.
"Heather, there's something I probably should have told you earlier. Or maybe I should never tell you at all. I don't know. I never know about this kind of stuff. It's not really up to your mom to help me on this one, so I may be making a mistake."
She hardly listened, but she heard the tone of his voice and that got through to her. He'd never sounded quite like this before.
"Years ago when I wasn't much older than you, I had this girl friend, see..." He stopped, but now Heather was interested.
"Well, part of the reason I got so angry about you and Che is that I know what can happen and I know about it first-hand."
"Was this someone I know?"
"No, she moved away after that. After that baby."
"I'm trying to tell you. It isn't easy. I worked so hard not to tell anybody that I almost managed to forget about it."
"You had a BABY?"
"Well, not me, exactly." He smiled weakly. "But she did and it was my baby. I knew it was."
Heather was completely stunned. They sat staring side-by-side and then Heather found that she was not leaning anymore. She had picked up a nail and was scraping the point across the palm of her hand. The scratching helped make her feel real. "Was this a girl baby or a boy baby?"
"Where is she now? Did she die?"
"No. She's with her mother."
"This was before you met Mom."
"Well, of course." Her father was indignant. Then he smiled and shrugged. "I was young and I had no money or job or school or any way to contribute and her family was pretty mad. They wouldn't let me be around her any more."
"Why didn't she give it--I mean her--up for adoption?"
"I don't know."
"Do you still love that girl?"
"No. I don't think we really even knew each other. What's to know when you're that young?"
A lot, thought Heather. But she only said, "I have a half sister then."
"You know where she is?"
"Yup." A long silence then.
"Does Mom know about this?"
"But you never told ME? I had a half-sister all this time and you never TOLD me?"
"Would you have really wanted to know? Do you want to know now? I hope you aren't hurt. You're still my chipmunk." He tried to pull her against his side and to hold her, but she stiffened up and leaned away.
"What's her name?"
"I don't know."
"You don't KNOW your own daughter's name?"
"I told you. Her family would let me be around her. They just closed me out and then they moved away before the baby was even born. I was just a kid. There was nothing I could do."
Heather thought to herself, my father deserted that girl. He made her and then he deserted her. Will he desert me, too? Does she need him like I do?

Monday, July 11, 2005

"One Windy Day" Chapter hree

In Chapter II we see that Che is not quite as rudderless as he seems. He wants to be proud of his mother, but she is completely wrapped up in alcohol and poverty entwined. He has a grandmother, who represents hope for his younger brothers, but the only way he knows to engage with people is by fighting them or overpowering them, like Heather.

Now we wanted a chapter that showed how important a father could be and what having to travel to work can do to a family. This father seems determined to get the family onto a good financial footing and he really cares about his daughter who especially needs him at this age when most girls are trying to separate from their mothers. Anyway, Heather’s mother is as paralyzed by grief as Che’s mother is by drinking. Recovery from loss, especially deaths, is a huge problem among a population where there are constantly auto accidents, violence and diseases.

I had invited several professional counsellors to read about our characters and visit the classroom to explain what advice they would give them. We were surprised that the counselors didn’t really have much concrete advice! Fifteen years have passed since then, and today I think it would be different.

Chapter III

Before Heather quite woke up she dreamt that her father had come home. She could hear his voice mingling with her mother's voice in the kitchen. The smell of coffee mixed with the smell of waffles and syrup. "It must be Saturday already," she thought blurrily. But she knew it was only Friday and her father wouldn't get home until late that night. Still, it DID sound like her father. Except that there was no laughing. Usually when her dad got home there was a lot of laughing. And why did she have such a terrible taste in her mouth? And why was she still wearing her clothes? Who put her under the covers?

Finally she couldn't stand it any longer and staggered out to the front of the trailer. It WAS her father!

"DAD!" she yelped and launched herself into his lap, almost sloshing his coffee. Her mom looked at her funny, but she buried her face under her dad's ear and hung on around his neck. Usually he laughed and teased her. This time he held her tight and didn't say anything.

In a minute her mom said, in her voice that meant I-haven't-made-up-my-mind-yet, "Heather, go take a shower and put on some clean clothes."

Heather automatically looked at the clock to see if there was time before school. "Omigosh! I'm gonna be late! You'll have to write me a note! But how come Dad is home?"

"Your mom called me last night. She was worried and she said you needed me, so I drove back."

"But you must have driven half the night! Have you slept at all?" Heather stood up, feeling awkward. This kind of thing had never happened before.

"We'll talk about it later. And don't put on school clothes. We'll just take the day off to straighten some things out." Her father and mother exchanged one of those private glances, just between the two of them, that meant Heather had better do what she was told without asking a lot of questions. Something had been agreed upon while she was asleep. She went obediently off to the shower, hoping it would make her feel more normal. Gee, she must really be in outer space now-- but her parents seemed more sad than mad.

When she came back, her mother had left. "Did Mom go to the bingo?" she asked.


"She goes there too darn much," declared Heather. Now that she'd had her shower she felt feisty and defensive. "And you're never home, Dad. It's not fair."

"Is that why you invited that boy in here last night? To punish us? Even the score?" Her father still didn't seem angry. He looked into his coffee cup as though he could see something there.

Heather didn't know what to say. She didn't remember herself as inviting Che or wanting to punish anyone. It just kind of happened without her doing anything at all. "Dad, I didn't invite him. He just sort of arrived."

"What about the beer?"

How could she explain how dazzled she was that Che had even knocked on the door? She didn't even understand herself how he had been able to just come right into her bedroom and... But thinking about that in front of her father made her blush right down her neck. "Dad, he's just so good-looking! I mean, I just think he's so grownup and so cool."

"Cool to come here when you were alone and drink beer and..." he looked up and into her eyes, watching to see her reaction, "And to go into your bedroom and roll around with you on your bed? That's cool these days?"

Heather blushed even more. Tears came into her eyes.

"How far did you go, Heather? Did you go all the way?"

Her voice was very small. SHE felt very small. "I don't know what you mean?"

"Did you make love? Not that there could have been much love involved!"

"Well, " Heather began to really hurt now. "Oh, Dad! Don't say things like that! I think maybe I really love Che! I mean..." She couldn't explain to her father about the muscles in Che's back and how they made her feel.

"Heather, I'm going to be really blunt. Was there more than just kissing?"

She searched her memory, which was very fuzzy. In a meek voice she admitted, "No, I don't think so."

"What does that mean? Did he take his pants down?"

"GOD, NO!" Until that very moment it had never occured to Heather that Che might have done any such thing. TAKE HIS PANTS DOWN? God, what would she have done?

"And did you keep all your clothes on?"

"Well, of course!" She didn't tell him about that top button of her blouse coming unbuttoned.

Her father looked very relieved. "Well, then... You'd better have some breakfast. And then let's make some plans. Maybe your mother and I haven't really explained to you why we need to make extra money now and why we need for you to do your part. Things can get a lot better for all of us, but if something bad happened-- like you getting pregnant-- I don't know what we'd do."

"Is that all you're worried about? Ruining your plans?" She couldn't help sounding a little bitter, but more than that she needed to make sure she was included and wanted.

"No, Chipmunk." Her father's voice was quiet. "But it's time for you to grow up. We can't protect you all the time, as you just found out. You're still our girl, but you've got to start belonging to yourself, too. You've got to do your part."

If her father called her Chipmunk, then everything was all right. He only called her that when he was happy with her. She began to relax and looked around for the bowl of batter so she could make herself some waffles. She heard her father flip on the radio and knew it was going to be a good day after all when he began to whistle along with the songs.


Che had sat on the cement chunk across from the trailer for what felt like hours, but it must have been less than that. In the end, a pickup pulled up, a man got out, and went into the trailer. Oh,oh. That must be Heather's father. Che wondered if the man would come looking for him in a while.

But nothing really happened. What if Heather told her father that Che had taken advantage of her? For a moment he felt proud that anyone would think he'd done such a studly thing, but then he was ashamed, because she really was a nice girl and he didn't want to get her into trouble. Next he slipped into his familiar defiant anger-- it was all her fault. It was her folks' fault for leaving her there alone. It was the fault of-- anybody, not him. How could anyone as powerless as he felt ever do anything to anyone?

Still, maybe he'd better lay low for a while. He could go to his aunt's. It was too damn cold out here. He was about to freeze his butt off. And he'd had no sleep so there was no point in going to school. They'd just yell at him for sleeping at his desk and he wouldn't be able to keep from doing it.

His aunt's house had been pretty nice once, but now it was a little run-down. A lot of cars were parked around outside. The side door was unlocked and he slid in just as the sky began to lighten. He went into the basement where the boys all had their rooms. One of the smaller boys had a double bed. Che stripped to his underwear and crawled under the covers next to the warm little fellow curled up to one side. The little guy wet the bed sometimes, but it was dry this time, thank goodness. The smell from past accidents wasn't too bad. He'd explain everything to his aunt. She was a pretty good listener, actually. Not like his mom, her sister.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

One Windy Day Chapter Two

Chapter One was an exercise in setting up a story and the main characters. There had to be tension, content the readers could care about, and recognizable detail without describing known people. The situation, an older boy hitting on a younger girl, was right there in the school. As soon as the high school was moved into the elementary school building, the little corner where the lockers were grouped became a passion pit.

This is not a problem unique to reservations. In the few months I taught at a nearby white school, the hallway makeouts -- though forbidden -- were fierce. The most intense couple did their face-gnawing about ten feet away from the girl’s father, a teacher, who did not break up the encounters. When I tried to, the young man threatened me.

In the old days this problem would never arise in this public way because no young woman was ever alone. Boys went off in age and gender cohorts to learn their skills in a pack, but girls went from being toddlers to helpers to young women in the context of their families, mostly the female members. There was plenty of work to do. Beyond that, women of any age were never to be alone with a man, especially out of sight. Granted, there were romantic rendezvous, but they would have to happen away from the camp -- when getting water for instance -- and probably with the collusion of other women who were supposed to be present. A woman who ignored these practices was soon in trouble unless the situation moved forward into marriage.

Today’s girls in unhappy families, especially those who have spent many hours in front of the television watching soap opera, grant the privilege that ought to belong to their parents (teaching self-respect, boundaries, attachment) over to young men. The burden is too much for a male teenager and too easy to brush aside for men in their twenties. They desert. They abuse. The girls are so surprised.

Modern girls have to learn that if an older male comes into their home when they are there alone -- no matter how innocent it seems -- they must not remain there. They must leave immediately for a place where there are other people. But emotionally, this is too much of a demand for a young woman who is dazzled by a hero, or maybe reassured because the male is a relative. Never opening the door in the first place is a good solution, but rural Montana is not a place where people lock doors. If the young man were to do damage in the house, even if only stealing beer, the girl would be faulted for not guarding the home -- as though things were more important than the girl.

The kids said these opinions, which were obviously mine, were over-dramatic and showed I had a bad opinion of them. They said, “You make sex sound so dirty! But it’s the most wonderful thing there is!” What would you have said to them?

But this wasn’t supposed to be an occasion for beating up on young men, so the second chapter had to make Che a little clearer -- why did he act as he did? Why should we care about him? This is the task in Chapter Two.

Chapter II

Slamming the trailer door behind him, Che hunched his shoulders and leaned forward to head into the wind. Might as well go home, he thought. The trailer was on the edge of the little town. The lights were just now beginning to come on in houses and with a flicker and sputter the streetlights flashed on, though they weren't much brighter than the last remnants of daylight. The sky was spread with a sunset, but Che paid no attention.

For a moment he paused on the sidewalk and looked around before he went up the staircase that lead into the second story of the building where he lived. It was almost as though he might think he was being followed by spies. No one was around. At one time there had been a grocery store on the first floor of the building, but now it was gone and the windows were boarded up. Sometimes derelicts broke in, but all the boards were up now.

The door to his apartment was unlocked, as always. He never knew who was going to be inside: uncles, little brothers, his mother... And there was his mother, slumped at the chrome dinette table with the peeled and stained top. No lights were on, so he could see her only because she was near the window. His brothers must with their grandmother.

"Where you been?" she demanded. Her voice slurred a little.

"Can't we even afford lights?" He snapped on a lamp with a bent shade. "Or did you spend it all on booze?"

"Don't get smart with me or I'll...." her voice trailed off. Her hand was wrapped around a glass of something. She seemed to forget that she had been talking and she went back to staring out the window, even though with the lamp on it was impossible to see anything.

Che reached past her and pulled down the shade. "And don't sit there like that so people can see you from outside, either!" She snorted and put her head down on her arms, but she kept her grip on the glass.

Walking heavy-footed, as though he weighed twice as much and was twice as tall, Che went down the narrow hall to his own room. Well, it was his own room if no cousins or little brothers or uncles had decided to come stay with them for a while. Sometimes there were even boyfriends if she got mad enough to throw them out of her room and they were too drunk to go home. He was relieved that no one was in the room, though it was a mess. The bed was in knots and discarded clothes mixed with old shoes and junk on the floor. He flipped on his radio, but not a lamp. The streetlight just outside his window made it possible to see.

He wanted to think about Heather. She was just a little kid. She liked him. But it was almost a relief that her mother came along when she did. He'd really been ... well, he was going to try to go all the way, but he wasn't really that sure about what came next. He saw the bit about kissing her collar-bone on television, but then the scene cut to something else and he never did find out the next move. But that stuff about kissing really worked! She must have liked it really well. He'd kept expecting her to object, but she never did. Maybe she wasn't as nice a girl as he'd thought. She was always a goody-goody in school, but maybe she'd had some experience somewhere, like over the summer or something. Still, she was pretty young.

He would never have dared to try anything with a girl his own age. They were too sharp, knew too much, would put him down for sure. They'd have taken that beer right out of his hand-- maybe hit him over the head with it! Hey, that was pretty cool-- how he just took that beer out right over her arm! And then she even drank out of it, after fussing about her mother! Her mouth right onto the bottle top where his had been. Hah! She didn't know what she wanted. She wanted HIM!!

Well, he hoped so. It would be nice to have a girl to follow him around and jump to do what he said. It would show that he mattered, that it didn't count that he was always flunking in school, that the nice kids in his own class didn't invite him to their parties. Probably if he had a girl-friend like Heather, he would be invited. Maybe.

Uneven footsteps came down the hall. She bumped into the wall before she opened his door. "Che?"

"WHAT!! Why can't you leave me alone?"

"Well, excuuuuse me! Never mind what I wanted. I'm just your mother. I don't count for nuthin'." She slammed the door and he heard her go in her own bedroom and begin digging around. Hell, I s'pose she's gonna go stagger around town and make a fool of herself.

Sure enough, he heard her go back on down the hall-- high heels whacking on the linoleum now-- pause for her coat, which was always flung onto the end of the sofa, and then the noise of the front door flinging open. He couldn't hear it close, though he listened in spite of himself. There was a pause, then one foot on the stair, then the other... He could picture her hanging onto the bannister and concentrating to keep from dropping her purse. Another step.

Then a sudden sliding, rolling, tumbling sound. There was no cry, but he couldn't help reacting. "Stupid bitch," he said under his breath and dashed out the open apartment door to the top of the stairs. She was sprawled at the bottom, like a thrown doll. But as he watched, she slowly--very slowly-- gathered herself up and hauled herself onto her feet, clinging to the wall of the building. "Are you.." he started to ask, but she was already lurching off into the evening. Too drunk to hurt. Probably wouldn't be back. Might not be back for a week if the cops picked her up. "Stupid bitch, " he said again, and slammed the apartment door.

He HATED her, hated her with all his might for not being a proper mother who would have had supper ready and asked him about his day and-- well, he wasn't too sure just what it was that proper mothers did, but she ought to do it. She hadn't been a real mother to him since he could remember as a little guy. Sometimes he doubted that she really WAS his mother. She was worthless. He got so angry at her that sometimes he even hit her, though she usually couldn't feel it.

He turned back to the apartment with revulsion. Now that she was gone he could at least put the television on. The evening news began to blare. He went to the refrigerator to look for something to eat, but there was nothing there. Never was. Pushing things around on the stinking kitchenette shelves, he found a can of pork and beans, opened it and began to eat beans out of the can, cold. They weren't too bad that way.

The news was all that was on. He hated the news. He couldn't care less about current events. What did it have to do with him? People on the news were always worrying about something. Why worry? There's nothing you can ever do about anything anyway. Stuff just happens and you go along and then one day.... one day.... well, you just die or get killed or something and nobody cares anyway. There's lots more where that came from. Wherever that is.

There was a scratching at the door. His dog. He let her in. No dog food. He pulled a potato chip bag out from under an old sweatshirt and emptied out some of his pork and beans for her. She gulped them down. She was always hungry. When he slumped back on the sofa, she jumped up beside him and licked his face. He smiled. She was about the only good thing in his life. He wondered briefly if Heather liked dogs. Didn't matter. She'd better like whatever he liked or he wouldn't be her boyfriend anymore. He smiled again. He had this kid wrapped around his finger. He could make her do anything. He'd get her to go all the way-- to do IT-- then she'd belong to him and she'd have to do what he said.

Slumped there with the dog sleeping across his lap and the light from the television set reflecting off his face, Che went to sleep. He dreamt about how Heather felt underneath him on her bed, so little and still and soft. His head was thrown back on the sofa back and his mouth was open. He didn't hear his uncle come in quietly, tip-toe back to Che's room, and settle into Che's bed for the night. Che didn't find out he was there until he woke up after the television programming had ended and he tried to go to bed. Instead he ended up sleeping in his clothes on the sofa. It wasn't the first time.

But he couldn't go back to sleep. The dog got tired of his tossing and turning and wanted to go outside, so he opened the door for her. His stomach hurt. And he sort of hurt lower down, too. Maybe it was from ... He'd heard the boy friends complain when his mother threw them out of her room. Pretty soon he began to get angry at Heather, as though she'd thrown him out of her trailer. After all, it was her mother who did and that was about the same thing. And he wasn't doing anything she didn't want. It was really Heather's fault.

Towards morning when it was cold, even in the apartment, he couldn't stand the loneliness any longer. He got up and put on his jacket, then stirred around in the junk of the front room until he found a warm hat. There were no gloves or mittens, he knew. There never were. He just used his pockets.

Out on the street no one was moving around. A car passed the intersection up a few blocks. A stoplight was turning on and off all by itself at the crossing with the highway that ran through town. He turned out along the highway towards the trailer where Heather lived. It wasn't a very long walk. His dog came along behind him.

Of course the trailer was dark. He didn't really expect it be light. There were some old chunks of concrete a little bit up the hill from the trailer spaces. He sat on one with one hand in his pocket and the other on his dog's head. She whined and licked his wrist. Overhead there were a million, trillion, jillion stars. He sat there and thought of Heather and her little plush teddy bear-- yes, he HAD noticed it when he pushed her down-- and petted his dog. Pretty soon tears ran down his cheeks, quietly, hopelessly, and without him even quite knowing it was happening.