— What’d I tell you about speaking English in front of Mary, said Auburn, hitting her husband on the shoulder.
— I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.
She glared at him with eyes like daggers. He huffed, looked over to her.
— Émičiktuŋža yo.
— I forgive you. And won’t force you to speak Lakota… For now, she said, raised eyebrows, pointed finger.
Auburn turned around and looked at Mary. Mary smiled at her, squirmed around in her car seat, bounced along to Dreams playing all loud in the car. I love Fleetwood Mac, love ‘em when you’re speeding down the highway, windows down, wind going through your hair. That’s living. And Mary, Auburn, Peter, they were all living. A whole bunch of green in front of them, behind them, side to side, all around. All green. Open space for miles and miles. Nothing but them, the car, and each other. And grass. If they could’ve seen it. But they couldn’t, too late for that, not enough light. Nighttime really keeps clarity from you.
— Mičhúŋwiŋtku, wanáhotȟuŋyaŋpi kiŋ waštéyalaka he?
Mary giggled and smiled more. She didn’t do anything more than smile. That was her job, God given from the moment she was born until that very moment in the car. The most smiling two year old you’d ever know. Of course, Auburn didn’t share that feature. Not much one for smiling. And the reason that the two of them didn’t share that deepest aspect that connect a mother and daughter, the smile, is because Auburn wasn’t her actual mother. Mary’s family, well, they couldn’t exactly take care of her. There’s a lot of reasons why they couldn’t take care of her, and I haven’t found out a single one. But in the end Auburn and Peter got her. And they loved her, loved her more than anything they’d ever loved in their whole lives. But love is fleeting, for whatever reason. Sometimes you lose it, sometimes it’s taken from you. From those choices, you never know which exactly will happen. But you can trust it’ll happen.
“Today Henry Red River was found dead by his brother, Jonathan Red River. Jonathan said that he was visiting Henry after being out of town for a couple days. When Jonathan entered the residence, he found him passed away in his bed. The FBI is currently investigating the death, saying that it could be connected to another suspicious death on Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.”
Nobody ever listens to the TV, though. Just there for background noise, people don’t pay attention. I don’t blame ‘em. Nothing good ever on TV. A murder here, a robbery there, a war if you get lucky. I can’t even enjoy football games now, just fall asleep after the first quarter. You wake up, games over, your team lost, and some kid shot up a school. It’s a shame.
— So of course you’re gonna have to stay on the couch. We don’t really have much other room around.
— Hey, honey, is the game on? I wanna watch the Packers kill the Bears.
— Do you like football, George?
— Yeah, I can do for some football. I’ll just watch it here with ol’ Peter, you do whatever you have to do. Don’t worry about me.
— Kákhiya hé wičháša kiŋ tuwé he?
— I don’t know. What’s he doing out here at 11 at night? He must be freezing to death.
— Hé isákhib inážiŋ ye.
And so they pulled over on the side of the road, right next to the man. The only reason they could see him was because he was white. Very white. Blindingly white. It was pitch black out, especially if they’d’ve not had the headlights on. But even then, there he was, standing there on the side of the road with a briefcase and flashlight in hand, shining like the moon pulled down from the sky and set on the side of the road.
— Hey, you need any help?
— Why, that’d just be just great.
— Going anywhere specific?
— Well, you see, I was going to Mobridge with my wife. And we kinda got to fightin’, she told me to get out, that she wasn’t dealin’ with me anymore. Said I’d have to walk the rest of the way home.
He held up his briefcase, wiggled it around a little, some clanks came from inside.
— All I got in here is clothes, and I’m awfully hungry.
Peter looked over at Auburn. Auburn had that look on her face. She wasn’t telling Peter not to do it, she was just expressing how she hated the whole thing. 11:47 on the radio, Mary in the back, gotta get home, put the baby to bed. And that would be impossible on account that Mary never goes to sleep when she’s supposed to go to sleep. She had slept right until the Fleetwood Mac had come on, but that woke her up, and because of that she’d be up all night. And then, with this man, what would they do? Just let him stay on the couch? “Some stranger on the couch?” she thought. Nope, she did not like it, not one bit. And so she looked at Peter, and Peter looked at her, then looked at the man, looked him up and down. Auburn looked back at Mary, and Mary, as still as a boulder lying beneath earth, looked at Auburn. And for the first time in the short time that Auburn had known her, taken care of her, loved her, Mary didn’t smile. Just looked at Auburn, looked right at her.
— Hop on in.
— My parents did stuff like this all the time. You see someone, you help them out, it’s not that strange of a concept.
Bed was never a good place to be having these conversations. You just can’t go to sleep well after an argument. Or at least that’s my experience. And Auburn always had to be right, could never be wrong. Heart jumped just at the thought of being wrong, at the thought of having to apologize for something, at the thought of having to admit defeat when she knew she was right. Even when she was wrong.
— First off, it’s not the 80s anymore. Second off, he’s white.
— It’s always gotta be about race with you, Auburn. Why’s it always gotta be about race? Can’t you see past that?
— He was asking weird questions out there!
— Shh, he’ll hear, learn to whisper.
— I can’t be just the little bit freaked out by someone sleeping in my house, with our baby, asking strange questions? she whispered.
— C’mon, those aren’t weird questions for a white guy. They pull that shit all the time.
Now once, I was sitting there at a diner – I think it was somewhere up outside of Billings. Don’t exactly remember – but I was sitting right up at the counter. And there was a man there, looking me up and down while I ate my clam chowder out of one of those sourdough bread bowls, like grandma used to make when I was a kid. He didn’t order nothing but coffee, just kinda sat there looking around. Finally started talking to me, got to asking me some strange questions.
— What’re you doing in Billings?
— Oh, you know. My wife’s a bit sick. I was out working in Yellowstone, I work with animals, and I got a call saying she was in the hospital. Happened all sudden like.
— Well… that’s sure something.
And that man sat there, and he looked into his cup of coffee for a little, stirred it around with his spoon. And I looked at him, and he looked up from the coffee. Looked me straight in the eye and asked me,
— Do ya love her?
— Do I love her?
— Yeah, do you love her.
— Why would you ask a question like that?
— Oh no reason, just wondering.
— You see, we don’t really talk about Indian blood much in our family. We don’t really think it’s important. We’re all Lakota, we know that, and so we’re happy.
— Well, I was just inquiring.
— C’mon, honey, it’s no problem to tell him.
— You see, George, said Peter, leaning in, elbow down on his knee. I’m ¼, Auburn is 1/16, and Mary is ½.
— Now I see why you didn’t wanna tell me! said the man as he turned over to Auburn. Not much near full Indian, are you! I could see it in your bone structure. No Indian features there. And look at that lily white skin!
I’d really like to try and describe Auburn’s face here, I really would, but I just don’t think it’s possible. It’s that look you only get from an Indian that looks white, a white Indian scorned. Anger, disgust, self-pity, distrust. Contempt. You can see their whole face squish up under the skin. Their bones move around creating a look that you can’t find out of any other person.
— But, if you’re 1/16th, and you’re 1/4th, how’d you end up with a halfbreed kid?
— She’s adopted, Peter said.
— I just want that fucking Indian blood, goddamnit!
George had already got Peter with his fangs. Yelling between trying to suck up all the blood.
— Peter! Fucking, Peter! yelled Auburn. And she just kept wailing, trying to punch away George, but he was too strong. You would think that moon white skin gave him superpowers he was so strong. The only fighting Peter could do was to try and wiggle away.
— Auburn, run! Go, go get Mary!
The moment he said Mary’s name, Auburn landed on a whole ‘nother planet. She bust up, ran outta that room. Now, she didn’t know what was going on, but if she’d’ve watched the news, which she shouldn’t have, she’d’ve understood exactly what was happening.
Intermission time. I asked around Cheyenne River some – felt weird mind you – but someone told me that Henry was ¼. So let’s do some math. If we assume that whoever was murdered by George on Cheyenne River was also ¼, that would mean that George was up to ½ Indian blood. If he was at ½, that means that he’d need another half to be full Indian. Killing Peter would only get him to ¾, and killing Auburn wouldn’t get him anywhere. Mary, though…
And so Auburn ran to Mary, who was crying in her room, yelling, acting up. All for good reason mind you. There was a commotion. And Auburn may not have known what this commotion was about, but Mary sure did. Mary’d had a good life for the past year. And Mary, at two years old, what some people would say is an age where you can’t think, at two years old she knew that change was the only constant. And that constant had just gotten in their car, slept on their couch, and after having come for Peter, was getting ready to come for them.
— Oh, no no, Mary. No, Mary, no. Mary, we have to go, we have to go, Mary.
— You’ve always wanted to be a mother, haven’t you?
— How’d you know, Auburn replied sarcastically.
— She really does look great in your arms.
— Well us wíŋkte are here to help out the wíŋyaŋ, the women, right?
Hey don’t say that like I don’t know what wíŋyaŋ means! she playfully yelled at Auburn.
They both looked at the tipi. Right there outside the house, right in the back. Old with new, new with old. Just the two of them had put it up, no help. Peter had tried to come out to help them stand up the poles, but they wouldn’t let him. “This isn’t men’s work, Peter!” they’d say together. And Peter would say, “well, if you guys need help, just ask.” and would go back inside, dejected. Sit at the couch and watch the game. That tipi would be out back for a long time. A long time. Of course it’d be taken down and put back up, you couldn’t keep it up forever. But it stood there, a testament to the present.
— Yeah? she replied, smiling as she looked inside, watching Peter watch a player watch the football as it floated into his hands like a child into the hands of its mother.
— I can’t keep her, Auburn.
— Gimmie that baby, bitch! yelled George from the backdoor.
She did not give him that baby. She stood by the tipi, looked at Mary, looked at George, didn’t know what to do. She didn’t have much time to think. For the better, really. George started to run at her, and so she ran behind the tipi, back to where the wind flap poles were. It was at this point that Auburn truly had no idea what to do. I was once out in the park one day, regular day like any other. Well I was just walking down the trail, minding my own business, when a grizzly lept from behind a tree. And that grizzly, it was big. Bigger than any I’d ever seen before. Well I hid behind a tree, and I froze up, had no idea what to do. What do you do with a bear after you when you don’t got nothing with you?
Well, when the bear rounded the corner of the tree, Mary just went and kicked over one of the wind flap poles. And George, running at her in a blood fueled frenzy, fell right over. He fell over and grabbed right on to her dress, drug her and Mary right down there with him, right into the muddy grass. George tried to go in for the bite on Mary, tried to suck the Indian blood outta her, but Auburn put up her arm, felt the teeth sink right into her. With her other arm, she rolled Mary through the mud. Rolled her as far away as possible.
Crying, crying, yelling.
Mary punched George right in the nose, and he bounced backwards for a minute, stunned that she’d fought back. Not just kicked around, but punched him. And then he got mad. Oh, he got mad. He hit her once, and again, and again. And she hit him, and pushed and shoved. And she yelled. And he yelled, yelled right at her;
— Fucking tranny! and the fist flew at her face.
And so she woke up, bolted up in bed, sweating. And she started to cry, ugly cry. You know, I’ve never seen someone pretty cry. Don’t understand how you’d pretty cry. You’re not crying right if you’re pretty while crying. Either that or you don’t mean what you’re crying about. Robin, well she’d cry. She cancer cried, too. That’s an ugly cry. That’s a real ugly cry. And I don’t mean her face, I mean her cry. And while she cried, I’d sit by her side and ask,
— What’s wrong, honey?
And Auburn replied,
— Just a nightmare.
— Well… Do you wanna talk about it?
And they would just sit there, and Auburn would cry more to herself, and Peter would comb her hair with his fingers. Sit there, look at her, let her cry.
— You remember when you and Rose put up the tipi?
— I wanted to help you two so much. I mean, it’s so much work. Really, I don’t know how you were able to do it just the two of you. But it’s not my job, I get that. For wíŋyaŋ… For wíŋkte. Women’s work. And you’re the best woman I’ve ever gotten to know. You’re the prettiest, and smartest, and nicest woman I’ve ever gotten to know. And I really mean that, honey, I really do. I wouldn’t be anywhere without you.
And Auburn sniffled, and looked over to Peter.
— But I almost had a heart attack when I saw you two stick that wind flap pole into the ground, he said, smiling, laughing, petting her hair. That shit’s sharp, I was afraid one of you were gonna get killed!
And Auburn laughed, and Peter grabbed her, and they wrestled around, as much as you can on a full sized bed, looking back at the day the tipi was put up, the day they’d gotten Mary, a day of hardship and of new beginnings. They tumbled back and forth, happy with what life had given them.
And so Auburn tumbled to her right, heaved as hard as she could, and picked up the wind flap pole. George crawled over, reached out to grab her, but he got nothing. He got nothing cause he slipped, too muddy to try and grab somebody with just one arm for balance. He fell face first into that mud. And while his facewas lying in that mud, Auburn thrust the pole down, thrust down with all her might. And with her might, gravity, and the weight of that pole combined, it went straight through George. Straight through his heart.
The blood left his body red at first. It was a deep red, a red that knows the land. And it soaked into the land around the tipi. But then the blood stopped coming out red, it started to lighten. And eventually, the blood came out white, white like milk, white like the moon, white like the brightest light imaginable. It flowed out, and just sat on top of the earth. Didn’t enter any crack, any pore, just drifted through the grass.
And Auburn got up, and got to Mary, and got back on the ground and grabbed her. Tried to brush the mud off her clothes, off her face, make her clean. Tried to wipe off the white blood. And Auburn looked at Mary. Just looked at Mary, looked right at her.
— I love you, Mary. I love you.
Mary cried. And Auburn cradled Mary in her arms, cried along with her. Their blue tears both rolled off their cheeks, fell right down into that white and red blood that had pooled up around them. And they cried and cried, let the tears stream out like the source of a river. And as they sat there, the layers built. The red blood, the white blood, the blue tears. All those colors sitting on top of top of each other, sitting on top of that land. That beautiful land that was theirs. That land they called home. And no matter George’s attempt to take their blood, they stayed. Stayed on that land. Stayed at that home.
And thunder clapped, and it rained.