- Nick DeFina
Note from the author: I wrote this story to resurrect old memories of the Southwestern Native American reservations that I’d visited as a child: the mountainous landscapes, the sprawling deserts, the desolate neighborhoods. I decided to set this story on a plot of land at the edge of an unnamed Native American reservation as a way of bringing a particular atmosphere into play. Rather than including details of Native American culture, I chose instead to integrate the natural landscapes of the reservations into the narrative. This should make it easier for the reader to inhabit Native American territories and experience their idiosyncrasies, without the intrusion of stereotypical ideas about Native American culture.
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move. she did, he too. down the mountin. she goed far! far to see him. he moved away. he didn’t see him. he started, goed. go. she goed also. goed the door. ope. ope it. door please.
The night was dim and ending and beginning to glow. The sky shone with a cauterized light, shadowing the ground with a dawn glaze. The stars hung up above like berries on a dark tree.
they wan. soldiers! they did! they crossed rocks. crossed the rocks with horses. the bird gotted away with the bad feathers. the dog saw the men and barked. he ran, the soldiers too, after. the bird has blood in its feathers he went to the twee. they looked up to the top. the dog gone!
She came down. She followed him from a few yards behind. Down the mountain, it was far away getting farther. The moon was falling behind the mountain and she moved away from it. He went back into the house and she went to the screen door, stopping short. She tucked her face in behind the door so she stayed hidden, even in the dimness of the stillborn dusk. She hesitated, not wanting to go inside, not wanting to turn around, pretending not to see Miles. Miles sat at the side of the house, playing with his dolls in the dark. She itched under her eye and felt a heavy stinging spread across her face. Her nose ran, tasting like iron in the back of her throat. She stayed by the door.
we make a castle. the bird in the tree. we make a castle round it. the dog in his hole. deep in the dirt. the dog hides good. the men see and pretend they dont. this is their power. they no the dog he has teeth but we have rocks and horses.
She gripped the wooden screen door in her hand, squeezing it to ease the throbbing. Two months now. From inside she heard Leonard moving around the living room. He was looking for the rest of it. She couldn’t bear to go inside. She felt his anger constantly. It bubbled inside him, pressurized. She smelled the anger on his breath when he talked. She couldn’t look at him because he wore his anger in his clothes. His shirts reeked of tobacco and ammonia, unclean, soiled with mud and Windex from resting his arms on the bar counter. Every day he would leave in the early hours, driving away in his truck, leaving her standing by the bedroom window looking out as he carried on into the mesa, dragging a dust cloud behind him. His truck would belch smoke back at the house as he moved off into the distance. Smoke mixed with dirt, and he was gone, his mark of anger settling into the earth.
they road to town for help. the men wated. hey, yoo! the men still did the castle. the dog still sleeped. the bird cryed, she lost her feather, in the tree.
She heard a crash and thought he must have fallen asleep finally. She moved through the doorway and went to the kitchen sink. She spat into the sink and washed the reddish mucus down the drain. She took a glass and filled it with water. She shook the water around her mouth, spat again. Her eyes were still throbbing from when Leonard had hit her, and she still couldn’t quite focus on anything. She wanted to go lie down but she couldn’t work up the energy to move. Leaning on the sink she looked out the window over the sink at Miles. How had he gotten himself up so early? He sat between a boulder and a cactus, playing with his dolls. He turned up briefly and he saw her. She stepped back, hiding in the darkness of the kitchen, and moved away towards her room.
the men did it still not seeing but seeing the dog. the castle got so big! the bird sat up over them.
In her room Mona took her jacket and jeans off. She slipped into bed beside Leonard and listened to his breathing with her eyes closed. The wind whipped around the corners of the house, trickling in through the slivers of open windows. She pictured Miles, his face already a spitting image of his father’s. But she wasn’t hesitant to look at Miles. She had been scared to look at June, and so the midwife took her away without asking. Mona couldn’t bear to ask, but she knew anyway. Miles was different enough; Mona understood Miles enough to know he was different. He would survive because of this. He carried himself in a meek way, like he wanted to seem different. She had hoped for Miles to follow others, to learn how to be from others. This kept her up at night, listening with her eyes closed. She could hardly open her eyes anymore. Please God, be different.
they talked to the other in their own words. made up words. they talked, looked the dog from their eyes. bad dogs need to have secrets hidden the soldiers told the other the secrets. the secret words worked.
Leonard was normally never at home on the weekends. Ever since the factory closed and they began digging into Leonard’s paychecks, he would wake very early, 5:30 or 6:00, get up and pack his rifle and cartridges in the back of his pickup and head off into the dark. She had ideas of where he would go. Possibly to the edge of the reservation, where there were wild antelope. Possibly across the reservation border to Akers’ Hill, where Barry had his bar. If anything Leonard would wait outside for Barry to open up. Leonard had pals he played pool with. He went shooting with them too, every now and then. She’d never gone shooting with him, not once. She hated guns.
So had her grandmother, who distrusted all machines. She had lived in a tiny cabin, now since demolished, at the uppermost corner of the reservation. She burned fires in a stone fireplace in the corner of her home to keep warm, wrapping herself in quilts she had stitched together fifty years ago with a tiny needle. She lived her whole life inside, sitting by a fire and talking quietly with her daughters. Mona’s mother had been the first daughter to leave the home for a job. Her grandmother had been living with her daughters in the cabin supported by the benefits of her husband, who had served in WWII. Mona’s grandfather had died a year after he returned from the war, his three daughters barely three years old each. Her grandmother had responded to his passing by simply spending more time on her own indoors. Her daughters would leave their house for school, returning dutifully at the end of the day. One evening Mona’s mother rebelled, not coming back with her sisters, whom she had instructed to tell their mother she was tutoring two younger students in geometry. In reality, Mona’s mother had gone off to smoke with two older students at a bar near the edge of the reservation. She forgot to keep track of time and didn’t come home until 3:00 in the morning, her mother still awake and ready as ever to box her ears. She forbade Mona’s mother from leaving the house for all of the following week.
the dog came. moved up. the men were ready. they yelled the dog barked. the bird in the tree. the castle was super, they not afraid. please said the dog please let me in. ope the door. please.
Leonard grunted in his sleep. Mona turned over, her back to Leonard’s. Not just his anger – she could feel his sadness, too. It came to her when he was vulnerable. She felt his sadness when they fucked; it was what weighed him down so much, she decided. She felt breakable under him – he used her to let go of the responsibility of feeling. This destroyed her. She assumed his despair like a tourniquet that absorbs the infected blood of an amputee. She became usable. There was no talking, just quietness in the dark and rhythmic jabs. There was nothing else.
the dog sat at the castle. he licked hisself and cried. pease. i to go in. please to go in!
Mona closed her eyes and dreamed of moving. She thought about the mountain far beyond their house. She pictured herself walking over the range and looking out at the landscapes. She didn’t want to get to the place over the mountain; it was the same sort of depression anywhere you went. Being higher than anything else, that was what she wanted. To see everything, the past and the future. She wanted to know what would become of Miles. She wanted to leave Leonard behind in her mind, to forget his baggage and her own. She lived in a world of distance: everything held at an arm’s length.
the open gate and the dog came. the bird in the tree still.
Mona let herself cry silently. Her tears stung the bruise under her eye, where she was also cut. She would sleep for another hour or so, and then get up and fix breakfast for Miles. It was almost time to wake up anyway. She would never follow Leonard again, not because she was afraid of getting a little banged up. She realized she just didn’t care about saving him anymore. She had wanted to fight, to get the truth out of him. But she knew she couldn’t change anything about him herself, even if she did care. She would stay home as much she could. More time at home meant more time with Miles, who was the one thing she had left. She continued to lie there, trying to sleep, thinking about the mountain, thinking about looking at it through the kitchen window.