The bartender came over. He was a fat Mexican from Cubero who was losing his hair. He looked at them nervously. Harley and Leroy were holding Tayo’s arms gently. They said something to the bartender and he went away. The juke box lit up, and Hank Williams started singing. Tayo got quiet. He looked across at Emo, and he saw how much Emo hated him. Because he had spoiled it for them. They spent all their checks trying to get back the good times, and a skinny light-skinned bastard had ruined it. That’s what Emo was thinking. Here they were, trying to bring back that old feeling, that feeling they belonged to America the way they felt during the war. They blamed themselves for losing the new feeling; they never talked about it, but they blamed themselves just like they blamed themselves for losing the land the white people took. They never thought to blame white people for any of it; they wanted white people for their friends. They never saw that it was the white people who gave them that feeling and it was white people who took it away again when the war was over.
Belonging was drinking and laughing with the platoon, dancing with blond women, buying drinks for buddies born in Cleveland, Ohio. Tayo knew what they had been trying to do. They repeated the stories about good times in Oakland and San Diego; they repeated them like long medicine chants, the beer bottles pounding on the counter tops like drums. Another round, and Harley tells his story about two blondes in bed with him. They forget Tayo’s story. They give him another beer. Two bottles in front of him now. They go on with it, with their good old times. Tayo starts crying. They think maybe he’s crying about what the Japs did to Rocky because they are to that part of the ritual where they damn those yellow Jap bastards.
Someone pats Tayo on the back. Harley wants to comfort him. They don’t know he is crying for them. They don’t know that he doesn’t hate the Japanese, not even the Japanese soldiers who were grim-faced watching Tayo and the corporal stumble with the stretcher.
The short one had stopped and looked at Rocky in the blanket; he called the tall one over. The tall one looked like a Navajo guy from Fort Defiance that Tayo had known at Indian School. They looked tired too, those Japanese soldiers. Like they wanted this march to be over too. That tail one, he even shook his head like Willie Begay did: two abrupt movements, almost too quick to see, and then he pulled the corporal to his feet. But when Tayo tried to give the corporal his end of the blanket again, the tall soldier pushed Tayo away, not hard, but the way a small child would be pushed away by an older brother. It was then Tayo got confused, and he called this tall Jap soldier Willie Begay; “You remember him, Willie, he’s my brother, best football player Albuquerque Indian School ever had.”
The tall soldier looked at him curiously. He pushed Tayo out of the way, into the ditch running full of muddy water. He pulled the blanket over Rocky as if he were already dead, and then he jabbed the rifle butt into the muddy blanket. Tayo never heard the sound, because he was screaming. Later on, he regretted that he had not listened, because it became an uncertainty, loose inside his head, wandering into his imagination, so that any hollow crushing sound he heard—children smashing gourds along the irrigation ditch or a truck tire running over a piece of dry wood—any of these sounds took him back to that moment. Screaming, with mud in his mouth and in his eyes, screaming until the others dragged him away before the Japs killed him too. He fought them, trying to lie down in the ditch beside the blanket already partially buried in the mud. He had never planned to go any farther than Rocky went. They tried to help him. The corporal who had helped carry Rocky for so long put his arm around Tayo and kept him on his feet. “Easy, easy, it’s okay. Don’t cry. Your brother was already dead. I heard them say it. Jap talk for dead. He was already gone anyway. There was nothing anyone could do.”
At the prison camp, behind the barbed wire enclosed in many more layers of barbed wire, Tayo thought he saw the tall soldier come each day to stand beside the guard at the south fence and stare for a long time in his direction. But the soldier was too far away, and the fever was too severe for Tayo to be sure of anything he had seen.
“How’s your sunstroke?” Harley said when he saw that Tayo was awake. Harley had a handful of wild grapes not much bigger than blueberries; he reached over and gave Tayo some. The leaves were small and dark green. Tayo looked up at the big orange sandrock where the wild grape vine grew out of the sand and climbed along a fissure in the face of the boulder. Harley picked some more. He ate them in big mouthfuls, chewing the seeds because most of the grape was seed anyway. Tayo could not bite down on the seeds. Once he had loved to feel them break between his teeth, but not any more. The sound of crushing made him sick. He got up and walked the sandy trail to the spring. He didn’t want to hear Harley crush the seeds.
The canyon was the way he always remembered it; the beeweed plants made the air smell heavy and sweet like wild honey, and the bumblebees were buzzing around waxy yucca flowers. The leaves of the cottonwood trees that crowded the canyon caught reflections of the afternoon sun, hundreds of tiny mirrors flashing. He blinked his eyes and looked away to the shade below the cliffs where the rabbit brush was green and yellow daisies were blooming. The people said that even in the driest years nobody could ever remember a time when the spring had dried up.
Josiah had told him about the spring while they waited for the water barrels to fill. He had been sitting on the wagon seat, taken from a ’23 Chrysler that wrecked near Paraje, and after all those years the springs poked through the faded mouse-fur fabric like devil claws. Tayo used to stand in the big sandstone cave and hold the siphon hose under the water in the shallow pool where the spring water splashed down from the west wall of the cave. The water was always cold, icy cold, even in the summer, and Tayo liked the way it felt when he was sweating and took off his shirt: the splashing water made an icy mist that almost disappeared before it touched him.
“You see,” Josiah had said, with the sound of the water trickling out of the hose into the empty wooden barrel, “there are some things worth more than money.” He pointed his chin at the springs and around at the narrow canyon. “This is where we come from, see. This sand, this stone, these trees, the vines, all the wildflowers. This earth keeps us going.” He took off his hat and wiped his forehead on his shirt. “These dry years you hear some people complaining, you know, about the dust and the wind, and how dry it is. But the wind and the dust, they are part of life too, like the sun and the sky. You don’t swear at them. It’s people, see. They’re the ones. The old people used to say that droughts happen when people forget, when people misbehave.”
Tayo knelt on the edge of the pool and let the dampness soak into the knees of his jeans. He closed his eyes and swallowed the water slowly. He tasted the deep heartrock of the earth, where the water came from, and he thought maybe this wasn’t the end after all.
One time Old Woman K’yo’s son came in from Reedleaf town up north. His name was Pa’caya’nyi and he didn’t know who his father was.
He asked the people “You people want to learn some magic?” and the people said “Yes, we can always use some.”
Ma’see’wi and Ou’yu’ye’wi the twin brothers were caring for the mother corn altar, but they got interested in this magic too.
“What kind of medicine man are you, anyway?” they asked him. “A Ck’o’yo medicine man,” he said. “Tonight we’ll see if you really have magical power,” they told him.
So that night Pa’caya’nyi came with his mountain lion. He undressed he painted his body the whorls of flesh the soles of his feet the palms of his hands the top of his head. He wore feathers on each side of his head.
He made an altar with cactus spines and purple locoweed flowers. He lighted four cactus torches at each corner. He made the mountain lion lie down in front and then he was ready for his magic.
He struck the middle of the north wall He took a piece of flint and he struck the middle of the north wall. Water poured out of the wall and flowed down toward the south.
He said “What does that look like? Is that magic power?” He struck the middle of the west wall and from the east wall a bear came out. “What do you call this?” he said again.
“Yes, it looks like magic all right,” Ma’see’wi said. So it was finished and Ma’see’wi and Ou’yu’ye’wi and all the people were fooled by that Ck’o’yo medicine man, Pa’caya’nyi.
From that time on they were so busy playing around with that Ck’o’yo magic they neglected the mother corn altar.
They thought they didn’t have to worry about anything They thought this magic could give life to plants and animals. They didn’t know it was all just a trick.
Our mother Nau’ts’ity’i was very angry over this over the way all of them even Ma’see’wi and Ou’yu’ye’wi fooled around with this magic.
“I’ve had enough of that,” she said, “If they like that magic so much let them live off it.”
So she took the plants and grass from them. No baby animals were born. She took the rainclouds with her.
Harley’s burro went faster after they left the spring, and the gray mule had to walk faster to keep slack in the rope. The sun was moving toward the west; Tayo squinted, trying to find some clouds on the west horizon. He wished then they had taught him more about the clouds and the sky, about the way the priests called the storm clouds to bring the rain. Tayo watched the sun for a long time, and at the Acoma road they stopped and he watched it disappear behind the hills in the west.
Harley was looking down the road with his head turned slightly to the side, listening to something.
“I think I hear a car. Yeah. Okay, Tayo.” Harley’s voice was excited. “If they stop for us, let’s leave the burro and the mule here. There’s a windmill over there. We can come back and get them later on.” Harley was already untying the rope around the burro’s neck to use for a hobble. Tayo could see the outline of a car coming from Acoma; it had an umbrella of road dust above it. Harley stood on the side of the road and started waving his arms to flag it down.
“Tuesday nights are slow,” the bartender said. Harley finished his second beer and joked with the bartender about how far they had come just for a cold beer. Tayo held onto the beer bottle, feeling moisture condense on his fingers. The bar didn’t change; whatever the color of the walls, they were always dirty, dark grime of stale beer and cigarette smoke; it always smelled the same too, a lingering odor of urine and vomit. Even the light bulb above the pool table shined dim soiled light. He was glad he noticed it now, before he drank the beer. He had seen the color of that light once before, but he had never been sure if it was the light or the beer he was drinking. He drank the beer slowly and waited to feel it spread from his belly, warming him all over. He finished the bottle and leaned back in the chair. He wanted to remember Rocky’s face again, and to think of them together.
Rocky was standing in a small clearing surrounded by thickets of scrub oak. It was still early in the fall and only a few of the coppery yellow leaves had fallen from the oaks. Tayo had to strain to see the deer in the tall yellow grass. He crossed a narrow dry gulley, and then he could see the antlers. He approached the deer slowly. It had fallen on its right side with its forelegs tucked under its belly; the hind legs were curled under to the left as if it were still sleeping in the grass. The eyes were still liquid and golden brown, staring at dark mountain dirt and dry oak leaves tangled in the grass.
When he was a little child he always wanted to pet a deer, and he daydreamed that a deer would let him come close and touch its nose. He knelt and touched the nose; it was softer than pussy willows, and cattails, and still warm as a breath. The bright blood in the nostrils was still wet. He touched the big mule-size ears, and they were still warm. He knew it would not last long; the eyes would begin to cloud and turn glassy green, then gray, sinking back in the skull. The nose would harden, and the ears would get stiff. But for that moment it was so beautiful that he could only stand and feel the presence of the deer; he knew what they said about deer was true.
Rocky was honing his knife; he tested the blade on a thread hanging from the sleeve of his jacket. The sun was settling down in the southwest sky above the twin peaks. It would be dark in an hour or so. Rocky rolled the carcass belly up and spread open the hind legs. When Tayo saw he was getting started, he looked at the eyes again; he took off his jacket and covered the deer’s head.
“Why did you do that?” asked Rocky, motioning at the jacket with the blade of his knife. Long gray hairs were matted into the blood on the blade. Tayo didn’t say anything, because they both knew why. The people said you should do that before you gutted the deer. Out of respect. But Rocky was funny about those things. He was an A-student and all-state in football and track. He had to win; he said he was always going to win. So he listened to his teachers, and he listened to the coach. They were proud of him. They told him, “Nothing can stop you now except one thing: don’t let the people at home hold you back.” Rocky understood what he had to do to win in the white outside world. After their first year at boarding school in Albuquerque, Tayo saw how Rocky deliberately avoided the old-time ways. Old Grandma shook her head at him, but he called it superstition, and he opened his textbooks to show her. But Auntie never scolded him, and she never let Robert or Josiah talk to him either. She wanted him to be a success. She could see what white people wanted in an Indian, and she believed this way was his only chance. She saw it as her only chance too, after all the village gossip about their family. When Rocky was a success, no one would dare to say anything against them any more.