Authors: Sherman Alexie
Tags: #Adult, #Humour
Everybody told their favorite Julius Windmaker stories, too. Times like that, on a reservation, a basketball game felt like a funeral and wake all rolled up together.
Back at home, on the porch, Adrian and I sat wrapped in shawls because the evening was kind of cold.
“It’s too bad, too bad,” I said. “I thought Julius might be the one to make it all the way.”
“I told you he wouldn’t. I told you so.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t rub it in.”
We sat there in silence and remembered all of our heroes, ballplayers from seven generations, all the way back. It hurts to lose any of them because Indians kind of see ballplayers as saviors. I mean, if basketball would have been around, I’m sure Jesus Christ would’ve been the best point guard in Nazareth. Probably the best player in the entire world. And in the beyond. I just can’t explain how much losing Julius Windmaker hurt us all.
“Well,” Adrian asked. “What do you want to do tomorrow?”
“Shit, that damn traffic signal is still broken. Look.”
Adrian pointed down the road and he was right. But what’s the point of fixing it in a place where the
signs are just suggestions?
“What time is it?” Adrian asked.
“I don’t know. Ten, I think.”
“Let’s go somewhere.”
“I don’t know, Spokane, anywhere. Let’s just go.”
“Okay,” I said, and we both walked inside the house, shut the door, and locked it tight. No. We left it open just a little bit in case some crazy Indian needed a place to sleep. And in the morning we found crazy Julius passed out on the living room carpet.
“Hey, you bum,” Adrian yelled. “Get off my floor.”
“This is my house, Adrian,” I said.
“That’s right. I forgot. Hey, you bum, get your ass off Victor’s floor.”
Julius groaned and farted but he didn’t wake up. It really didn’t bother Adrian that Julius was on the floor, so he threw an old blanket on top of him. Adrian and I grabbed our morning coffee and went back out to sit on the porch. We had both just about finished our cups when a group of Indian kids walked by, all holding basketballs of various shapes and conditions.
“Hey, look,” Adrian said. “Ain’t that the Lucy girl?”
I saw that it was, a little brown girl with scarred knees, wearing her daddy’s shirt.
“Yeah, that’s her,” I said.
“I heard she’s so good that she plays for the sixth grade boys team.”
“Really? She’s only in third grade herself, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, yeah, she’s a little warrior.”
Adrian and I watched those Indian children walk down the road, walking toward another basketball game.
“God, I hope she makes it all the way,” I said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Adrian said, stared into the bottom of his cup, and then threw it across the yard. And we both watched it with all of our eyes, while the sun rose straight up above us and settled down behind the house, watched that cup revolve, revolve, until it came down whole to the ground.
I lower a frayed rope into the depths and hoist
the same old Indian tears to my eyes. The liquid is pure and
—Adrian C. Louis
FTER SUMMER HEAT
and too much coat-pocket whiskey, Dirty Joe passed out on the worn grass of the carnival midway and Sadie and I stood over him, looked down at his flat face, a map for all the wars he fought in the Indian bars. Dirty Joe was no warrior in the old sense. He got his name because he cruised the taverns at closing time, drank all the half-empties and never cared who might have left them there.
“What the hell do we do with him?” I asked Sadie.
“Ah, Victor, let’s leave the old bastard here,” Sadie said, but we both knew we couldn’t leave another Indian passed out in the middle of a white carnival. Then again, we didn’t want to carry his temporarily dead body to wherever it was we were headed next.
“We leave him here and he’s going to jail for sure,” I said.
“Maybe the drunk tank will do him some good,” she said, sat down hard on the grass, her hair falling out of the braid. A century ago she might have been beautiful, her face reflected in the river instead of a mirror. But all the years have changed more than the shape of our blood and eyes. We wear fear now like a turquoise choker, like a familiar shawl.
We sat there beside Dirty Joe and watched all the white tourists watch us, laugh, point a finger, their faces twisted with hate and disgust. I was afraid of all of them, wanted to hide behind my Indian teeth, the quick joke.
“Shit,” I said. “We should be charging admission for this show.”
“Yeah, a quarter a head and we’d be drinking Coors Light for a week.”
“For the rest of our lives, enit?”
After a while I started to agree with Sadie about leaving Dirty Joe to the broom and dustpan. I was just about to stand up when I heard a scream behind me, turned quick to find out what the hell was going on, and saw the reason: a miniature roller coaster called the Stallion.
“Sadie,” I said. “Let’s put him on the roller coaster.”
She smiled for the first time in four or five hundred years and got to her feet.
“That’s a real shitty thing to do,” she said, laughed, grabbed his arms while I got his legs, and we carried him over to the Stallion.
“Hey,” I asked the carny. “I’ll give you twenty bucks if you let my cousin here ride this thing all day.”
The carny looked at me, at Dirty Joe, back at me and smiled.
“He’s drunk as a skunk. He might get hurt.”
“Shit,” I said. “Indians ain’t afraid of a little gravity.”
“Oh, hell,” the carny said. “Why not?”
We loaded Dirty Joe into the last car and checked his pockets for anything potentially lethal. Nothing. Sadie and I stood there and watched Dirty Joe ride a few times around the circle, his head rolling from side to side, back and forth. He looked like an old blanket we gave away.
“Oh, Jesus, Jesus,” Sadie screamed, laughed. She leaned on my shoulder and laughed until tears fell. I looked around and saw a crowd had gathered and joined in on the laughter. Twenty or thirty white faces, open mouths grown large and deafening, wide eyes turned toward Sadie and me. They were jury and judge for the twentieth-century fancydance of these court jesters who would pour Thunderbird wine into the Holy Grail.
“Sadie, I think we better get out of here.”
“Oh, shit,” she said, realizing what we had done. “Let’s go.”
“Wait, we have to get Dirty Joe.”
“We ain’t got time,” she said and pulled me away from the crowd. We walked fast and did our best to be anything but Indian. Two little redheaded boys ran by, made Indian noises with their mouths, and as I turned to watch them, one pointed his finger at me and shot.
“Bang,” he yelled. “You’re dead, Indian.”
I looked back over to the Stallion, watched Dirty Joe regain consciousness and lift his head and search for something familiar.
“Sadie, he’s awake. We got to go get him.”
“Go get him yourself,” she said and walked away from me. I watched her move against the crowd, the only person not running to see the drunk Indian riding the Stallion. I turned back in time to watch Dirty Joe stumble from the roller coaster and empty his stomach on the platform. The carny yelled something I couldn’t hear, pushed Dirty Joe from behind, and sent him tumbling down the stairs face-first into the grass.
The crowd formed a circle around Dirty Joe; some thin man in a big hat counted like Dirty Joe was a fighter on the canvas. Two security guards pushed through the people, using their billy clubs for leverage. One knelt down beside Dirty Joe while the other spoke to the carny. The carny waved his arms wildly, explained his position, and they both turned toward me. The carny pointed, although he didn’t have to, and the guard jumped off the platform.
“Okay, chief,” he yelled. “Get your ass over here.” I backpedaled, turned and ran, and could hear the guard behind me as I ran down the midway, past a surprised carny into the fun house where I stumbled through a revolving tunnel, jumped a railing, ran through a curtain, and found myself staring at a three-foot-tall reflection.
, I thought as the security guard fell from the tunnel, climbed to his feet, and pulled his billy club from his belt.
, I thought, the kind that distort your features, make you fatter, thinner, taller, shorter. The kind that make a white man remember he’s the master of ceremonies, barking about the Fat Lady, the Dog-Faced Boy, the Indian who offered up another Indian like some treaty.
, I thought, the kind that can never change the dark of your eyes and the folding shut of the good part of your past.
UST AFTER VICTOR LOST
his job at the BIA, he also found out that his father had died of a heart attack in Phoenix, Arizona. Victor hadn’t seen his father in a few years, only talked to him on the telephone once or twice, but there still was a genetic pain, which was soon to be pain as real and immediate as a broken bone.
Victor didn’t have any money. Who does have money on a reservation, except the cigarette and fireworks salespeople? His father had a savings account waiting to be claimed, but Victor needed to find a way to get to Phoenix. Victor’s mother was just as poor as he was, and the rest of his family didn’t have any use at all for him. So Victor called the Tribal Council.
“Listen,” Victor said. “My father just died. I need some money to get to Phoenix to make arrangements.”
“Now, Victor,” the council said. “You know we’re having a difficult time financially.”
“But I thought the council had special funds set aside for stuff like this.”
“Now, Victor, we do have some money available for the proper return of tribal members’ bodies. But I don’t think we have enough to bring your father all the way back from Phoenix.”
“Well,” Victor said. “It ain’t going to cost all that much. He had to be cremated. Things were kind of ugly. He died of a heart attack in his trailer and nobody found him for a week. It was really hot, too. You get the picture.”
“Now, Victor, we’re sorry for your loss and the circumstances. But we can really only afford to give you one hundred dollars.”
“That’s not even enough for a plane ticket.”
“Well, you might consider driving down to Phoenix.”
“I don’t have a car. Besides, I was going to drive my father’s pickup back up here.”
“Now, Victor,” the council said. “We’re sure there is somebody who could drive you to Phoenix. Or is there somebody who could lend you the rest of the money?”
“You know there ain’t nobody around with that kind of money.”
“Well, we’re sorry, Victor, but that’s the best we can do.”
Victor accepted the Tribal Council’s offer. What else could he do? So he signed the proper papers, picked up his check, and walked over to the Trading Post to cash it.
While Victor stood in line, he watched Thomas Builds-the-Fire standing near the magazine rack, talking to himself. Like he always did. Thomas was a storyteller that nobody wanted to listen to. That’s like being a dentist in a town where everybody has false teeth.
Victor and Thomas Builds-the-Fire were the same age, had grown up and played in the dirt together. Ever since Victor could remember, it was Thomas who always had something to say.
Once, when they were seven years old, when Victor’s father still lived with the family, Thomas closed his eyes and told Victor this story: “Your father’s heart is weak. He is afraid of his own family. He is afraid of you. Late at night he sits in the dark. Watches the television until there’s nothing but that white noise. Sometimes he feels like he wants to buy a motorcycle and ride away. He wants to run and hide. He doesn’t want to be found.”
Thomas Builds-the-Fire had known that Victor’s father was going to leave, knew it before anyone. Now Victor stood in the Trading Post with a one-hundred-dollar check in his hand, wondering if Thomas knew that Victor’s father was dead, if he knew what was going to happen next.
Just then Thomas looked at Victor, smiled, and walked over to him.
“Victor, I’m sorry about your father,” Thomas said.
“How did you know about it?” Victor asked.
“I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight. Also, your mother was just in here crying.”
“Oh,” Victor said and looked around the Trading Post. All the other Indians stared, surprised that Victor was even talking to Thomas. Nobody talked to Thomas anymore because he told the same damn stories over and over again. Victor was embarrassed, but he thought that Thomas might be able to help him. Victor felt a sudden need for tradition.
“I can lend you the money you need,” Thomas said suddenly. “But you have to take me with you.”
“I can’t take your money,” Victor said. “I mean, I haven’t hardly talked to you in years. We’re not really friends anymore.”
“I didn’t say we were friends. I said you had to take me with you.”
“Let me think about it.”
Victor went home with his one hundred dollars and sat at the kitchen table. He held his head in his hands and thought about Thomas Builds-the-Fire, remembered little details, tears and scars, the bicycle they shared for a summer, so many stories.
Thomas Builds-the-Fire sat on the bicycle, waited in Victor’s yard. He was ten years old and skinny. His hair was dirty because it was the Fourth of July.
“Victor,” Thomas yelled. “Hurry up. We’re going to miss the fireworks.”
After a few minutes, Victor ran out of his house, jumped the porch railing, and landed gracefully on the sidewalk.
“And the judges award him a 9.95, the highest score of the summer,” Thomas said, clapped, laughed.
“That was perfect, cousin,” Victor said. “And it’s my turn to ride the bike.”
Thomas gave up the bike and they headed for the fairgrounds. It was nearly dark and the fireworks were about to start.
“You know,” Thomas said. “It’s strange how us Indians celebrate the Fourth of July. It ain’t like it was our independence everybody was fighting for.”