An Underage Chauffeur Clocks in at Last Call

"A New Place to Hide" from Sinking Bell by Bojan Louis, recommended by Deb Olin Unferth

Introduction by Deb Olin Unferth

Now that I’ve read Bojan Louis’s first book of fiction, Sinking Bell, I feel certain I’ll read every book he writes—partly for his crushing, poetic voice, partly for his characters, with their wild hopes and entrenched disappointments, their visions of a better world. And partly I will read for the deep Navajo consciousness the stories inhabit: the language, the pride, the loss, the search, the spirits on the path. In his stories, there is the setting—the bar, the car, the apartment, the highway—and there’s the setting under the setting, the long history of violence visited upon the people and their ancestors, and then there’s the setting under that setting, the glimmers, embers of life before colonization.

In this devastating, brilliant story, “A New Place to Hide,” a twelve-year-old kid has been abandoned by his mother and father and must find his own way or else face destitution. By the end of the first paragraph, the story has unfolded into an epic. By the end of the second, the child is gathering talismans and words of wisdom to help him on his journey.

Is it crazy to say that the story feels less like a quest and more like a strange overgrown Cinderella fairytale? It does, though instead of Cinderella, the protagonist is the driver of her carriage. And instead of whisking Cinderella to the ball in his borrowed Honda Civic, he carries four young, “confident, fist-throwing tough, sharp-witted,” Navajo and half-Navajo women, “ideal role models,” to a rockin’ club. Instead of a pumpkin, there’s a twisted, abusive Prince Charming passed out on the side of the road. “Rolled that fucking fucker,” says a Cinderella. Instead of the kiss leading to a happily ever after, Prince Charming arrives, sans slipper, trailing tragedy and ever-after trauma in his wake.

This kid! He may weep with loneliness. He may feel as empty and silenced as a bell sinking leagues under the sea. This broken kid, “a fixer-upper,” I imagine a girlfriend saying about him one day. And yet, I observe him and I know he already has the secret to survival, the answer to the fairytale riddle, unsolved by so many: how to love. The kid has a knack for it, love. And that is what will save him.

So read on to discover the immense talent that is Bojan Louis, a writer whose stories are acts of mourning, whose book is an act of battle and healing.

– Deb Olin Unferth
Author of Barn 8

An Underage Chauffeur Clocks in at Last Call

A New Place to Hide by Bojan Louis

There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.

Epictetus

When I began driving illegally, as a sort of amateur chauffeur, I was thirteen, and this dangerous time in my life robbed me of my innocence. No—I was gutted, my innocence excised. My viscera were scattered across shimmering black pavement, which was my only reliable guide through life. I was a solitary but not lonely child, a condition I hadn’t arrived at on my own. Colonial violence. Borderland divide-and-conquer sentimentalisms. Assimilative educational hierarchies of race and class, exile and abandonment. All of it natured in me. Put plainly: I’d spent my infancy and adolescence on Dinétah, the homelands of The People—my people, I suppose. Eventually, my idealistic and easily bored parents moved us to Flagstaff, an idyllic mountain town filled with the throat-clenching nostalgia of cowboys and pioneering violence. Most people being cowards, that violence was rarely enacted individually, but in a herd, dull-mouthed bleating can easily turn into a battle chant, the stomping of small hooves a weapon of mass destruction. The town felt like the edge of the world, and was, in fact, the western reach of a holy land facing a glacially paced apocalypse. 


Uprooted midway through the fourth grade, I was thrust into a classroom of mostly White students, we non-Whites being a Black boy, two Mexican girls, a half-Mexican, half-Japanese boy, and me. We were suspicious of one another, ignorant of the factors, beyond our control, that had brought us to such a setting, and all too willing to accept the tokenships of our respective White schoolmate cliques. The Black boy, always chosen first for any sort of sport, basketball in particular, was called Muggsy Bogues, as if anyone remembered the shortest player in NBA history; the two Mexican girls, both first-named V, were dubbed diseased whores by the cavalier White boys who cornered them into kissing and exploratory touching; and no one knew what to make of the Mexican-Japanese boy, whom everyone called Taco Sushi, so he was ignored, which turned him into a pariah and bully who focused his attacks on each of us, more than once. I don’t imagine he made it very far in life or has entered law enforcement, maybe taken a menial position in politics. As for me, I was the wild Indian, the red-skinned savage, the other, the enemy, the target for rocks and gang-ups where I was tied to a tree and burned with imaginary fire amid cupped-hand whooping, hands shaped into guns, barrel fingers pointed silently at the sky. This was the town: a simulacrum of childish imagination and a lie good enough to be mistaken for destiny. At the helm of this fourth-grade massacre was Ms. Reinholdt, an older woman with skin like porcelain, who I suspected was a runaway nun. Her long, pleated plaid skirts and dark, billowy blouses cinched at the neck reminded me of the teachers back on the rez, who were all nuns. She stalked across the front of the classroom, between our rows of desks, with her chin held high, eyes darting from student to student. Her gray hair, tied tightly into a bun, had the sheen of gunmetal. She maintained a droll tone of authority, sharpened with quick “Sit”s or “Quiet”s, though not one of us was ever punished or made to feel inferior. Instead, we were assigned books to read, along with short written responses for infractions committed against the school policies, as interpreted by Ms. Reinholdt. Such infractions might include Whispering, which burned God’s ears, or Dawdling, which gave Satan the opportunity for influence, so we must move, sit, or stand with purpose, with intention. For the infraction of Melancholy, which amounted to a disregard for imagination, having rebelled against participating in small-group activities for a week, I was assigned Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The book was hardbound in a faded slate cloth cover, the gold lettering pressed into the spine still iridescent. I wrote about the car’s large engine and horsepower, how its four-seat touring design made it comfortable enough to potentially sleep in, and how its ability to transform into a hovercraft or airplane made it the ideal getaway car, which afforded me the imagination to envision a world beyond the one I lived in: places in the book like England or France, place-names without any shape or detail in my young, naive perception. She collected my work and read it standing there next to my desk, ignoring, for once, the whispering of the White boys at the front of the class whose commentary increased in volume and pace until Ms. Reinholdt removed a red pen from her skirt pocket, and with a couple of flicks of her wrist added three check marks and three plus signs. Dream as big as you can, she said, far beyond this place, and allow books to guide your imagination. At the end of that miserable year, which was to be followed by many more, the growing urge had been planted in me to get off that mountain and never return, to exile myself further in hope that it might bring about the possibility of happiness, or something close to it. 


Sometime before my thirteenth birthday, my parents separated without any legal formality, just announced their split in the opaline-blue Peugeot coupé that was in constant threat of being repossessed. We were on our way home from a restaurant, where we’d eaten quietly, silent islands in a fog-covered archipelago. My mother sat in the passenger seat, staring out the window as if a missile or comet were coming down at us from the endless sky. I’m done with all this, she said, palm pressed against the glass. Young and beautiful, her well-kept perm a black crown on her head, she was the quintessence of the Naakai dine’é clan—hot-tempered, passionate, and whimsical—the glossiness of her chocolate-brown eyes inspired trust, and a bit of curiosity, in any person she met. It was her attention and affection I often sought and was denied, not because she didn’t love me, but because she knew our lives together would come to an end. She would move south and eventually disappear altogether. Janelle Manygoats just another name I’d say, an innocuous, meaningless name. It’s been like that for a while now, replied my father, a long time coming, if you ask me. He gazed at the road ahead, perhaps seeing endless possibilities, being a reluctant and ineffectual parent, a philanderer who would take up with another woman. A singer of country songs in the bars and nightclubs of Albuquerque. He dressed like a clothing-catalog cowboy, ready to ride into the sunset on the back of almost any creature he came across. Clifton Francisco, bastard son of a Spaniard priest, his mother of the Ta’neezsani Clan, which means “Tangled Clan,” I’m told, and tangled he was, a spineless tumbleweed adrift in the wind. Once we were home, my mother told me to pack my things, which wasn’t much: a mattress, a gym bag for my clothes and shoes, some toys I rarely played with, and my small stack of books from the school library. When we left the reservation, all our belongings had fit into the old GMC pickup we owned then, and packing up on that day had felt similar to how it felt today. We’d always been transient, ready to flee or move at a moment’s notice. And I’ve always kicked myself for not somehow noticing my lack of care and stability. This isn’t happening because we don’t love you anymore or anything, Mom said, helping me pack. We must correct what’s not been right. Okay, I said. 


I went to live with my cousin who, in her early twenties, was pursuing a master’s degree in mathematics and teaching as a graduate assistant at the state university in Flagstaff. Her responsible nature was due in part to our strict and thrifty grandmother, who had raised her while her parents vanished into their depression and the poison of its alleviation. I was her, in a sense; her fondness for me was not at all veiled. She had just purchased a newly built condo in a blighted neighborhood that was within walking distance of my junior high, and her ads for a roommate had come to nothing, so I filled the vacancy. Based on her experience with her own parents, she made an arrangement with my father and mother that entailed a monthly allow ance of $150 from each of them, with the stipulation that if they missed or denied me these monthly payments, I would go to the authorities, maybe the school counselor, with a story of neglect and abandonment, which wouldn’t be so far-fetched, so beyond the stereotypical situation of young minority parents ill-suited for heavy responsibility. In this way, I was beginning to understand how to pit expectation against the potential for profit, and in this way, I was truly assimilated. Father puffed out his chest, a bottom-rung rooster. We will renegotiate these payments, he said, when you turn sixteen, see if you’re in need of money then too. Mother, with her impeccable posture, sat in a chair pursing her red-stained lips. And, she said, when you’re eighteen, hopefully grown into a man by then, the payments will stop. For a year the payments arrived on time, then every other month, until they didn’t arrive at all. My parents eaten up by their lives and the ravenous world. 


The stopped payments should have rattled me more or forced me to follow through on the threat of going to the police or Child Protective Services, but I didn’t assume my parents had vanished with even a semblance of happiness. I knew they had desiccated in their own despair. With my share of the rent, utilities, and food costs suddenly my own, I was encouraged to find employment. You’re on your own now, said my cousin. You have me, but you must learn to make the larger decisions about how you want your life to be, and the more options you have, the better. That way you’ll always have a new to place to hide. At my age, employment options were limited, so I mowed the lawns of a few of the more affluent houses closer to the base of Mount Elden using a push mower that required weekly retightening and reoiling; raked the leaves and pine needles on those lawns; walked the dogs that shit in the leaves and pine needles, as well as the neighbor dogs of the shitting dogs. It was during this time that Ms. Reinholdt would once again pass through my life, although briefly. I discovered that she was the widow of a Mr. Brinkerhoff, and after he passed, early in their marriage, she had made the decision to go by her maiden name to hide the small inheritance he left her: a modest house and a savings account with enough for a comfortable retirement, though most of it went to her daily caretakers, as she was in the final throes of dementia. Once a week for two hours, I dusted the antique furniture and picture frames filled with the memories of their travels and life together, faded black-and-whites of them embracing on a beach or standing together atop a mountain. I vacuumed the immaculate jade carpet and kept the house just as it had been on the day Mr. Brinkerhoff died. All this after-school work managed to keep the trauma of my abandonment at bay, but only for so long. After a month, Ms. Reinholdt passed in her sleep, alone. Her departure unmoored me, and I became a torrent of crying fits, overcast with insomnia. It occurred to me that Ms. Reinholdt had lived in a mausoleum, made in memory of her husband, and she sat each day prepared to join him in her final absence from this world. My memories didn’t fill a shoebox, and the future felt like a bottomless well. 


I began to skip school, sleeping late into the afternoons, which forced my cousin to drag me from bed and into the shower one evening, and then plop me down in the living room, where a pizza sat steaming on the coffee table. I ate ravenously while she chewed slowly, deep in thought. She told me it was time I snapped out of it. I couldn’t go on like this any longer because my clients would lose their patience and school would begin to pry. It’s all right to be out sick a week, she said, in order to get yourself back together, but any longer than that and what you had before might not be there. She asked what might make me feel better again. I thought quietly, munching a slice, and answered that trips to the library had once been something I had looked forward to but had forgotten about since the departure of my parents. There had been, in those days, a single public library across town from where I lived with my parents and from where I now lived with my cousin. It was too far for me to walk, especially round-trip. When Dad still existed, he took me, I explained to my cousin. It was an activity that brought him happiness, at least as far as I could discern. He reveled in being away from Mom, acted childish and giddy, and would tell me off-color jokes. What do Hopis have that is long and hard? he would ask. I would shrug, eager for him to reveal the answer. Their last names, he would say, laughing as we sped toward the library. Once we were there, my father let me out at the front entrance, said he’d be back in two hours. Plenty of time for me to wander around and wonder at the stacks. He never returned on time, was always half an hour to an hour late, dizzy in his boots and flush-faced, shirt-half tucked, hair mussed, smelling like soured perfume and chlorine. My cousin nodded firmly, told me to finish eating and grab my shoes. She had an idea and wanted to know if I still remembered how to drive. 

On the rez it’s understood that once your little legs can reach the clutch, brake, and gas pedals, and once you’re able to gaze over the hood and dashboard, you learn to drive, though this isn’t something specific to reservations but to most bucolic, pastoral communities where the police exist on the fringes of one’s imagination; where the police are indeed the numbskulls who never left town and drank themselves into such servitude, their civil service like a lifetime of failed monthly AA chips. It being understood that the youths will fulfill the expectation of being drivers, uncles and aunties, nálí and cheii, will ask for livestock and hay to be hauled, for cousins and child neighbors who are left behind to be packed into vehicles and taken far enough away for the adults to kick back a little and reminisce. My driver’s education began when I was eight or nine on the dirt and rutted roads around Coal Mine Mesa after the funeral of my only living grandparent—paternal or maternal, I don’t remember. I learned when to accelerate and decelerate, how to ease the wheel against a fishtail and drive in reverse using the mirrors. The basics, I assumed. So when my cousin and I took to the evening streets in her champagne-colored Honda Civic, and continued through more nights to solidify my apprenticeship to the wheel, it was as if the black asphalt had become my veins, every glowing streetlight a synapse burst, and the deeper darkness of the alleyways and trees of the forest my soul. 


One weekend night, my cousin didn’t return from a night out with friends. I assumed she’d lost track of time and slept over, which quelled my initial worry, thinking of my cousin curled up on a couch with a blanket and shared bowl of popcorn, the glow of an action-comedy flickering across her smiling face. In fact, she’d been a passenger in a car full of intoxicated friends, the driver included. A cop watched the vehicle drift and swerve and turned on his red-and-blue lights, pulling the car over. The friend who was driving failed the sobriety test, and because no one else was sober, either, they all spent the night in jail. My cousin walked across town the next morning, entered the front door sweating, her eyes sleepless and swollen. The drunk tank isn’t a place you want to spend the night, she said, bunch of jaans and shit-kickers getting in each other’s faces. She explained the possibility of losing her scholarship if the DUI had fallen on her. I’ve worked too damn hard for this shit for it to get fucked up, she yelled. This was, of course, before the days of smartphone apps and a choice of cab company, the only game in town being Settler Cab, which generally refused to pick up Navajos, or any other minority, especially if they were drunk and looking to get home. If they did happen to be allowed into a cab, these unfortunate folks would be dropped off on the outskirts of town, where they got either lost or picked up by the police, and in some instances froze to death. Women were often assaulted or raped, then abandoned to be gathered by the authorities, and their degradation continued further. Small mountain towns have dark underbellies, no matter how quaint, friendly, or liberal they seem. That’s an illusion, built upon the death and destruction of an Indigenous population, hijacked and rewritten narratives that showcase the leather mask of progress, but from whose skin is the mask cut. The girls who had been in the car with my cousin were two sisters, also Navajo and related to me by clan, which compelled them to refer to me as their “daddy yázhí,” their “little” or “small daddy,” and the girl who had been driving, a half-Hopi, half-Navajo girl from my cousin’s hometown of Tuba City who was like a dart, or a hummingbird, and was affectionally called Birdy. She and my cousin had played on the varsity basketball team together. Birdy, a point guard; my cousin, a small forward because of her solid frame and ability to box out bigger forwards and centers using her strength and elbows. The sisters, a year apart, had dominated their high school’s volleyball squad, bringing home three back-to-back state championships. This crew of Native girls was confident, fist-throwing tough, sharp-witted, with vulgar senses of humor bordering on blasphemy, which made them the ideal role models and customers. There wasn’t a narc among them. 


My first chauffeuring gig went smoothly. My cousin rode shotgun, the sisters bent into the back seat with Birdy sitting bitch—that’s what they called it, sitting bitch, for what reason I never knew. Pregamed and ready, with an elated, carefree buzz, they shit-talked rivals, whom I had never met and knew nothing about, the details of which engrossed me—“That skank snagged out this bull rider with a big-ass cold sore on his lip and then went and passed it to her man, she didn’t even give a fuck,” or “I’ll tell you what, if we see those hoe-bags, I’m down to scrap, take off these hoops, I don’t care if I fuck up my nails, stoodis”—rugged and rezed-out their infectious laughter and swagger, not giving one fuck whom they offended. This was something I wanted: camaraderie and confidence, disregard, happiness. It couldn’t be real. I dropped them off a block from the main downtown drag around ten, when all the bars started hopping and everyone felt sexier and tougher, the air thick with big-dick energy, as the girls called it, and returned ten minutes after 2:00 a.m., parking in the shadows of a parking lot, alleyway, or street. Sometimes one or two of them found other ways of getting home or getting to someone else’s home. Other times one or two people I didn’t know piled in, and I hurried across town to be rid of the commotion and weight. A few nights my cousin appeared alone, her eyes furious, as if she’d been crying, her fists clenched and red with fighting. Two nights, no one showed up at all, though when I got home my cousin was there, asleep behind her locked door. And one time a man I’d never met came to meet me. 


The night was a void when D tapped lightly on the window with the bulbous knuckle of his pointer finger. I cracked the window enough to prevent him from inserting it past the joint. Hey, my man, he said. The girls said you could give me a ride. He told me they had found some snags, that his friends had ditched him, and shrugged as if I could relate. I was trepidatious, but he named the girls, knew where each had gone to high school and what position each played, though he looked too old to have been in the same graduating class. My place is a couple miles south, near the interstate, he said. I’ll pay you twenty bucks. D handed me a crisp note and sat quietly in the passenger seat as I drove. At some point he had me veer right onto a road that went past a new subdivision of prefabricated homes, where the city limits met Forest Service land and the streetlights vanished. We turned onto a nondescript dirt road and arrived at a log cabin, the hard bark logs stacked like bones, the trim on the windows and doorway painted sludge green. Dim light emanated from a window onto a white pickup parked askew. D grabbed my shoulder, sending shudders down my body. All right, my man, listen, he said. If I’m not back in twenty minutes, you leave and don’t worry about me, okay? I nodded and he checked his watch against the digital numbers glowing blue on the dashboard and synced it to his timepiece. Twenty minutes, he said again, pointing to me and then to the treed and darkened road we had arrived on, and exited the car. An inescapable loneliness overtook me, and I began to weep. After ten minutes, I was able to calm myself and wipe away my boyish tears. The dread tightening my throat loosened and a death bell pinged in my ears. At the nineteen-minute mark, I was depressing the brake pedal and shifting into drive when D suddenly opened the passenger door and got in, having emerged out of the darkness like a ghost or time traveler. He smelled sour, hot, and chemically musky. Go, he said. I turned on the headlights and sped through the forest dark. D rolled down the window, closed his eyes, and leaned his head back so the cold night air blew through his black hair. I asked him where we were going, and he laughed. Straight to hell if you’re not careful, he said. I’ll tell you, just drive. The wind crested over him, the starlight contoured the shadows of his dark brown face, his slab of a body rested. I dropped him off at a large apartment complex at the edge of town that seemed to have sprung up overnight. Tall buildings like LEGO sets were clustered around lit pathways and manicured grassy amoebas. D punched my arm when he got out of the car, told me to tell my cousin to get me a pager and to give him the number right away. Here’s an extra twenty, he said, to help you get that pager. 


When my cousin’s friends snagged boyfriends, they went out less and less, until they didn’t go out at all. The younger of the sisters dated a White Mountain Apache guy who studied the biodiversity of soils and hoped to return to his nation to help develop an irrigation and farming enterprise. The older sister went through a string of bronc and bull riders, none of whom were good beyond a single night, until eventually she moved in with a calf roper who made his living as a boilermaker. She followed his power plant work to Utah and Montana until the two were never seen or heard from again. Birdy, the boisterous ex-trovert, got pregnant some months after the crew had dissolved and seemed to be devoting herself to some form of Christianity, not because she believed in a White and all-forgiving Jesus, but for the free and reliable childcare the church offered. I’d heard she still went out from time to time, though not at all with the frequency she had prior to motherhood, and loved her child more than anything in this soulless world. My cousin became despondent, spent long hours in her campus office working on teaching materials and equations of improbability. She wore pantsuits when she taught, instead of her typical jeans and polo shirts. She desired something new from life, and I felt, again, our time together ticking away. 


I began spending more time with D. This time I was driving him to a rural residential area with the name of a failed cowboy western—Silver Bolero, Cowpoke, or Park Ranch—in a silver Lexus, its new smell intoxicating. The trunk held packages I wasn’t supposed to know about. I was given directions to a barn, where I backed the car in, cutting the lights and engine, leaving D to wait in the darkness. Don’t look back until the barn doors are closed, he told me. A different car would be brought to me, which I was to deliver to D’s place, where I’d await a page with a number to call for directions on where and when to pick him up. At his apartment that night, someone knocked. I didn’t answer, or move, right away, not until the second and third round of knocking became more insistent. I looked through the peephole, saw a head draped with platinum blond hair obscuring the face beneath it. The pager remained silent, so I released the dead bolt, and before I made the decision to open the door, a woman drifted in, at least it seemed that way to me, and went directly to the refrigerator and examined its contents without taking anything. She opened the freezer, removed a bottle of clear liquid, took two quick sips, and put it back. I dead bolted the door and sat on the couch. She asked if I was hungry and I nodded yes. We gotta get a pizza around here, she said. While she rose to look at the to-go menus stuck to the fridge with magnets, the pager buzzed, its little green light blinking alien-like. On the phone, D told me the woman needed to stay there for the night. Lock the doors and don’t let anyone in, he said. I’ll be back in the morning. Are you done with your business, sweetie? she asked. I’ll order us a pizza and we can watch a movie. She was familiar with all the cable channels D had access to and complained that nothing new was ever playing, she’d seen every goddamn movie each channel ran. She reached into her large bag and pulled out a VHS tape with no label on it. I thought of something called snuff films and wondered if it was one of those, or maybe a dirty movie, and my heart raced in terror. When the pizza arrived, the woman inserted the tape into the VHS machine, and to my relief the title, Sleepless in Seattle, filled the screen. It was a thrilling experience, sitting on the floor beneath a blanket with her, eating pizza, laughing when she laughed. I felt like both the son in the film and the father, because I didn’t know what fathers could be like, and the man in the movie seemed, perhaps, like one I’d like. After the movie was over and we put the pizza box in the trash, the woman said she was tired and should get ready for bed. While we brushed our teeth, she peed, and I stared at the ceiling. I didn’t have any other clothes with me, so she searched D’s wardrobe and found a pair of basketball shorts and a T-shirt. My skinny body didn’t fill them, though I found comfort in their roominess. In D’s king-size bed, she asked if I could spoon her and I said I didn’t know what that was, so she showed me, and when we fell asleep it was as if I had wanted nothing more than to be held for a long, long time. 


The younger of the sisters paged me after she broke up with the soil-studying Apache. She was bloated and unhappy, dating a sloppy older White man, a monied alcoholic who dodged alimony payments and got blackout drunk. I didn’t understand what she saw in this trucker hat–wearing, bristly-chinned douchebag. Beyond the possibility that it was his deep pockets, I assumed it was loneliness or regret that had birthed self-loathing, self-punishment. The two had gotten into an altercation at one of meat market bars—frequented by college athletes and Greek Lifers who believed they were God’s gift to the earth—where they’d been drinking beer and eating cheap tacos since the early afternoon, when an older, desperate crowd sought an expired sensation of their youths for no cover charge. At one point well into the evening, the man had thrown a half-eaten taco at the younger sister, poured his beer on her head, and pushed her face with his palm. She, of course, retaliated by throwing insults and slaps until she escaped to a pay phone near the bathrooms, paged me, and awaited my call. When she returned to the table, the man had been apprehended by the bouncers and forced to wait outside. She was told she needed to leave as well but pleaded with the bar staff to let her wait inside until her ride arrived. Pulling up outside the bar, I saw the man leaning against a square brick pillar, hardly able to stay on his feet. The younger sister came rushing out of the bar and climbed into the passenger seat. As she did, the man pulled open the rear door and launched himself onto the seat, passing out immediately. One of the bouncers shoved the man’s feet and legs into the vehicle with his foot and slammed the door. I drove without direction, concerned the man might wake at any moment. But the younger sister assured me that once the man was passed out, it was always for the night. She told me to head past the shit-kicker communities and go down into the desert lowlands north of the mountain. After an hour, she told me to pull over at a small, ancient-looking convenience store that was the last place you could purchase booze before entering the western end of the reservation. I parked by the near end of the building. She got out and opened the rear door and, using all her might, which was significant, pulled the man out of the back seat by his feet. His head clipped some part of the car and I heard him make a grunt-yelp noise, which was followed by the dull sound of a body striking the ground and a commotion of dirt. When she got back into the passenger seat, I sped back to town. At some point, she removed the man’s wallet from her pocket, took out the cash, and handed it to me. Then she threw the wallet out the window. Rolled that fucking fucker, she said, tears at the edges of her eyelids. She guided me to her place, where she showered while I checked my pager and waited on the couch, flipping mindlessly through TV channels. I thought about calling my cousin or D to see if anything was happening that night, so as to have an excuse to leave. Dumping a drunk White guy on the reservation border without any money or ID must amount to some type of crime, though I told myself he would be fine. When she emerged from the shower, towels wrapped around her head and torso, the latter hardly covering her upper thighs, she looked calmer but still filled with a sadness beyond my understanding. She took my hand, led me to the bedroom, and embraced me, whispering “thank you” over and over, until her towel fell to the floor and she was naked, her skin hot from the shower. She undressed me, removed the towel absorbing the water from her hair, and we lay on her bed together. She taught me the way to kiss her, where to rub and insert my fingers, and how to do it. When we were finished, she fell deeply asleep, and I trembled and wept quietly until dawn, imaging an apparition standing in the doorway, there to punish me for what my body had done. When sunlight overtook the room, I was alone. The sound of the living room and kitchen being destroyed by two screaming banshees paralyzed me with fear. I wanted to call D, or my cousin, but there was no phone in the bedroom. I heard a gunshot. Another three in quick, angry succession. My head rang sharply and then, like an enormous bell cast into the ocean and sinking, I heard nothing at all. 

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