Oyster Boy Review 20  
  Summer 2012
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» Levee 67


The Line

Andrew Cohen

I am not Red-trash. There are three trailer parks on my reservation. They contain most of the tribe, and many have fallen victim to the bottle, but there are worse things that drown these people.

The men here cannot see past the thick clouds of steam. They sit in the sweat lodge, deaf to the whispers of the hissing stones on the fire. The souls of our ancestors are in despair.

When I was little, my grandmother told me I was different. "La-Soot-Seed," she said, "you are special—you are a moonchild. This is a great blessing, but also a great curse. You will learn much from your curse and your blessing will make it all worthwhile." When she died, I learned sorrow was a better teacher than happiness.

The first time I had sex it was awkward, but I suppose all young girls feel this. I had wanted to lose it just to get it over with, but the whole time it was happening I felt my aloneness was being violated. The second time was with a different boy; I did it because I yearned to feel more human. He was heavy and restless: I moved beneath him when his movements told me to, like a puppet. The experience left me empty. The next time I had sex, things were far different, though this boy was also nameless and faceless. I could not hide from the same whiskey fumes, but he was as distant from me as a cloud. I gazed at the moon in all of its glory, as it hovered beyond his shoulders. The moon consumed me and flooded my veins with warmth. Its caress reverberated throughout my inner being and temporarily freed my spirit.

When I walk past the houses and trailers and see Indians laughing, I stare at them, trapped behind a door of soundproof glass. This door is unlocked, but too heavy for me to open. Every day is a struggle, sometimes even just to breathe. Serpent demons swim and wage war in the rivers of my blood. I navigate through this maze, past rapids, falls, and whirlpools, only to find myself trapped behind the weight of this door.

The cars on the highway moved fast, but were infrequent, and I had no trouble crossing, though the winds forced me to remove my hat. Grandmother took great care in weaving the cedar-bark hat, which I would call upon to hide behind, now that my hair is cut short. Hitching a ride was easy, but my hands and clothes smelled of salmon and the smokehouse, and this was enough to arouse curiosity in the driver. I stared out the window, responding with no more than one word for each question. Soon he stopped asking. He did give me a sage bundle though, and once we were up over the pass, driving down into the desert, I smudged myself.

The powwow was crowded with many faces. I needed this—I needed to be alone. I knew myself well enough to know I was least alone, when alone. But my anonymity in this crowd could not be certain. There were many tribes here, but it was only a matter of time before someone from my tribe would find me and try to talk to me.

I saw Preston before he saw me. I must have stared at his packet of drawings too long before turning away. Soon I heard him mumble my name. I disliked the way he talked. His words were very quiet, almost as if he regretted each one after it left his mouth. "I saw your hat," he said, "and knew it was," he trailed off, and then moved on to his next thought. "Hey, the casino bought my otter," he mumbled. Whenever I see Preston, I conjure a storm cloud to hover above me—to increase the fear in his downcast eyes, and to scare him away. "They're going to silkscreen it onto all of the blackjack tables," he added with a half-smile. I yelled at him, though my lips did not move and said "Go away!" though only with my eyes. I was less responsive than an actual otter might have been, but I did not care, and he finally understood. Preston once heard my laugh, though it had nothing to do with him. Once, he was mumbling to me, and I was staring at the blue sky, and when my eyes found the new moon I let out a wicked laugh which only the moon and I understood. Maybe he thinks we bonded somehow.

When the sun set behind the mountains, it was still light enough for me to watch parents packing their children into their cars. Through many windshields I saw dream-catchers, hanging like fuzzy-dice, and these were like fingernails on a blackboard for me. They're supposed to be for a child's bed, to catch the bad dreams and let the good ones enter the child. Why didn't these parents know?

A great fire was built to take the chill off the desert air. The logs took the shape of a teepee, and this annoyed me too. On my side of the mountain pass, my grandmother had slept in a cedar longhouse. On this side, the tribes had built structures of mud and adobe. At the powwow, women sold miniature teepees for lawn decorations, or for doghouses. The ignorance for the customs and history of your own culture is worse than the alcohol.

The smell of the barbeque awakened my hunger. I saw three fat Indian men pushing buffalo-burgers into their mouths. "Just like our ancestors, but with ketchup and a bun," one joked. The laughter of the other two, though muffled by food, pecked at my skin like buzzards. I wanted to yell at them, or remind them that there were no bison this far west. They are my elders, shouldn't they know? I ate fry-bread, covered in powdered sugar.

When the drums began I felt a chill, though I was close enough to the fire to feel its warmth. Drums. Drums. The primal sound, the rhythm, like a shaman, seemed to reach within me and dispel my angst. Drums. The naked palm against their surface encouraged those who knew the words to chant. A latent ancestral spirit, now awakened, mouthed the words for me. The two men, on either side of me, stood up and joined the dancers. The drumming and chanting grew louder as the dancers circled the fire. Their eyes revealed their possession by the rhythm of the heat. They paused, stamped their feet, rotated, and reversed direction. Revolving around the mass of orange flame they called to the sky, and it seemed they called to me, too. I watched as my cousins danced with the same intensity as the fire. Some wore animal skins, some bore weapons and others were painted. I found myself staring at a willowy man who wore the raccoon's markings, and when he turned to me, with his black raccoon eyes, the door swung open. I avoided his gaze and found the image of his shadow dancing with its spear. "Who am I?" is the first thing that came to my mind, but then, "Who is in me?" I didn't care. The thundering caused my body to writhe, but then I submitted to trust. Drums. With the door open, and my ancestors barring me from stepping back, I saw myself drawn into the circle—my limbs at the mercy of the beating drums.

After some time the raccoon led me out of the circle and away from the fire. "My name is Nelson," he said, and he extended his hand.

"I am La-Soot-Seed," was all I could mutter. He took me to some flat rocks that had only just begun to cool in the desert night. I stared at the distant fire and the dust the dancers kicked up.

"Cool name, what does it mean?" Nelson asked.

"Shining star," I told him. "My grandmother gave it to me." With our backs against the rock we took in the night sky.

"I'm a day person," he said, "despite my paint."

"Why raccoon?" I asked him.

"It's my spirit animal," Nelson replied. He took my hand, and I squeezed back gently.

"I don't have a spirit animal," I said, and then, thinking it a stupid response added, "I mean, I haven't found mine yet. I do know I'm a moonchild. My grandmother shared that with me when I was young." Nelson sat up, and his raccoon eyes grew wide with astonishment.

"My father told me I was a sunchild," Nelson said with conviction, and then joked, "And I know it's true because I'm solar powered." He moved closer to me and I could smell the fire on him. "What's it like? I mean, being a moonchild," he asked.

I didn't know exactly how to respond. "Well," I started, "my tribe believes the moon is male."

"So the moon is like a brother?" he interrupted.

"No. Grandmother told me that the girls in her day were not allowed out at night when the moon was full. The moon is mischievous." He stopped my words with his lips and then withdrew.

"Like a raccoon," he said.

"The moon keeps me company. The moon makes me laugh. The moon helps me see things. What's it like being a sunchild?"

"The sun is everything," Nelson began, "the sun gives life and the sun can take life. The sun gives me strength, the sun is power." I was transfixed by the blackness in his eyes. He moved closer and I felt the heat of his bare chest. "The sun is power, but it is more than that," he continued. "The sun is the light, the sun holds my answers. My father taught me how to find the line. When I get confused, or sad, or I feel I'm losing it, I find the line. It's very thin—like a strand from a spider's web. When things get bad, I take hold of the line. It continues all the way up to the sun. The line of strength pulls me through the fear and into the light." I wasn't sure if I followed all that Nelson had said, but it seemed beautiful—and especially so that he was willing to share something so intimate with me.

When his hands ran through my hair I closed my eyes and smiled. When I opened my eyes I was staring at this raccoon, and would have laughed, but Nelson kissed me. He removed my shoes and my jeans without awkward knees or stumbling. He kissed my neck and my ears and I wondered how he could have removed his shorts without me noticing. His lips were warm, and I melted into the rock when he took me. I was aware of everything, so very much alive—I felt the warmth of his body and his breath, yet the cool breeze found my exposed skin. The waft whistled in my ears, accompanying the sound of the distant drumming. The sound of our bodies, like wings flapping on water, grew louder. My legs stiffened, and my toes pointed out, as if I were in the middle of a pond, trying to touch bottom. Nelson collapsed on top of me and my world seemed to be silenced by the beating of my heart.

I don't know how long we lay. I don't know if I fell asleep. When I wondered if Nelson was asleep he rolled off of me. A chill swept through my body. The moon, which had been hidden by his head, floated in the sky. It was one-third full, and its Cheshire grin seemed to mock me. Never had I felt so naked. I hurriedly found my clothes and dressed.

I wished to reclaim my position, but I couldn't, so I sat facing Nelson, with my back toward the moon. "What do you fear, Nelson?"

He put both hands behind his head and pointed his elbows to the stars. "I don't know," he replied, "Why do you ask?" He freed a hand and patted the rock, "Lay down next to me."

I did, but I couldn't look at the moon. I stared at the stars of the horizon, and the silhouetted mountains, and silently addressed God: "God, this is your moonchild. I know I never ask for shooting stars when the moon is up, but could you? Please?"

After a while Nelson said, "Hey, I'm over here," and I turned around to find his unfamiliar raccoon face. "What are you thinking about?" he said. I thought for a moment, and decided if he could open up, and Nelson seemed like such a happy person, then I could open up too—I should open up.

"I face the mornings very tensely and unsure. I feel as though my soul is trapped in a labyrinth of rivers. I swim, and sometimes I choose the wrong way and have to swim upstream, and it exhausts me to my very core. Sometimes I find my way into rooms, which are like ponds, and although I can rest there, I know I have to keep moving. Eventually I find myself in a room, with a big, unlocked glass door, and I stand behind it." I bit my lip. I had said too much already.

He took me in his arms and held me for a while. My mind was treading water and then Nelson sat up. "I've got to get going," he said. His words pierced me like arrows of ice. I don't know why, but I had envisioned going back to his cabin, or something, and watching sunrise, or something.

I wanted to go with him, but I wanted him to ask me. All I could say was, "Could you give me a lift? To the highway?"

The time it took him to respond seemed an eternity. "Yeah, of course, I'll give you a lift to the truck stop." The ride was silent. When we pulled into the truck stop, and he shifted into park without shutting off the car, I watched as most of my heart slid away, as if a cleaving glacier, into the sea. He turned to me and I waited for him to speak. He kissed me and I let him. "I wish you well in your travels, shining star," he said. The fry-bread in my stomach mixed with my emotions and the result was cement-like. Indians don't do this to other Indians, my desperate eyes pleaded. His words seemed so foreign to me: they were like the cavalry bugle, and I the sleeping Indian village. They stampeded through my stomach, and trampled over my heart, on their way to my throat. I cut them off with a clenched jaw, and they echoed in my head. I could not speak, and I could not slam the car door.

As he drove away I stood looking, wishing I could find my grandmother walking towards me with outstretched arms. My hat! My grandmother's hat! I had not seen it, or remembered wearing it, since the fire circle.