We‘re sitting around the cabin, Dottie, Sue, and me are, telling stories about Coyote to the kids. A fire on this warm night is not necessary, but we think it adds to the sense of occasion. Kids today do not have much occasion to listen to their elders.
In the stories, my sisters and I are always young, slim, and pretty. That’s hard for the kids to swallow. They try to be respectful, but one of the youngest invariably gets the giggles thinking about such a ridiculous notion. Then one of the oldest kids will swat the giggler on the head . “Stop laughing at Auntie, or I’ll kill you next time.”
Members of our tribe threaten each other with death on a daily basis.
Looking at my sisters and me today, even I have trouble believing we were once young, let alone good-looking. Dottie’s put on about 200 pounds. Sue’s face is a journey via fault lines to the center of the earth. And I can’t walk or see or hear or chew well anymore.
Yet it had to be true or Coyote wouldn’t have bothered with us back then. That’s the way he was. He could get the pick of any litter. And he could get any litter he wanted, too. Fact is, every female in the whole damn kennel would jump all over him.
“He was ugly in the face,” Dottie likes to begin.
“I beg your pardon,” Sue interrupts. “He was the handsomest man this side of the Clan Gathering at Muscate.
Now they look to me. I’m the middle child who settles everything. Well, I’m the middle child if you don’t count Leroi, and nobody counts Leroi.
“Coyote wasn’t handsome, ” I say. “but he wasn’t ugly. His was a plain, ordinary face. But he sure could dance.”
“He could have danced all night, he could have danced, danced, danced---“
Two of the kids are singing and get up to start an exaggerated waltz, and the others laugh until they notice we’re silent and do not intend on proceeding with the story until they shut up.
“Sorry Aunties,” they chime in unision. Once the fire magic has a chance to lull them and once the story magic has its chance to fascinate them, the kids settle down. Unless they are playing secretly with their cell phones.
“The night we met Coyote," Dottie continues, there was a big dance over to Coeur d’Alene. I was 16 and this was my first dance. That Hall was lit up like Heaven itself. For a moment I couldn’t take it all in and I almost fainted. The expression ‘blacking out’ is wrong. Everything went white, and you know that’s bad for a Native American. But someone caught me before I fell. A man. He wasn’t much older than me, though there was nothing of a boy about him. His arms were strong, I could feel that. Then I became aware of his face rising from the whiteness surrounding me. It was an ugly face and - -“
“No!” the Greek chorus of kids protest. “He wasn’t ugly. Auntie Esther says he wasn’t ugly,” they remind Dottie. And before Sue could speak, they address her too. “And he wasn’t handsome either. Auntie Esther says.”
“Well, his face scared me,” Dottie retorts, “whatever he actually looked like. Nobody can argue with what I saw when I looked at that face.”
“He was handsome to me and everyone else in the world except my sisters, of course,” says Sue. "They couldn’t pick out Coyote from Eagle in a line-up.”
My sisters glare at each other and the audience.
“What did Uncle Leroi think,” one of the kids asks, slyly, that brash Ray-Ray.
I wish he hadn’t brought up Leroi. I know the rest of the them will start chanting “Long Live Leroi.” I'm tired of that old business and suddenly, I’m tired of the younger generation.
“Goodbye, kids. Get out of here.” I say. “Scram, beat it, vamoose, adios, ciao, sayonara. Storytime’s over and there won’t be any squaw candy, either. “
“You shouldn’t have mentioned LeRoi,” Sue shakes her head sadly. “You know how she feels about all that. Why do you torment your elders?” The grooves in her face seem deeper than ever.
“When we were children, we listened to our elders. We learned.” Dottie stands up and scolds, bulk a-quiver, looming above them.
He said he read once in the Goncourt Journals that a certain sculptor would use only French female models because their spines had the most flexibility in the world, he said. Any little French girl from the streets could give, effortlessly, "a twisting, a turning...the inflexion of a Hebe offering Jupiter his cup."
I no longer have such an offering.
I was surprised at the demon's appearance. Not surprised at the fact that he appeared, because I summoned him with a very reliable spell. No, the surprise was how he looked. That’s what I meant by appearance. His was so normal. Normal for a demon, I mean. Rather cliche, I judged. So very… last millenium. You'd think the demon race would demand a makeover by now.
"Nice pitchfork," I greeted him.
He growled. I distinguished the words "damn human" in that rumble of a voice.
Well, obviously I'm going to be damned for this.
"Let's get down to business, shall we," I suggested.
He grunted. "Fame, fortune, love - ho-hum."
"None of those," I contradicted. "It's revenge I want.”
He sneered. "Probably just want him roughed up some."
"Once again you're mistaken, demon. I could have done that myself. What I want you to do is rip his body apart slowly, shred his skin, squash his organs to a pulp - that sort of thing."
I detected a flicker of interest in those soulless yellow orbs he uses for eyes.
"I trust you know your job,” I continued, “so dispose of the parts however you choose. I don't care about anything but the heart. Just bring it to me, intact.”
The Demon spat. Though I took that for assent, I wasn't going to risk any misunderstanding.
“Intact,” I repeated.
“Still beating,” he grinned.
“You know what Ben Franklin said.”
He looked confused.
“When a man dies, the last thing to stop moving is the heart,” I enlightened him.
He made a rude, dismissive gesture when I held out a piece of paper with name, address, cell phone, fax number and other relevant data. Then he disappeared amidst the same flourish of incarnadine smoke in which he had arrived.
I made a mental note that when I get to hell someday, I will approach the one in charge with a proposal for new costumes, special affects, and other such outer trappings. In fact, I thought, reaching for my sketch pad, I could make some preliminary drawings while waiting for the demon’s return.
Holding the pad at arm’s length, I admired my work. I rather take pride in my God-given artistic ability. Though my own heart had become now merely a mechanical object in my chest, I realized for the first time in a long while that life – and the Afterlife - still held possibilities for enjoyment.
What I was about to do with a heart, for instance, to my heart's content.
I hope the woman that the main character is based on found peace at last when she left this world.
“My son is a beast,” Miss Evelyn says as I’m changing her sheets.
I finish the corners, all spit-spot like I do for my own granny’s bed when I visit her. Now, I give the worn flannel an extra pat. She’ll find peace later in this freshly made-up bed, Miss Evelyn will, in body if not mind. That’s all I can do for the poor thing. I long to brush the grey tangle reaching her shoulders, but I know she doesn't like anyone to come close.
She's added spectres and witches now, to the malevolent non-human beings tormenting her.
I don’t know how much longer I can keep this job. It pays university students better than other places in this town, but some of the residents are too depressing to be around. Most are physically debilitated or lonely and that’s sad enough. But Miss Evelyn is hardest of all for me to handle. Spend time with her and one begins to see a world populated by mythological creatures, and I'm not talking about unicorns and helpful little elves darning socks while you sleep.
When I open the door to leave, she begins her litany. “My son is a beast! “ she screeches. “His wife is a demon! My grandchildren are mons- -“ I shut the door but still hear her ranting. Maybe I should suggest they up her medication dosage again.
There’s more action in the hallways today, Sunday, than I’m used to. Visiting day. I usually work Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, but am doing a favor for another aide.
I’m on my way to the staff check-out desk, when I spot them. The tallest one has an enormous bovine head on a man’s body. Then I have to duck as three small winged monkeys fly at my head, hissing. The only thing I see of the one in the rear is a slender darkness. Even its shadow has bleeding red eyes.
They’re all heading toward Miss Evelyn’s room.
"Don't drive the back road to Oklahoma," the man at the other end of the counter at the Friendly Food and Foundry says to me in a friendly tone.
I look up reluctantly from the menu. Everywhere I go people give me unasked for advice. New York cabbies tell me how to get cheap tickets for Broadway shows as if I'm a rube who doesn't know about the ‘Half-Price Day-Of’ places. Vietnamese teenagers giving me a manicure tell me how to get a husband when my left hand informs them I'm single. Now some toothless old cowboy
with shaking hands is
giving me driving instructions.
Maybe I'm just in a bad mood. I’ve been driving for a long time through a West Texas landscape. The only change during the endless ride was the light of day. I'm beginning to wonder whether I’ll ever arrive at my destination - or at least someplace that made it out of the Palaeozoic Age.
Out of pure frustration I turn the spotlight on my advisor.
"The truck outside, the one with abstract art for a windshield? That yours?" I refer to the fact that the entire windshield is latticed with cracks.
He chuckles. "Yes ma'am, it is."
"Happen on the back road to Oklahoma?" I ask, continuing to bait him.
He chuckles again. "Yes ma'am, it did."
"Where in town did you get that nice orange shag carpet for it?" That was just a guess on my part.
"Must be a trick of the late afternoon light, ma'am. It's avocado green, and I got it for a steal in Marble Falls."
I want to say, “So, you stole it,” but I'm saved from further conversation by the arrival of an elderly waitress. Her skin looks just like the man’s windshield.
"Hi," I say. " What's your special?"
"It's Rattlesnake Taco Day" she responds, in a voice rusty as the unidentifiable pieces of iron I had observed strewn outside, at the "foundry."
"Oh. Well then I'd rather have, let's see, how's your --"
"We're serving rattlesnake tacos today."
"Yes, I understand that's your special but I'm more interested in your, um let's see, in your, um - -"
"No, it's not the special today. It's what we're serving today."
Though I try to pay attention to what she's saying, I'm suddenly concerned she doesn't fall down dead over the counter in front of me. That might keep me in this town a bit longer than I would like.
I choose my words carefully. "Ok, what else are you serving today?" I hold up the menu to help her remember this is a restaurant.
"It's Rattlesnake Taco Day. Like I said."
"You mean --?"
"I mean it's Rattlesnake Taco Day and only rattlesnake tacos are served today. On Rattlesnake Taco Day."
I know she won't let me use the bathroom unless I buy food or a piece of iron, so I order a half-order of rattlesnake tacos.I'm tempted to tell her I want the taco half, not the snake meat, but I don't.
Her face changes formation into what it assumes, incorrectly, looks like a smile to the rest of the world. I know she's pleased. I can tell by the extra flirty flounce of her ruffled skirt as she enters the kitchen to call out "One order snake, Billy" and then comes out again for a potential beverage discussion.Snake venom smoothie, perhaps?
Chalk up another victory for Rattlesnake Taco Day is written all over her.
"Betty, I was jist now tellin this young lady that she better not drive the back road to Oklahoma," the man at the other end of the counter says.
"Well hell, Marlon, them's all the back roads to Oklahoma."
"I appreciate the advice anyway, " I speak up, suddenly on the man's side. Of the two, I like him better. Maybe Billy the cook would win the contest, but I haven’t met him yet so I work with what I have.
Marlon throws some bills on the counter, tips his cowboy hat to Betty and me with as grand a gesture as John Wayne used on Maureen O'Hara and starts to walk out the door.
"Mister," I call.
He stops, turns around.
"Why shouldn't I drive the back road to Oklahoma?"
With that friendly, easy chuckle of his he says, "Because me - and others like me - are out there waitin’ for you."
I turn back to the counter and see my order has arrived. A snake head peers up at me from one end of the taco.
This first appeared on a challenge from another website http://www.combatwords.blogspot.com
I blame the whole mess on the freakin’ weather in Seattle. If it hadn’t rained in August, I would not have changed out my spring-summer embossed dotted ocelot op-art signature leather-lurex Coach hobo purse for my fall-winter heavy nylon sateen backpack.
How was I supposed to know freakin’ summer would come back?
It was, like, all over the media that El Niña was on its way, get ready people for an early and severe winter, blah blah blah. So when it started raining, I figured that was it. I haul around my whole life with me in a purse or pack, so in the rain and snow season, I need a carry-all with special airtight zippers and other waterproof features.
And I was angry that day about the rain because it would spoil Bobby D’s party later, so I, like, threw my empty purse, and I guess it landed on top of the stuff my mother was putting together for the homeless. The schizo weather here fooled her too, into prematurely doing her seasonal cleaning thing.
Let’s not go into the scene at my house when the sun came out again and I couldn’t find my bag. Daddy said he took everything to the Methodist Church Friday clothing giveaway to the homeless. He tried to sneak in a lame history lesson as usual Something about the justice of a hobo bag returning to the hobos. I didn’t know what he was talking about, hopping trains, the Depression. Supes, Dad.
It was Saturday and I had to wait another week. I tried going Sunday but the minister wouldn’t open the basement area where the clothing was. He was, like, right there! Bitch wasn’t being very Christian, in my opinion.
On Friday, I tore through a shelf of the ugliest, cheapest purses I’d ever seen in my life, like vinyl even, but mine wasn’t there.
“Oh that nice big leather bag with the tassles?” the stupid lady at the register asked. “One of the Tent City women took it.”
Tent City? DUDE! They were using my purse for tent parts?
She vaguely remembered a large, elderly black woman with two gold front teeth admiring my purse and adding it to her grocery cart. Helpful.
At Tent City, I was shocked to see the tents were all gone. Somebody sweeping the place informed me it had to move early to its winter quarters due to the rain last week.
“El Niña’s coming,” he explained.
He did remember the large black woman and her teeth though. So I went downtown looking for “Mabel,” he called her. I’d kill myself with a name like that.
I thought of going to the police but figured they might confiscate my purse as evidence in the theft, so I took Haley with me to help.
“Ooh, we’re, like, playing detective?” she squealed. I reminded her this was serious business, that my purse was at stake.
We found Mabel in less than hour. Haley and I are smarter than, like FBI agents. The Tent City manager told me she usually parked her cart at 3rd and Pike.
I spotted her on the way, struggling to roll the cart uphill. I knew it was her when the sun reflected off her teeth. And I’m sorry, I know it isn’t PC, but I remember thinking she’s a retard who should not be out on the streets. I mean, she chose to take the hilly way to her destination when one block over was practically flat. And who hauls around a life in a grocery cart, anyways.
As I approached, I saw my purse right on top of her pile of junk. My heart ached, thinking what it must have suffered a whole week in that woman’s company.
In less than a minute, I had caught up to her and scooped the purse. I threw a ten dollar bill her direction “for your trouble.” Instead of going for the money, another sign of being mental: she grabbed the purse and started a really lame tug of war with me.
She was amazingly strong. I thought the homeless were supposed to be, like, weak from starving. Well, nobody told Mabel that.
I was so intent on not only regaining possession of my purse but making sure there would be no damage, that I didn’t realize Haley was screaming at all, much less screaming “Stop Thief!” and “She’s killing her!” I didn’t see the police either because when they arrived, I was on the ground with Mabel above, hitting me with the purse. The blood they saw wasn’t from anything she did to me, it was the re-opening of a fingernail cut on my forehead during a Zoomba work-out at the Pro-Club the day before, but the police didn’t know that. It was an honest mistake on their part, I testified to that.
Haley said they were yelling at Mabel to drop her weapon (my purse!) but she just kept on hitting me. It hurt, sure, but only on my arm as I covered my face. Just some bruises. I don’t approve that they shot her, and all that. We found out later she was born without hearing, and I guess the only good thing about her being dead now is that she doesn’t have to be deaf anymore. I mean, like, I would kill myself if I couldn’t hear music.
I’ll say this for Mabel. She must have recognized the quality of my purse, because she hadn’t harmed it any. Haley thinks it smells of gunpowder, but when the police finally returned it to me, I thought it was perfect.
September and October were mostly clear, so I got a lot of use out of it too, before changing it out with my backpack.
I still hate the freakin weather here.
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