Contents:

Navajo Woman

Mustard Seed Yellow Brick House

Go, My Son

Relocation

New Leaf

Swallowtails

Mesa

Licked by Ash

Hannah

Promise of Youth

 

Fiction Short written by Dawn Bear Published in The Yellow Medicine Review

1st Place Creative Writing Contest at Mesa Community College

Navajo Woman

Dust bunnies scurry through the illuminations of morning sunshine peeking through the gaps in the blinds.  The newspaper smells dusty and comforting.  My feet burrow beneath the pillows at the head of the bed to keep them warm. I can hear the distant clanking of dishes through the crack in the bedroom door.  My cheeks burn with anger at the content. I run my fingers through my uncombed hair, catching them on tangled knots.  I shake the loose strands from the webs connecting my fingers, unraveling the dark brown threads as my mind drifts back to a memory of sixth grade, the year my mother disappeared from my life, because if she were there I’m not sure she would’ve signed the permission slip…

***

I see her laying stiff and awkward, a showpiece, magically lit from within, as if Snow White lay there slumbering. Ignoring the framed shapes and colors that cover elevated walls, I feel myself drawn to the figure embodied by glass so clear and shiny that it reflects the light like a kaleidoscope, while managing to mirror a swampy image that resembles me. My sneakers quack across the marble floors as I timidly reach out toward her hand, my fingers forced to bow at the knuckle when I contact the cold, hard glass. Circling the glass enclosure, like crows circling the dead, fingerprints smudge the perfection of the surface until I come to rest hands and chin on the plane above her feet. Clumps of green-gray skin, leathered from time, cling to fossilized bone like moss to stone.  Hair wispily strings from her skull, knotted and dulled like shredded yarn.  Eye sockets empty, her mouth gawks open like she might be laughing.  The fingers curl, as if they were left in the act of doing some every day thing, maybe running through the tangles of hair to weave a braid or left clinging to the hand of a loved one.

“Miss Weaver!” I know who it is by the tone of voice, the sharp mousiness that isn’t accustomed to yelling, but does so anyway.

“Yes, Mrs. Johnson?” I respond, still mesmerized by what I see before me and the little black plaque with golden letters laying at her feet simply stating: Navajo Woman.

“Ashlee Weaver!” this time she nudges me slightly, forcing my attention on her. “These items are meant to be viewed, not to be handled!” Her lipstick has worn and an earring has strayed into the fray of a scarf she wears.

I wrench my body away from the display, struggling to focus my attention on the sixth grade teacher.

“What do you find so fascinating about this thing when there are so many beautiful relics on display today?” her eyes wander exaggeratedly around the room. I wonder if she knows I’m Navajo, well half. Can a person be two things at one time? White and Navajo? 

“I got a dress just like that,” I say, chewing on my lower lip, hands and feet fidgeting.

“Like this?” she points to her oversized brown sheet decorated here and there with buttons that hang at odd angles, cinched somewhere between folds of skin by an invisible string.

“No, like that,” I correct her, pointing to the woman encased like the class turtle, enveloped in wool dyed black with a mirrored pattern of red to reveal the diamond shaped four sacred mountains.

Her face melts, eyeballs slightly pop and jaw dropped to reveal lines of teeth capped in silver. I see her picking me apart. The stringy brown hair, roughly thrown back in a sloppy ponytail, the light brown skin and high cheek bones hidden beneath cushions of rounded baby fat. She shakes her head.

“Oh, you mean you have a costume like that at home, like one for Halloween?”

I can feel my face distort, eyebrows meeting in unison, nostrils flaring, lips pursed tightly together.

“It’s NOT a costume!” I complain, liquid anger burning in my eyes.

“But I’ve met your dad, sweetie. Are you saying that he collects Indian relics?”

“Mrs. Johnson, don’t you know I’m Navajo!?” I shout, not able to control the acid bubbling inside my belly, erupting into high pitched vapors of rage.  Eyes whisper gooseflesh over my skin, raising the hairs like a five o‘clock shadow, I know I‘ve broken a rule.  I‘ve spoken out loud in a place where even a sigh can echo, making me visible, shedding my white cloak of camouflage.

“Well, I’ve only met your father, hon,” she scowls silently and shoos me away.

***

“What are you reading?” Sam interrupts my thoughts, leaning down to kiss my forehead, a gesture I find annoying, and a bit too fatherly for a guy I’m supposed to be dating.

“Just an article,” I sit up, grabbing one of the pillows that warmed my feet and lay it across my lap as a shield against his advances and continue reading.

“About?” he prods, taking up the space beside me. If he were a cat, he’d be laying on top of the newspaper.

I set the article to the side, rolling my eyes, as I gently massage my neck, hoping to rub out some of the irritation from the memory. “It’s about museums having to return human remains to Native American Tribes.”

“What’s that all about?” his voice is unemotional, robotic, ice.

I look at him, craning my neck slightly to do so. “What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve seen those signs that say this exhibit may contain human remains. I don’t get the purpose of it,” he says, leaning back on the bed, relaxing his posture, like he was posing for a magazine, my friends would call it the Charlton Heston pose.  I stifle a laugh trying to imagine him snuggling with a pair of guns, lying on a bear rug.

“Is it for religious purposes or something?” he continues, staring at his fingernails.

I inhale, fidget with the newspaper, shredding pieces, finding the sound relaxing. “For religious purposes, but also for other reasons,” my head tilts slightly to the side.  “Think about it. Are there any human remains of European ancestry in museums?” My eyes flutter around the room, sometimes pausing on the newspaper, but can’t meet his gaze.

“Cro-Magnon man,” he answers decisively.

The heat rises to my cheeks, my eyes engorge his person like a flame to a straw house, my words feel like they are stuck dangling from my uvula forcing me to clear my throat several times before I can speak again.

“Are you serious!?” It feels like a humming bird is battering against my chest. Looking at him doesn’t make me want to laugh anymore.  Maybe I’m being a hypocrite?

“Explain it to me then, cuz I don’t understand the big deal,” he sits up and mirrors me, sitting cross-legged, which for him seems uncomfortable.

I don’t know if I should tell him about my experience as a girl, sometimes I don’t even know if he thinks of me as being Navajo.  I remember sitting in a room full of his friends one night at a music festival in Jerome enjoying a beer and one of his friends saying, to no one in general, “I really like Jerome, it’s like being in Flagstaff, only without all the drunk Navajos.” It was enjoyable to offer her a cigarette and tell her I’m Navajo.

“There is a big difference between Cro-Magnon man and the remains in those museums,” I toss the pillow aside, pausing for a moment to collect the best approach. “Can you honestly say that you or anyone else you know would claim Cro-Magnon man as their grandfather, brother, or uncle?” He looks at me like I’ve told him a corny joke, the kind you find on popsicle sticks. “The indigenous remains in those museums are sometimes less than a hundred years old, and yes most are older, but think about it, that person could be MY great grandmother, aunt or ancestor.”

“But don’t you think it’s important to know about your ancestors? I mean think about all the things that science can do with those remains!” I don’t know if it’s the activity in his brain or if the light shining through the window has brightened, but his eyes radiate a brilliant blue, and his hands dance in excitement, like he is parading a pair of puppets.

“Science?” I laugh, shoulders falling. “What about how most of those remains were stolen from sacred burial sites? Does it matter to science that those are people too?”

My brain feels scattered, I can feel myself starting to wander into too many directions at once. I’m tired.  He looks at me, a hand reaches out to touch mine, like I’m in need of consoling. My body tenses as I force myself not to withdraw from him.

I exhale heavily, chest falling, not realizing I’d been holding my breath. I look at Sam, at the intent eyes that always meet mine, waiting even when mine are fleeting, and decide.

“When I was in middle school we went on a field trip and I saw the remains of a Navajo Woman,” I begin, head lowered, not meeting his gaze. “All my classmates ignored her, but I couldn’t stop looking at her because what I saw was that she was Navajo and so was I and I didn’t understand why she was on display like that.  And she had these hands…” I stop myself. I look at him and I’m not sure if he understands, but his eyes are there unwavering. I shake the image of the hands away physically. “What I saw…what I felt was this feeling of being different, but also like being invisible, or more like not existing any more because only things like dinosaurs and dead artists paintings belong in museums. Do you get what I’m trying to say, Sam?”

I withhold from him that for years after the field trip that I had nightmares of her haunting me, that my aunts had to take me to a medicine man, because if I told him those things he would only call me superstitious.

“I’m sorry I don’t know much about these things, hon,” he says patting my hand, like I’m sitting on a bed in a cancer ward instead of at his home. The rough mounds of dead skin, where calluses have built up, benevolently caress the flat, velvety back of my hand. His fingertips trace the outlines of mine, and I think about the “Navajo Woman,” of her hands, of how I used to dream about her fingers curling into my ribcage in an attempt to tickle me, but it‘d always hurt.

 

Non-Fiction Short written by Dawn Bear Published in Pithead Chapel 

2nd Place Creative Non-Fiction Contest at Mesa Community College

Mustard Seed Yellow Brick House

The house was made of mustard-seed yellow bricks and had balding tires on the roof to keep the few remaining rusted red shingles from blowing free during tornado-like dust storms. The winds blew so fiercely, the corners of each windowpane contained piles of fine reservation sands year round. Dust-infested once beige carpets, camouflaging them brown, polluting all porcelain orifices, and flecking undisturbed dishes with its fine powder, like a crime scene being dusted for fingerprints.

On days when dust devils twirled higher than the tallest trees, I was trapped within its walls. No Nintendo. One television with temperamental reception (on good days, three channels came in clearly). We had a small collection of VHS tapes, movies like Stand By Me, that my cousins and I saw so many times we quoted it word for word.  We invented games based on the films we watched, each of my cousins playing a part. I always played the narrator or writer. Hiking through the dry desert landscape, climbing small mesas, following the dirt roads briefly, and if we heard a truck I’d be the one to scream, “Truck!” (a substitution for “Train!”).

Instead of board games like Monopoly or Life, we made up imaginary games that all ages could play, from the oldest teenager to the youngest toddler. These games were mock imitations of House, but we called it “Rich People.”

The mustard seed yellow brick house was the base for our game. On weekends, our parents would leave the house empty to go into town, normally into Winslow or Flagstaff to do the weekly grocery shopping, check the mail or do other adult things away from us kids. Using their absence to our advantage, we’d set up each room in the house to be our version of a restaurant (that mostly served ramen), shopping center, salon, homes, or whatever else we thought rich people needed. Each crevice represented a theme in our game, even the door that I was too frightened to enter.

At the end of the hallway, the last door on the left, was the haunted hotel. Instead of being the biggest tourist attraction in our game of rich people, it was the place we all avoided.  Hollow craters decorated the door as warning signs, where angry knuckles or maybe a frustrated toe met the fragile imitation wood. Light danced with shadows through the gap in the bottom of the door, like someone pacing back and forth impatiently. My cousins told me they often heard a girl screaming and crying from the other side of the barrier. They said the room was dangerous. And for the purposes of our game, it was the perfect haunted hotel, just like the ones we saw on Unsolved Mysteries.

Outside of our game the room was a source of fright and curiosity for me, like a child testing the burners on a stove. Most days, I would run by it, holding my breath, my chubby cheeks puffed out like a cabbage patch doll, hoping not to attract any attention. Some days, when I felt brave, I’d place my eight-year-old ear next to the door, my newly shorn mahogany hair falling into a matching set of eyes, listening for the thomp-thomp of feet pacing, or lay flat on my belly, peeking beneath the crack in the door, desiring a glimpse of the entity inside. And when fibres would slither across my neck, the gooseflesh would appear on my arms and I’d race outside until I realized it was just my hair and I’d curse the day I got lice.

The mustard seed brick dwelling was only a place to visit. It was not my home, but my Auntie’s. The cousin I idolized lived there until I was eight, the year my mom cut my hair because I brought home lice; the metal scissors were ice against my neck.  My cousin came to live with us and shared a room with me.  My dad said we have better schools and more room. At night we’d take runs through the dark, pine trails, breaking at the community college down the street for hot tea. Some mornings we’d ride bikes to school, stopping at the local market for jelly donuts, her smile drilling dimples from cheek to cheek when we noticed the cherry blemish on my white tights. She liked Garfield, so my dad for Christmas bought her a bed set and matching curtains that had a black and white zebra print with different images of Garfield on it; in each image he sported a blue bow-tie with orange polka dots, sometimes he held bananas, in others he wore a pink lampshade.

When I was eight, my Dad thought of adopting my older brother and sister, of letting them take our last name.  Auntie started to mention having my cousin adopted by her husband.  I assumed my uncle was her father but my cousin had a different last name from her siblings. I’d never met her real father, and I wasn’t sure if she had either.  Talking about changing her last name seemed to come up a lot at dinner and I didn’t see the big deal.

On her school binder, a Trapper Keeper, she had a purple and black pattern with an imprint of a peace sign. In black Sharpie, her name was inscribed. I took the sharpie and wrote the last name of her stepdad, the dad I knew, the one who took her shopping on weekends, who bought her school clothes; the one she called, “Daddy.”  When she saw the big, black, block letters imprinted on her notebook, her charcoal eyes magnified pink with tears and she screamed, “Get out!”

I had nowhere to go and didn’t know what I did. Instead of leaving, I cried, like a two-year-old, frightened because I didn’t know what I did wrong. Hugging me like a pillow, she cried with me until we started laughing about her snot in my hair.

Blacked out by Sharpie, the front of the Trapper Keeper resembled a large empty void. When it got warm and moist, it left bruised imprints against her skin, but even though I offered to give her my allowance to get a new one, she wouldn’t accept my offer. Each time I looked at the glistening ink splotch, I wondered what I did wrong, but was afraid to ask.

My auntie lives in a home made of mustard seed yellow bricks. She has nine children: four stepchildren, her current husband’s kids; one through her first marriage; and four produced through her current union. All of them are my cousins.

Within the sulfur concrete blocks, are rooms in which my cousins lived. At eight, I thought one room was haunted. My cousin, the one through my auntie’s first marriage, told me it was dangerous, and I believed her. She said that you could hear a child screaming. That the cries of a girl could be heard throughout the house, but nobody came to help her.  At eight, I offended my cousin when I took a Sharpie and renamed her, blue bruises reminding her of that name in hot and rainy weather.

In a mustard seed yellow brick house where tornado-like dust storms force children indoors, is a room at the end of the hallway on the west end of the house. The door is now patched up, like brands on cattle, and is always closed. Whistling through the cracks in the glass, the wind haunts the hollowness of the room like a stone skipping across a stagnant pool. Across from the door is my auntie’s bedroom. She shares a bed with her husband, my uncle. At eight, I took a Sharpie to my cousin’s Trapper Keeper and renamed her, not knowing that my uncle, her stepfather, took her into a room on the west end of the mustard-colored house, where a girl’s cries could be heard.  And that the screams that haunted that room were hers.

 

Flash Fiction written by Dawn Bear accepted by a crowd funded magazine which collapsed

Go, My Son

Children dangle from metal bars like Christmas ornaments. Some crawl across plastic planks camouflaged as a wooden draw bridge. Others busy themselves in the sand like ants rebuilding bucket mounds where two-year-olds have destroyed them.

Not far in the distance, Gloria hides in the shade of an old maple tree letting the bark dig into the skin of her back, creating the illusion that it is has taken root.  A sapling swells lazily in her belly as she stares vacantly at the activity before her. Next to her, a well used backpack containing her few possessions: baggy t-shirts, jeans that fit too snugly, sketchbook, a single picture of her family, a Zuni fetish of a turtle her great grandmother, the one she was named after, gave her when she was a child.

A strong wind passes through, blowing free a strand of brightly dyed red hair.  She folds the stray behind her ear, watching the snow of loosened, maroon crackle slowly rock to a rest.  Her own childlike hands cradle her balloon shaped belly as she begins to croon a lullaby. She doesn’t remember the lyrics, but she remembers the intent. The wind rumbles through the tree like a snake’s rattle, shaking the leaves loose around her.  Both arms enfold her belly,  while the last leaves fall to freedom, and she whispers, “Go, my son.”

 

Short Non-Fiction written by Dawn Bear

Relocation

“There is no word for relocation in the Navajo language.  To relocate is to disappear and never be seen again.”  from the documentary film, Broken Rainbow

My Uncle Randy, once told me a star fell and buried itself in the earth, gathering the antique-moss colored sands around it like an ant hill.  Only a small sliver opened at the top so it could peek out into the night at its brothers and sisters, creating Star Mountain.  At the base of the mountain, my family settled after being relocated the first time.  In order to preserve a piece of his home, my Grandpa lugged sandstone bricks the colors of the Painted Desert from our original home to the new one.  My Grandma took cuttings from her precious peach trees and nurtured them into life.  Unlike the nook-like oasis, tucked neatly between the folds of a mesa, where the rain ran off to keep the trees thriving, Star Mountain was flat terrain with three or four small mountains protruding from the earth’s surface like giants.

But Star Mountain would not be our permanent home.

My Grandpa found his English tongue late in life.  He communicated with me, as a child, by pointing and stating the Navajo name.

“Mosi,” he said, as he pointed to a cat. “Gidi.”

Years later, it seemed like he still communicated to me in the same manner.  “Over there’s where my younger brother used to live,” he said, pointing at open landscape.  No remnants of my Great Uncle’s life.  “And over there is where Grandma and Grandpa Tsosie lived.”

I followed the imaginary arrows my Grandpa shot from the point of his finger, seeking out my relatives homes, but saw nothing.  Only the prairie dog infested land, a stump here and there crusted by old sap that shimmered in the sun, bearing their wounds for the world to see.

We were on our way to Star Mountain.  A place I had only been as a child.

My family lost claim to our home at the base of Star Mountain the year I was born. 1982.  They had no say in the decision.  It was made for them by politicians and special interest groups, greedy for better mineral deals in the partitioned area shared by Navajo and Hopi.  One family of eight thousand.  The largest relocation in the United States since Japanese-American internment camps.

Grandpa’s truck skid across the barely visible road, hidden by weeds, some portions dissolve and sunk, creating washes for the rain runoff.  The weeds grated against the bottom of the truck like nails across a chalkboard, until we stopped at the backbone of the mountain.

The ashes of black smoke stained the face of a sandstone that leaned against a rock wall.

“That’s where Benson lit the shed on fire.” He chuckled, pointing to the scar.  My older brother always had a tendency to create mischief.

My sneakers shuffled in the sand as we walked around the mountain, looking for signs of his prior life.  In a large wash to the North, a frame of an old, rusted Ford, no windows.  For company, an old steel fridge, with no doors, a heavy, browned sink, and many broken bottles and beer cans with sun washed labels.

Grandpa didn’t say anything as we walked, but leaned down every now and then to fumble in the sand to pick up a discarded memory only to return it to its resting place. The tattered, moth eaten edges of an old flowery curtain that once decorated Grandma’s home, lay buried in the coarse sand at the root of the only tree.  The crisp autumn winds smothered our heavy coats as we trudged up and around the slippery mountain.  Near the top, the wind rushed my face, reddening Grandpa’s like a sunburn.  To the Northwest we saw San Francisco Peaks, capped in white.

The blue truck hid like a shadow in the distance.  My grandpa pointed to the last few sandstone bricks piled up next to our parking spot.  One by one we placed them in the back of the dusted truck, until only ten remained.  I leaned down to grab another, but paused.  The sun orange head of a lizard peeked out from the crevice of two bricks.  The lizard climbed out, looking with curiosity.  He perched on the top like a king.  Slithering out from the crevice, two more joined him, their dimmed, lime green bodies and orange calcite heads decorate the rocks like rare flowers.

Putting my hand out as a bridge, one climbed on, his skin rough and body heavy.

“Your grandma used to chase after them with her broom.”  Laughter rang deep in his voice.

I placed the lizard down, ready to take another brick.  Grandpa’s hand cupped my shoulder heavily.

“No. It’s their home.”  He cradled my shoulders as he walked me back to the car.

Their bright heads disappeared within the shadows of the few remaining bricks as we drove away.  I turned back once, as the old tattered curtain that hung from Grandma’s window waved back to us in surrender.

 

Poetry written by Dawn Bear

New Leaf

Upon close inspection

fine fibers of the skeletal remains of leaves

resemble human veins.

With a pinch,

The leaf disintegrates to powder, dusting spider webs.

As ash, leaves nourish clay;

food for new growth.  But when cigarette butts litter their crackling

paths, they bleed into fire.

When held up to the sky,

an old suburban neighborhood

can be mapped, where men scissor

out their cookie cutter lives.

But when the bank owned signs sprout up, spiders crawl into new vacancies

of tenantless homes.

 

Short Fiction written by Dawn Bear

Swallowtails

Cats litter the splintered bone-dry wooden porch, skin sacks sagging from skeletal bodies as they lazily raise their heads to the sound of our tires creeping along the dirt, weed-ridden driveway.  Brakes squeal to a stop.  Four to five cats arch the sleep from their spines and gingerly begin to advance toward my mom’s rusty green 1977 Ford Mercury, while one of the more limber nuisance leaps through the air chasing a lone black and yellow butterfly.

“We’re home,” my mom says, as she smiles and ruffles Jacob’s hair like petting a dog.

Jacob, my son looks up to me, arms crossed. Poor kid. Poor us.

“It’ll only be for a few months. I promise,” I say, opening the heavy car door.

“Take all the time you need.”  Mom reaches out, her nails catching on my knees as I slide off the duct taped car bench.

“Grandma, are all those cats yours?” Jacob scoots out after me, pointing, his cinnamon eyes bulging from their sockets.

At the apartments we couldn’t have pets, at least here he can, and have plenty of room to run around. It’s definitely improved since I was a kid. Fields where scrap cars and mobile homes used to be are now cotton fields and in the distance is the new casino off Indian Bend.  But moving in with Mom at thirty?

I rest my head against the heat of the metal roof of the car. I can’t let Jacob see me cry, not again.

A heavy warmth spreads across my shoulders.

“Come on, Nelly. Let’s get you inside,” says a deep familiar voice.

I turn. My dad to cradles me toward the door.  I watch his feet as we take each step. Dad always wears shorts, even in the winter, but insists on wearing socks. Today, his white socks peeking through the zigzag straps of his sandals are comforting.

He plants me into the sofa when we make it inside. The TV is muted, but I cannot avert my eyes from the distracting array of colors.

“You should’ve left him months ago.” Dad sets a glass of water in front of me and sits in the recliner, allowing room for Mom and Jacob on the couch. Pictures decorating the walls are absent of my husband, Ryan. I’ve never noticed that before. Only pictures of Jacob, me, or me and Jacob, but none of  the three of us.

“Is Daddy not coming to live with us?” Jacob clings to my arm, his small, canvased feet dangling off the end of the cushions. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be starting school soon, he’s so small.

Tears sting. I choke down emotion like I’ve grown an Adam’s apple.  My hand looks pale in contrast to his molasses colored hair. He needs a cut.

How do you tell your kid his dad is a fucked up druggy that cares more about his habit than putting food in his mouth?

“Daddy has to be away for a little while.”

“Why?” His cheeks redden and eyes water.

I look to Mom and Dad for help, pulling Jacob up onto my lap.

Dad leans forward, swallowing Jacob’s small hand in his palms. “Your dad can’t be here with us because he’s sick, Jacob. Really, really sick.”

My arms wrap around him, more for my comfort than his.

“Does he have to go to the doctor?”

Dad nods, his pocked face grieved.

Jacob’s round face cranes toward mine, the wells about to flood over. “Can we go see him?”

I bite my lower lip, nostrils flaring, nodding my head in descent.

“But why?”

God, that horrible question. I nudge Jacob off as gently as possible and run into the bathroom.  I barely make it to the toilet as I bend over and vomit bitter green bile.  I rest my head against the coolness of the tub, allowing the tears to sled down my skin and drip off the peaks of my cheekbone and nose.  I don’t understand how I could’ve been so blind.

“Sweetie?” Dads voice and light knock on the bathroom door.  “You okay?”

“I just need a minute.”

“Can I come in?”

I flush the toilet, and unlock the door.  Dad squeezes in and shuts the door behind him.  His belly takes up almost the entire space between the sink and the wall.

I put the toilet seat down and sit.  The counter groans as he leans into it.

“You gotta be strong for the lil’ one. You can’t keep breaking down like this.  It’s not like you didn’t see––”

“I thought he was getting better.”

“We all warned––”

“Dad, that’s not helping. And I’m sure it didn’t help to get him back on track.  How was he supposed to get better when no one trusted him but me?”  I wad up some toilet paper and blow my nose. Ryan always said I sounded like I was blowing into a trumpet instead of my nose.

“How many chances did you expect us all to give him?  He sold Jacob’s toys.”

“Like I don’t already know that.”

“And your wedding ring.”

“Dad, please.”

“He got you evicted, Nelly.”  His socks have popcorn weeds stuck to the threading. When I was a kid I’d always get them stuck in my clothing, but now that I wear flip-flops, I rarely have that problem. If Dad would only learn to take off his socks.  “Can you even go back to get your things?”

I sniffle, wipe the run from my nose.  “The apartment manager said they’ll let me in for one day on the fourth as long as I can work out a payment plan for the back rent, which I did.” I take a deep breath. “Dad, I swear I thought he was paying. I gave him the money.  I didn’t know he was using it to buy drugs.”

He scoots in closer and I feel his warmth spread across my shoulders.  “I knew you should’ve left when I caught that asshole dragging Jacob along to buy oxy two years ago.”

“But you didn’t see how much pain he was in.” I can’t believe I’m still making excuses.

“There’s no excuse for it.” Dad’s arm leaves me. “And the financial situation he’s left you in. What he did at the bank. I’m surprised he isn’t in prison for fraud.”

Dad’s back is to me, but in the reflection, I can see his face is angry, his sausage fingers curl into puffy fists at his sides. “Dad, it’s just money.”

“It’s not the money.” He turns around, his eyes red. “It’s that he took food from Jacob. He took his home. And then he lied about it and blamed his own child when money turned up missing or look at what he did with the Wii.  Does that sound like a father to you?”

No. It didn’t sound like a father to me. But I still love the asshole.

I hide my eyes in the cushions of my palms. It’s a good thing I’m not wearing makeup. Mom’s makeup would be a mess, with the dark liner and heavy mascara, but of course she always holds everything together. I wish I had that kind of strength.

“Why don’t you lay down?  We’ll watch over Jacob.”  He opens the door, backing out into the hallway.  I feel like I’m being marched to my final meal instead of being laid to bed.

“I’ll be okay,” I say entering my old childhood bedroom, a room I will share with my son for who knows how long.  I leave the door open a crack and collapse onto the bed, folding my legs into my stomach. The shadow of eights stare at me from the digital clock on the bed stand but the red glares 11:11. Was it luck or a wish? Doesn’t matter now. I’ll get neither. Before seven I should go see Ryan, but right now I can’t even look at my son.

I feel weighed down, like I’ve been benching too much and the bar has trapped my chest beneath it.  Water slides over my body like silk, creeping up my chin and enveloping my mouth then nostrils.  I’m going to drown. The blackness flashes to light and I wake up.

My neck is stiff.  Drool is caked in the corner of my mouth and my head feels like I’ve been drinking, but it’s probably just from dehydration. It’s a little after two in the afternoon and the sun is still up.  By the looks of my surroundings I definitely haven’t been dreaming, I’m still drowning in bad luck.

“You awake?” Mom’s head says from the crack in door.

“Trying.”

She walks in and sits next to me. “Ryan called. Today’s the last day you’ll be able to see him before his thirty days of no communication in rehab.”

I nod, massaging my shoulder.

“You think you’re gonna see him?”

I shrug.

“I’m sure he really needs the support right now.”

I continue to rub the soreness out of my neck, staring to my side.  Mom has started to gain weight since she hit fifty, but still wears clothes that are more youthful than her age, which end up emphasizing her new rounded stomach. When she sits, it looks like she has a built in floatation device.

“What are you afraid of?” She asks.

I relax my head on her shoulder.  “I’m just not sure of my feelings.”

Her fingers run through my tangles.

“I’m afraid that seeing him is going to confuse me more.”

“I can see that, but don’t you think you need to be there to support his decision, especially for Jacob’s sake?”

“I thought I was staying with him for Jacob’s sake.”

“Supporting him and staying with him are very different. You don’t have to stay with him to support him, but one thing you can’t take away is that he is Jacob’s dad.  You think he can do it without you?”  She kisses my hairline and pulls away.  Shuffling in the pocket of her snug jeans, she pulls out a silver pendant, placing it into my palm, folding her hands over mine, they feel like perfect pancakes off the grill in contrast to the coolness of the metal.

“What is it?” I pry my hand free from hers.

Mom reveals the circular pendant, turning it over so that I can see the blackened, engraved design.  “The Man in the Maze,” she traces each motion with the tip of her finger as she speaks. “For us, Tohono O’Odham, he represents both life and choice. This figure,” she points to the human. “Represents us people. The maze is our journey.  Part of that journey is the difficult rivets in our life path, but in the end all of us will be joined with our creator.” She points to the center and folds my fingers over the necklace.

I dangle the silver string in front of me.  “What do we get when we get to the center? I mean you said we’ll be joined with our creator, but what does that mean?”

Mom’s chest falls like the expression on her face. “Maybe we’ll get an understanding of why we were put through the maze in the first place?”

“Seems pointless.”  I close my fist around the necklace.

Her magenta stained lips lift her cheeks into mirrored pork chops. “It may seem pointless, but it’s not.”  The mattress lifts as she gets up, the door shuts behind her.

I get up, set the pendant on the bed, and look in the mirror.  The lackluster charcoal of my hair looks like cheap yarn and matches the darkened half moons beneath my eyes. I slap some pink into my cheeks to remove the look of jaundice, run fingers through my tangles and tie them back into a messy bun.  It’s just a clinic, no need to look my best.

The pendant glimmers in the corner of my eye. Clasping it around my neck, I pause before the door.  My head rests against the frame.  I don’t want to go.  I don’t want someone to convince me that Ryan’s addiction is a disease and I need to stick with him, that I shouldn’t be angry with him.

The knob twists, and pushes, almost hitting my head.

“Mom, mom.” Jacob forces his way into the room. “Look what I found.”  His shoelaces look like Grandpa’s socks, covered in bull’s heads and popcorn weeds.

I bend down to take a look. “What’d you find?”

He unfolds his hand to reveal a squished yellow and black butterfly.  One wing flickers. His dark lashes glitter as he realizes what he’s done.

“Oh, Jacob, it’s still pretty.” I rub his back.

His chest rises and falls as he sniffs in and out.  “Can you take it to the doctor when you see Daddy?”

“I don’t think Daddy’s doctor can fix her sweetie.” I place a hand on his shoulder, leading him into the hallway, hoping to find help from my parents.

“He can’t?” His round, doe eyes look up at me.

I shake my head, chewing on my nails.

“How come Daddy’s doctor won’t let us see him?”

I paste on a plastic smile and lean down, planting my hands on both his shoulders. “When did you get so smart?”

“Papa says I take after you.” He tries to wiggle out of my arms, still cupping the insect.

I take the butterfly from his hand and touch the powdery wing with the tip of my index finger and show Jacob the tip. “You see this dust Jacob?”

He nods.

“It’s kind of like fairy dust. It helps butterflies to fly, but when we touch it, the wings lose their magic and they can’t fly. What do you think happens if a butterfly can’t fly?”  I flatten my palm to show the insect, wing no longer flickering.

He nibbles on his lower lip as he looks down.

“If it can’t fly, it can’t get to the flowers to eat, which means it will die, like this one. I know you didn’t mean to hurt her, because you were really excited by how pretty she was and wanted to share her with me, right?”

He bobs his head.

“But now that you know how fragile butterflies are, will you be more gentle?”  I stand up, ready to flush the insect when I see Jacob’s straight-backed stance against the wall, head down.

“Jacob don’t be sad. I know you didn’t mean to.” I lean down and hug him.

His arms lace around my neck as he sniffles into my ear.

The crippled beauty, dulled in color flitters in the cross air. Her yellows, dampened by sweaty palms, and blacks, grayed into browns. No stains of blood and guts, just the limp wires that were once wings.

 

Poetry written by Dawn Bear

Mesa

In Mesa, porch swings creak lazily, left empty on summer afternoons.

Flooded lawns reflect blurred images of flags sprouting from their centers.

Age spotted hands lead horses down concrete paths,

like remnants of a Pekinpah film.

It reminds me of stiff oak book shelves stuffed with my father’s westerns,

Accentuated by intricately carved and colorfully painted cottonwood figures;

Gifts created by my cinnamon kissed uncles, who, seated next to my dad,

Watched reflections of themselves get gunned down by John Wayne.

But in Mesa cars clutter the freeway each morning,

and to the south the casino slot machines ring, ding ding.

 

Short Fiction written by Dawn Bear

Licked by Ash

The drive from Phoenix to Globe is flat and only takes two hours, but it feels like ages. I can tell James, my boyfriend, is annoyed because I keep skipping through songs before they’re done. My iPod seems to only want to play Wu Tang Clan or Johnny Cash. I’ve never noticed that Arcade Fire has similar riffs in their songs, but I guess that’s why they’re so catchy. My friends say since I’ve started dating James I’ve become a snob about music.  I guess that could be the case.

“Ash, when was the last time you saw your parents?”

I toss the iPod into the cup holder. “Oh, probably like Christmas I think, but I haven’t been up to the mountain since I graduated.”

“So if your parents want to see you, they come to Phoenix?” He jerks onto the 60 to Show Low.

“I probably talk to them more than I should.”  I look out his window toward an old drive-in I used to love passing as a kid. My neck strains as I try to read the sign, and a pleased smile spreads across my face. “What about you?”

“I’ll see them in a few weeks, but I saw them last August. Don’t you remember, you were supposed to meet them.”

I shake my head and look out my window. “Don’t you think it was a little too soon for meeting parents?” I stick out my tongue at his reflection, remembering we’d only been together for a couple months in August.

“Yeah, but they don’t come out here too often, hon.” He reaches out and puts his callused hand on top of mine.

I look at him, reveal the creamed coffee top of mine and place it on his. “I know, but it doesn’t mean we have to rush things.” My fingers fold around his.

“So tell me more about them. What can I expect?”

The land is flat, full of short, spiny trees. Calm inclines and in the distance the mountains will shortly become a silhouette in the setting sun.

“Well, Dad is Apache. He was named after a character in Gone with the Wind, because it’s the first movie my grandma ever got to see in the theatre.  I was named after him, which I hate.” I cringe.  “He used to work for the tribe until the mill went bankrupt and now he works for Home Depot.”

“Wait. Apache? Don’t you consider yourself Navajo?” His amber eyes send a sideways glance over his black retro frames.

“My mom is Navajo. I’m Navajo and Apache.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe you’re thinking about my official enrollment?”

“What do you mean?”

The terrain begins to get steeper. Pines and junipers begin to litter the landscape. Large boulders pocked with sea green moss build in size.

“Even though my mom is full Navajo, and my dad is full Apache, which makes me all Indian, I can only enroll in one tribe. So, by federal guidelines, I’m only half Indian.” I lean over, take out a cigarette from the glove compartment, offer one to James, light his and then mine.

He takes a puff. “Are you serious?” He ashes out the window.

I nod my head.

“That’s pretty fucked up.”

“Yup.” I take a puff and ash it into an empty can.

The stars are starting to come out when we get to the city limits of Show Low. Christmas lights still decorate the old Victorian across from the Mormon church at the main intersection, only lacking the sled with Santa Claus. It feels odd to be home, or to be calling this town home.

“I forgot how many stars you could see out here.” I roll down the window, resting my head on the ledge, not minding the crisp air.

“That reminds me.”

I look at him.

“What’re you doing August 21, 2017?” He directs a serious glance at me. The road glimmers wet with slickness.

“What?” I raise an eyebrow.

“What’re you doing August 21, 2017?” He takes another look at me.

I roll the tightness out of my neck and shake my head. “What’re you talking about? That’s so frakking far away.”  I know the use of frak will make him laugh and it does.

“It’s the next total solar eclipse.”

“You’re such a dork. Turn here.” I point to Highway 260.

The town looks unfamiliar, like a remodeled house. Trees stripped to make way for new houses and conveniences like Wendy’s or to build a Lowe’s across from Home Depot. The old drive in turned into a swap meet and now a medical center.

“I thought you said all you had growing up was Wal-Mart?” James says looking around.

“It definitely wasn’t like this.”

“How come it’s taken you ten years to come home?”

I shrug, staring at the uneven shreds of my nails.

“Come on.” He cuffs my knee with his hand, nudging it back and forth.

I flinch, afraid he’ll squeeze and tickle. “It was probably like a year or two after those huge fires.”

He looks at me and then at the road. The car jerks as he brakes at a red light.  “But, why? It’s gorgeous here.”

“It’s pretty, but there’s nothing to come back to.” I look up, chewing on my thumbnail. “The light’s green.”

“But your family’s here.”

I shrug, staring out into the darkness of my window.  The car creeps forward. Lights become less frequent as we get closer to the end of Pinetop and into the country club area, closer to the reservation and casino.

“It’s gonna be up here to the right, just after that ware–I mean ski rental place.”

James parks in the gravel driveway. My heart is pounding. Christmas lights still line the windows, I hope mom had enough energy to take down the tree this year. My senior year she didn’t and when Christmas came again the tree looked more like a worn out street walker than a festive holiday ornament.

“Remember, no drinking,” I say.  His beard is scratchy against my palm as I pull him in for a kiss.

“No drinking,” he says back and kisses me again. I stick my tongue at him and jump out, leaving the bags in the car as I run to the door, opening it without a knock or ring of the bell.

“Mom, I’m here.”

“What took you so long?” My dad’s deep baritone comes from the hallway. He walks into the living room, towering above me, his belly drooping over a hand crafted leather belt intensified by tucking in his gray t-shirt. His burly arms encase me like a mahogany armoire and I can feel the kinks in my spine crack as he lifts me off my feet in his embrace.

“I missed you too, Dad.”

James comes in, dropping our bags just inside the door. Trying to shut the door quietly, he intensifies the creaking.

“Who’s this?” Dad places a hand on James’ shoulder measuring him with ebony eyes.  He used to compete in archery tournaments and his eyes are good at measuring distances, but I’m not so sure about his ability to measure character.  Every time we talk, he finds a way to bring up my ex, Patrick, to see if we can reconcile our relationship.  I’m not too keen on getting back into bed with someone who chose both liquor and other women before me, but he definitely left a good impression on my family.

“Dad, this is James. James, this is my dad, Ashley.”

“Hello, Sir.” He puts his hand out.

I can tell Dad exaggerates the pressure in his shake, by the uncomfortable look on James’ face as he wrestles to keep his hand even. Dad’s roaring laugh breaks the tension.

“Where’s Mom?”

“I’m coming,” she says, shuffling in from the other end of the living room where the kitchen is. I swear she’s shrunk since Christmas. Her hair has taken over her body, that is all there is of her. Gray hair, with highlights of lifeless black down to her waist. Arms that hang down to large hips with skinny legs that seem to be powered by strings like a marionette. Compared to Dad, who looks like a lumberjack, she looks like a bobble head, an undead version.

My dad is a few years younger than she is, with a prior marriage and two kids. Like Dad, Mom has a previous marriage, but I’m her only child, a surprise that came late in her life. If she didn’t spend the first part of her life shrouded by her career, she would’ve been a terrific mom and wife. Now, she makes up for it by calling every day or sending texts to find out about our every day lives. It drives me mad, but my siblings don’t mind.

She hugs me like I’m going to break. I notice she gives James the traditional long “welcome to the family” hug, similar to the hug Dad gave me.

“Hi James. Nice to finally meet you.” She breaks away and shakes his hand, this time barely giving him her hand, like she might catch his whiteness.

“Ashy, it’s about time you came home.” Dad hits me on the shoulder.

“Just in time for dinner,” Mom says.

“Did you make that fry bread Ash has been telling me about?” James rubs his hands together in anticipation. “I’ve been in Arizona for almost ten years, but haven’t had fry bread yet.”

“Oh, Ashy should’ve said something.” Mom’s face flushes. “I only made grilled bread, ‘cause it’s Ashy’s favorite, but I did make some mutton stew.”

James looks at me, mouthing the word Ashy. My face warms.

“Oh it’s just a childhood nickname,” Mom answers. “One of her uncles gave it to her ‘cause she had ashy skin.”

Mom and Dad laugh as they lead us to the kitchen table.

“Ashy skin?”

“You white people never heard of ashy skin?” Dad plants himself at the head of the table.

“I don’t think I have.” James sits right next to me, the leg of his chair teetering on the edge of my heel.

“I was just running around the reservation with dry skin. That’s all it means.” I scoop out a ladle of stew for James after Mom serves Dad and herself.

“I don’t think I get it.”

Mom and Dad smile.

“Her skin would get this grey ashy texture from being dry and out in the sun all day, especially around her elbows and knees. So, her uncles started calling her Ashy.” Mom folds her paper towel and places it to the side of her bowl.

Everyone laughs, but me.

“Her skin is so soft–” He reaches out and pats my knee under the table. “I don’t think anyone could associate that story with her now.”

“Oh, isn’t he a gentlemen.” Mom’s high cheekbones radiate in the fluorescent lighting.

“You know Pat is in town,” Dad says.

I struggle not to spit out my stew.  Here is the mention of the the ex, right on cue.   James and Pat have hung out before, but only in a large group of friends.

“I didn’t know,” I say into my spoon.

“Yeah, he stopped by on the way to the casino.” Dad’s eyes are on James, waiting for his reaction. “He’s installing some solar panels in the country club.”

“That’s nice of him to stay in touch with your family,” James says. “He’s always telling me stories about them when I run into him.”

I breathe. James puts an arm around me, scratching my back.

“Your Dad invited him to dinner tomorrow,” Mom says, her piercing almond eyes glaring at him as she snatches the salt from his paws.  “But I reminded him it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

“Oh. I wouldn’t mind,” James says, going in for another ladle of stew.

“See, Eleanor, he wouldn’t mind.” He goes to grab the salt shaker again.  She shakes her head, waving a finger at him. “Pat is nice boy. Always stops by when he’s in town. Chops wood and I’ve never seen him refuse anything served to him, not like some of the others Ashy hangs out with.”

I push the bowl away. Mom looks at me, nods to the bowl and grimaces. “I ate a lot of junk on the road. I’m not hungry.”

“I’ll eat it.” James empties the contents of my bowl into his.

“But you love mutton stew,” Mom pleads.

“I’ll eat the leftovers in the morning.”

“The way your boyfriend eats there won’t be any,” Dad complains.

I sit on the Pendleton covered couch, legs folded under me. James wanders around from wall to wall, looking at the pictures, pipes, kachinas and other colorfully decorated figures that line our bookshelves and walls. Mom knits in one corner and Dad sits next to her in another Pendleton covered recliner, elbows resting on his knees, hands forming a teepee over his mouth and nose. The cacophony of colors from the television waltz across their faces.

“Have you been watching Project Runway?”

“Why are you watching Project Runway, Dad?” I laugh.

“Cuz there’s a Native. We gotta support our Native communities.”

“Yeah. I’ve been watching.”

“Did you notice how at the beginning she didn’t toast with liquor with all the others? That’s a good role model right there.” He leans back, the leg rest pops up.

I shake my head, grabbing one of the Navajo wedding basket, crocheted pillows my mom made and draw it across my stomach. “You know Dad, just because an Indian drinks doesn’t automatically make them a drunk.”

My Dad used to drink, but when he drank he couldn’t stop. There were weeks, sometimes months where he’d go on binges and disappear, then come home like a dog with his tail between his legs like nothing happened and everything would be alright. At least that’s what my older siblings tell me. By the time my parents had me, he found God and sobriety. A lot of God before sobriety, my brother has told me.

“Psychologically and physically, Indians can’t take their liquor. It’s a medical fact,” Dad says.

I can see from the corner of my eyes that Mom’s needles stop.

James plants himself next to me, points to a random photo and says, “Was that you, when you were little?”

“That’s such a stereotype, Dad.” I toss the pillow onto James. “If we keep trapping ourselves into that belief system then of course others are going to have those same thoughts about us.”

Mom gets up and turns off the TV. “Maybe we should call it a night.”

“No, Eleanor. I wanna hear what my daughter has to say. She’s so worldly now that she’s been in the big city.”

“You’re impossible.” I dig my nails into my palms. “Did you know alcoholism is more rampant in whites than in Indians? We feed into the media’s interpretation of what it means to be Indian, and that means drunk.” I take a deep breath, running my fingers through my short hair. My elbow on the arm of the couch, I rest my temple on a knuckle. “Why should it mean something completely different when an Indian toasts with a glass of champagne? But okay when all other races do?”

James puts his hand on mine. “I don’t know about you, but I could use a drink.”

My mouth drops. Mom starts to giggle, a high pitch squeal like a young pig.

Dad scoots to the edge of the recliner, folding the foot rest beneath he leans forward to get up. Dark circles accentuate his age in the dim room. He plants his large, flat hand on James’ shoulder, patting it in a rhythmic motion. “She’s a good girl. Too smart sometimes, but good.” He winks at me and is lost in the darkness of the hallway.

“Nice to see you can still make your father think in his old age.” Mom’s needles renew their vigor.

“I’m surprised anything can get through that hard head of his.” I settle into my corner, resting my legs over James.

“It wasn’t so bad.” James rubs my feet.

Mom winks at James. “I’m glad that you were able to make it out here and see where Ashy grew up.”

“Thank you for letting me tag along.”

She puts her needles to rest. “You know, Ashy, your old high school has a couple new teaching positions open.”

“Mom. I hated high school.”

“But if you teach out there, why can’t you teach here?”

I look over at her, see her frame giving way before me.  “It’s not the same.”

“They have open enrollment now. A lot more Native kids from the reservation are going there. Think of all the Natives you can help and reach out to.”

I remember the year I graduated.  Alchesay’s basketball team, a very competitive and good team from the reservation came to play on our purple and gold court but was almost sent home because of the hate that filled the auditorium. They were kids like me, but because a member of our tribe set the fire, the community of Show Low and Pinetop/Lakeside held them responsible.  I should’ve been counted among them, but I was set apart by a single piece of paper. You’re different Ash, my classmates said to me, You’re from one of the nice ones. And I just nodded my head.

“I’ll think about it.”

***

We’re deep in the canyon, the salt runs rabid below us. Pillars of canyon walls surround us as we bend through the snake descent. James rides the brake, unfamiliar with each turn.

“You thinking about moving back?”

“I don’t know.” I take out another cigarette. I’ve been smoking like a broken radiator since we left. “My Mom looked like a dimmer version of herself. When I was younger all I wanted was to be as beautiful as her, to have her sparkle, instead I got my Dad’s big nose, sarcasm and temper. You know she was really active in the American Indian Movement, so much so that she couldn’t get a job as a reporter after a few years. She was blacklisted.” I take a puff.

“Sounds like you’re a lot like her.” He places his hand out, gesturing for my cigarette.  We get to the bottom of the canyon. The bridge rattles metallic as semitrailers shake the cars that pass.  My hand tightens around a lacquered safety handle as I tilt my head to see what awaits below.  Even the sandstone pillars are licked by ash and the rush of water across the rocks tumble like metal leaves as the smoke stings like home.

 

Poetry written by Dawn Bear

Room 319

Next to a chapel, where men weep for wives

and children play hide and seek,

a desolate hallway, white,

with historic nunnery pasted to walls

leads to an elevator with no ring, which jolts

like a car racing through dips.

“Ladies, can I help?” asks a plastic clipboard

attached to scrubs.  “Room 319?” my voice cracks

like a boy going through puberty.

Pass open doorways, seafoam curtains slipped aside:

immobile bodies, chapping mouths a gap,

sanitized tubes stabbing artificial life

into limp arms, wired like ventriloquist puppets.

One flanneled, hunched back

cradling a hand.

Black ink on clear plastic: 319.

The smell of shitty diapers fog the room.

Peeking from behind the curtain,

swollen feet, like the bubbled limbs of

Cabbage Patch dolls, hang from the end

of white sheets.

Pumps contaminate the silence,

One machine beeps: beep beep beep.

“Son?” A trembling hand, disguised in baggy,

plastic gloves, reaches out to a tossed back head.

Like fish out of water, his mouth opens and shuts,

eyes pleading to communicate.

Seeing his weakness tightens my stomach.

Plastic tubes buried into his bluish skin, skin

once kissed by the sun while he

adorned cowboy boots and rode bulls.

 

Short Fiction written by Dawn Bear

Hannah

I was not always named Hannah. A white man in a black suit, with a black book and golden pages that glittered in the desert sun scrolled his knobby finger through his magical text and said, “Hannah.” Then he nodded his head and I was skirted out of line and placed into an old rusted school bus, with all the other newly named brown eyed girls.  I shed my name like the waves shorn from my head and emerged into the white man’s world renamed.

I never placed stake in my name until, Leah, small chestnut hands resting on her swelling belly, asked, “Auntie, can we name her after you?”  Her belly button winked like a third eye through the tightness of her shirt.

Leah was my husband’s niece. A child I watched grow into motherhood. Since she was nine, when her own mother left, she would hug my arm and tell me her plans for the future, a future that did not include men or children.  At the age of thirty Leah had a change of heart.

Her nutmeg eyes smiled at me through the violet frames of her glasses.

“You should give her a name that matters,” I said.  My cheeks trembled.

She leaned forward, to the edge of the couch and put a hand over mine.  Blue ink stained the inside of her ring finger. “But it’d mean so much to us.”

The tears bled warm, and cooled in streams across my face.

“You don’t want to name her Hannah.  It’s a wretched name.” The tissue I grabbed clung to my face, caking my eyelashes like confetti.

She knelt at my knee.  Her belly rubbed against my shin, and head rested on my thigh. “But you’ve been the only mom I’ve known.”

For a moment my womb was filled with an oasis.

***

“Hannah Watchman?” A clipboard called from the cracked door.

I got up and straightened the wrinkles from my clothing. The door was heavy.

“Follow me,” said the rubber heeled nurse.

Pictures of fetuses in different stages of growth decorated the walls. The only colors came in pastel.

“Follow up appointment, right?” The red pony tail flipped to a freckled profile as she looked over her shoulder.

I nodded, my hands wringing each other like a moist towel.

“Go ahead and take a seat. Dr. Adams will be with you in a moment.”

I was waved into the room, an office this time.  Sitting at the edge of the rough cushioned seat, my feet tapped against the legs.  Devoid of color in a different way, the office was decorated in browns and maroons, liked dried blood. The air smelt stale with a hint of sterilizing fluid.

A professional knock of the door and Dr. Adams strode in, his brown suit crumpled and swallowed his lean figure as he sat in a leather slider across from me, manilla folder in hand.

“How are you doing today, Hannah?”  His eyes concentrated on the desk top as his fingers scanned the file.

“Good.”

“It’s a shame your husband couldn’t make it in today.”

My fingers clasped together as I nodded.

“We got the results back from your tests.” His forehead crinkled.

I bit my lower lip.

He closed the file and leaned back.

“Can you help me? Will I be able to have kids?” I asked.

“Hannah,” he paused, shaking his head. “I’m afraid there isn’t anything I can do to help.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, unfortunately, women who have undergone oophorectomies cannot reverse it.”

“A oophorectomy? I’ve never had a oophorectomy. I don’t even know what that is.”

“I’m afraid you have. It means your ovaries have been removed. Once that’s occurred there is no way to restore them.”  The distance the desk provided seemed long. “I’m afraid you won’t be able to have children.”

“But how?”  The chair felt like it was leaning forward, like the legs were ready to give, and I had no support.

***

We sat in the kitchen, listening to the clanging of dishes ding against one another as I washed.

“I’m sorry I broke down like that. I don’t know what got into me.” The sink filled with hot water and I dove my hands in, fighting the instinct to retract.

“It’s okay,” Leah said as she sat at the counter, her face hidden by the array of plants.  “Auntie? How come you never had kids?”  The smell of mint floated in the air as she fingered the sharp, textured leaves.

I shrugged. “Your uncle really wanted kids.”

“Is that why he always had us around?”

“He wanted to do things for you kids that you wouldn’t have had otherwise.” I ran more hot water.

“But you were always so good to us. How come you didn’t want kids of your own?”

My stomach cringed.

“I wanted kids.” I watched the suds evaporate into the rinsing water and set the plate in the rack to dry. “I just couldn’t have any.”

The legs of her stool quacked across the floor. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”

I dried my hands on a towel and looked at her through the vinery.

“Is that why Uncle Jerry drinks?”  Her eyes darted away from mine.

“It’s one of the excuses your uncle makes to drink.”  I took out two glasses and filled them with water and sat next to her.  Leah’s hands danced with the translucent crystal. “When we first started trying, we used to go to church.  I prayed and prayed to get pregnant, but nothing happened. Your uncle prayed even harder.  We gave up everything, except speaking Navajo.”  I took a sip, trying to swallow the flood.  “After a few years, your uncle got impatient.”

“Did he ever cheat on you?”  Leah’s hands went to her belly.

“Maybe he thought he could father children with someone else.”

She looked up to me, her black hair fell into her rounded face. “You mean he has kids with another woman?”

“Possibly. I don’t know. We’ve never talked about it.”

“Why would you stay with him? I mean, I know he’s my uncle, but still, no woman deserves to be treated that way.” Her hands balled into fists.

The tears swelled in my eyes. “I was eighteen–” My voice cracked. “The pain was electrifying, shooting up my right side, down to my toes.  I was sick.  Vomiting.  I went into the hospital and they said I had appendicitis.  I needed surgery.  They needed my consent.  I signed a sheet and almost twenty years later I found out that I signed away my ability to have children.”  My body heaved with every word.  “Why would anyone want me after knowing that?”

I felt Leah’s fingers crawl up and down my spine. “Auntie, it’s not your fault.”

“I prayed and prayed only to find out that I. Me. Consented to have my ovaries gutted.”

“But you didn’t know.”

Leah scratched my back like a mother, cradling me as if I were her child.  I rocked.  The leafed countertop blurred with each motion as images of a man in a black suit and knobby knuckles dug its way forward.  “Hannah,” he said, like a name had no meaning at all.

 

Short Fiction (first venture back into creative writing) written by Dawn Bear

Promise of Youth

“When I grow up I am going to hitchhike across the United States,” Wendy states as she fidgets with the loose threads hanging from the hole in the knee of the jeans  purchased yesterday. She clumsily leans up against the porch steps, legs stretched doglike, letting her eyes follow the small movements of her hands.

“Girls can’t hitchhike!” Peter bursts out as he corrects his balance on the railings of the porch. He jumps down and stands intimidatingly in front of her.  His shadow crosses over her sun burnt, freckled face and he sneers, “Why would a girl want to hitchhike?”

She slumps further back, shoulders broaden and stretches a yellow tank top across her chest, revealing immerging evidence of a passing youth, and loosens around a flattened belly. Her knees gather one step closer, legs folding.

He takes the opportunity to draw closer to her.  His shadow drawing over the sunlight like a solar eclipse.

Skin prickles, the hairs on her legs stand, as she has not yet started to shave.

“Huh!?” he demands, shadow still looming.

She sits up and gathers her knees to her chest.  Thump thumpthump THUMP. Her heart thuds irregular.

Thoughts a little unfocused,  she manages to choke out, “Well…wouldn’t you want to?” And stares up at him questioningly.

* * *

“I hear that you get the opportunity to sell some of your stuff in the art showcase at school,” Peter says as they meander through the woods.

Wendy shrugs her shoulders and blushes. “Yeah.  They aren’t that great, but Ms. Hill says that they‘re alright, so I guess we’ll see.  I’m kind of nervous about it.”

She bites her lower lip and winces, hating to admit being nervous about anything.

They go on in silence as they exit the woods and are followed by their moon caste shadows.  Wendy’s thoughts begin to wander to grand ideas of art school, traveling, making a name for herself, being discovered…

“What are you going to do after graduation?” Peter interrupts her thoughts as they slip under the comfort of their normal hideout, a covered wooden bridge.

Wendy takes her hands from the warm comfortable pocket of her sports hoodie, hops onto the arm of the bridge, and immediately slumps into a more comfortable position.

“Hmmm. I think I’ll travel to Europe and paint,” she states as her middle finger lightly lingers along and traces the outline of a pair of initials carved in the arm of the bridge. Her legs swinging and shoulders hunch forward, her thoughts wander from Europe to the heart that encircles the initials.

Peter’s lips crease in a familiar smirk.

He crosses the length of the bridge and superciliously arches his back as he enfolds her in his arms, forcing her to slide forward to the edge and bend her back in a less comfortable manner.

“You really think your Dad will let you do that!?” he asks, playfully, as he releases her from his grasp.

She scoots back to her familiar position, distancing herself from him.  Her head rolls uncomfortably and neck cracks. She feels her spine unfold, straighten and tense like a slap band ready to recoil at any slight flick to the pressure.  Her instinct is to grasp her shoulder, to massage the growing ache in it.  Hand clinches to her collarbone.  Shoulder rolls. Neck hugs hand.

“Well!?” he playfully nudges her.

Chin to hand.  “Who cares,” she shrugs.

Her hands grip the sides as she jumps from the arm of the bridge, almost bumping his head. She flinches at her clumsiness and turns her back to him, resting one arm on the bridge as a hand aimlessly begins to retrace the outlines of the heart and initials.

Peter comes up behind her.

He rests his arms against the bridge railing. The crickets tap their woodwind like tunes in the distance while the stream runs below in a bellow of plastic symphonies and catastrophic plumbing problems.  Long knuckled fingers raise to follow the play of her smooth wiry digits.

Eyes closed, her body trembles as she feels each movement of his fingertips as they whisper across her skin. The trembles of goose flesh begin to creep up her spine and the hairs on the back of her neck begin to rise and catch the breeze like willow reeds, stiff, allowing the ends to sway.  Her thoughts are occupied by his fingers.

Sensing she is no longer thinking about traveling and color, Peter brushes the stray hairs, fallen from her ponytail, away from her ear.  He leans in and whispers, “Remember the day we carved that heart into this bridge?”

Thump thumpthump THUMP!  A choking sensation, like inhaling and swallowing a gulp of water at the same time, fills her chest, then a chill is sent to the pit of her belly and sends a flush to her cheeks.

“I thought we were just friends,” she thinks to herself, a little panicked.

Her body stiffens, afraid, like a deer caught in headlights.

Stealing the moment, Peter removes his hand, enfolds her waist, and circles her to face him.  Wendy knows she is not the first, and she knows what is next before it even happens: the gently placed finger beneath the chin, the hesitation, and finally the kiss.  She waits to see if it is going to be any different, if she is any different than all the others.

Peter gazes at Wendy and begins to place a finger under her chin. Before making contact, she slaps it away and breaks free.

“What was that for!?” he laughs, as he reaches out for her.

Her face contorts.  “I can’t believe you!” she snickers. “GRRRR! I’m not just any girl!”

Wendy catches Peter’s amused grin as she paces back and forth, clinching and unclenching her fists.  “What!? What are you so amused by?” she asks, as she pauses.

Peter breaks the void between them, slowly overshadowing the moon, and captures her waste tightly.

“You are,” he promises.

She tries to resist, but the slightest of movement triggers a mass of quivers and is stilled by a silent, “shhh.”

* * *

Legs pulled in close, folded in by crossed arms with hairs slightly raised by a cool autumn breeze that carries the slight smell of wet dirt and molding wood, Wendy sits watching as the neighborhood kids gather the fallen leaves into piles, dive and make angels.

She rocks nervously each time the breeze touches her skin.

Eyes fog over as if she is temporarily blinded by the film of soupy dish soap that transcends off the surface of a stagnant pool of water.  The corners of her sclera burn pink as red wiry veins merge into the white cavities. Her eyelids blink robotically, an attempt to moisten the delicate layer of cornea protecting the auburn speckled brownness of her irises.

Wendy stares into the distance and is scarcely aware of two children’s play inching precariously closer to her abyss.  Her eyes slightly squint as she tries to focus on the discolored leaves lingering on maples.

“I wonder if Monet needed glasses and his paintings only reflected how he actually saw the world?” she thinks to herself, as she notices that without her glasses groups of colors and shadows blend together like broad brush strokes in an impressionist’s painting.

The breeze strengthens its gust as the sun is shadowed by threatening clouds awakening her from her reverie.  Eyes focused, she notices the two children lurking within her scope.  She looks at her watch, stands, brushes the wrinkles from her clothes, and calls them in.