Read The Night the White Deer Died Online
Authors: Gary Paulsen
“What’s the matter with you?” He finally turned and looked up at her, just a quick red-and-yellow-eyed look. “Ain’t you ever seen a drunk Indian before?”
Caught, she nodded. “Sure. I mean …”
“Tscha!” He made a sound of disgust that came from his throat; almost like a cat spitting in anger, but deeper, stronger. “Little rich white girl, out seeing
the poor drunk Indi’ns.” He shortened the word Indian the way many Indians did, said it the way some tourists would have them say it. “Aren’t you brave?”
“Now listen—I didn’t ask to meet you out here, you know.” Janet felt the anger rise and let it. “I was just out for a walk and sat down to enjoy the plaza. You’re the one who came to me, remember?”
For a time there was silence. Then he smiled. “You got any money at home?” His voice was nearly a wheedle. “I mean, I’m hurtin’, hurtin’ bad, inside. I need some wine.”
I should leave, she thought. I should leave now and be away from this dirty old man and his stink and filth. I should leave now.
But she stayed, and many times later she would wonder what it was that made her stay when everything in her wanted to leave. She stayed, and her mouth opened, and she said, “Even if you had money, there’s no place to get wine. It’s too early in the morning.”
He smiled. He had her nailed and knew it. “Old Corky Rodriguez will open his liquor store for a dollar and will give me wine out the back door. Not for any less, but for a dollar he will open it. Do you have a dollar at home?”
I’m going crazy, she thought. I’m going completely mad. A kind of whirl went through her head, a whirl of drunks she had seen in the plaza on different occasions, drunks begging, and she had never talked to
any of them, never stopped to say a word or visit or even nod, and in the whirl she saw Billy; she had seen him drunk in the plaza, begging off tourists, charging them to take pictures of the
with the braids and blanket, and she nodded. Instinctively, without meaning to, she nodded. “Yes. I have a dollar at home.” God, she thought, I’m acting so
He shrugged. “Well, then, we have enough to get Corky to open the back door and give me some wine and stop this hurtin’, don’t we?”
Again she nodded.
“Let’s go, then.” He stood up and started walking, and she started following him, wondering how he could walk so fast when he looked so sick and bad.
But he shuffled, his dirty moccasins kicking up dust, and the shuffle seemed to float him over the ground as if he were on air, and she had to step fast to keep up. Through it all—following him out of the plaza and back down the road through the morning to her house, where he waited outside while she went in for a dollar and gave it to him and then watched him walk alone back up the road toward Corky’s wine shop—through all of that she had no idea why she was doing it, why she gave him the dollar and talked to him or any of it. She had no reason for any of it.
And it wasn’t until he was out of sight down the road that it dawned on her that he had never once asked where she lived. He’d walked ahead of her all the way, right to the door gate on the courtyard,
where he’d stopped and waited for the money, and never once had he stopped to ask her where she lived.
He’d known exactly where Janet lived.
He’d known where she lived just as he’d known beforehand that she would give him the dollar.…
In the middle of the summer in Tres Pinos there is a festival that lasts three days, or that is supposed to last three days, though it often goes on for a week, and it wasn’t until the festival that Janet saw Billy Honcho again.
The festival of Tres Pinos, along with being a time of wild celebration, is also a time of maximum tourist attraction—it’s the middle of the warmest part of the year, when something “quaint” is happening, and they flock from miles around to join in the fun or at least take pictures.
Local people—Indians, Chicanos, and Anglos—all view the festival as a time to make money selling their arts or crafts, so that with the party air there is a definite feeling of business, and the true nature of the festival—a land of relief from winter’s grimness—is lost in the drive to make enough money to last the whole year.
The end result of all this is that for most residents of
the town the festival is a time of hard work and long hours, and Janet was no different. Her mother was given a space on the edge of the plaza to set up her stone figures, and Janet had to help, though she couldn’t understand her mother’s drive to sell her sculptures when there was plenty of money; the checks came in from her father in California every month.
“It’s not the money,” her mother said as they hefted the heavy stone figures into the back of a borrowed pickup to take them to the plaza. “It’s the recognition—artists have to be recognized for their work to mean anything.”
Janet had nodded. “Still. Couldn’t you work in aluminum or something? Some kind of light material?”
They’d laughed, but in truth Janet had no desire to go to the plaza. She’d told no one of the incident with Billy and had studiously avoided going downtown or near the plaza, because she knew he would be there working the tourists for drinks and money the way the others did, and she didn’t want to see that, see him doing something that low. It wasn’t a feeling she totally understood, because she didn’t like Billy, didn’t like what he’d done to her, but she still didn’t want to see him doing anything degrading.
But when they’d gotten to the plaza the afternoon before the official start of the festival, the crowd had been so thick she hadn’t seen any sign of Billy, and she soon forgot him in the press.
Artists and craftsmen were jammed around the plaza;
all around the sides were tables and racks packed with pottery, macramé, paintings, sculpture, jewelry—everything imaginable. The huge square was like an earthy outdoor supermarket of arts and crafts, and Janet and her mother practically had to fight a wildlife artist and a girl selling macramé for room to set up their sculptures between them.
“Are you sure this is really necessary?” Janet asked, setting a fifty-pound stone nude on the flagstone and throwing one quick, angry glance at the wildlife artist, who had moved her tables into Janet’s mother’s space.
“Well, then …” And she’d been going to make some quip about hoping it was worth it, some little comment, but she stood and turned and there was Billy.
He was standing but weaving, obviously very drunk, and as dirty or dirtier than he’d been the day she’d met him alone in the plaza. Still, drunk as he was, the shoulders were straight, still fighting him.
“Hey, frien’, you got any money for me?” His voice was slurred, and she realized with a start that he didn’t recognize her, had no idea who she was or that he’d seen her before. “Wanna take a picture of an Indi’n?”
“Go away.” Janet’s mother stood up from arranging some small pieces of stonework and came between them like a mother bear protecting her cubs. “Go away, now.”
“Wait, Mother.” Janet put her hand on her mother’s shoulder and moved her gently sideways. “His name is Billy.…”
“Good picture of Indi’n,” Billy cut in. “Blanket, braids, everythin’.”
“Don’t send him away.” Janet looked up at the trees over the plaza, moved some brown hair out of her face, wondered why she was saying this, doing this. “Let him stay. Don’t let him go off and be seen by the others—please.”
Her mother turned to stare at her. “Have you gone out of your mind?”
“Probably.” Janet nodded. “But do this favor for me, please.”
Whether Janet or her mother could do anything for Billy was debatable; he was into a deep level of intoxication, drunk to the point of being unable to discern places or people, and there would have been little Janet or her mother could do either to help him or detain him.
In any case it was taken out of their hands. Before either of them could say or do anything further, Emile Gonzales, the town cop, who was all dressed fine in his best uniform for the festival, came up in back of Billy and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Come on, Billy.” Emile’s voice was firm, but not rough or unkind. “Quit bothering the artists—come on and sleep it off.”
“Oh, he’s not bothering us.” Janet stepped forward to stop the arrest she thought was happening. “Not at all. He’s just talking to us.…”
But Emile wasn’t listening. He had Billy by the arm and was weaving him gently through the crowds that were building to see the festival a day before the official opening. Janet watched them until they were out of sight, going down the slanted stairway into the jail, and when she turned to help her mother, she was surprised to find that she felt truly bad, truly sorry about Billy.
It was a feeling she didn’t fully understand, but it stayed with her for the remainder of that evening while they set up for the festival, and when it was night and they were finished, it still bothered her so much that she actually decided to go down into the jail and see how long they intended holding Billy.
The stairs were dank, lighted by a small yellow bulb, and they smelled of things Janet would rather not have thought about, and the entryway into the jail at the bottom of the stairs was no better. It was a small room of concrete painted an evil yellow with a gray-topped bench, and in back of the bench sat not Emile but a beefy-looking man with a scar running down the right side of his face. His color was dark except for the scar, which was almost white, and he looked at Janet up and down—slowly and insolently, but said nothing.
Janet waited a full minute, and when he still said nothing but continued to stare at her, she coughed.
“Billy,” she said. “You have a man named Billy Honcho in here.”
He said nothing, simply stared, waiting.
“I just wondered how long you meant to hold him.” Outside, the sounds of the festival were louder now, the drinking was getting heavier—as it would continue to grow all through the celebration—and Janet wished she hadn’t come down into this strange and ugly place. She turned to go; obviously she would learn nothing.
“What’s he to you?”
The jailer’s voice stopped her at the door, and she stood, one hand on the knob, not turning but keeping her back to him. She didn’t want to see him looking at her. “A friend—he’s a friend.”
“Ahhh, I see. You mean old Billy found a friend somewhere? The old governor got somebody to buy his wine?”
“Governor?” She turned. “Why did you call him that?”
The jailer turned, and the light hit his scar as he moved, almost made it flash. “He used to be the governor out to the Indian pueblo—didn’t you know that?”
She shook her head. “How long are you going to hold him?”
“Until the festival is over. Keep him out of the way
of all them rich folks—don’t want ’em seeing anything they don’t like, do we?”
But Janet was gone out the door before he’d finished talking. Her mother was waiting and would wonder where she’d gone; they still had to eat a late supper and get to bed and try to get some sleep before the official start of the celebration the next morning, because after that there would be no sleep, or very little; after this first night there would be only the madness of the festival.
And besides, Janet hurried because she wanted to sleep to see if the dream came again so that she could get a chance to study the Indian with the bow. She had a hunch, a feeling that if she could see his face one more time, she would know him, but of course the dream came and ended the same way, with the arrow halfway to the deer, and she didn’t really see the brave’s face or get a chance to check her hunch.