The Night the White Deer Died (4 page)

BOOK: The Night the White Deer Died
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When it was all over, Janet tried to remember the festival, come up with a feeling for it, but it came through only in disjointed pictures, images that weren’t connected to each other. She couldn’t remember a flow, a movement of the celebration or a reason for it all—just pictures, flashing like somebody’s insane sideshow, without order or meaning.

Hot. It was hot during the days. Even with the overhanging cottonwoods the heat cooked down, and in the heat there seemed to be an endless succession of sweating, angry people, all griping about prices and all carrying very expensive cameras and wearing god-awful Bermuda shorts and colored shirts and blouses and tank tops, and everybody had to
touch
everything, grab and clutch and scream and pull and …

It was incredible. Janet and her mother had never seen a festival before, but Janet swore that if she lived through this one, recognition or not, she’d never do another.

There was the man from Texas who came with a truck, a huge rented truck, and bought paintings he thought would be good investments. He did not buy them for their art or looks—he didn’t even really look at them—but because he might make money on them. He just bought them and loaded them into the truck, and when the truck was full, he pulled away, and everybody watched him drive through the crowded streets until he was out of sight.

There was the little old lady in the wildly striped pantsuit who decided she wanted a stone head carved by Janet’s mother, only she didn’t want to pay for it. Janet had been talking to an unlistening couple from Pasadena, the kind who ask questions but don’t wait for an answer before the next question, and when she turned, the little old lady was struggling to walk off with the head.

Since the sculpted stone head weighed just over seventy-five pounds, it was a losing battle; but the old lady tried and was downright indignant when Janet caught up with her and took the head back where it had been.

There were people everywhere, people and money and more people and more money. Janet couldn’t believe it, didn’t in a way
want
to believe it.

“It’s as though a huge pen with all the poor-taste people in the world had been opened, and they’ve all come to the festival,” Janet said the second night while they were staggering into the house to eat a cold
snack and drop into their beds. “From these people you want recognition?”

“I’ll discuss artistic philosophies later.” Her mother sighed. “Right now I’m for bed, and I don’t even
care
if I sell anything.”

But she did sell—they came to buy, and along with all the other artists and craftspeople at the festival, Janet’s mother sold everything she’d brought, could have sold more, could have sold anything.

“I’m going to try a brick,” Janet said at one point. “Find me a brick, and I’ll label it art, and we’ll see if we can get ten dollars for it.…”

It was a joke, but it probably would have worked. One girl down the way four booths was selling decorative wood, driftwood from the gullies out of town, and when she ran out, she sent a friend out with a pickup to one of the gullies to get a load of wood—wood that most of the locals burned as firewood—which she sold right out of the truck for four and five dollars a small piece, and the crowds were crushing each other to get to the truck.

It was madness. An insane rush of pushing people wanting to buy, to see art and the artists. Heat and crowds … screaming and shoving … splashes of color … cameras clicking … dust.… And just when it seemed to Janet that she could stand no more, that she was going to crack, just then she turned, and there was Julio.

His eyes were arrogant, black and distant, and he
stood tall in elevated shoes, and he startled her until she looked down and saw that he was holding out a quart jar full of ice and brown liquid.

“Iced tea.” He made it a statement, simple and flat, but he kept his eyes averted, looking over her head because of the macho thing and because they did not truly know each other yet. “It is for you.”

Janet looked at the jar. The sides glistened with condensed moisture and cold droplets running down, and she thought she’d never seen anything so wonderful as that tea. She took it and swallowed a long draft, found that it had just a touch of sugar, and handed it to her mother, who also took a long swallow.

“Thanks, Julio,” Janet said, rubbing the cool glass across her forehead. “That’s great—just perfect.”

But he was gone before she’d finished the sentence, vanished in the crowds before anybody saw him talking to her—part of the festival, part of the wild week of the midsummer celebration that had started long ago—nobody knew when and for what reason originally.

The wild summer festival of Tres Pinos—Janet had heard about it but never seen it before. When it was over, after winding down like a tired maniac, still insane but too exhausted to do anything about it, when it was all finished, there were four days and nights gone out of her life. All her mother’s art was sold and gone, and Janet looked at the empty rubble of the plaza and couldn’t believe that it all had happened. Not really.

It was the end of the fourth day, just getting dark, soft dusk-dark. Most of the artists were gone, and Janet and her mother stood virtually alone—for the first time in four days—except for a few people moving to parties that always seemed to go hand in hand with the festival.

“I feel … feel wasted.” Janet flopped her arms and sighed. “Used …”

“I know what you mean.” Her mother took a deep breath, let it out, brushed some hair out of her eyes, and looked down at her tank top and jeans. A spot had appeared on the right side of the tank top, a dark spot so obscure that at first she didn’t see it, and when she did, she wiped at it gingerly—as though not certain it was really there. “I didn’t know it was going to be this wild—had no idea. Nobody told me.”

Her voice was half apologetic, and she looked at Janet beseechingly. Janet had never felt so close to her mother; right then, at that instant, she loved her more than anything on earth. But it was more than that. She viewed her as a close friend as well, and without really thinking she went over to her mother and put her arms around her. It was a rare instant of genuine closeness, an almost beautiful moment, and when they parted, it was with reluctance.

“Well.” Janet’s mother looked around and shrugged. “It’s over, that’s something.”

“But what a mess.” Janet gestured around them. The plaza was covered with trash, paper, food and
drink containers, junk. “Who gets to clean this up?”

As though on cue, she heard a sound to her rear and turned to see the jailer coming up the stairway from the jail. In back of him were four inmates, all arrested for being drunk.

“Clean it,” the jailer told them. “When you’re done, you can go, but make sure it’s clean, or I’ll have you back in the hotel.”

He turned and went back down into the jail, a troll returning to his underworld dwelling, and the four released drunks began picking up papers and putting them in the trash containers at the corners of the plaza.

One of the four men was Billy, looking dirty but surprisingly spry and alert. Janet started to call to him but then realized that it would only embarrass him. Instead she moved with her mother away from the plaza, across the street to the small cafe where they’d eaten dinner every evening.

But they got a booth by the window, where
LA CANTINA
 … 
FINE MEXICAN FOOD
was lettered, and after ordering burritos and chili and milk, Janet looked out the window through the lettering and watched Billy picking up trash while they waited for their food, and she thought how degrading it was that a man who used to be governor would have to do that, clean up after other people. When the chili came, she was still thinking about it, wondering if that might be called
part of the festival, and she worried over it so much that she had three bites of chili down before she realized it was the hot version and that her mouth was on fire.

Then of course she gulped her milk, had to drink three glasses before the fire was out and she could breathe again. And when she once more looked out through the lettering, Billy was gone from the plaza.

5

In the summer before fall but after the festival the town of Tres Pinos goes into a quiet period, almost like an animal licking its wounds or resting after a long fight, and it was during this time that Janet again saw Billy Honcho.

Julio had been around some, still not too openly, but he was getting braver. Twice he had walked off to the side of Janet when she went into town, far enough off so anybody seeing them couldn’t be sure they were together but close enough to call to her and tell her that he was a good fighter and that if she ever had any trouble to let him know and he’d fix it.

Once he’d spent most of the day by the gate on the courtyard of the house, just standing and flipping rocks, and he was so unsubtle that Janet’s mother asked about him.

“He’s just a friend,” Janet answered. “Well, sort of, I guess.”

“Classic form—he’d be fun to sculpt. Tall, muscular, willowy. Why not invite him in to model?”

“He won’t come.”

“Try.”

So Janet had gone out to ask Julio if he wanted to model for her mother while she sculpted, and he’d made a sound of scorn. “I should allow myself to be used in this way?”

“Sure.” Janet had shrugged. “It isn’t bad or anything—just art. Because you’ve got a classic form.”

That caught him, and she could tell he felt flattered, but he was still too shy and thought it was too degrading—perhaps—for him to do. Yet. So he moved off down the dusty street, and it was while watching him go that time, watching his arrogance as he walked, that Janet saw Billy.

He was farther down the street, walking bent over with a tight little shuffle, and when she saw him, he happened to be looking in her direction, and she waved. It was natural, a quick wave, and she was surprised when he came toward her.

She waited, squinting in the sun, leaning against the gate, and when he got close, she could tell that he was sober—dirty, but sober.

“Hi.” Janet kept her voice even, but she found with a shock that her heartbeat was speeding up and that she had a strange shy feeling.

“The girl with the dollar,” Billy said when he stopped at the gate. “The girl with the dollar for the wine.”

Janet nodded but said nothing; she was still trying to analyze the feelings she had. The sun was hot, but
not hot enough for the perspiration that suddenly came onto her forehead.

It was his eyes; she was certain of it. They weren’t red, didn’t look yellow or drunk or stupid. Instead they were steady and looked inside her and saw things that she wasn’t sure she wanted him to see. Or at least that’s how she felt, standing in the sun, sweating as he gazed at her.

“I saw you in the park.” He had a way of talking in clipped words so that there could never be an argument about anything he said, and he gestured the way many Indians did when they talked, his arms and hands flowing with the words, making things almost visible so that the words seemed to come to life. “I saw you in the plaza when you saw me but didn’t call and went into the eating place. You watched me through the window while you ate.”

She started. “I didn’t think you saw me. I mean …”

“That night I got some wine from Corky, and me and two other fellas we sat down by a little water, and we got drunk and sang, all down by the creek between town and the pueblo.” His eyes perked, took on a half-sideways, wizened look. “Maybe so if you’d talked to me in the park, I wouldn’t have gone down by the creek and gotten drunk on the cheap wine with the fellas.”

“Oh, no.” Janet shook her head. “I’m not going for that. It’s not my fault you got wine and got drunk—not at all.”

He smiled. Suddenly a quick jerk of his lips—out and back. “Come. Let’s walk.”

Before she could answer, he started off down the road, not toward town but away, and without knowing for certain why she was doing it, Janet opened the gate on the courtyard and followed him. It was hot now, very hot, and his step-shuffle kicked up small puffs of dust with each step, and she caught herself staring down at them as she followed him.

BOOK: The Night the White Deer Died
4.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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