Authors: Gary Paulsen
He walked that way for nearly a quarter of a mile without speaking to her, and Janet was on the edge of getting angry when he stopped and turned so fast she nearly bumped into him.
“You ever been to the pueblo?” He pointed with a graceful wave on down the road where the pueblo lay, about two miles out of town. “You ever see where Indi’n live?”
She shook her head. “Well, once. I almost forgot. When we first came to Tres Pinos, Mother and I drove out there to take some pictures, but there was some kind of dance or celebration going on and we couldn’t get in because … because we’re white. Anglo.”
“No.” He shook his head. “Not because you’re Anglo.”
“No! It was because you’re
Indi’n that you couldn’t come in. There’s a big difference.”
He turned and shuffled off again in the direction of
the Indian town, and Janet followed, exasperated. He had the most maddening way of stopping in what seemed like the middle of a discussion, stopping when he’d finished talking and not waiting to see what she had to say about it.
“You’re pretty,” he said suddenly over his shoulder without stopping or turning. “You know that?”
“I … I never really thought about it before.”
“That’s a lie.”
“Well—what did you expect me to say? That’s kind of a strange thing to say, isn’t it? Right out of the blue like that.”
“Don’t lie. You know you’re pretty, say it. You never have to lie.”
“All right! I’m pretty—I guess. There, are you satisfied?”
“Not for me,” he said, still over his shoulder while he walked. “For you. You got pretty hair. Long, straight.”
When he didn’t say anything further, Janet thought he expected an answer, and she fairly yelled at him.
I’ve got pretty hair. I comb it every morning. Yes, it’s pretty hair.”
“Pretty chin, too.”
I’ve got a pretty chin.…”
“No. Too square. Don’t lie. Think. Your chin isn’t pretty, just your hair.”
She wasn’t sure, but she thought she might have heard a faint chuckle before he resumed silence and
the quick little steps that took them on out of Tres Pinos on a narrow road lined with tall cottonwoods dropping fluff and coolness on them as they moved. When it seemed to Janet that she couldn’t go much farther, he stopped.
“See? Indi’n house, where I live.”
Janet pulled up and looked, and sure enough, they were at the entrance of the pueblo. The two miles had taken practically no time to cover, and she wasn’t even breathing hard—though she was perspiring heavily.
The pueblo was beautiful, ancient and beautiful sitting in the hot sun. It was made all of adobe construction, and the color was a subtle beige-red earth tone that was so natural and fine that it nearly took Janet’s breath away to see it. It was a series of small apartments, stacked three high, arranged in a U-shape with a wall across the open end of the U, all of adobe bricks and hand-plastered with adobe mud so that it almost looked sculpted, with no straight lines but gentle curves on every corner and around every door and window. In the courtyard formed by the closed-in U there were several large domed objects made of adobe with small openings in the side. These, she knew, were earthen ovens for baking bread—once she’d eaten some of the bread with her mother at a sale the Indian women had in town—but they looked more like giant beehives made of rich earth.
“It’s a good place.” Billy’s voice was straight and
level, smooth and low, and she turned and saw that he was smiling as he looked at the pueblo. “It’s a good place.”
She nodded. “It’s beautiful—old and beautiful.” She had read once that pueblos were the oldest continually lived-in structures in North America; some of them had been inhabited for thirteen hundred consecutive years—Indians living all those years in the same buildings, adding apartments as needed wherever the population expanded past the normal number of a thousand or so.
“It’s a fine place to live,” she agreed. “A great place …”
He shrugged suddenly, and she could sense the mood change in him, as though he’d been caught doing something private and didn’t want her to see it.
“You got a dollar?” He looked at her. “I’m hurtin’ for some wine.”
This time she shook her head. “No. No dollar. Not even at home.”
“So. Maybe so you go home to your home, and I’ll go into Indi’n home if you don’t got a dollar.” His voice had reverted to the chopped sound. “Maybe so you better leave now.”
And he turned and went into the pueblo and left her standing, not really believing that he’d done it to her, not wanting to believe it, until it was obvious that he wasn’t coming back out of the beautiful earthen structure and that he’d really just left her standing
alone two miles out of Tres Pinos on a dirt road and wasn’t going to invite her into the pueblo.
Then she swore once, viciously, using a word she’d heard Julio use one night when he’d screamed at the police as they drove by, and then she began the long walk back to her house and a cool bath to slow her anger.
It was the next morning, early, and Janet was just coming out of sleep with that warm, loose feeling. She hadn’t had the dream and was lazily wondering how to spend the day, because it was only one more week until school started and she didn’t want to waste the week.
There was sun outside, and warm morning smells in the house, and she was wrapping her mind around the idea of breakfast when her mother knocked gently and came into her room.
She was wearing her old tie-around housecoat and had one hand behind her back. She sat on the foot of the bed and looked at Janet.
“Is there some part of your life you’d like to tell me about, Janet?” Her voice was light, but her eyes were serious. “Something you think I might want to know?”
Janet sat up, stretched, yawned. “No. I can’t think of anything. Why?”
“Well, no real reason. I mean I don’t want you to
think I’m prying. But when I went out for the goat milk”—they had fresh goat milk delivered every morning—“I found this next to our gate.” She brought her hand from behind her back and placed an object on the bed next to Janet.
Out of the corner of her eye Janet caught the movement of hair and grayness, and she yelped and jumped. “What’s that?”
Her mother laughed. “Don’t worry, it’s not alive. It’s a kachina.…” She picked it off the bed where it had dropped and handed it to her daughter.
“A kachina?” Janet took the object and found it to be a doll, made of wood and clay with what looked like real black hair but was probably horsehair. It was a figure of an Indian dancing, crude but powerfully done, dressed in small bits of cloth and wearing real tiny leather moccasins. “A kachina?”
Her mother nodded. “A doll used in instructing Indian children in the ways of the god messengers. I read up on them before we moved to Tres Pinos. This is a rain messenger, or a doll showing how a man would costume himself to dance as a rain messenger to the gods asking for water for the corn crop.”
“People used to think the dolls were the god messengers, but they’re just tiny figures to teach the Indian children.” Her mother recited as though out of a textbook. “At last count there were over three hundred
different kachinas, with a doll for each one, each carrying a different message to the gods.”
“But why is there one on
gate?” Janet finally got through.
“Exactly. I was going to ask you that question.”
“Me? But I can’t think of anybody who would …” She let it fall off when she remembered Billy’s leaving her at the gate of the pueblo. “Unless it’s Billy—maybe he left it.”
“Billy? Who’s Billy—oh, that old drunken Indian?”
“Well. How about old alcoholic Indian—do you like that better?” Her eyebrows lifted. “And while we’re discussing it, you might tell me how it is that you’ve gotten involved with him?”
“It’s nothing. There’s just something about him, something about his shoulders or eyes or something. I don’t really know.” Janet studied the kachina, turned it over in her hands. The carving had been colored with earthen dyes and had the same naturally rich look with which the pueblo had shone when she’d seen it in the hot light with Billy before he’d left her at the gate.
On the leather breechclout there were painted a series of blue and white fluffy things she took to be clouds, and lightning bolts cut through the clouds.
“Well, it’s a nice gift, to be sure.” Her mother held her hand out and took it and restudied it. “It really is.” She left Janet’s room and put the small figure on
the dresser on the way out. “Odd thing to find on the gate when you go out for goat milk.…”
Janet hurried to finish dressing. When she’d climbed into jeans and a tank top and tennis shoes, she stopped for a quick glass of juice and a piece of toast and then went outside, where the sun was already heating the dust in the road. But look as she might, she couldn’t see Billy anywhere in the vicinity.
She hadn’t really expected to find him, wasn’t truly sure Billy had left the kachina—it might even have been Julio. He’d come to the gate, was hanging around more; maybe he’d left the doll for her. It would be strange, but not impossible.
Still, there was something about it all that made her think of Billy, and when she heard the
of her mother starting to sculpt stone, she decided to find Billy and tell him thanks for the doll. Her mother would be at it all day anyway—she was getting more and more into her work and away from everything else. Not that it was wrong, Janet thought, going through the gate and into the street, but it was oddly like living alone when you were with somebody like that. Twice she’d gone into the low room her mother used for a studio and talked to her while she was sculpting and was fairly certain her mother hadn’t heard a word—she’d just nodded, worked and nodded and ignored her. But in a nice way. And she wasn’t drinking or going to parties so much anymore either; nor was she having parties at home or entertaining the
phony artists and writers as much as she did when they first came to Tres Pinos. For that Janet was thankful.
She moved in the direction of town, not sure where to look but feeling it was the right way to go, and thought of her mother while she walked. A dog followed her, circled shyly when she turned and called to it, stayed an acceptable street distance from her but kept following, and Janet wondered if it was a stray and if she should keep it.
She’d worried right after the divorce. Her mother had become involved more with the phony side of living than the real; the “artists” she’d had to the house were talkers and not doers, and Janet had worried that her mother would get caught in the trap, just being social and not doing anything with her talent, not doing what she really wanted to do.
God, she thought, remembering when they’d first moved to the small mountain desert town, and all the so-called artists had started showing up for free meals and drinks—always drinks. Always. They were so … just
Like parasites of some kind they were, talking heavy art and getting drunk, and nobody was working or doing anything but eating and drinking and playing around. It was sickening to Janet, sickening and like a stupid game of some sort, with idiotic rules that only worked in the art colony and didn’t matter to the outside world.
And for a time, perhaps because she was reacting to the divorce, Janet’s mother had seemed to be falling into the trap like the rest of them. She seemed to be talking “artsy” in gushes and staying drunk and playing around and going to parties, to which she dragged Janet along and where Janet would have to stand and listen to half-sloshed artsy painters talk about her innocent beauty and charm.…
It could gag flies, she thought, turning once more to see if the dog would come to be petted. It came closer, but still maintained a safe distance, and Janet continued on into town.
But her mother had snapped out of it, had stayed out of the trap. One day she’d started sculpting, and when the phonies had come around, she’d just told them she was working and would call them when she was finished, and that naturally angered them so much they quit coming around.