Aaron Hellem  

issue thirteen
art gallery
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(1160 words)
[Updated monthly on the full moon]
       I come from Royal Indian blood! I announce, too loudly, in the two o'clock quiet of the Rumba Hut, the sun streaked along the dusty tabletops, a tall glass of cold Whatever fresh in front of me. I'm a man of good stock! I proclaim. Proclamations appropriate to battle the afternoon quiet, the no-where-to-goes, the no-one-to-calls. I count the coup of my enemies! I don't recognize your treaties!

Sit down, the bartender says. He hides behind a thick beard, dark sunglasses, and multi-colored tattoos he wears up his arms like sleeves. He can pick me up with one arm, use my head to clean his teeth. I realize I'm standing on the stool.

Davey, I tell him, this fucking sun is driving me nuts.

Sit down, Davey says.

I do. My freshly filled Whatever has lots of lime in it. It makes me crave, however, the saddle, on the back of a horse, a bow and arrow, the wind in front of me, my enemies sleeping, snoring, grab-assing - not ready for me. Expect them to charge at any moment, Custer said, and you'll never be surprised. Well, Georgie Porgie, surprise, you sorry turd. Surprise, surprise, surprise, it's not your birthday and no one will remember you.

Davey, I didn't sign no fucking treaty, I say. Pale face, your treaties mean nothing to me. I want back my buffalo.

As long as you're sitting on your stool, I don't give two shits, Davey says. His life has been a long line of mixed drinks and talking assholes like me down from their stools. He is tired. Very tired.

OK, Pale Face, I say, today we choose life. I pull the straw out of my tall Whatever and hurl it, spear-like, into the trashcan. I want to whoop, but I'm afraid Davey will then ask me to leave, and even though the Rumba Hut is a defeated place to announce proclamations at two o'clock in the afternoon, leaving it would be worse. The sun out there is waiting to kill me. Somewhere in the tall grass my grave is already dug four feet wide, six feet deep. Waiting. Oh, Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly. It is a white man's way to take away your whoop, and serve you Green Whatevers instead. There is a green line I'll cross into forgetting. Forgotten.

When the construction workers come in at quarter to four, they stink the place up with their stale smoke and their asphalt, mixed with the stench of last night's bar offerings leaking out their skin. They are all hair and curse words. Dirty innuendoes and fingernails. One of the older, hairier ones has his right hand wrapped in thick bandage.

Dangerous day? I say to him, nodding at his thick hand.

Last night, he says, but I don't understand. You should see the other guy, he says, and winks at me. Is it a threat? A homo come-on? Both?

All right, I tell him, putting my hands up to show him I meant nothing by it.

The others laugh with him. Smelly white men open-mouthed laughter. They feed on beer bottles. They've brought with them a ruckus. I stay out of the way. It's not that I don't admire what they do with their hands, but I think building something tall doesn't give you the right to not care whose toes you step on, whose peace and quiet you disrupt.

Isn't there something you can do about them, Davey? I say, and Davey says, I'm doing it, as he pops off the tops of a long line of beer bottles.

I taste their sweat in my tall Whatever. I can't finish this, I say to Davey, pushing it towards him.

He shrugs.

It stinks, I tell him.

       Outside, the sun shines strong in high-noon fashion at supper time. There are few of us on the streets, without horse, house, or home. Shadows are still squat under our feet. Lannie leans against the barber pole. She's made of real Indian blood, two parts Blackfoot, two parts Irish. Black eyes and red hair. Darker skin, heavier hips. In a summer dress, she's a blender. Watches my hands from behind her aviator glasses. She belongs to no time, her self has no age. She is only as old as her tongue.

I don't want to go back home, I tell her. It feels like I should kneel as I speak, but the pavement's too hot for supplication.

You can come back home with me, she says.

Business not so good right now? I ask her.

Everyone's home with their families, she says. Besides, summers are for fishing and Florida. They'll be back the first snowfall, running with their flies open.

The sidewalks are empty and I don't want to go home. I don't want to go home.

Are you hungry?

I don't have the money.

You can pay me later. She holds out a hand and I take it. Her skin smooth as stones worn by a river.

       Her small house is clean as a church. Magazines stacked, fanned, like they do at the dentist's. The carpet still patterned from vacuuming. There are children, two little girls, who I see standing in a doorway with wide, curious eyes.

Supper's on the stove, Lannie says. Girls, say hello.

The two little girls wave, fluttering only their fingers. I will die if I don't win their hearts. I wave back the same finger flutter.

Make yourself at home, Lannie says.

The living room is truly a place where lives are lived. I sit on the couch, the edge of the cushion as though I've come calling as a caller. Then I lean back. There's plenty of room, I say to the girls and pat the cushions next to me. Lannie tends to dinner, serves beef stew in chipped bowls. Once she has hers and is seated, we bow our heads and one of the little girls says grace.

Give us today our daily bread, she says. Her words sweet and slightly lispy. I want to protect her from all the hurt and heartbreak awaiting.

Amen, I say.

The beef stew tastes sweeter than any huckleberry pie I've ever had. I make myself eat it slow. Isn't this nice? I keep saying.

The girls nod their small pony-tailed heads.

Lannie pops on the television. Contestants spin a wheel, and the two girls clap each time. When supper's done, the two girls curl up on my lap. Lannie shuts off the lights and lays down on the other end of the sofa. She gives me her feet and I rub the soles of them. The television asks trivia questions we'll never be able to answer, but we smile anyway when someone gets them right. There's the warm smell of leftover beef stew, Lannie's feet, the girls' greasy hair. The smell of family. Home. Sunset. I'll never make enough money the rest of my entire life to pay for this.


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This work is copyrighted by the author, Aaron Hellem. All rights reserved.