Larose, p.11
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       LaRose, p.11
 

           Louise Erdrich

  I think it was his favorite, said LaRose. Because she reads it to me all the time.

  Snow and Josette put their hands over their hearts and mouthed the words for sad, for sweet. They each took LaRose by a hand and kept walking.

  I am so over that book, LaRose said loudly.

  The girls batted their eyes at each other to keep their laughs inside.

  Maybe you should leave that book for him, said Snow.

  Put it with his stuffed monkey and stuff.

  I can’t, said LaRose. She would search.

  Well, said Josette, okay, but she wouldn’t find it. So she’d give up, right?

  No, said LaRose. She would never give up. She might go out to the barn and scream like a banshee.

  Ooo, said Snow. What’s a banshee?

  It’s a boney old woman with long teeth that crawls around graves and screams when someone dies.

  Holeee, said Josette.

  Creep me out! said Snow. Where’d you get that?

  Maggie told me. She’s got a collection of pictures from books and things that she keeps underneath her bed. All scary.

  She keeps scary junk underneath her bed?

  Josette and Snow looked at each other.

  Whoa, for badass.

  Where’s she get that crazy shit?

  Don’t say that to LaRose.

  She rips pages out of library books at school, said LaRose.

  Little man, said Josette. Don’t let her bother you.

  I’m used to her, said LaRose. I’m used to everything now.

  The girls just held his hands and didn’t talk after that.

  Before they took LaRose to the Ravich house last fall, Landreaux and Emmaline had spoken his name. It was the name given to each LaRose. Mirage. Ombanitemagad. The original name of Mink’s daughter. That name would protect him from the unknown, from what had been let loose with the accident. Sometimes energy of this nature, chaos, ill luck, goes out in the world and begets and begets. Bad luck rarely stops with one occurrence. All Indians know that. To stop it quickly takes great effort, which is why LaRose was sent.

  EMMALINE PEACE. A+ English student. Thought she’d like to teach literature. Got her teacher’s certificate, taught high school, and only got high on weekends. She decided she was better with little kids than teenagers because the teenagers were too much like her, and she was right. Any authority she had literally went up in smoke the night she was enjoying skunky fine weed at a party and a couple of her students entered the room.

  After the momentously drunk days with Landreaux, she received an offer. Funding for a degree in administration because the tribe was taking control of the school system from the top down. Emmaline went back to graduate school, grew up. Returning with her expedited degree, she got excited about a newly funded pilot program—an on-reservation boarding school for crisis kids.

  People didn’t want to think about boarding schools—the era of forced assimilation was supposed to be over. But then again, kids from chaotic families didn’t get to school, or get sleep, or real food, or homework help. And they’d never get out of the chaos—whatever brand of chaos, from addictions to depression to failing health—unless they got to school. To succeed in school, kids had to attend regularly, eat regularly, sleep regularly, and study regularly. Maybe the boarding schools of the earliest days had stripped away culture from the vulnerable, had left adults with little understanding of how to give love or parent, but what now? Kids needed some intervention, but not the wrenching away of foster families and outside adoptions. A crisis intervention, giving parents time to get on track. The radical part was that, unlike historical boarding schools, this one would be located on the reservation. Pre-K through grade 4. After that, kids could board but go to regular school. This new/old sort of boarding school, equipped to pick up the parenting roles for families that went through cycles of failure and recovery, became Emmaline’s mission.

  Two double-wide trailers for classrooms. Renovated BIA family group housing with houseparents, teachers, teacher’s aides, all supposedly trained in child psychology or working on their own teaching licenses. At first she was the assistant director, which meant she helped collect data, strategize, order supplies, lead meetings, organize funding, construct endless progress reports, plans, plus a host of functions that weren’t in her job description. Heartbreak mitigation. That was not described. Her heartbreak. Kids’ heartbreak. Parents’ heartbreak. Also: mop puke, replace paper towels, lock and unlock doors, rock sobbing hurt little boys until their fury slept, play Crazy Eights with little girls while they told how their mom had stabbed their dad, or vice versa, make muffins with the moms who were getting straight, raise hell with the moms who weren’t. She didn’t deal with the dads. Left that to the director. Then she became the director.

  She tried not to bring the day home, but it did come. In her zeal for stability and calm, it came home. In her need for dependable household structure, it came home. In her frequent failure to hold structure, her episodes of neatness and relapse, her struggle to find balance, it came home. In her need for privacy, when she made her own sweat lodge and just sat inside, steaming the sorrow out, it came home. In her coping strategies—smudge the dysfunction off with burning sage, surround the bed with eagle feathers, drink, once a week, two glasses of the best wine she could afford, alone—it came home. In her attempts to rebuild what she had so carefully constructed before—the Irons as a strong family, as good people—it came home. She had understood that the only way was through LaRose, but she could not bear it.

  Now, knowing that she’d see him, that again there was a place for her as a mother, she swept through her days in an excited bubbling way nobody ever saw with her. Her jerky, angular movements eased into grace. Her eyes rested on her paperwork without comprehension or worry. Even the ends of her hair hung slack, relaxed, not skinned back into a tail or poked up in a beaded clip.

  Emmaline left her back-of-the-trailer office and drove home carefully. She hadn’t picked LaRose up from Nola because Peter had asked Landreaux not to send her, or for him to go either. He knew Nola would have a hard time with either parent. Peter had heart pangs when he remembered how LaRose had run to his mother at the grocery, electrified by the sight of her, dropping everything to gallop at her headlong. That’s why the sisters or the brothers were dispatched. Now Josette and Snow were in their room, door locked, checking each other for ticks. Snow continually whimpered and sometimes danced around screaming. On the living room floor, LaRose was wrestling with Hollis. He had him down and was holding his fist in Hollis’s face demanding he give up.

  Hollis beat his arm on the floor.

  He’s got you by the balls, said Coochy, sitting back on the couch. He was eating a cold piece of bannock.

  Don’t say that to him!

  Wanna take me on? said LaRose, swaggering.

  Hollis was laughing. He destroyed my ass.

  Don’t say that to him, Josette said, coming out of the bedroom.

  How many?

  Like, twenty. She freaked. She’ll be taking one of her forever showers now.

  Emmaline drove up and LaRose heard her car. He slammed out of the house and ran across the cindery yard. Emmaline got out just in time to catch LaRose as he jumped into her arms. He was still small enough to ride her hips, her arms hugging his waist. He molded to her, then leaned back and told her all about the secret fort in the lilac bush, a new action figure, the church preschool where Nola took him. But not Maggie. He didn’t talk about Maggie. He felt in some vague way that he should not have told his sisters about the banshee. There was always something like that, something not okay, and he always tried to avoid it. But sometimes he wouldn’t know what it was until he said it, like with the long-toothed boney thing that screamed for the dead. Other things that Maggie told him in their lilac-bush hideout he knew right away not to tell because she said so. She said: Never tell I told you this—your dad was really aiming for my little brother, your dad’s a killer, your dad murder
ed my little brother, I’ll show you the place, my brother’s blood soaked into the ground, the worms came up, the buzzards landed, you could go crazy if you stood there, at night his ghost would choke you, nothing grows there now or will ever grow there, though just that afternoon LaRose had seen to his relief that things were growing all over.

  BIINDIGEG!

  Here’s my boy!

  The apartment was filled with the friends of Mrs. Peace, all excited to see LaRose. He was a favorite.

  Here’s the boy who likes us, said Sam Eagleboy. The boy who wants the stories. You raised this boy good, Emmaline.

  Sam was a thin man with beautiful upswept lines around his eyes and mouth, as if he was smiling even when he was serious. There was nothing wrong with him except he was old. He wore a brown checkered shirt, neatly tucked. An agate bolo tie, jeans held up by a belt of cracked amber leather. On his slim feet, running shoes. Sam put in miles walking the halls and grounds. Malvern Sangrait, a mean little washtub of a woman, glowered from her permanently squinted left eye and gave a suspicious little huff. She leaned forward on her walker. She was wearing eyeliner and Meow Girl red lipstick.

  So you got your boy back, she said to Emmaline. Her hair was pulled to one side with a purple plastic barrette. He’s skinny, ooh. They didn’t feed him good.

  He’s just growing, said Emmaline. And she smiled. She was smiling all the time.

  Mrs. Peace passed around paper plates and napkins, then frybread and chokecherry jelly. There was coffee. Powdered orange drink for LaRose. Everybody ate except Sam Eagleboy, who did not eat the whiteman’s food. Though he did drink coffee.

  You could use some whiteman food, said Malvern. You’re all boney.

  Boney where it counts, said Ignatia Thunder, who wheeled an oxygen tank nonchalantly around with her. She laughed so hard she had to dial up her nozzle.

  So they say, said Malvern. I ain’t seen it.

  Her face was sly.

  Yet, said Ignatia. Turn on your bedside lamp. You never know.

  Hey, said Emmaline. She nicked her head at LaRose.

  Malvern touched her barrette and twitched her pouting red lips from side to side, glancing at Ignatia. She raised her thatchy gray eyebrows. They didn’t match her blue-black hair. She ate some bread in tiny bites, drank some coffee. Sam spoke to LaRose in Ojibwe. He was teaching him words for the plates and dishes. He told how to make a spirit dish and how the spirits appreciated when a person noticed them. How the spirits were there in things, all things, and would talk with the Ojibwe. How they came in dreams, and also in the ordinary world, and how LaRose should tell his mom when he encountered them. He pursed his lips toward Emmaline.

  Malvern jutted her lower lip out and stared at Sam, then shook her head and popped her eyes at Ignatia.

  Oh, he talks a good one, she said, sure enough. Then he goes on his night prowls. Tapping on the ladies’ doors.

  Let him be, laughed Ignatia. He can’t do no harm where we can watch him. Let him talk to this here gwiiwisens. This boy should get teachings. He wants to learn. He wants the story. Besides that, we know Sam’s only got an eye for you.

  Pah, said Malvern. You think?

  FATHER TRAVIS COULD not exhaust himself, although he drove his body with unrelenting ardor along the outdoor fitness trail. The push-up station, poles bolted between the short logs, was unsatisfactory. He’d left the popple bark on the poles because it helped him grip. That wasn’t it. The irritating fact was the ground was uneven or the pieces of log weren’t exactly the same size—though he’d carefully measured. It was impossible to do a push-up correctly. He finally compromised by switching sides twice to work both arms the same. The instructions he’d lettered neatly on a board gave no hint of this solution.

  He jogged the short distance to the next station, and had done two hundred sit-ups on the heavy rubber mat when he noticed that he was surrounded by used condoms. They drooped among the leaves and lay shriveling into the weeds or mowed to shreds. Kids. They’d gum up the mowing machine! He did a hundred more sit-ups, fed by outrage, and when he calmed down felt ridiculous. No, condoms wouldn’t gum up a lawn mower. He proceeded to the chin-up bar. After the chin-up bar there was the step-up, which he did until his legs wobbled. He didn’t just stagger on, though, but did lunges until the madness of the jump-rope spot. He’d brought his rope so he could whirl in place, switching up, backwards, forward, until his lungs burned and then burned some more. How nice if he could sink an old-fashioned well pump right here! The sulphur-laden rez water containing all the minerals and iron a body needs. That water would be cold, and he’d find it sweet.

  He loved it here. He loved his people. They were his people, weren’t they? They drove him nuts, but he was inspired by their generosity. And they laughed so much. He hadn’t known funny before. So with or without his savior, or his sanity, he wanted to stay. He had made another sit-up station, for reverse sit-ups, again with a decomposing rubber mat, but not decorated by a single condom. Well, it was too far into the bush. After the horror movies these kids watched they were all scared of the woods—Indians. Millennial Indians. Nobody had vandalized his outdoor heavy bag ’cause that was too far into the woods as well. He beat the wood ticks off the bag with a host of vicious side kicks. It had taken a world of groin pain to free that adhered scar tissue. But he could now lift his leg as high as his brain. Haha, God, he said when he walked with God. You saved me for a reason—so that I could develop my crazy showgirl kick.

  Sometimes he didn’t feel the shift occur; he was just back there sliding from his sleeping bag, then flying. The sentries guarding the former office building where the Marines were barracked had been expecting a water truck. Instead a yellow Mercedes stake-bed truck sped straight past and the bomb it carried detonated in the lobby. The building went up into the air in pieces and then the pieces, with Marines in them, rearranged as they came down. Father Travis felt the dream flying, the down slamming, but not the slashing and tearing of his body. The black whirling energy became black crushing silence. Then the screaming started. It wasn’t until he tried to get to the others that he realized he couldn’t move. That’s when he started screaming too, not for help, but Get off me, because he understood that he was the meat in a steel and concrete sandwich and could feel the rubble shifting. Dust in. Dust out. Scream the dust out. Take a breath of dust. Scream again. Then voices. We got one. Get off that slab. He’s in there. We need a crane.

  A skinny, shirtless, tattooed Marine slipped in next to Travis and then somehow he lifted things—the beam—and pushed—the slab—and bore him out to other arms. Father Travis knew exactly who that man was. He’d spoken to him on the phone. Vast strength had entered the slim man as he was rescuing his friends, the way it did with mothers rescuing their babies. They’d talked about that. They kept in touch, but he didn’t get together with the other guys and the families of the dead. He didn’t go to Camp Lejeune or the memorial reunions. He feared the black energy and how he could not control his breathing once the shift occurred.

  Father Travis switched the jump rope along his thighs, then started it whirling. He was living out Newton’s Third Law—for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Time was the variable. Getting blown up happened in an instant; getting put together took the rest of your life. Or was it the other way around? He thought of Emmaline.

  THE GREEN CHAIR had rested in the barn for two months and nobody noticed that it was gone from the kitchen. Nola was ready to say that she was going to restore it, if Peter asked. But it was just a green wooden chair, and who cared? Yet this painted chair was key. It would be the last solid thing her feet touched. She’d push off and kick the backrest down. But the part where she strangled, not good, she was not ready, she was afraid of that when she put her hands around her neck and squeezed. The feeling made her gag and she went wooden and cold until she thought maybe she would get the release she needed if she killed Landreaux instead of herself. Sure, she might go to jail. Maybe for a long tim
e even. She’d plead guilty, but who would not understand? Even Maggie would understand, perhaps even approve. Peter would understand—part of him would envy her, in fact. Only LaRose wouldn’t get it. He’d lose out. She saw his face, devastated, crumpling, pasted over Dusty’s face, devastated, crumpling.

  Boxed in, she thought.

  Then she had another thought—their tradition worked. Dazzling act. How could she or Peter harm the father of the son they’d been given? She closed her eyes and felt the heavy warmth of LaRose as she rocked him to sleep, legs dangling over her legs, breath steaming a passage to the crater of her heart.

  ROMEO HELD ON to his first love, but generally did not like women, especially when they got older and turned into scabby vultures. They could tear a man to pieces with their biting talk. Always, he tried to placate them. Always, he tried to bring them gifts. In his work, Romeo often came across pockets of reservation conference swag—extra T-shirts, mouse pads, soft-foam-grip hand exercisers, mini-flashlights, pens and pencils, water bottles, even pristine fleece throws embossed with acronyms and symbols. His special stash of these objects was contained in his giant wheelchair-accessible bathroom.

  He had been sunk in dire depression since Super Tuesday. George Bush had nailed the door shut on his man. McCain was out. Romeo had bad feelings about the race now. At the last AA meeting he’d confided to the group that Bush reminded him of all the things he hated worst about himself: weasel eyes, greed, self-pity, fake machismo. In this nation of self-haters, Bush could win. Everyone looked blank except Father Travis, who’d hung his arm for half a second around Romeo’s shoulders, bro-like, afterward. Romeo was moved. The priest was not a hugger. Still, he walked away and decided to put into action a plan for getting regularly wasted until the election was over.

  Today he picked out several gift ideas from a large black garbage bag he’d cleaned up with after a tribal college conference. There were the flexy-turtle hand exercisers—but those ladies’ claws were strong enough already, he decided. He threw back some bookmarks, gimme hats, cheap eco bags already fraying apart. The leftover T-shirts were always small and he had XL ladies to appease. Except for dear old Mrs. Peace. She was better than the others, tiny, not so mean. He took one small 5K Diabetes Walk T-shirt, yellow, for her. He found a couple of fleece throws. He examined, but rejected, frog-shaped zipper pulls. Nobody wanted them because they looked too real. He rolled up a fleece throw and left for the lodge.

 
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