Larose, p.24
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       LaRose, p.24
 

           Louise Erdrich

  Okay. That really isn’t true. I was, you know honey, I was frustrated.

  Grown-ups always say that when they lose their temper.

  Now you’re the expert on grown-ups.

  Maggie knew it was time to shift strategy.

  I can go there because of Mom. Descendancy status and everything. And, see, I wanna go to high school with Josette and Snow. Be on their team.

  But you hate sports.

  Not anymore. I like volleyball.

  That’s not a sport, really.

  Sometimes grown-ups didn’t get it. They remembered volleyball as a laid-back backyard barbecue pastime, or a gym requirement. They had no idea how fierce and cool the sport had become, how girls had taken it over. Maggie decided to change up on her dad again.

  I can’t see Emmaline really keeping LaRose all the time.

  Really?

  If he goes to their school that’s a difference. A compromise. And if that’s the deal, I shouldn’t be left out. I should be going there. He should have all his family in one school.

  There are tough kids at that school. Drinking. Drugs?

  Drugs are everyplace. Plus, remember? I’m an outcast. I’m severely hated.

  Now Peter laughed. Maggie couldn’t even pretend to pity herself. There wasn’t a whine in her. He was proud of her and she knew it.

  Awww, Dad, come on. Snow and Josette have traditional values and all that. They’re A students. They’ll have my back. Plus their big brother Hollis. And there’s Coochy, I mean Willard. We should all be together, Dad. It would really help LaRose.

  Peter kept wiping his hands. The cracks in his palm and the wrinkles in his knuckles absorbed the oil so his hands looked like ancient etchings of hands. His tired blue eyes rested sweetly on Maggie. He knew his daughter. He remembered the years of teacher conferences. The teachers were wrong. She was not disturbed. High-spirited. That was it. She was too high-spirited for their dull expectations of girls. So. Could things get any worse? Maybe she was right. Keeping LaRose was some kind of last-ditch test for Emmaline. Maybe allowing the kids from both families to go to one school would help Emmaline come out of it. Things would balance. Whatever happened, Snow and Josette had become like sisters to Maggie. They were half cousins. Cousins and sisters. It struck him that this was the first time since Dusty that Maggie had really wanted something, asked him to help her. So he said yes. And yes, he’d try with Nola.

  OLD RUMMY. HE’S giving out hints again. See?

  Father Travis watched the gray-skinned gray block of talking head. They were sitting out a morning of weird September heat at the Dead Custer.

  It’s not supposed to be this hot, Romeo complained.

  It is what it is, said Puffy.

  Romeo hissed in exasperation. Everyone was saying It is what it is as though this was a wise saying. They would say it with a simple hand lift. To get off the hook, they would say it. They would say it when too lazy to finish a job. Or often when watching the news.

  And it ain’t what it ain’t, said Romeo.

  Father Travis didn’t register this comment. He just sweated, stoic, with a jar of Puffy’s special iced tea. Last night he’d entered the whirling energy, the black aperture, silence. Before the screams, he was suddenly with Emmaline, naked, their bodies moving and planing, slick with sweat. Father Travis rolled the cold jar across his forehead.

  Romeo squinted at the TV, nodding.

  There’s that clue. Chemical weapons. They showed some diagrams. Fuzzy gray recon pictures shot off a satellite.

  They’re pulling together a case, he muttered.

  Father Travis cocked his head and looked sideways at the shapes pictured on the screen. On 9/11 he had watched the Towers dissolve and thought, They’ve learned. After that, over and over, he’d sifted down in his dreams with the others, his body flayed by the acceleration of the building’s mass. He watched the news, flipping channels. It was like the barracks bombing never happened. Nobody made the connection. What was the connection? It hurt to think. He felt himself disintegrating. One night that September, he had gone off the wagon. He drank the bottle of single malt scotch an old friend from the Marines had sent to him. He’d stayed in bed the next morning—sick for the first time in his history as a priest. It had felt like the thing to do.

  Hey Father, said Romeo. Can I ask you something?

  No.

  How come you quit trying to convert me?

  This was an opening for Father Travis to say something mildly insulting that they would pretend was a joke but know was true.

  I didn’t want to have to baptize you, said Father Travis.

  How come?

  I’d have to sponsor you. Promise to stand between you and the devil. But there is no space, nowhere to stand.

  Haha! Romeo preened in delight. No place to stand! Between me and the devil!

  This remark would make the rounds, Father Travis knew. Romeo would repeat it to everyone he saw in the hospital corridors. Knowing that, Father Travis usually gave more thought to what he said to Romeo. But right now he was having trouble. He couldn’t sit still, anywhere. He had to get out of the Dead Custer. He had to get out of every place. He had to get out of his skin.

  I have to go.

  Was it something I said? Romeo was joking. It was always something that he said. He caught the priest’s arm. Wait. What would you say to a kid joining the National Guards?

  Which kid? Father Travis managed to sit down.

  My kid, Hollis, the one Landreaux and Emmaline have, you know.

  I’d say he’ll learn a useful set of skills, get out of Dodge for a while . . .

  . . . what do you mean, out of Dodge?

  He’ll go to Camp Grafton, or Bismarck, Jamestown training sites, depending on what he wants to do.

  Not like a war then?

  Father Travis was surprised. His attention sharpened.

  I don’t think the Guard has ever been called up for a war. Although LBJ was within a heartbeat of doing it for Vietnam, right? But he instituted a draft. Tested the will of the people.

  Who said fuck you.

  Yes, and I’m sure the Pentagon learned from that, said Father Travis, thoughtful.

  If Bush threw the Guards in . . . Father Travis paused. He’d voted for this president because his father had been a decent and a prudent president. Bush Sr. had understood that getting out of a war was, like marriage, far more difficult than getting in.

  Romeo gulped down his healthful iced tea and Father Travis clapped him on the shoulder as he got up to leave.

  SMALL TOWNS AND reservations nearly always had a tae kwon do school, even if no Korean was ever there or even passed through. Great Grandmaster Moo Yong Yun of Fargo had planted the discipline throughout the tristate area. Father Travis had studied in Texas with Grandmaster Kyn Boong Yim. He’d earned his third degree black belt before seminary. A few years after settling into his job, with his teachers’ permission, he opened a dojo in the mission school gym. He had learned that he couldn’t stay sharp himself unless he taught. He had arrangements with several affluent schools that shipped outgrown uniforms and donated color belts. His classes took the place of the usual Saturday catechism classes. Now he just gave handouts on church doctrine. It was much more satisfying to teach combinations and run through drills, to yell numbers in Korean while fiercely punching air.

  During classes, Emmaline waited for LaRose in an orange chair with an hourglass coffee stain. She always brought work—kept a laptop open or worked through a stack of papers. Sometimes she put everything down, stared at the class, driftingly smiled, and then caught herself. After the class, Father Travis always found a few words to say about LaRose. He’s making progress, for instance.

  Emmaline tipped her head to the side, raised her eyebrow.

  He’s getting strong, said Father Travis.

  He’s okay, isn’t he?

  You did well.

  LaRose took her hand. Emmaline’s eyes were fixed on Father Travis.


  I kept him this time.

  Father Travis nodded and tried not to think of Nola just yet.

  Emmaline asked, unexpectedly, How are you?

  Priests don’t get that question, or not in the way she asked it. He raised his eyebrows. He laughed, weirdly bubbly, maybe in a frightening way.

  Don’t ask, he said, abrupt.

  Why not?

  Because.

  His heart jolted to life, ridiculously banging against his ribs. He put his hand on his chest to calm it down.

  Something’s bothering you, said Emmaline.

  No, I’m fine.

  Really? Because you look disturbed, said Emmaline. Excuse me.

  No, really. Sorry. I am fine.

  His ploy was feeble. He regretted it.

  Emmaline turned away. She and LaRose walked off holding hands. Her thoughts slowed. Why had she asked that question? Why had she turned away when he deflected it and gave a bullshit answer? It was exactly what priests were supposed to do. Keep their personalities subservient to their service. Endure whatever God gave them to endure without complaint. Was a priest ever not fine? Who could tell?

  Father Travis watched them go. He had studied his feelings regarding Emmaline. This wasn’t about his vows. It was about her family, her and Landreaux, the fact that he had counseled them, married them, baptized their children. They trusted him to be all things except, actually, human. Be all to all in order to save all.

  Thanks, St. Paul. Better to marry than to burn, and this burns. But she’s the only one I’d ever want and she’s already married. So take the heat! Just live with it, he told himself, you fool.

  She had asked him how he was, said that he looked disturbed. How pathetic that such an ordinary question and simple observation should make his heart skitter.

  Father Travis shut down the gym lights. It was his shift for the Adoration of the Holy Sacrament. He padlocked the door and walked over to the church, entering the side basement. He walked through the lightless dining hall toward the faint glow in the stairwell. Popeye Banks was nodding off in the pew, and startled when Father Travis jostled his shoulder. He stumbled out, yawning, put his hat on at the door, and called good-bye. Father Travis sat down on one of the comfortable memory-foam pillows he’d bought for the people who kept the Adoration going 24/7. Then the dim hush, the arched vault, the flickering bank of candles, and his thoughts. But first his hands, shaky. His chest was stopped up. His breath weak. He put his hand to his chest and closed his eyes.

  Open, he said.

  He always had trouble opening his heart. Tonight it was stuck again. It was a wooden chest secured by locked iron bands. An army duffel, rusted zipper. Kitchen cupboards glued shut. Tabernacle. Desk. Closet. He had to wedge apart doors, lift covers. He was always disappointed to find a drab or menacing interior. To make a welcoming place of his heart was mentally slippery work. Sometimes cleaning was involved, rearrangements. He had to dust. He had to throw out old junk to make room. It was all so tedious, but he worked at the project until he had the whole damned lot of Emmaline’s family in there and could slam it shut, exhausted, with Emmaline in the center and safe from him.

  Emmaline and LaRose got in the car and pulled out onto the road home. Kids always say what’s on their minds while you are driving.

  How come you changed my school?

  Do you like Mrs. Shell?

  Yeah, course, but how come I’m still with you?

  You mean not going back to Peter?

  And Nola, and Maggie. How come?

  Because. Emmaline said it carefully. Because I want to keep you with your family, with us now. I miss you too much. She glanced over quickly at LaRose.

  Your dad, your brothers and sister, they miss you too. They know I’m keeping you.

  He was staring out the windshield, his mouth slightly open, transfixed.

  Is that okay with you, my boy?

  He took a moment. He was thinking how to put this.

  You just pass me around, he said. I’m okay with it, but it gets old. Problem is, Nola, she’s gonna be too sad. It might be death if she gets too sad, Maggie told me. Plus Maggie and me, we’re like this. He put two fingers together, the way Josette did. We keep her mom going when she can’t get out of bed and stuff.

  Everything that LaRose said shocked Emmaline. He’s a little man, she thought. He’s grown up.

  So I gotta go back there, Mom. I like Mrs. Shell. She’s not picky. But I need to go back to Dusty’s family.

  You remember him, Dusty?

  He’s still my friend, Mom. I got his family on my hands, too. So can I go back?

  Really, my boy?

  She thought she’d better stop the car and throw up. Plus her head hurt suddenly because her boy remembered Dusty, spoke of him with such immediacy, felt this level of responsibility. It was too much to put on him, but there it was.

  Yeah, Mom, it’s too late to go back on your promise.

  She did pull over, but just put her face in her hands and was too overwhelmed to cry. Anyway, she never cried. That was Landreaux’s job. He cried for both of them. Emmaline tried to cry, tried to well up just to get some relief. But she was Emmaline.

  LaRose patted her arm, her neck.

  It’s okay, you’re gonna make it, he said. If you just get going you’ll feel better. One step after another. One day at a time.

  LaRose was used to mothers’ despair and these were the words that Peter used with Nola.

  LANDREAUX DROVE HIS son to the Ravich house. He could see that the change in routine had made LaRose anxious, and restoring the old order was the right thing. Still, Landreaux had trouble letting LaRose go. He hugged his son just before LaRose swung out of the car with his pack on his shoulder.

  It’s all good, Landreaux muttered.

  He was not all good, would never be; yet there were slender threads of okay.

  Landreaux watched LaRose run up the steps. Maggie was at the door jumping up and down. LaRose bounced straight in. Neither Maggie nor Nola had ever waved at or acknowledged Landreaux. It was necessary to be invisible to them, but not to his son. At the last moment LaRose stuck his head out the door and waved good-bye.

  The little things that get you. Choked-up smile from Landreaux.

  He will be okay, he muttered, pulling out and driving away. This was a phrase he repeated like a mantra when things were not okay. After a while it made him feel better and after a time it worked.

  MAGGIE HELD THE stack of new school notebooks in her lap. She was in the passenger’s seat. LaRose was in the backseat. Nola was driving them to school because they weren’t on the bus route. Last year they could have walked over to the Irons’ house, just over the reservation boundary, and taken the bus with them. But the bus no longer stopped there because Hollis drove. Maggie hoped that Hollis would get a bigger car so she and LaRose could ride along. She was tense. Sitting beside her mother going sixty-five miles per hour, she tried not to hyperventilate. Maggie held her breath every time a car swished by in the other lane. Let it out when the danger was over. She had developed propulsive convictions since finding her mother in the barn—like if she held her breath when cars came, her mother would not swerve and kill them all. Or if Maggie held her breath even longer, Nola might swerve but she and LaRose would miraculously survive the crash. Right now, with all the school supplies in the car, and her mother so pleased about having bought new fine-point markers, packages of notebook paper, labels, even a magnetic mirror for the inside of her locker door, Maggie felt the danger of a murder-suicide was pretty low, still she held her breath.

  Maggie was dizzy by the time they stopped at the school entry. The doors swished open, the kids were talking. LaRose went one way, she went another. Josette and Snow had flipped a coin to see who got to be her First Day Mentor. Only kids with a top average could get that honor. You got an automatic late pass to your own classes, because you showed the new student around, went to each class to make sure they found the room.

  Snow had won
. She was standing tall and serene in the entry, wearing a hot-pink tank top layered over a slinky purple T-shirt, waiting with a class schedule and a lock for Maggie’s locker.

  Don’t sweat it, she said. Maggie thought she might look nervous, so she tossed her head and grinned.

  Hey, Cheeks, said Snow to a stagey-looking boy with earrings and tattoos, meet my little sis.

  Hey, Sean, said Snow to a boy with floppy pants, sagging jacket, and wildly inappropriate Hooters T-shirt, meet my sis. Sean, you’re gonna get kicked out for that T-shirt.

  I know, said Sean.

  Hey, Waylon, said Snow to a scary massive dude with heavy eyebrows, plush lips, football linebacker vibe, meet my little sis. You guys are in the same class.

  He put out his hand to shake, formal.

  Ever so pleased, he said.

  A girl behind him laughed. Get away from her, Waylon! She was tall like Snow, her eyelids hot blue, hair to her waist, balloony blouse, tight jeans.

  This is Diamond. The three girls walked to Maggie’s first class. It was Physical Science taught by Mr. Hossel, a painfully thin young man with scarred red hands.

  We think maybe he blew himself up, whispered Diamond, in a chemistry accident. Nobody knows.

  He’s enigmatic, said Snow.

  They left Maggie alone; she went in and sat down. Eyes rested on Maggie, she could feel them, and it felt wonderful. Nobody knew her. Nobody hated her yet. Light, she felt light. Shed of an insufferable responsibility. Nola off her hands for the whole day. Nothing she could do. No way to stop her mother. No way to know. And LaRose safe also in his own classroom so he wouldn’t find Nola dead and be scarred for life. Maggie smiled when she told her name to the class and smiled when they muttered. It wasn’t a mean mutter, just an information-exchange mutter. She smiled when the teacher introduced himself to her and smiled when the class shifted their feet. She smiled down at her new notebook as he went over the day’s assignment and reminded them that his rules included no makeup application during class. Two girls lowered their mascara wands. Maggie dreamily smiled at Mr. Hossel as he told her what she needed to bring to class. Startled, he caught her smile, and thought she might be a little odd, or high. But the class began to murmur, so he went on trying to interest them in the laws of motion.

 
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