The Name Means Thunder

I am no longer blind, but there was a time many years ago when I lost my vision. Next week I’ll see the eye doctor for my cataracts, and he’ll ask if my eyes were ever damaged. I don’t know how these things work, but should I go in for surgery—should it come to that—I feel that withholding any medical information, any important details, might lead the doctor’s sharp tool in the wrong direction. 

I want to get the story right for my sake, so I think it should begin here: I was ten, and I sat in a hard chair, pushed in close to a desk too high for me. Every so often Jane, the principal’s secretary at the rez school, got up from her big brown desk and walked over, looked at how little I had completed of the map test on the solar system, and said, “You know that planet, right?” She smelled like cinnamon, the flavor of the Nicorette gum she chewed. “It rhymes with birth.” 

I knew where the Sun was, obviously, and I knew only the location of two planets orbiting it: Pluto—which was way, way out there on the perimeter—and Earth. Today, I could still probably locate only those two, but then again it’s been fifty-some years since Pluto was demoted—cast out from the solar system—and so it no longer matters. But in that chair back then I couldn’t write the answer—any answer—because looking on that white paper with different-size circles, I looked at Earth and wondered how my sister Paige was getting on with giving birth. 

Mom was there with her, and so too was Frick, Mom’s boyfriend, who was a medicine man and drummed and sang to welcome the child. (He ’d either taken the day off from working maintenance or this was around the time he had stopped showing up.) If I recall correctly, even Paige’s caseworker, Marla, was there, or at least she was at some point, because Mom would tell time and time again how at first she thought Marla was a nice woman but that she was wrong. (When I was older, I ’d tell Mom that Marla was just doing her job, which, of course, my mother disagreed with.) I wanted to be at the hospital with them all, but I had a coughing fit that morning—I swallowed water down the wrong hole was all—and Mom instantly thought I was sick and would get the child sick. So I had to go to school. 

Jane smacked her gum. “David,” she said. “Birth. It rhymes with birth.” 

“Earth,” I told her. 

“Very good,” she said. “Write it down.” 

She returned to her desk behind me and I wrote “home” below the planet, which was right but also wrong, the type of answer a cool teacher might give half points for and write “clever” next to. But those cool teachers did that only for the students who knew all the answers, the students who did all their work, the students who never had caseworkers and went to school each and every day. 

That day—it was the start of September, a gray and cloudy afternoon—Frick picked me up from detention. Or maybe it wasn’t detention. I don’t know. Detention came about with your name on the chalkboard as well as a checkmark next to it, both of which I never received. I was good, well-behaved. I had trouble with exams, with studying, with getting work done in school or at home, so oftentimes at the end of each day, when the long dull bell ended yet echoed in the ear, the science teacher—she had the biggest hips I ever saw—would wave me over and tell me she had extra work for me. I ’d sit in the front office listening to Jane type away for an hour while I completed an assignment or two and ate animal crackers and drank water from waxy cups. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t enjoy it. 

Frick’s truck rumbled in place in the parking lot, the exhaust pipe blowing fumes into the air. The door was locked and Frick had to reach over and unlock it. I climbed in, and as I did he took my backpack and set it in the small space behind the gray seats. 

“Is the baby home?” I asked. 

Frick put the truck in drive and pulled out of the parking lot. “No,” he said. “He’s sick.” 

And the child remained sick for some days. Each day I sat through detention unable to finish a test, constantly wondering if the child would be home when Frick picked me up. He was brought home eventually, of course, to our little yellow house. Years later, when I would visit Mom on Sundays at the elder apartments on the reservation, she would tell me—in this low, gentle voice she found in old age—that the boy suffered terrible seizures from methadone withdrawal, a revelation that explained his horrible screeching wails. At the time, I thought his cries were because Paige refused to hold him—she was depressed, quiet, always on the couch with her arms crossed and a cigarette smoldering in the ashtray. But, no—the boy’s pain was from withdrawal from the methadone his mother had taken to fend off the desire to wash down those blue pills with drink, the desire to numb the memory of that terrible touch of a man’s hands on her body on this planet I could not name. It’s funny that at the time I knew all of that—that she was on methadone because of her using, which was because of that man who ran back to the Mohawk rez (Frick chased him)—but I didn’t know, or couldn’t conceptualize, how dependency transitioned from one body to the other, how all those actions had consequences. 

When the boy came home, Mom cared for him the most since Paige couldn’t. Mom would wrap him in a small, white, soft blanket that the nuns had given us—along with diapers and spare towels and vouchers for the grocery store, all of which were delivered to us in an ash basket the boy slept in, the only other place besides my mother’s arms where he tended to be quiet. Mom would rock and hum to him as they sat on the couch with the tv turned low and Frick in the kitchen, holding and flicking an unlit smoke. And that is where we were—Mom and the boy on the couch, me on the floor watching tv, Paige sleeping in her room, and Frick pretending to smoke at the kitchen table—when the first of many calls came from the hospital demanding the child’s name. 

Paige refused to name him, and the only reason we were able to take him home without a name was because Frick had lied to the doctor, had told
him there needed to be a naming ceremony to take place on sacred ground. Maybe it wasn’t a lie, but I remember no such ceremony taking place, and I remember one night Frick laughing about it on the phone with his brother who lived out West. Nonetheless, perhaps to avoid a lawsuit or to fulfill a commitment to cultural sensitivity, the doctor agreed to let the boy go home after his stint in the ICU and his doses of phenobarbital (which he still took in the mornings). But as the days passed with no name given, the hospital began to call and call. “Next week,” Mom would say. “We have to wait a week for the ceremony.” Mom paused, listening. “Because,” she said. “It has to do with the position of the planets.” 

When she hung up, I asked her if she knew where Neptune was. 

“At the bottom of the ocean,” she said. 

The days passed, and with each call the hospital grew more impatient. “He needs a name,” they said, “or we’ll name him. You can change the name when you have one.” I’m curious now to know what they would have named him; Google says that a hospital will enter “Baby boy” or “Baby X” on the birth certificate. All I know is that they didn’t name the child, but they kept calling us every day at around the same time—four in the afternoon. We knew when to expect the call, and Mom would take the boy, bundle him up (the nights were getting colder), and Frick and I would follow her outdoors where we ’d sit on the concrete steps and for an hour get fresh fall air. 

It was one of those days outside when we gave him a name, or we called him something. Frick came up with it. A small rainstorm blew through and we waited it out in the shed—Mom and the baby, Frick and me. For not very long it down-poured and the green leaves flipped over and shivered their white pale green undersides while the sky lit with sharp white light and the ground below us rumbled. Yet during it all the boy did not cry. The storm was ending, the rain pattering gentler and gentler on the shed roof; Frick took one more puff of his smoke, then held it out the open shed door under some dripping water where it hissed out and he flicked it to the earth. 

“Bedogi,” he said, blowing smoke. The name means Thunder in Panawahpskek, and so that was the name we gave him, or the name we thought we ’d use until Paige emerged from that dark place and was ready or willing. 

I didn’t hold Bedogi too often. I usually held him when Mom and Frick and I were outside on those steps, avoiding the hospital calls. Mom would hand him to me so she could have a smoke in the shed, and Frick always followed her. With Bedogi born, Mom was different. She didn’t smoke in the house, and she stopped drinking and began to sip tea. Frick too, but only because Mom told him to or he ’d have to leave, and the only place he had to go was his unfinished camp some miles north off the reservation. 

When I held the boy I whispered to him, gave him hope about his mother. “She’ll get better,” I said to him on the steps. I remember the first time I told him that. How could I not remember? It was a cool night in late September, going on nine pm, and I held him while Mom and Frick were in the shed, arguing about something. (It was Frick wanting to go out, to drink, but she kept telling him he didn’t need it.) As I told the boy his mother would get better, Mom came out of the shed and asked what I had said. I told her what I said, thinking I had said something wrong, and Mom took Bedogi from me and said the same exact thing. 

“She’ll get better is right. Come on, David, let’s go inside.” 

Here is what happened. We all went indoors, and the kitchen lights were bright and I squinted. Bedogi had fallen asleep in Mom’s arms and still
slept when Mom called for Paige. He stayed sleeping when Paige didn’t respond, when Mom called her name again, louder. The third time Mom yelled for Paige, Bedogi woke and gurgled out a thick yelp. 

“David,” Mom said. “Go wake your sister.” 

Paige wasn’t there—not even an outline of a body pressed into the tightly made bed. 

“She’s gone,” I said to Mom. I stood in the hallway, like I was going to go back and check her room one more time as if my eyes had missed her.

“What do you mean she’s gone?” Mom said. She yelled Paige’s name once more, and Bedogi let out a loud shriek. 

“Shh, shh,” Mom said. 

Mom got up from the couch. I moved out of her way as she came down the hall to Paige’s room and peered into the darkness. She said Paige’s name again. 

But Paige was gone. Her bedroom window was closed, but the screen was popped out and lying on the front lawn. 

Frick went and got it, but Mom told him not to put it back in, that Paige might come back later and she wouldn’t be getting in through the locked doors. “How dare she?” Mom said. “How dare she?”

“Do you want me to look for her?” Frick said. He tucked the window screen into Paige’s closet. “Drive around?” 

“No,” Mom said. 

Bedogi cried for an hour or so. Mom tried her best to soothe him—she rocked him and hummed louder and louder until he heard it over his screams and quieted. Soon, his breathing slowed, and he fell asleep. It was then, when I think Bedogi was dreaming a dream he ’d never remember, that Mom went to put him to bed, telling me to pick up the blanket on the couch and follow her. When I got to Paige’s room Mom had the light on and stood still staring at the empty space on Paige’s bedroom floor. The ash basket Bedogi slept in was gone. 

“Bitch,” Mom said. 

“Do you think she was drinking?” Frick said, but Mom had no answer. 

Mom made up her bed and put Bedogi in the middle with two pillows on each side. She came out of her room, didn’t say anything, and walked outdoors. Frick followed, but Mom looked at him once and only once, so he stayed indoors with me and didn’t speak, just sat at the kitchen table while I sat on the linoleum in the living room. When Mom came back in, she washed her hands, scrubbing the smoke from her fingers. 

“Do you want me to find her?” Frick said. 

The sink thumped off, and Mom dried her hands on her jeans. 

“I know what you want,” she said. “Just go. If you find her, you find her. If you don’t, then I know where you are.” Mom turned and went into the bathroom. 

Frick put his boots on, laced them up, and was gone before Mom even flushed the toilet. She didn’t say anything to me when she came out. She turned off all the lights in the kitchen and living room, then with careful steps walked down the dark hallway and into her room. 

_____

I would tell this story a few times as I got older, and sometimes in the telling I would say I stayed there on the floor all night, but other times I ’d say I put myself to bed. In the later attempts to tell it—once to a therapist and once to a girl I would be married to for a few years—I began to mention this detail, that I couldn’t remember if I sat there all night or put myself to bed, in order to make the account more truthful. And so I don’t know if I stayed there all night or put myself to bed, but I now question whether or not this detail makes the story any more honest.

The next few days, with Paige and Frick gone, the house was quiet. With the exception of the phone, that is, which began to ring and ring for long intervals at least four times a day. I don’t know how many times I went to school during those days with them gone, but I know it was at least once. My science teacher talked about the solar system, and she told the class that in four to five billion years the sun will explode—she drew giant chalk scribbles over the chalk Earth she ’d drawn on the blackboard. But she assured us that we, humans, wouldn’t be around to see it, that in the few million years before the sun explodes, it will first expand and swallow the Earth like food. 

I asked my mother about it. She was sweeping with one hand and holding Bedogi in the other. 

“I heard about that,” she told me. “It was on PBS one night.” She held the dustpan still with her foot, and standing upright she swept the dirt onto the red plastic pan. “Would you dump that in the garbage?” 

“So it’s true?” I said. “It’ll happen?” 

“We’ll be long gone,” Mom said. 

“But it will happen?” I asked again. 

“So they say.” 

“But do you think it will happen?”

“I think you need to come and get this dustpan and dump it, that’s what I think.” 

Each day Bedogi stayed in Mom’s arms, and each day Mom sat on the couch or puttered in the kitchen cooking lunch and dinner for herself and me. I stopped asking about the sun, but I began to scrutinize it. Each evening, when it was setting and the woods golden, Mom walked the short path out behind our house with Bedogi, walked the loop, and showed him the oak and maple and birch trees, showed him Frick’s sweat lodge, and even brought him in there once. The whole time she was gone I tried with quick glances to make out the roundness of the setting sun through the trees to ensure it was still round, not swelling toward us. When Mom finished the loop she would give Bedogi to me, and I sat on the steps holding him while Mom repeated her walk alone. While she was gone, I told the boy that the sun looked round and fine. 

For a week Paige and Frick didn’t show, and neither called. Or if they did, we didn’t answer. Mom had answered the phone once that week, and it wasn’t them or the hospital: it was Marla, Paige’s caseworker, wondering why Paige had missed her appointment. “I’ll have her call you when she’s back,” Mom said. “She’s out right now.” Marla never got the call, obviously, because Paige didn’t come home that night. 

On a Saturday it had rained all night, and in the morning the house smelled of the wet grass outside. When I came out of my room in the early dawn, Mom was at the kitchen table, dressed in black pants and a jean jacket, keys in her hands, purse on her lap. She was going to find one of them. 

“Where’s Bedogi?” I said. 

Mom stood up. “In bed. I fed him this morning, but you’ll have to feed him again. His bottles are in the fridge. Remember to heat them under warm sink water, but not for too long.” 

“Why can’t we come?” I said. “Can’t we come?”

“No,” she said. “Just stay with the baby. I won’t be gone long.” And then she turned to the shoes lining the wall and picked up her rubber boots, and I knew she was going to get Frick at camp. 

“What if he poops?” I said. 

“You’ve seen me change his diaper,” Mom said. “Don’t answer the phone while I’m gone and don’t answer the door.” Through the living room window, I watched as she backed her white Toyota out of the driveway and then pulled away to find Frick. 

I don’t think of Frick too often—he’s been dead for years, died from a heart condition—and I never went to his funeral because I was down south, North Carolina way, painting military vehicles for cash. When I heard of his death, I wrote a letter to my mother, a letter that I never sent because I wasn’t sure if she was pleased with his death or not—things had ended badly. In that unsent letter I said I could not look at a real dark skeejin without being reminded of Frick, reminded of how nice he kept his braid tied or how loose and wispy and dangly it was when he drank. What I wrote was true—for some years I could not look at any dark man with long hair without being reminded of him, reminded of how he only ever had two or three cigarettes in his pack at any time, how I never saw him with more than that. Frick was a medicine man, and if I didn’t still have the small medicine pouch he made for me I don’t know if I ’d remember that fact, but I do. And I’m reminded now of the botched sweat he put together where he was too drunk and dropped his drumstick outside the lodge, and when he couldn’t find it he used his three-and-a-half-inch skinning knife, held it by the blade as he drummed. He cut his hands up, and the next day in the sunlight I crept out to see the damage in the lodge, but if there was blood it blended in with the brown of the earth. 

I have these not-so-good memories, but so too do I have the sweet ones (which I included in that letter I never sent), the tiny memories with the tiny details that are milder in climax, no doubt, but equally powerful—like how Frick would pick me up from detention and take my backpack from me so I could climb into his high truck, and how I would always forget my backpack there, yet by some point in time the backpack was always in my room. Or, how my bike’s chain was always kept greased, or how if my toy men broke he would fix them, glue their legs or arms or heads back on. Or, even when he was drunk, how he would carry me to bed if I fell asleep on the couch. 

I guess it was for those small reasons that I felt compelled to write to Mom, and I guess too that it was for those same reasons Mom went to get him that day, but why she left me to tend to the boy I did not know. Once, about ten years back, I asked her why she left me there with the baby. I had brought her a Coffee Pot Sandwich (before they shut down in Overtown for good) and over soggy bread in her smoky elder apartment she told me she hadn’t, that she took Bedogi and me with her, that it was so long ago and I was just a child, so I couldn’t remember. But I remember, and that’s not the story I know, not the story I tell or have told, and not the one I will continue to tell—although I tried out Mom’s story once on a therapist, the version where Mom brought us with her, and it ended where it was supposed to. Still, I have to tell it how it went, and it went like this: she didn’t take us. But I can see how she ’d believe her version, because she had to believe it. 

While Mom was gone, I occasionally checked on Bedogi. He slept most of the morning, and so I kept quiet in the house, listening for him to wake, dreading the moment he would cry and I had to do something about it. But he didn’t cry. From the living room I heard him sneeze, and when I went to him he was kicking the air, his hands in fists as small as cotton balls. I sat down on the bed, and it jostled him, maybe even scared him a bit. 

“It’s just me,” I told him. “Mom—well, Grammy, your Grammy, not my Grammy—went to find Frick. You ’d think she ’d go look for your mom, wouldn’t you?” 

In my memory he kicked, a little Yes. 

“She’ll come back,” I told him, meaning his mother. “And she’ll be better.” 

While I spoke to Bedogi in that way, I kept my fears to myself, particularly that none of them would come back, ever, and that the sun would blow up. 

I sat with him for a few hours until he began to whimper, and I thought maybe he was hungry. I got his bottle from the fridge, turned the sink on warm, and held the bottle under the running water. I ’d watched Mom test the bottle, watched her tip the bottle over and drip the formula onto her wrist. I tried it, but I didn’t know if it was the right temperature, didn’t know if it was too hot or not hot enough. With the bottle of formula, I went back to the room, set it on the nightstand, and while the formula cooled I made faces at Bedogi, made farting noises with my mouth. When I went to feed him, when he reached with his little mouth for the bottle’s rubber tip, somebody knocked on the back door. 

The woman had her face pressed to the window, hands like a tunnel on each side of her eyes, and she saw me down the hallway, looking at her. She knocked again when I dipped back into Mom’s room, and kept knocking when I didn’t answer. 

It was Marla. I dream of her at that door often, more so now that Mom is gone. Up to that point in time, I ’d met her twice: once when I was in detention—or homework hall, whichever—and she came to ask me questions about home. The Native Studies teacher, a short skeejin guy who told funny stories about Gluskabe—“the man from nothing,” who had supposedly created us after many attempts—actually made her leave the school premises because my mother had no knowledge of the meeting. I met her the second time when she came to see Paige and the boy. She sat at our kitchen table while Paige was trying to think of a name for the child, and I asked Marla if she remembered me. 

“I don’t think we’ve ever met,” she lied in a sweet light voice, and she shook my little hand. It was the right move, surely. That day, Mom decided not to like her. As Marla sat at our kitchen table writing down a lot of notes in cursive, Mom asked what she was writing, and Marla turned in the little seat under her legs and said, “The conditions here.” 

I would never hear the end of that story. Mom brought it up for days. I didn’t blame her and I still don’t. I never saw a cleaner house than ours—Mom scrubbed everything spotless, and maybe, just maybe, the only criticism was she used too much bleach when she was mad, just as she had when Marla had gone that day. Mom had gotten on all fours and scrubbed the floor, saying every minute, “Did you see those legs? That winooch needs to look into her condition.” 

I would encounter Marla a total of four times in my life, the day she knocked on the back door being the third. She only stopped knocking to yell my name and to tell me to open the door. “David,” she yelled. “It’s me, Marla. Open the door, honey.” 

I remember picking Bedogi up from between the pillows and cradling him, and maybe I’m misremembering this next part because of guilt, but I was so frightened that I thought about opening that door for her. But I didn’t open it. That’s a detail that cannot change. As I sat there cradling him, I told my scared self she could knock and yell and knock some more until she couldn’t stand on her fat legs any longer. My and Bedogi’s condition was just fine, except he started to cry a bit at Marla’s knocking and yelling. 

To keep pretending we were not there, even though Marla had seen us, I had to quiet him. I reached for the bottle on the nightstand, and when I brought it to his mouth he latched on to the rubber tip, and I tilted the bottle upward.

Neither he nor Marla took a break: he sucked, she knocked, he sucked, she knocked, he swallowed, she yelled, he sucked, she knocked and knocked and knocked. She didn’t let up one bit, and kept on through my burping Bedogi and his throwing up on my shirt and my wiping his mouth clean and my laying him back between the pillows. When I took my dirty shirt off and tossed it to the floor, Marla finally quit knocking, and the screen door slammed shut.

Bedogi dozed off between the pillows, and I looked down the hall at the door: no Marla behind it. (I would dream of that too—being in a house and hearing somebody knock, only to find nobody at the door, nobody searching for me.)

With her gone, I slipped into my room and grabbed a new shirt, put it on, and then crawled down the hall and into the living room. I stayed low and moved slow to the curtains draped over the window. I peeled back part of the curtain, and in the driveway was Marla’s red Dodge, her in it and on the phone. I watched her talk, and then she hung up. 

I remember hesitating as she got out of the car and walked down the driveway again. I ’d had time to get back to Bedogi in the room, but I didn’t go when I should have. I ended up stuck in the living room, and each time she knocked I pressed my back harder and harder into the wall as if it would take me in, absorb me, let me move around and through the insulation like the Goog’ooks—evil spirits—that moved among our house and spoke a language only we could hear, the Goog’ooks that Frick could never smudge away. (He always blamed me for their arrival, said they came because I once whistled at night.) If only the house could absorb me, I ’d dive down under where the pipes rattled in the cold, and I ’d go to Bedogi, slither back up the insulation and reach my arm through drywall and take him with me, tell him that Marla was here for our condition. 

Again, she eventually stopped and the screen door slammed shut again. I crawled back to the living-room window, peeked between curtain and sill. Marla was there, behind her car, talking to the tribal police. 

There were two of them, and they had come in one cruiser. One was white, a man named Mitch who had pulled Mom over once for going the speed limit—or at least that’s what she said. The other cop was Native, a man named Charlie. Everyone called him Choggy, though. He ’d once come to Frick for medicine when his wife couldn’t get pregnant, but Frick told him he didn’t have any medicine for that. 

Marla and the cops were still talking when I decided to move. I crawled to the hallway, stood up, and hurried to Mom’s room. 

I knew Marla meant to come in, to enter the house. She ’d seen me, no matter how much I pretended she hadn’t. I wonder now and then why Marla didn’t just barge through the door and save us. I wonder if things would have turned out differently. 

Back in Mom’s room I opened her closet, but it was full of clothes and blankets and broken metal hangers. I looked under her bed and saw I couldn’t fit between the floor and the bedframe. 

Bedogi, startled, twitched when I took him from between the pillows, but he didn’t cry, just looked at me as I looked back at him, and I smelled the stinky, milky sweet of the formula roll off his breath. 

I glanced down the hallway, saw their heads as they ascended the steps to the back door, and I hurried to Paige’s room. They started to knock, a rapid three-rap, and I opened Paige’s closet. It was as full as Mom’s, a dense wood of clothes hanging, the floor cluttered with boxes and Bedogi’s car seat; a soft, smiling star dangling from the handle began to play on its own and beeped happy notes too loudly. I grabbed it and buried it deep down in the closet, and as I did something fell on me: the window screen Paige had removed, the one Frick had never put back in place. I looked to the window, heard the doorknob jingle in the kitchen, and had no choice—I was not to open that door. 

_____

The withered grass was cool on my bare feet, my heel pressed hard in the dirt, and I turned back only once—to shut the window. Then I hurried over the grass and onto the stony concrete, cradling Bedogi, his little arm coming untucked from the blanket. My feet scraped and burned all the way down the road, and they stung numb when I made it into the woods and onto the brown-green earth where sunlight scattered through leaves and thick pines onto the ground. 

Down in the woods, holding Bedogi to my chest in the green blanket, I watched my steps over sharp rocks, avoided poison ivy, ducked below grabbing branches. I headed back to the house that way, stopping every few feet to look up and see if I could be seen. I hid behind a tree when I saw Marla standing on the steps, Choggy pointing his finger at her, gesturing with a nod that no one was home. And then she argued with him, pushed him aside and entered the house, searching. She came back out and Choggy yelled that she ’d imagined it. 

Maybe I imagined his saying that, but I don’t think so. 

I moved away from that spot behind our house. I walked farther into the woods until the path forked, and I took the rocky one to the river that rushed past the reservation. 

The wind blew enough for the crowns of the trees above to part and give me a glimpse of the sun. I stopped walking and looked directly at it until the wind quit and the trees closed up, shadowing the woods again. 

“Did you see it?” I said to the boy. I watched the sky, hoping to see the trees and leaves part again for the afternoon sun, to check that it was not swelling, that it was still round and healthy. 

“It’ll come again,” I said to him, wanting to make sure the world would live on. And the longer I waited for the wind to rip the trees apart the more I felt Bedogi in my arms. 

This is where the details get harder to remember. I don’t remember what happened between my saying “Hey, hey, hey, wake up” and when I pissed myself. I don’t remember how long I stood in the bright woods, feet in the hard mud, holding the boy. I don’t remember making it back to our empty house, don’t remember how I knew where I lived. I could not see. I don’t remember doing it, but when he died—for he did die, a detail that can’t change or be altered—I must have stared too long at the ball of burning life in the sky, searing my cornea and lens and making the world a black blur. 

In the grassy ditch that Frick never mowed I waited, and I felt the wet in my pants growing cold, felt the boy’s dead body in my arms. There is a real memory here—as if for a brief moment I could see again—where I watched Mom park her car behind Frick’s truck, as if to seal him in, to never let him leave again. I couldn’t see—I know that—yet the visual memory exists in my brain: Frick gets out of his truck, the three medicine pouches made of deer hide he wore only for ceremony swing across his neck as he shuts the door. He grabs all three with one hand to stop them, and then he takes one off. He hands it to Paige, whose hair is messy, part of it dried stiff, part of it stuck to her face—I would never ask Mom how they found her or how all that happened—and she puts the medicine bag over her head and then hides it under her shirt. Mom goes to the end of the driveway and checks the gray mailbox. 

Frick is on the steps, head down, keys jingling, looking for the right one. Paige is behind him, waiting, but then she returns to the truck, reaches in the bed, and pulls out Bedogi’s ash basket. She carries it over her shoulder like she’s carrying a sleeping bag, like she’s just erected her tent to mark the ground her own, like she has finally arrived at the place where she plans to stay. 

She sees me. Paige sees me. By the woods, her earth and ground upturned in my arms. She sets the basket on the hood of Frick’s truck and comes to me, comes to Bedogi. She stares at him until she turns blue, and all I can say is that I cannot see, I cannot see, yet I can see me see her. 

She says nothing when she pulls him from my arms, the blanket dropping to the ground, and carries him past Frick standing stone still at the bottom of the steps, and past Mom who takes me by the shoulder and picks up the fallen blanket and says, “This didn’t happen, this didn’t happen, not like this,” and she says it until it’s made true for the story. Inside, she sits me at the kitchen table and for a long while there is nothing but Mom’s crying and a toilet flushing, and when Frick returns he says he will call, but Mom stops him with such a loud scream. Mom is the one who picks up the phone, and she is the one who lies. “They’re not taking my baby,” she says, dialing 911. 

The police and ambulance arrive. Paige sits on the couch with Bedogi in her arms, and she stares at him so intently that the police and EMTs standing around her asking questions do not exist. The house is quiet, even with all the EMTs and police talking and questioning. I stare at the kitchen table the entire time. I don’t change my wet pants. I just sit there, head down. My eyes hurt and water (it feels like sand is back there), and when I begin to cry I wonder which pain is eliciting the tears. 

Mom tells the officer taking the statement that we were all at camp having a ceremony and prayer for Paige. Mom says Bedogi was awake when we left camp, and when we got home we thought he was still sleeping. When she finishes the story—the story she would believe, that Bedogi and myself were with her the whole time, that he died in his sleep sometime on our way back—Paige speaks. 

“He can’t see?” Paige says. “What does he mean he can’t see? He can see, right?” Whether or not somebody plans to ask for clarification, we are all interrupted by the phone ringing. Everyone stops—Paige, Mom, Frick, myself, the officers with pens and notepads, and the EMT crouching down, hand on Paige’s shoulder—and we listen to the phone ring on the kitchen table. We wait for it to end. But it rings and rings and rings, and regardless of how our own story’s details will work us for the rest of our lives, I cannot have been the only one to know who it was, why they were calling, and how much it stung and still stings to hear a phone go off. 

_____

The doctor said there was nothing to do about my vision, but it would return. He was right, and I was lucky. It came back slowly over the next few days, after we got Bedogi’s body back and after Marla showed up for the fourth and last time, demanding truth, yelling “He was here, wasn’t he? Say he was here!” until she left unsatisfied. I think that moment—that blindness—is the cause of my cataracts. It’s what I’ll tell the eye doctor when I see him in a week. However, I don’t know how much of the story he needs to know—I guess I can just tell him that as a boy I looked too long at the sun. 

 

Morgan Talty was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and grew up on the Penobscot Indian Nation in Maine. He received his B.A. in Native American studies from Dartmouth College and an MFA from the University of Southern Maine, Stonecoast. Talty’s work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Shenandoah, Narrative, and elsewhere. He lives in Levant, Maine.