Reckonings: Contemporary Short Fiction by Native American Women

By Hertha D. Sweet Wong; Lauren Stuart Muller et al. | Go to book overview
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The Reckoning

Joy Harjo

Everyone has their own version of the world I tell myself as I wait on the Central Avenue sidewalk while Larry disappears behind the Starlight Motel to take a piss. The vacancy sign flashes on and off. Closing hour traffic jams the street. I imagine everyone taking off for the forty-nine,* squeezed into cars and pickups with cases of beer under their legs heading in a caravan to the all-night sing on West Mesa. Each direction is a world and each world has its own set of rules, its own hierarchy of gods and demigods, its own particular color. I am painting a series based on the four directions, but I am stalled. It has been months since I’ve painted.

When I was five my mother began standing me on a chair to wash dishes after dinner because I couldn’t otherwise reach. The front of my dress was usually soaked when I finished. “Don’t get your dress wet like that; it means you’ll marry a drunk.” Yet night after night after dinner she would drag a chair to the sink and my dress would soak no matter my efforts otherwise. Every morning I wake up with a hangover after trying to keep up with Larry I remember the wet stomach of my dress. I then promise I will let him go. I know I cannot save him, but to let him go feels unbearable.

This morning Larry mentioned that his cousin was coming into town from California and wanted to have dinner before heading out to the pueblo. Would I like to go to Alonzo’s for pizza with them? A wedge of tension cut the air between us. I tried to ignore it. Last night he said he was going to quit drinking again and Alonzo’s is one of his favorite bars. I watched as he fried the bacon and stirred the eggs, as he placed them in a perfect arrangement on our plates. He cooked as deftly as he honed out an argument or turned a piece of silver into the wind. I poured Joe Junior a glass of milk and wrapped a sandwich for his lunch. He fidgeted, running his Hot Wheels cars up and down his chair, across the table, faster and faster in response to the tension. “Stop it!” I yelled, surprised at the vehemence in my voice. He put his head down on the table and began slowly kicking the table leg. I told myself then that I could use a break.

* A forty-nine is a Native social dance.


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