By Shann Ray Morning Star -- Arise, shine, for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord has arisen upon you. --Isaiah
Early morning, April 4, in the small square of their bedroom a thin light opened the sphere of the dark. When the light became stronger he emerged from the grey of his dreams and imagined the sunrise on the edge of the world. The sun shone to the city to where the light struck the sidewall of the trailer, a single-wide shortbox, late sixties, early seventies. He felt two things, the light and the stiffening of her body. He knew she was awake and trying not to wake him, and he let himself come fully up from sleep to behold her. She lay on her back staring toward the ceiling, her body straight under the covers, arms to her sides. Watching her, he felt pressure in his chest. Beside her in the yellow light he took her hand and brought her fingers to his lips. He felt the tightness in her body, her bones. He was trying to soften her, hoping his own head was wrong, but in a moment her voice became shrill and it alarmed him. Before he met her she'd cut off half her ring finger at the sawmill in Ashland. Her mother said she never uttered a word, just went to the hospital in Lame Deer with a straight face. It's no good, he thought. "Water," she said. "And a washcloth." He slid from the bed, down the hall to the kitchen. But as he returned he didn't know what to do. In the bedroom now the shades were two dark rectangles behind which the sun was white-blind and linear. He held the glass of water in one hand, the wet washcloth in the other. The star quilt her mother made was thrown from the bed, the slip sheet coiled around her, her legs entwined. In the morning quiet the sounds from her mouth had become intensified. Crazed, he thought. She knotted her fists on the hem of her nightshirt, a sleeveless gown, yellow pastel and calf-length, and of the rayon blend she liked. She opened her hands and bent them upward to the hair at her temples. She entangled her fingers in her hair, making more fists. He felt dumb. He stared at the glass in his hand. He leaned down and touched her face with the glass and she took it from him, drinking hastily. He gave her the wet washcloth. "Let's go," he said. She shook her head, warding him off. "Please," he said. But she didn't move. Her voice came from her chest, breaking free, louder. He thought he saw the noises she made, the sounds, grey-colored, climbing from the line of her mouth in dark spirals that widened as they ascended, up to the ceiling to where they mixed and moved and formed a black band above her head. She won't give herself permission, he told himself. He reached down, freed her legs from the sheets and lifted her in his arms, and as he held her it seemed she was there as a calf or a lamb she was so small.
He was on the reservation, walking an open field in the morning of a new snowfall. The snow was slow and big in the grey sky. A white veil covered the ground. He was six months into his life on the rez. The night before, he'd been tired and drunk enough to sleep where he was, so he'd laid down on the sidewalk outside the Boys and Girls Club at two a.m.. A few hours later the cold came and he woke, deciding he'd walk to warm himself. It made him feel better, the blood to his legs, the movement. He blew heat into his hands and forgot about the cold, and kept walking. He found himself three miles out from Lame Deer in an open field that ended on a thin forest of jack pine. The sun was still below the line of the world but starting its burn, red-gold, far off among the trees. Snow filled the sky, and it surprised him, the loud hush of it among the timothy grass and young sage. His shoes were soaking wet. He was thinking of himself as a child, and of his father. A slight wind carried the damp, pungent odor of the sagebrush, the smell of grasses, the wet smell of dark soil. In a rage the old man had thrown a cue ball at him, striking him on the skull behind the ear, knocking him out at ten years old. Walking, he felt the heat of it even now, an edge of pain at his neck and up into the bones of his head. When he'd come to, his eyes were blank and sightless, and the blood was warm on his skin. He was in his father's arms, hanging limp. He didn't know where his mother was. The sun crested and flared, long gold beams from the trees, out over the field. He decided to enter the forest and walk into the light, in through the dead growth to the end of the tree line. From there he'd look down to where the sun had come from, then head back to town. He'd started that way, nearing the first line of the forest when something drew his attention, a throaty sound, far off on his right. In the distance, in the curve of a slight draw he saw a rust-colored form. He made it out to be a cow on its side, straining its head and neck upward, bawling. He thought of killing the cow, getting some steak for himself, cooking it and eating it and drinking some milk back at the house he was staying at. He was on rez land, fenceless, without bounds. A month earlier, when a big 18-wheel pig truck overturned on the highway, everyone cut school or left their jobs to kill pigs for supper. No one would care, he thought. Yes they would, he countered. He was white and he felt it. He moved toward the sound, the cow's noise loud over the plushing his tennis shoes made in the snow. It took him some time to get to the animal, the sage grown tight in the draw, and the cow being farther off than he imagined. When he reached the cow he saw she was a heifer, and she'd given birth to a dark brown calf. The mother was on her side, the glistening calf curled in a ball between her front and hind legs, up against her stomach. She had commenced licking the calf, cleaning the nose and mouth, the sleek fur of the head. Keeping his distance, he sat cross-legged on the snowy ground and watched the scene. His head felt watery from how drunk he was. He liked the feel of the soft earth, bendable as clay beneath him. He liked how the snow soaked through his jeans. Staring, he saw the mother nuzzle the calf's face with her nose. He heard the sounds she made. He saw the simple, expectant look in her eyes. The sight dismantled him, and he put his face in his hands and wept.
He lifted his wife from the bed. When he carried her through the bedroom door his shoulder bumped the doorjamb. I could be a good father, he thought. In the hall, working to get position, he hit her knee squarely on the wall. She winced and struck at him with her nails. He jerked back but his skin recoiled and he felt hot lines on his neck. He forced his anger down, fearing something darker would awaken in him, something unalterable. He cradled her so that he wouldn't harm the bulb that was her stomach. She holds our angel, he thought. But she'd stay if I let her, she'd wait out the despair. His back to the paneling he carried her, leaning against the wall as he shuffled sideways. He held her face to his. He whispered I love you. Near the front of the trailer he crossed the main room, bracing her to his chest as he reached the front door. He gripped the handle and turned it, pushing the door wide. He cradled her again, emerging into the day as from a cave. When he reached the Impala he set her down on the tan vinyl bench, then he ran to his side of the car and drove. She was beside him fetal on the wide seat, her head touching his thigh, her feet braced to the passenger door. She was moaning and he was blind, spinning from the square lot of trailers, down the straightaway for five blocks on 51st, then descending the down ramp until he merged blatantly with all the traffic on I-5. The ocean and the city, the blue lie of the sound and its bays, and out far the Olympics shrouded in white -- all these were nothing to him. In Billings, Montana, where he was born, his mother had a clean go from King Avenue to the eastside of town, then up the heart to St. Vincent's. Not here. He hardened his face. He made his vehicle a fist. The other motorists, equally aggressive, rode their engines, forcing the fast metal of their cars. He slammed his foot on the brake, then the gas. He tried to make openings. He heard the high whine of the tires. In the air ahead a thick bloom of exhaust belched from the back of an old truck. The fumes like oily charred clouds came on, rising before they went vaporous and disappeared behind him. He smelled the road smell, then the scent of his wife's perfume and the sweet smell of her sweat. He was free for a moment, speeding from space to space, then he was blocked in again. He jammed the brake, punched the gas. He halted, plunged forward.
They'd lived in Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne reservation in southeast Montana, Zebulum Sindelar and Sara Runs Too Far. Zeb his family called him but she called him "Z" and it was the first time he remembered liking his name. He wished everyone would call him Z, he remembered thinking it was as smooth as he wanted to be. They met in the alley behind a modernized gas station/casino, a twenty-four-seven place called Lucky Lil's, drinking coffee to keep warm, letting the alcohol burn down. "Ha ho," she'd said the first time he sat down next to her, "Cold, enit." He'd nodded. "Will you get me some more?" she'd said, and she tipped an empty styrofoam cup his way. He walked around the building into Lucky Lil's to get two coffees. From the start he loved how she said enit, an affection word, a connecting word that everyone on the rez seemed to use. They sat with their backs to the concrete wall of the gas station, their knees in their arms. They held the styrofoam cups in their hands and steam lifted from the small round openings, up into their faces. She was Northern Cheyenne and, he decided, not as ugly as him. Her looks weren't much. Her slender frame could be attractive. She was tiny. She said she was a descendent of Chief Morning Star. They started liking each other. They talked a lot and did little, they had time. Open-handed, they were resistless, he liked it that way. They got married on a cutbank above the Powder River. A drunk priest officiated. Sara's mother, her brother, and her uncle Benjamin were present, (her dad was killed behind a bar when she was three). On the bank, Zeb cussed Sara's uncle under his breath for trying to take over the wedding. Zeb didn't want any Indian ceremonies. Sara stared at Zeb, but she kept silent. In Colstrip, Zeb's own family didn't even know he was getting married. Zeb decided they wouldn't have enough money if they stayed in Lame Deer. He didn't want anything to do with his relations, so Colstrip wasn't an option. He knew he and Sara could keep living with her mother but he told himself he needed space so he bought a rez car with Sara's money from the tribe and they left for Seattle. She'd felt it too, she'd said, the need to get out. They took the Impala west and after they got settled in Seattle he found himself in the dark hull of a trailer at night, in an easy chair a short reach from the television. He'd have all the lights out, the length of his body encased in the bloom of light from the TV. "Too loud," she'd say from the back and he'd click the volume down a bit with the remote. He liked her voice, he always had, an edgy voice down the hall, weary from the day, and drifting off. It reminded him of the acidic, hateful way she used to come at him when he walked in on her back in Lame Deer. It didn't matter to her if it was private or public, she'd tell him to shut up and she'd curse him until he backed off. She'd call him Custer, or Evans, or some other white idiot from the past. She'd scratch his face or grab a fistful of hair. She'd jump on his back if she felt she had to, but mostly only when she was drunk. He'd pull her off, and she'd calm if he'd get soft and say he was sorry. It was a mess if he resisted. He'd thought he might have to kill her once. But now it hadn't happened for a long span and he missed her quick anger, her own bright wilderness. He'd turn the volume down, and when he heard the sighs of her breathing again he'd push it back up. They were broke but he had cable. Had to have cable, he said, stay human. He'd get suspended this way in the globe of light the TV emitted and the thoughts would get him. The images of Lame Deer and her family, but mostly of her with her cousins. He hated it but he'd go back to it like a woman wearing long sleeves over the wounding she's done. The memories were like that, opening the skin, making him feel the emptiness, something akin to love but more the shadow of love, the knowledge of its existence consumed by the feeling of utter loneliness, a self to which he'd always been tethered, at blind enmity with all, a question he'd asked but to which he'd found no answer, the old sorrow come again to make a home in him. Sara had helped raise Emily and LaVonna, windy haired children of her sister. They were eight and six when Sara and Zeb left the reservation. They had different dads, both gone, still on the rez, but gone. One or the other of the girls were always climbing up Sara's legs, grabbing her belt or her shirt, climbing into her arms for kisses. Zeb and Sara had stayed in a small room off the living room in her mother's house. When Sara decided to go to Seattle Sara went directly to her sister's and asked if she could have the girls for a couple of weeks before going. "'Bout time," her sister said, a big woman, pained by the world. "I need a break." That night Sara told Zeb to take the floor, and Zeb submitted, though reluctantly. He felt sorry for himself and mad, and when he thought this way he thought of every rez house as a tangled mess, a pack of wild kids running day and night, and lazy adults, adults who stayed up late, drank hard, and slept in, then yelled if they got woke up. But after a few days with Sara and the girls, his heart changed and he began to follow them, room to room, to be in on it, even if he was on the periphery. They came to her mostly, not much to him. Understandable, he thought, probably scared of my face. She played with them all day and went to bed, watching Disney videos with an arm around each until the girls slept like kittens. "Children of the Morning Star," she called them, and she blessed them as they slept, holding their faces in her hands, saying, "You are like the sun, enit. Enit little ones, you will never die." For two weeks she played with them, and watched videos and curled up with them. She fed them what they loved: macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, hot dogs from Lucky Lil's, ice cream, Blow Pops, Fudgesicles, Fruit Loops, Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie dough, string cheese; and at the end of the day they'd sleep happy and she'd bless them. "Z, you need to be at peace with Benjamin," she said out of the blue one night when Zeb and her and the girls were on the bed watching The Lion King. He told her he didn't know how. But two nights later, past midnight at Sara's mother's house, Zeb saw Benjamin leaning over a sleeping child. There were still fifteen or twenty people downstairs, all in the living room around three separate card tables, losing money playing poker or black jack, some playing cribbage. A gambling cult flick called Rounders showed on the wide screen, the giant box Sara's mother had won at bingo. Edward Norton, about man-sized on the huge screen, was setting up Matt Damon on a card scam, burning him behind his back with a group of cops so that they both ended up getting their faces beat in. Supertramp wailed from the boom box in the kitchen. Sara's mom was making fry bread tacos. The plumbing was out so Zeb had gone upstairs to relieve himself out the side window of the bathroom. Easier than going to the outhouse. When he emerged he saw Benjamin down the hall to his right, kneeling over one of his own sons. The boy was his second born, a five-year-old that had fallen asleep in the hallway. Zeb hadn't noticed the boy before. He was on his stomach, spread eagle, one arm tucked under him, the other extended, face to the side. Benjamin laid down next to the child to be nearer. He smoothed the boy's hair and stared at his face. He kissed the boy's cheek. When Benjamin got up to go back downstairs he saw Zeb and smiled. "Ha ho, Dirty White Boy," he said. "Any more money for me to take?" He'd already taken Zeb for more than a hundred. "No," said Zeb. "Too bad," said Benjamin, laughing, putting his hand on Zeb's shoulder. "White money is always the best, enit. How bout we get some fry bread tacos?" Benjamin motioned with his lips down toward the kitchen. It made Zeb's mouth water, the smell of hot bread, the sizzle of hamburger meat, taco mix. "I'll follow you," Zeb said. "You done that all night, enit," said Benjamin, winking and chuckling again as he walked downstairs. Zeb nodded and laughed. He was good and drunk and it felt good to laugh, to see Benjamin with his son, to be given a second chance to be on good terms with Benjamin. He reached and touched Benjamin's shoulder and they paused on the stairs. Zeb came even with Benjamin. "I'm sorry for the way I was at the wedding," he said. "It's nothing, Z," said Benjamin, looking him in the face. He play punched Zeb on the chest. Then he laughed again, shook his head and said "Dirty White Boy, enit."
A week later, the day Sara and Zeb would leave for Seattle, Zeb had the car idling a few feet from the front porch. He sat in the driver's seat with his hands on the wheel, waiting for her. It was late September with the sun was past the zenith, late afternoon. The house, a two-story tower, pushed a long shadow off east of itself. Zeb was sick with the miscarriage they had recently had. Saying goodbye to the two girls reminded him. She loves those girls like they deserve to be loved, he thought, watching her, and seeing her that way made him want to do right at any cost. Yet he had no idea what right he might do. He heard her crying, and he felt nothing. It seemed he was always shut down unless he was drunk, then he was wide open. He hated this about himself. She was on one knee in the entryway, just inside the door. She clutched the girls to her chest, burying her face in LaVonna's neck, then Emily's, then back to LaVonna. He thought of their hugs, the smooth skin of their hands, the soft feel of their hair on his cheek, his neck. The children touched at Sara's eyes. LaVonna's was a confused look but Emily was curious, coming closer. She kissed Sara's cheek. "Salty," she said, and she smiled. For the first five or six hours in the Impala, Sara either cried or slept. She had turned from him to the door and he couldn't see her eyes but he envisioned the dark sockets, the eyes burned out. Her body leaned into the armrest. She rested her cheek on the bumper of the side window and stared away north to the world's end. So petite, he thought, so full of sorrows. She sat this way for a great while, looking over the long white bench of the plains, over the rise of the land, the mountains. Ten hours into the drive he said, "We can go back." They had crossed the great divide near Butte and were past Missoula now, on the upswing of Lolo Pass in the dark just before Idaho, the lights of the Impala wide, the stars, the open moon. To the left the span of forest seemed endless. He knew the tamaracks were in among the greater forest, he'd seen them in the light before dark, firing the land with their bright burnt orange. They passed large dark pines at the roadside, lodgepoles, eerily individualized, bands of onlookers standing over, peering in. "I'm just sad," she said.
He'd brought them to Seattle for opportunity, though what they found was hardly better: him at the Vietnamese market up 51st, her taking the bus to Pike's each morning, selling bracelets she wove from colored thread. Mostly he'd been a grunt in Montana, a gas station gopher or small-time fix it man for Lucky Lil's, and he'd been glad to get out of the holes he'd lived in. Glad to be free of family, her family too, but mostly his, his father especially, or the ghost of him, the way the old man had burned every bridge. Zeb had left home at fifteen and hitchhiked to Lame Deer thinking he'd be white and weird, but largely unthreatened, as he'd been in the summers, working the fireworks booths at Jimtown near the rez line. And people had taken him in, parents or uncles or aunts of friends he'd made at parties or at the odd jobs he held, fireworks in early summer, driving swather or shucking bails through August, Lucky Lil's in the dead months of winter. Most of his host families didn't seem to care if he came or went, white boy walking from the bright HUD houses, they hardly noticed, and Zeb preferred it that way. Dirty White Boy, they called him, the older crowd, after the Foreigner song from Foreigner 4. He liked that. But being white, and not pretty, he'd had to guard his own back when he was out late and the drink and drug reached full tilt. Zeb had seen Sara in town for three years, but she was always with Clifford Rides Horse, a Crow boy she'd met in school at St. Labre. Then Clifford was shot in the face and killed at a party near Busby. Zeb hadn't thought much of it until about a half-year later when he and Sara had coffee for the first time in the alley behind Lucky Lil's. Zeb's old man had died the same year. It gave a common ground sort of. No one but Zeb's mom had attended his father's funeral. The Montana Highway Patrol had found him in a ditch on a dirt road five miles from Colstrip. Sara had asked Zeb what he thought of it. "Fine with me, " he'd said. "Really?" she asked. "I don't know," he said. A year of marriage living in Lame Deer, and three years now in Seattle. They threaded things with midday television and alcohol, and the drugs they could find, mostly mescaline and speed, and methadone. He thought it odd how easy it was to be invisible, so many people in the streets, a thousand vagabonds for every ten miles of city, most of them anglo and hollow-eyed. People stare less, he told himself, and I'm less conspicuous, though he knew he was polar white and pocked up, his face grey-dented as the moon. The mixture of how she loved children, the lack he felt inside, and the visions he carried of her and of him, of what they might be as parents, kept him trying despite the walls he'd found between them. Four years worth. Two gifts gone. One child lost in her womb by the sea, one from the womb on the rez, two deaths, though they reasoned these were only miscarriages, early ones. And now she was pregnant again, and eight months along, four months further than they'd gone before.
Looking to the seat beside him, he saw what he needed to see. Her head was near his thigh, her feet to the door. Her nightgown, tucked at her feet earlier, was up near mid-thigh now. Her hands touched the gown at her crotch and it was precisely that bunching of hands and gathered cloth that he hoped he could dismiss. In reality no blood showed. Yet he imagined her body a river. She was a small woman, with small hands. He watched her fine-boned fingers, slender, translucent, nearly hueless, pale brown. He couldn't remember a single thing he and she had ever talked about, or why they might have pressed their faces to one another as they had, or why their hands would be locked together in his dreams. He remembered at the start he'd exerted so much energy fighting the idea that he needed her, finally killing it and succeeding in not needing her, then staring into her ashen face with his own expressionless eyes so that she'd know he'd overcome her. He'd felt sick about himself then. Today he was sick again. His mind kept warping things and the distortion felt familiar like kin, or the way mescaline would bend his thoughts and send him undulating, or how a run of meth could unravel him. She sat up, staring out the windshield, out over the hood to the roadway, to the push of cars. If there is blood her hands cover it, he thought, they cover where it must be spotting her gown. He convinced himself there was blood beneath where her fingers dug in. He felt his thoughts constrict. He found it difficult to open them. Sara was silent. He kept looking at her to be sure and each time though he knew his own thoughts were untrustworthy, his bulky, zigzagged mind ruined things and his thoughts flared, and he was lost at how she sat there so quiet. I don't know her middle name, or why she parts her hair down the middle, he thought, or why she slips her braids in front as she does. She ties them at the end in two-colored cloth, I know that, turquoise and black yesterday, orange and red the day before. But nothing today. Why her face? Why the look so notched up, and above her forehead the high abandon of her hair? He noticed how thin she was, luminous like a woman made of filament, or fine glass. Backlit from the light of day, her hair was jet-black in a dark fire on her head, the form of it full and wild like it had been plumed, not flat with the usual ravenlike texture, not parted, not braided. It descended from high on her head, down beside her small shoulders. She'd pulled at it and the root line at the temples was reddish pink and raw in the brown of her skin. The bones shone in her face, the jawline and the cheekbones, the orbital bones around her eyes. He liked her face, and it came to him how in the last three years because of the drugging they'd done and because of his own evasiveness, he knew her less, but he found her more beautiful than ever. She's too thin though, he thought. Her head was back on the seat, her eyelids closed, the skin greyish and pale. He imagined her eyes on the other side of her eyelids, irises like minute black disks, and darker black the tiny pupil at the center. He was struck by a sense that a song, or a prayer, or something sacred should be done, but he had nothing. And she had nothing, he thought. Or at least he'd never heard of what she had, or never asked. The sweat on her had started to dull and with the noise of the engine he couldn't hear her next to him. She was there but the sound was gone. She had stopped weeping and gone silent. He reached over. He touched her arm. The skin was cool. He took his hand away. She looked straight ahead. "She's dead," she said. Her voice, disembodied, overly loud between him and the glass of the windshield, shocked him. It's the way I've angled myself, he said, and he moved some, leaning forward more, shifting his weight so that he glared over the wheel, out at the dividing lines. It scared him, the power she held. He lost something of himself. He saw his mother's face. He pictured Sara next to him on the bank of the Powder River the day they were married. They wore the ribbon shirts her mother had made for them, purple shirts with long gold and orange ribbons sewn to the shoulders and chest. In the wind the ribbons floated, trailing softly behind them. "The colors of earth and sunset," Sara had said. "Yes," he'd answered. "The baby's dead," she said. He didn't say anything. He wanted to leave and come back from someplace else. He'd emerge from a place of dirt streets, from the hot space behind the middle class houses back in Colstrip, post-Independence Day, where the food from the alley barrels could be had for the taking. From there he'd succeed in rising back to where he'd been, back to the driver's seat for the April drive on I-5 where the words remained like two loud claps, the twice-formed flowering of blue-yellow flames from the barrel of a rifle alive in the dark. It was what she said. He disliked words. He hated them. He wished he could be deaf. An urge swelled in him like a helium balloon. He felt the reach, the pulling upward. He considered his own death. "She's dead," she said again. "How do you know?" he said. He focused on the road. "She doesn't move," she whispered. When he could he stared at her. Her body had lost its luster. The muscles were slack, undefined in the skin, oblong shapes rounded downward at the calves, the flat oval of her tricep on the back of her arm above her elbow, below the line of her armpit. Vague decisions are the slaying of things, he thought, the cutting off of me or her, the end of something, the start of things that will not be reversed. The car felt brittle like he might snap the wheel in his fingers or slam a hole in the floor with his foot. He thought of weeping. He wanted big tears like mercury on his face, silvery paths of them slow and thick in the pocks and dents below his cheekbones. How good they'd feel if he could have them. They'd crest the bone and slide down his neck. He'd wipe his jaw to stop the flow. He wished she would say something. She opened her eyes and looked over. He looked away. He drove the offramp, the route down 3rd Street among the square tall high rises. He beheld the circle entrance of the Good Samaritan, the rectangular jut of the hospital against the sky. Through the electric doors he carried her. She seemed smaller to him, and boneless now. His grandmother's porcelain-faced doll was lying on the bed at the ranch house outside Colstrip, the curled blond locks and blue eyes, the white bonnet. White blouse and fine-flowered dress, white stockings and tiny black shoes. He was five years old. It fascinated him, the play of the arms, the elegant feel of the body and the legs, the face so exquisite and hard as stone. He remembered he had never asked Sara what she played with as a child, or with whom, or what terrors she might have entertained. The doctors knew. They were as certain as she. He'd scream at them he decided. Throw cursewords until his head blew. Say, "How? How do you know?!" He'd say nothing. He'd stand as a stuffed man with no mouth or ears, arms and body so elongated the shoulders narrowed straight to the neck, cotton bunting stuffed into the back of his head to fill the space inside his face. He had no mouth or ears, but he had eyes. Black buttons from his father's first suit. In the silence he thought of men who abuse women, men with sisters, wives, children. He thought of himself as these men, as empty and given over.
"At Colstrip, the health teacher said eighty percent of girls on the rez are sexually abused." He'd said it to Sara when they sat on the sidewalk in front of Lucky Lil's on one of his breaks. Their feet were in the street. Beaters moved by, rez cars that were really broke down ships from the seventies or early eighties. They'd seen Matthew Bird's old Lincoln Continental, Blake Big Head in his Monte Carlo, and twice they'd seen Jonas Woodenthigh's white Caddilac Eldorado, rusted at the sideboards and the wheel wells, cruising. Jonas rode low in the front seat with only his forehead and the black shock of his hair visible. "White numbers, Custer," she said. Then she thought about it, looking off. "Probably higher, really." She looked at him. "Sad, enit." "Crazy," he said. She looked at the houses across the street and he followed her eyes, seeing the dirt yards, the clear glass of the windows. The houses were curtainless but for a bedsheet in the living room window of the house one down from where they sat. The sheet was hung off kilter, likely put up with tape or nails. The buildings were set randomly in the draw, on the slant of hills up and back from the road. In the late morning they looked sleepy. Beyond them, outhouses littered the hillsides. The outhouses had no doors and from where Zeb sat the openings were dark rectangular holes. Passageways to somewhere else, he thought. "Four suicides in one month last year," she said. "Two of them good friends of mine." "Girls?" he asked. "Men," she said. "Bobby Hanson. Buster Three Moons. C.L. Beloit. Lester Standing Elk." Her face was matter of fact. "They used guns."
He saw the doctor's head, his mouth moving: I'm sorry sir, the baby's dead. We'll have to deliver it. Wait here. We'll tell you when the procedure's over. Zeb viewed the man through the heightened vision that came with doing speed. The doctor had slick black hair in a pointed widow's peak. The dark main shock was swept back from the forehead. The silvery smooth sheen of the sidewalls made a pronounced C around the ears. Spittle was on the doctor's lower lip. His teeth were grey. For Zeb, a thought: I should kill this man. Then nothing.
There was slow walking down white tile floors with big-volumed words. The words were unwieldy, lie-speakers, haters. His wife was wheeled, white-sheeted between silver swinging doors. Before she disappeared he saw how pale her face had become, how the lines in it had gone dark and straight and the skin looked thin, almost iridescent. He wasn't with her until it was over and the white coats were sure the bleeding had stopped and her heart rate had come steady. They'd walked her down the hall and dropped her off with him in the lobby. She stood beside him, vacant, almost weightless. He put his arm around her. Everyone had gone. She leaned her head into his chest. He felt blank and dark.
When Zeb got Sara back to the trailer he curled himself around her on the bed. He wanted to take the ether from the bedstand and drink the last half of the bottle. Holding her he touched the back of her arm. Her skin was cold. He sensed the pressure in her frame, large and remote, in among the slack feel of her limbs. He remained with her. The room was in shadow. From the window he heard the distant sound of the interstate. He felt a lessening, then a long dispersion. A white space entered his mind. He heard the low quiet of her breathing. She slept. Three nights previous she'd talked in her sleep. She'd said the same word four times in the span of a couple of minutes: Benjamin. Zeb wished he could go back to that, back to when the word was only something spoken in her sleep. Now the name meant everything. Zeb had been a fool. Benjamin had been kind to Zeb. He'd have something for us if he were here, thought Zeb. He'd have what I don't. What I've never had. Holding her he thought how she'd carried the baby so low, the way boys are carried. He thought to four years gone and how vibrant and wonderful her will had been to be a mother. How she sang to the child, the first, and spoke loving words, how she thanked Zebulum, and how she whispered such kindness and care to him that he felt ready for anything. He had loved everyone. He'd stopped using. Then he thought how with these last two, especially this one, they had lived on the edge of silence, fearing their own voices. In the half-world before sleep the image came to him of an older chaplain, the half-Cheyenne, half-White man he'd seen only once. It was in the grey hall of the clinic back in Lame Deer after the first miscarriage. Mr. Reyes. He'd approached Zeb where he sat on the floor against the wall. Zeb wasn't yet 20, his knees pulled to his chest, his head down. Kneeling, the chaplain put his hands on Zebulum's shoulders. "Son," he said, "these words from God to your child." The man was quiet. "I have loved you with an everlasting love," he said. "I have drawn you with loving kindness." A feeling of great expanse came, like the feeling one gets on a wide plain among high mountains, the closeness, the vastness of all things. When Zeb looked up the man was gone.
Lying beside her now, he felt as alone as he'd ever been, the two of them in separate darknesses, the city behind the blinds. I hold the mother of the angel, he said to himself, I hold my wife. Night had fallen and it was bigger than he imagined, the far away glow of the cityscape a forgotten face. He felt his wife was more a child than a woman in his arms, and he was more a boy than a man. He thought they were children holding each other, made to suffer, perhaps to discover something, but they had no idea what it was. He fell away, losing the thoughts he had.
In the blackness he awoke. Sara's form was curved into him, her back to his chest, her legs neatly matched to his. Her hair smelled of dry sweat, and faintly of vanilla. He sensed how utterly he'd failed her, how often he'd fortified himself against her. He kissed the back of her head. "You are my beloved," he whispered. He dreamed of the plains laid out before him to the far edge of the alien world with nothing in between, and out there the sun a dull white orb behind the grey sky. A glow of light, caught in the crease on the horizon line, became the bright rim of everything that lived, moved. His mind went blank. In the night, she whispered. "They took her from me," she said. "She was grey." She spoke the words and he drew her in, closer to his body. She grew still, and she slept again. He saw the curve of her head. Beyond it he saw the dark-paneled wall. He recalled how little he knew of her. He hoped in a future they might make together, a time in which he would know her better than he had. He wished he had more to go on. He slept. In the morning, when the sun touched Zeb's face, he reached for her. In the space beside him he felt the coldness, the lack. He got up, put on his jeans, and looked in the bathroom, and when he found nothing he ran down the hall, shirtless and barefoot, out the front door into the blazing light. In the gravel of the driveway he stood shielding his eyes, looking for where she'd gone.