Something of Value

by Brian Reynolds Read author interview August 15, 2004

Roger saw the skirt, tried not to stare, but couldn’t stop his double-take. Some future classmates were giggling at the drinking fountain near the high school’s central office. A girl wore baggy coveralls, one strap undone. Another, dressed in too-tight, flowery cotton pants. W’mis-ti-goosh-eskwao-wuk. White girls. He shook his head. That skirt! So short. Bare legs in public. Holy, Man! Shannon won’t believe it.

He forced his gaze down to the summer-polished floor. He wondered, would it stay that shiny after school began next week. Not even trying to hide their conversation. What? ‘Cause I’m Indian, I can’t hear?

“Cute, eh. Not.”

“Mar –– lene!”

“Girl? You blushed.”

“Duh.”

Roger turned and pushed into the air-conditioned workplace. Crazy White girls. He set the tattered flight bag on his foot just like his Gookum showed him. Grandmother warned him Whites would steal him blind. One handle missing, three dollars at the Sally Ann, it held a pair of Nike running shoes, most valued of the things he’d brought for school. A parting gift from Shannon.

Three women at computer terminals, none of whom glanced up to see him standing at the counter, convinced him he was now invisible as well as deaf. He waited.

§

His mind tracks back. Two days on buses; a third spent on a crawling muskeg train; a fourth, caged in a six-seater Beaver airplane. So many lakes and trees, the mental map he always makes when travelling grew vague and useless. Alone. Try not to look behind. Look ahead to what the nuns said high school would be like. But, knowing nothing of the future, helpless, thoughts did drag him back into the past.

He parts the curtain doorway to his room and shoos his younger brothers out to play. “Take my slingshot. There’s snowbirds in the schoolyard.” He holds the drapery up for Shannon to come in. The youngsters laugh and so does she.

Smell of rabbit stew. Sound of “Hockey Night in Canada”. Smell of sweet grass. Sound of Mama’s knitting needles, Papa turning over on the couch. Smell of Shannon’s hair. Sound of Shannon’s heartbeat. He drops a disc onto the CD player’s tray. Any disc will do.

She undresses and slips shyly underneath the wool Bay blanket. There is no lamp; light filters through the thin cloth door. He removes his shirt, his jeans, his long johns.

In bed, her body curves to his. They kiss. Mouths open. Eyes open. They drift through every word in every language without one sound to spoil the meanings.

§

He studied everything, tried to memorize each office colour and each shape. The faces of the women first. Which one was hookimaw? No, a principal would have a separate room. But, Sister had no office. How can I remember all these things? Maybe all three are bosses here. Each one rates a telephone. Each has a whole computer to herself. If only I could talk to Shannon, discuss it with her, decide together what it means.

“Yes?” The red-haired one had finally looked and pushed her glasses down onto her nose. Roger had not asked a question; he ignored her answer. She raised her voice as if he might be deaf. “Yes.” She stood. “Can I help you?”

“I think so,” Roger said. No, I hope so.

“You’re new, aren’t you? From somewhere north.”

Roger nodded. New here. Not new everywhere. I have tracked and killed a moose. I can cut a cord of wood in half a day. I keep my woman happy. He peeked to find her looking at his face. He rubbed his shoe against the bag.

“Did you fill one out already?”

“I…” Too hard. He fought the urge to run, to find his way back into wilderness. He squeezed his eyelids shut. “Wait.” He reached his worn brown fingers in a pocket, one that had been bordered by his Gookum with a golden ribbon for his trip. “She writes it down.”

“Who wrote it down?”

“Sister.” He spread the scrap of paper flat across the counter. He read it awkwardly, “They will provide a… registration form.”

“Your sister?”

“Sister Angela. Fort Charity Indian Residential School.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. Step over here. What’s your name? Your birth date? Sit there. I’ll need a Social Insurance Number if you have one. You can read a book or something while you wait. I need to call Indian Affairs and get you onto our account. I need a Band Number? I’ll see if Native Counselling is in.”

Roger blinked.

“Well?”

“Roger Ashamuk. No. My name is Loon. Roger.”

“Have a seat, Loon Roger.” She laughed.

Forgive me, Shannon. Sister said “Loon” is easier for them to say. How will I survive it all? Strange beyond belief. He scooped the wounded bag up with his toe, transferred it into his hand, and followed his new boss to benches near the office door. Shannon!

§

When he first touched her, Shannon’s breast, it was the house’s dryness, the wool that made a spark leap out from her to him. Fingers barely grazed her swelling nipples. His leg pressed up against her wetness. She smiled. He arched his back, the blanket tent above them. He used his tongue to paint her areolae, first one and then the other. He kissed her as he entered her, making promises with just his eyes.

§

There was a tapping on the glass beside him. The skirt again. Why’s this allowed in school? Amazing. She crooked her finger. What’s she want? Why’s she waving? Where’d the others go?

Then the door swung open. The girl stood right in front of him. Impolite to look her in the face. Too dangerous. Her thighs too tempting.

“Hey, handsome! I’m Marlene. Whuzzup? You look like you could use a friend.”

Roger grasped the satchel and set it on his lap, covering himself, feeling in his heart that something would be stolen from him soon.

All content in SmokeLong Quarterly copyright 2003-2015 by its authors.

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About the Author:

Brian Reynolds has lived and taught middle school and done various other jobs on two remote Indian settlements in northern Ontario, Canada for the past twenty-five years. He has dabbled in creative writing for the past forty. This is his first published work, but his story "Our Daily Bread" placed third in Desdmona's 2004 Erotic Short Story Contest.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.