There are two of us on drunk patrol for the treatment center. We take natives off the street and throw them into the cage on the back of the old Ford F-150, then bring them back to the dryout. One of us is Mike and the other isn’t. It’s for the best. Otherwise they’d die of exposure, being drunk and all, it being 40 degrees in the Alaska summer and all.
Some of them drink Sterno, some drink Aqua Velva, some drink Listerine. None of them drink Chateau Vosne-Romanée.
We draw straws. The short one goes and wrangles the drunk. The long one stays with the truck. That’s the way it’s always decided.
We take them back to the dryout. We do a check-in. Same names again and again. Wassily Wassily. Alexie Alexie. Michael Dick. Willie Pete. Richard John. Alexie Wassily. Wassily Alexie. Yup’ik names we can’t pronounce.
Aggie Kwethluk: She was notorious. We get a call that takes us down to the edge of the Kuskokwim. The caller said she had gone in the drink. That river will make you dead, even in the middle of summer. Water’s fast, deep, and cold. One of us was saying just follow the bottle. You’ll find her. And sure as shit, we go down to the sand bank, find the empty, family-sized bottle of Listerine, draw an imaginary line out to the other side of the river from there, and find her.
We have Wellies. We have Carhartts. We have thick rubber gloves. We wade in and get her.
She says, you mutterfucking gussuqs, you white guys are all the same. She says this while she struggles like a mighty King Salmon against our grip.
She gets to go in the cab instead of the cage because she’s naked. We put wool army surplus blankets on her. She’s tiny. She’s old. She’s fierce. She could kill a fucking walrus. She smells like Listerine. Cleanest smelling drunk we’ve ever smelled.
We take her back to the place. We check her in. She makes happy with all the drunks in dryout. They all know each other going back to the Van Buren administration.
One of us who is Mike says to one of us who isn’t, where are you from anyway? And one of us who isn’t says I’m from Miami. Or Detroit. Or Iowa.
Right, so we’re all hiding from something, right? Ex-wife, shithead girlfriend, IRS, stripper we owe money, guy we shot, teenager we married. Something. That’s why we’re here and not down there.
Boredom is the killer. Sun’s up all the time. Day never ends. Only thing that punctuates the ennui is when something happens like Aggie getting in the cleaning closet when we’re not looking and drinking Pine Sol. Then we all spring into action: We throw up our hands, never having seen shit like this before, and in one voice say, “What do we do?”
Someone with their wits about them, not one of us, one of the native nurses, April, she knows what to do. She calls us a bunch of fucks while she radios the hospital and dispatches some EMTs—white guys of course, but white guys who actually know what they’re doing.
They come. They make pleasant with us. They take Aggie away. They give her gastric lavage. She survives. She goes to AA. She gets clean.
Couple weeks later, her sons Willie and Peter rape her while she’s completely sober.
Couple weeks after that, she shows up on the dock near the cannery, drunk as shit. She wants to fight everybody in the place, every mutterfucking gussuq there. The whole group of white guys who are working there for the summer form a human chain and walk her off the dock and right into the Kuskokwim. Again, she survives.
We’re sitting around eating twelve dollar sandwiches in the dryout. We get a call from the local police. We know all of them, all white guys like us. They say there’s a guy who’s Tango Uniform in the slough. We get in the truck and drive down there, thinking it’s probably Aggie again. The two of us who are cops are at the top of the slough, standing next to the cop car. They point to a body face down in the blueberry bushes down the hill. There’s your guy, two of us say. Native, they say. He’s really, really drunk.
So the two of us who are at the truck draw straws. The one of us who isn’t Mike gets the short straw and curses his luck at having to wrangle the drunk and not stay with the truck. The one who isn’t Mike bushwhacks his way through the blueberry, through the fireweed, to the drunk.
He grabs the drunk by his arm and pulls. The guy’s arm starts to rip away like an overdone chicken. Turns out he’s not really drunk. Turns out he’s really dead.
The one of us who isn’t Mike throws up. The rest of us laugh and laugh and laugh.
Aggie gets clean again. And again. And again. She gets a job cooking in the kitchen at the dryout and gives one of us pineapple upside down cake. She has a beautiful smile. She smiles at us like it is The First Day. She smiles at us like she doesn’t remember a goddamn thing.
One of us eats the cake out on the back stoop where nobody can see and cries. He doesn’t know why.
Later one of us says, noble savages? Fuck these people. Yeah, we say. Just fuck em.