By Erika T. Wurth
“We’re like twins. I mean, I think of us as twins,” Justine said, staring at me earnestly, her beer in hand. “Don’t you think?”
“Sure,” I said, and she looked disappointed.
Justine looked over at the jukebox, and sighed heavily.
“I pictured all of this in my head. That I’d turn on the right music and we’d talk about things, and smoke.” I stared over at her and smiled, tightly. She grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes, “I know you don’t like it when people try to get you to drink, but, I really really need you to have another beer with me tonight, OK Julia?”
“OK,” I said.
“I’ll pay!” she said brightly, and I said no and handed her a couple of dollars, and she said, “No really, I want to pay, really!”
“OK, but I have to feed you and John when we get home,” I said.
“Sure!” she said and I watched her move into the crowd, her body restless and hungry, her hair pouring down her back in one smooth black motion.
The first time I went to the Center I was twenty-one. It was my senior year of college. I turned left, into the doorway that I’d been shown my first year and never passed through. There was a long bank of computers on the wall and a circle of chairs with about ten people in all, either in the chairs or milling around at computers or getting some food from a fold-out table that was set further back into the room. I sat down.
“Hey.” I looked to my left at the boy sitting beside me. He was pretty. Mixed looking with greenish eyes and long hair. Thin. I smiled.
A girl to his left, who looked like she was probably his sister, said, “OK, guys let’s try to get started.” People got their plates and sat down.
“OK, well, welcome to the Native American Center. My name’s Elyse and this is my brother, Keokuk. And we’re Meskwaki, from Iowa. I’m like, the Chair and he’s the co-Chair. He was the chair last year but he’s graduating, so I’m taking over.” Keokuk looked over at her and gave her a funny look.
“Whatever!” she said,
“Cheap,” he said.
She slapped him gently and giggled. Her cell phone rang to the tone of Biggie’s Hypnotize. She picked up. Several people rolled their eyes but her brother looked impassively on, checking his cell phone for messages and then texting for a few minutes while his sister completed her conversation.
“Out of control!”
“He said what?”
“Out of control!”
“OK, well, peace out,” she said, and hung up.
“So, anyways, welcome to the Indian Center. There’s gonna be a lot of stuff going on this year, the Powwow of course and lots of other stuff. We’ll have some cool speakers and the Intertribal newspaper is still looking for people. So, like, if you’re into that you should sign up.” A girl to her right cleared her throat noisily.
“Oh, yeah, this is Justine. She’s in her last year here and she’s like, helping me.”
I looked over at Justine. She was beautiful. Almost unnaturally beautiful, her long, black slanted eyes swimming with intelligence.
She looked over at Elyse and said, “I’ll be coordinating a lot of the events. But, why don’t we go around and introduce ourselves?” She looked in my direction and smiled. I smiled back. For some reason, she reminded me of my friends from back home.
“I’ll start,” she said, and laughed loudly. “Sooo, I’m from Canada? I’m Metis and I’m majoring in Anthropology.”
As people went around, it turned out that most were Navajo, with their fantastically beautiful broad faces and purply brown lips. There were however, two Utes, a handful of folks from Oklahoma – a couple of them being Chickasaw/Choctaw mixes like me, an Osage from Denver, an Apache from Tucson and a number of people of multiple tribes. Some of them introduced themselves in their languages, and for the first time in my life I was sad I hadn’t bothered to listen to all of the Indian buzzing around me growing up.
There was talk about the events for the coming year and all of it seemed like it might be fun. What had stopped me from coming to the Center? I remembered my friend Margaritte from back home had sent me a postcard featuring a hilariously romanticized Indian guy with long, flowing hair and a ripped body. The card read, “May your spirit flow through nature like an eagle in the sky.” Inside, Margaritte had written, “Haven’t heard from you. Call me. And go to the Indian Center. I’ve heard he lives there.” I had laughed and then felt guilty. I liked Margaritte but I hadn’t ever written her. I didn’t keep in contact with people.
As things were wrapping up, Elyse took another call, to the obvious annoyance of the entire group, to which she was either oblivious or uncaring. During that call I learned that she and Justine were going to meet with someone at Solids at 7:00.
“That Chris?” Her brother Keokuk asked.
“Yeah… if only he were Meskwaki,” she said.
“So?” he said.
She sighed deeply. “That’s easy for you to say, Keokuk. For you it doesn’t matter.” She looked out at the rest of us and said, “I don’t remember what I was saying. Do you, Justine?”
Justine looked at Elyse with obvious impatience. “You were asking everybody if they had anything to announce.”
“Oh, yeah. So like, anything?” People looked around at each other and then shrugged.
“Well, OK, that’s it then,” Elyse said, her cell ringing again. I got up to go and looked over at Justine. I’d try to start a conversation with her next time.
“Come on Julia. That’s ridiculous,” Chris said, and rolled over.
I was sitting in bed, my back against the old fashioned wooden headboard. Chris, the skinny white boy I had been sleeping with for the last six months was laying next to me, staring at the headboard absentmindedly, his finger tracing the patterns in the headboard.
“I just don’t agree, that’s all,” I said, and took his joint from his long fingers and puffed quietly. Chris didn’t look happy. Not just because I was disagreeing with him, as usual, but because I was smoking his joint. He was a giant pothead and rarely offered anybody a hit. So, I always just took it out of his hand after he lit one up, and he let me, because I was sleeping with him.
“You’re just so goddamn political with your identity shit,” he said. I sighed. I had met Chris in an English class that I had taken to fulfill a core requirement. Chris had sat, day after day, in the back of class, his short, irreverent responses to the professor and ripped tee-shirts and jeans and shaved head except for one long brown curl piquing my interest. One day, after class, he came up to me, his black folder stating, “English sucks,” tucked under his left arm.
“It’s just different for you,” I said and he rolled his eyes.
“You could pass for white,” he said and I shook my head.
“Then why did you ask me where I was from when we first met?” I said. “Why does every white person always ask me where I’m from?” I didn’t look at him. I stared at his old wooden dresser. It was covered in dust, coins, roaches, roach clips and other odd objects.
“What? Everybody asks everybody where they’re from,” he said.
“Why did you ask me? Even before you asked my name?”
He was silent and then said, “Look, Julia. Identity just doesn’t matter to me.”
I laughed. “Identity doesn’t matter to you? You’d rather be dead than be caught listening to a… a… Madonna album. Unless you were trying to be ironic.” We were both silent for a while and then slowly, he began to touch me. We had sex, quickly, and afterwards I asked him if it was cool if I jumped in the shower before I split.
“Sure,” he said, and lit another joint.
“Hey,” I said.
“Hey!” she said, and I was struck again by how beautiful she was. “You’re Julia, right?”
“Yeah.” I walked over to her. “And you’re Justine.”
“Yeah! Didn’t you say you were majoring in History?” She asked.
“I did,” I said, and she bit into a piece of chicken.
“Sorry! I’m so hungry!” she said, eyeing me. “Do you want anything to eat?”
“No… no, I’m fine,” I said.
“Oh, OK,” she said.
“So, uh, where are you from?” she asked. “Are you from a reserve?”
I smiled, thinking back to my conversation with Chris. “No, I’m from a small town in Colorado. But my family are all from Oklahoma,” I said, and she took another bite of chicken.
“Wow! Me too. I mean, not that my family’s from Oklahoma, actually, I don’t really know all of what that means down here, but, I’m not from a reserve either, I mean, a reservation,” she said and laughed boisterously. “Though almost everybody else is here. I feel like such a weirdo! I mean, first of all I’m not from this country and then, second I’m from a city.”
“Really? Which one?”
“What’s that like?”
“I don’t want to talk about that! Let’s talk about what you’re doing after this.”
“Oh – OK. After the meeting?” I said.
“Do you like to go out?”
“Sure,” I said, going over all of the things that I had caught up on – but thinking about the fact that I had to get up at five again the next morning for work.
“Well, let’s go out after this.”
“Let’s,” I said and we sat down for the meeting. Afterwards, Justine and I walked over to her car. “Why don’t we go over to Solids?” She asked and I nodded. Though I rarely went anywhere but to class, home, the library and work, and I didn’t have any friends, when I went out, I went to Solids. It’s where all the Indians hung out and the only place to dance in Durango. Once, my Sophomore year, I had gotten into Solids with my fake ID, had two Long Island Ice Teas and ended up making out with a Navajo guy in a corner who I’d been dancing with.
In Solids, the music was already blaring. Justine and I went over to the long wooden bar and she asked me if I wanted to order a pitcher. “Yeah,” I said and Justine leaned over the bar and, after catching the bartender’s attention said, “A pitcher please. Of Bud.” She insisted on paying for the pitcher and we sat down.
“This is my first time going to one of those things,” she said, pouring the beer expertly into our glasses and handing me one. I drank and set it down.
“To what?” I asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry! To a Native American organization,” she said.
“Me too.” I took another drink. “So, are you friends with Elyse?” I asked as she drank from her glass, nearly finishing half the beer in one swallow.
“I guess. I can tell she really resents me trying to take control of the organization, but she’s so lazy.
“Her brother’s hot,” I said.
“Keokuk?” she said, looking as if I’d slapped her. “I think he’s a jerk. But maybe I’m wrong. We’re all gonna go out Friday if you want to join us.”
“Sure,” I said, feeling strange. But the feeling passed and we talked so long that we closed the bar.
“It’s just that I’m so sick of my Dad telling me what to do,” Chris said. I had come in for a cup of coffee where he worked, the Steaming Bean, and he’d taken a break to sit down with me.
“Then move out,” I said, “He’s your best friend and he’s forty-nine.”
“He’s not my best friend, OK, and I don’t do what he says. I have my own section of the house,” he said, and drank from his chipped brown coffee cup.
“Right,” I said.
“I’ll be back there in two shakes,” Chris said to one of the girls who worked behind the bar. She looked at me and smirked, her long peasant-style skirt swishing around her legs as she walked. I shrugged. I knew that Chris had hooked up with her and half of the girls he still worked with. It didn’t matter to me. He wasn’t my boyfriend.
“So, what are you doing Friday?” he asked.
“I’m going out with some friends,” I said, looking around. The art on the walls was local, and full of strange abstract splashes of color.
He laughed. “Since when do you have friends.”
“Since I started going to the Indian Center,” I said, shifting around in my seat. Chris had wanted to sit on the barstools and I found them incredibly uncomfortable.
“You’re not gonna get all political on me, are you?” he said.
“Maybe,” I said. “What’s it to you?”
“Nothing,” he said, and it was true.
“Well, my boyfriend’s white. Though I cheat on him. Constantly,” Justine said.
“Well… I’ve never been faithful to a guy, but none of it’s been completely serious,” I said.
“I’ve always had very serious boyfriends, and I’ve always had guys on the side,” Justine said. “And I do want to marry John. It’s just that he can be so boooring,” she said, and laughed loudly.
“Then why do you want to marry him?” I asked.
“Well… because he’s good to me. And he’s good looking. And he’s a lawyer and wants to support me through graduate school, which I’ll probably do in the States. He’s already got his degree. And he hates it down here, but he came down for me. Though of course he threatens to leave me every month,” she said, laughing. “But I’m suicidal. So you can’t blame him.”
“Huh,” I said.
“Do you ever think you’re an alcoholic?” she asked and I was taken aback. I hated it when people assumed that of me, just because I was Indian.
“No,” I said, “My Dad was, but I am not.”
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said definitively. She was making me angry.
“Because I am. And my Dad is…” she said.
“Jesus, why do you drink then?” I said.
“Because… I think I can control it.”
“OK,” I said. I didn’t get it.
“Is your Dad Native?” She asked, and drank from her margarita glass.
“No. He was white. And I never knew him, I never even met him.” I hated talking about this. About the fact that I was an orphan.
“Oh, wow,” she said. “What about your Mom? Because I hate my Mom. She’s Czech, from the Czech Republic. And a bitch. My parents are divorced.”
“I guess that happens,” I said.
“Yes. And I love my father, I looove him,” she said, looking like she was going to cry.
“My foster Dad was pretty cool,” I said, realizing that I had to open up a little.
“Yeah, my Mom left when I was four, so I didn’t know her really, either. Though sometimes she’d come and visit me, but she was a methhead, so I didn’t really like it when she came.”
Justine leaned in. “I’m sorry,” she said. “That must have been hard.”
“It’s OK,” I said, taking a drink and laughing. “I remember one time my Mom came to visit and she brought me a cat. I don’t know where she got that thing but it was pretty much wild. So, she tries to hand it to me and it claws the hell out of my arm and then climbs straight up this tree. All the kids in the foster home were like, ‘Oh my God a cat’s up a tree,’ so, finally, one of them goes and gets my foster Dad and he climbs up, the cat wailing and scratching and peeing on his head the whole time.” I stopped and started to laugh but I could see that Justine was crying.
“Your poor father!”
“Well… he was OK,” I said, “He drank a little too much himself but he was basically a good guy. And he wasn’t really my father.”
“Yeah, but I can’t believe he did that!”
We were silent for a while and then Justine clasped my hand. “You need to tell me more about your pain.”
I was silent. I took another drink and regretted letting her in. Letting people in was always a mistake.
“You know, you really might be an alcoholic,” she said, breaking the silence.
“Well, didn’t you say you drink alone?”
“Sure. But that’s because I spend a lot of time alone. I mean… do you drink with your boyfriend?”
“Well, those are the nights I drink alone. And I don’t drink a lot.”
“I don’t know…”
“I tell you what,” I said, “We don’t have to drink when we hang out. We could do other things. And I don’t think you’re an alcoholic.”
“You don’t know me very well,” she said.
“Well… I don’t,” I said. And then, “So, are you ready to shake it at Solids?”
“No, no, I don’t like to dance lately. I’ve gained too much weight and I feel self-conscious,” she said, eyeing me. “What size are you?”
“Oh! Sorry… I just, didn’t realize at first that there was such a big difference between us, and now I realize that I’ve just gained so much weight in so little time that I don’t even realize what I look like anymore.”
“Justine. It’s not like you’re Native the hut, OK?” I said and she laughed.
“Do I look Native to you?” she asked. “I think I look Chinese.”
“Chinese?” I shook my head. “Hell, you look more Native than I do.”
“Really?” she said, “Tell me how.”
“Uh,” I said, looking at Justine, her straight, silky, long dark hair, and slanted dark eyes and felt muddled.
“I want to look more Native,” she said.
“I’ve gone through that. And the opposite. I wanted to look more white for years,” I said.
Justine laughed. “I never wanted to look white!”
“OK,” I said, feeling chastised.
“Oh! Sorry! I hope I didn’t offend you!”
“No…” I said vaguely. It was almost as if she had wanted to – and then realized I was calling her on it. Strange. No. I was sure I was wrong about that.
“So, you’re at least coming to Solids?” I asked.
“Oh, OK, but I’m not dancing,” she said.
“That’s cool,” I said.
At Solids we saw Elyse, Keokuk and a couple other Indians I had seen at the meeting. “Hey,” Keokuk said and before I could respond, he turned to his phone.
“I’ll go get us drinks,” I said and Justine nodded. By the time I came back, she was gone. I asked Elyse what had happened to her. “Oh, she said her boyfriend was like, getting off work and that she should probably get home to see him or whatever.” She was talking to me and texting at the same time. I looked over at Keokuk and then inched closer. He was also texting.
“So, where you from?” he said, not looking up.
“Colorado. Small town called Idaho Springs about an hour West of Denver.”
His phone beeped again, indicating that he was receiving a text.
“Crazy,” he said and he texted back. I looked over at Elyse, who was texting furiously.
“Are you two… texting each other?”
“Yeah,” he said, “That and this girl I know. And my cousin Macina.”
“I see,” I said.
“I’m going to dance,” he said.
“OK,” I said and then I realized that he wanted me to follow him onto the dance floor. I set both of my drinks down. It was nice dancing with him, but after the song we’d been dancing to ended, he walked quickly over to two girls who had been eyeing us the whole time and started dancing with them. I left the floor and walked over to Elyse, who was texting furiously.
Chris hadn’t called for a while. He was like a funny little dog that had come up to me one day, a dog that couldn’t help but follow. But now he was learning to bite. It was Thursday, and the sun was falling into the mountains, and my homework was spread out beneath me on the little desk I’d bought at a garage sale for five dollars. I was feeling strange, melancholy. Usually when I felt this way, I went somewhere alone and watched people go by; let their colors move through me. The phone rang.
“Hey!” Justine said. She always sounded as if she’d just finished a run.
“Hey. What’s up?”
“Nothing. I heard you and Keokuk hit it off.”
“Kind of. I can’t tell if he likes me. Hell,” I said, laughing and shifting the phone, “Maybe he likes you.”
“What makes you say that?” she asked. “Cause he did ask me when John was at work. That’s why I left Solids.”
“Yes. But I’m sure he likes you,” she said.
“I barely care,” I said, moving from the desk to my bed and laying down.
“You should sleep with him.”
“Well… because you’ve never slept with a Native guy, right?”
“Well, you should, and then you can tell me about it.”
I laughed. “Oh, really. Well, I don’t kiss and tell.”
“I bet you do,” she said.
I laughed. “Maybe.”
“John keeps asking me if I’m going to leave him for a Native guy, because of me getting so serious about Native issues,” Justine said, and I could hear her crunching something on the other end.
“Well, would you?”
“NO!” she practically roared. “Though I’ve always told him that we should have me artificially inseminated with Native sperm, so that I could have Native children.”
“Yikes,” I said.
“So, do you want to marry a Native?” she asked.
“Maybe. I don’t know if I want to marry at all. Or have children.”
“You really shouldn’t narrow it down to Native men,” she said, “Really. You’re just limiting yourself.”
“Yeah,” I said, confused.
“So, we’re all gonna gather at my house this Saturday. And Keokuk will be there.”
“Well, I don’t think I’m interested in him, even if he is cute.”
Justine laughed loudly. “Oh, I don’t think he’s cute at all, at all.”
I arrived with a six-pack of bud in hand.
“Elyse and Keokuk are here,” Justine said at the door, wiggling her eyebrows.
Justine’s house was beautiful. She had told me that she and John had re-done the floors and the walls. The floors were a deep red wood, and the furniture was in tones of gold and blue. John was sitting on the couch, looking down at his computer, a glass of beer in his hand.
In the kitchen, Elyse and Keokuk looked deep in conversation, Elyse hitting Keokuk on the arm playfully, almost… flirtatiously.
“Hey,” I said and they both looked at me.
“Hey,” Elyse said moodily and Keokuk continued to stare. I put my six-pack in the fridge and took one out for myself, which Keokuk eyed suspiciously. I had heard he didn’t drink. I talked to Justine nearly the entire night, who was angry at Keokuk because he had been telling her about how sick of Anthropologists he was. I had overheard some of the argument, which consisted of Keokuk stating flatly, They’re stupid and Justine countering passionately and at length only to get another, They’re stupid. At one point, when I went over to the fridge to get a beer, he was so close to me I almost bumped into him turning around.
“Hi,” I said, and instead of responding, he looked over at Elyse and grumbled about how she drank too much. I didn’t respond.
As I was getting ready to go, Justine took me aside.
“I don’t think Elyse and the others like you,” she said. “Every time I mention you, they roll their eyes and one girl asked me how I could stand you.”
I didn’t know what to say. I had hardly interacted with any of them.
“And in the kitchen, Elyse looked over at you and mouthed, Are you going home with her? And Keokuk mouthed, No way. I just thought you should know that.”
“I don’t care,” I said. “And anyway, I’m going home.”
“OK!” Justine said brightly.
Later that night, Keokuk called. He said he had lost his keys and asked if had I seen them. I didn’t even know how he had my number. I told him that I hadn’t seen his keys. He asked me if he could come over because his keys might have gotten into my purse or something. “I guess,” I told him.
When he got there, he asked if I had anything to eat. I went to the kitchen for a bag of chips and he plopped down on an old, stuffed green chair I’d found by the side of the road. It was in the corner of my room, and he sat there staring at me, eating.
“What are you majoring in?” I asked.
“Engineering,” he said, crunching on the chips I’d handed him.
“Do you have anything healthy? I like to eat healthy,” he said, chewing.
“Uh, no, sorry.”
“Oh,” he said and continued to stare at me.
“I’m majoring in History. Actually, I’m going to graduate school next year,” I said, sitting down on the bed and tucking my legs under.
“He’s OK, I guess,” I said. I barely remembered him from Justine’s party.
“Cheap,” he said and crunched on more chips. “I’m doing a ceremony tomorrow. But I can’t tell you about it.” He paused to dig further into the bag of chips. “Does that bother you?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Oh,” he said and shoveled the chips in his mouth. It was 3:00 in the morning and I was exhausted.
“So… I’m pretty tired,” I said. He was silent. It wasn’t a move. I meant it. “I’m going to bed.” He was silent.
“You can either stay here, or you can leave. Either way. I don’t care.”
“I’ll stay here I guess,” he said and I sighed. He followed me to my bed and got in. I turned over and started to go to sleep. After a few minutes, he started to touch me, not kiss me.
“I’m not fucking you if you won’t even kiss me,” I said.
“Hmmm,” he said and kissed me, just a little.
I did sleep with him, and without a condom, which I regretted. I had never done that and had no idea why I was doing it with someone like this. He left in the morning after a long and heated texting session with his sister while he was still in bed with me.
“So, how was it?” Justine asked.
We were sitting at the Bean drinking coffee.
“It was OK. But he wouldn’t really kiss me.”
“He wouldn’t kiss you?”
“Yeah, and I didn’t use a condom,” I said, drinking from my cup.
“Are you on birth control?” she asked.
Justine laughed. “I fucked lots of guys without a condom. And I think you can trust Keokuk. And what if you had a baby? It would be with a Native.”
“I guess,” I said, feeling very strange. “He’s weird about Elyse. They’re weird.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, they call and text each other incessantly. He did it while in bed with me. And they both act really jealous about whoever the other is with.”
Justine laughed hysterically.
“What?” I said.
“You’re sooooo wrong,” she said.
“Because you’re being paranoid. You’re so neurotic.”
“No one’s ever told me that,” I said.
“Oh you are! You are!”
I was silent.
Then Justine said, “Well, but then again, I was helping Elyse clean her car out the other day. It was filthy and I told her that she should come to my place and that I’d help her, though I did all the work, just like with the Center! Anyway, I found this picture of Keokuk and said to her how good-looking he looked in the picture. And I could feel this wave of hatred come out of her.”
“That’s weird,” I said. “Yuck. I mean, that stuff is especially taboo with us.”
“What do you mean?”
“They can only be enrolled if it’s from the Dad’s side.”
“Oh. Well, he was a good lay, right?” she said.
“Plus, he’s really good looking.”
“I thought you said you thought he wasn’t?”
Justine laughed loudly. “Oh, I never said that never.”
“You did,” I said and drank more coffee.
It was only 11:00 but Justine was stinking, fucking, amazingly drunk.
Chris had called, finally, and asked me if I wanted to go to a party that a bunch of his English major friends were having. I had asked him if I could bring a friend. He had hesitated until I had stated that the friend’s name was Christine.
“He likes me, I can tell,” she said, smoking. We were out on the porch.
“Uh, huh,” I said. That was the fifth guy that night she had said that about. There were only twelve people at the party and only seven of them were men. The guy she was telling me that about was Chris.
“Remember, Chris is the guy I was, well… I guess am seeing.”
“Oh! Right! Sorry!” she said.
“It’s cool. Do you want to go home?”
“No! I’m havin’ fun!” She yelled. I had been trying to get her glass away from her all night. I had not been successful. She had just kept ducking my attempts and refilling her glass.
By 2:00 everyone was gone and it was only me, Justine and Chris. Justine had tried to get everybody to listen to a pamphlet on Mormonism and had been furious when people would not quiet down and listen to her. I had tried to make it into a joke, but it wasn’t funny. All of Chris’ friends were these cool, sarcastic white people and I knew, I knew what they were thinking.
I looked over at Justine. We were out smoking on the porch again. “Want to go home?”
She looked at me, her head swaying, “NO! I wanna dance!” and she walked into the apartment and over to Chris. “Hi,” she said to him and then tried to pull him up. He was like a cat though, she couldn’t get him up. He kept slipping through her arms and murmuring, “I can’t dance.” He was pretty drunk himself. Justine looked over at me and narrowed her eyes and then blocked me with her body and started trying to pull Chris up again.
“What is it about you that makes Indian women just wanna throw you around?” I said and he laughed.
“Wha?” Justine said.
“Oh, nothing, just that we should go home.”
“You’re a jerk,” Justine said to Chris and he shrugged.
“Let’s go Justine,” I said.
“Fine. I don’ wanna be with this jerk anymore anyway. Won’t even dance,” she said as I took her arm and led her to the door.
“Sorry,” I said to Chris as I walked over to the door. He shrugged again. I felt a surge of hatred for him that I didn’t understand.
Two weeks later, I was in bed with Keokuk.
“I’ve stopped drinking coffee and I feel better,” he was saying. “I only drink tea now.”
“I read somewhere that tea has a higher caffeine content than coffee.”
“No. I know I feel better.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so,” I said.
“What are your sources?” he said.
“I don’t remember.”
“Well. I know you’re wrong.”
“Right,” I said sarcastically.
We had spent the later half of the day playing basketball with his family, Keokuk screaming at me to get the ball, nearly knocking me over in his attempt to get the ball for me. Before that, in his car on the way to the game, we had talked. I had said that I didn’t like that he wouldn’t kiss me in bed. He had said, “Look, I’m just really not into you. But I can tell you like me.” I had rolled my eyes and said, “Frankly, I don’t know you very well. But it’s cool. I’m not really into you either. If you don’t want to have sex, that’s fine.” He had been silent for a moment. “No, no, he’d said. I don’t want to be alone.”
“Well, it’s just that they’re from the reserve,” Justine was saying. We were at a bar with John, her boyfriend. She had heard there was a trivia night and though I had told her that I didn’t want to go, that I was in a grumpy mood, and had, in fact, not answered the phone the seven times that she had called until she’d sent John after me, I was there.
“No, Elyse and Keokuk are not,” I said. “I thought that too, but they grew up in Iowa City. Their dad is though and he’s a prominent tribal politician and businessman. Their Mom is from Burlington and she’s a high school teacher. His parents are separated, and once, after telling me that he really couldn’t stay because his sister wanted him to spend the night at her house, he had told me that he was on Prozac.”
Justine laughed loudly. “I think he just doesn’t like you.”
“I suppose he likes you,” I said, assuming that would make her angry. She looked at me intently, took a few, long pulls on her drink and said, “Do you think so?”
I stared at her. “No, I think his problem is that he’s a jerk and I shouldn’t have slept with him. Hell, even you’ve said that Justine.”
She laughed one of her large, fake laughs. “I never said that!” I looked over at John, who was looking down at his phone.
Justine sat down. “John! John! Get us an ashtray, John!” he looked vaguely annoyed and then, like always, went to retrieve an ashtray.
“He’s soooo lazy!” she said and laughed.
“You could get one.”
“Oh, but I want him to!” She laughed. I didn’t.
Justine went to the bathroom and when she came back said, “I had to throw up.”
“Do you want to go?” I asked.
“No, now I’m OK and can drink some more,” she said. I felt like crying.
“Anyway, when I was in the bathroom, this girl asked me if you were cheating.”
I sighed. “I get it Justine. I told you, if it’s that important to you, I won’t cheat.”
The game finished, and as soon as it was over, the boys who had been pissed about my cheating got up and left.
“That’s sad,” I said.
“Wha?” Justine said.
“Well, as soon as they realized that they hadn’t won, they just left,” I was about to say that I thought the point of these things was to have fun but Justine looked me in the eyes, her head wavering and said, “I’m sick of your negative animosity,” and then stopped, looking satisfied.
I wanted to tell her that that was a double negative, that if one had animosity, it was automatically negative but I just said, “Well, then maybe you should go.”
“I will!” She walked up to the bar.
I looked over at John. “Well, it’s been nice getting to know you.” I felt sorry for him. I wondered what kept him with her. Love, I guess.
“We’ll hang out again,” he said.
“I don’t think so.” He looked sad.
She sat down and didn’t look at me.
“Justine, I don’t want you to pay my half of the bill.”
“Oh, don’t you worry, you’ll get yours!” she said venomously. “C’mon John!” They stood up. I watched them go. I sat for a while longer, the deep, dank, beer-soaked smell of the bar working its way into me. I walked up to the bar, ordered a shot of peppery-tasting tequila, drank it in one angry swallow, and walked home.
I didn’t go to any more meetings. I didn’t see Keokuk again, or Chris for that matter, though six months later Keokuk stuffed a tee-shirt in my mailbox that he had borrowed and emailed an apology of sorts, including, of course, another statement about how he didn’t like me and how he knew I liked him. I didn’t respond.
As I put my groceries away after finding the tee-shirt, I thought of one of the times that, on the way to Justine’s house, she had said that she needed to stop at the grocery store. My stomach had tensed. She had parked, told me that I could wait for her, and sure enough, when she came back there was a bottle of wine at the bottom of her bag. I remember closing my eyes and feeling the same dread I used to feel when my foster father would go into the store for “a little something,” and come out with a bottle of Scotch. And I remembered the time I’d told her about my foster father climbing the tree to get the cat my mother had given me. The time she had cried for him. What I hadn’t told her was that that was the last time I’d ever seen my mother. She had looked at me, and I back at her across a great divide, her arms full of cat scratch and her eyes full of wild, animal love.
Erika T. Wurth’s novel, ‘Crazyhorse’s Girlfriend’, has been accepted for publication by Curbside Splendor. Her work has appeared in numerous journals. She teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and she’s been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She’s Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver.