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Is what it means to say. Phoenix arizona by sherman alexie just after victor lost lost his job at the bia he also found out that his father had died a heart attack in phoenix. Arizona victor hadnt seen his father in a few years only talked to him on the telephone once or twice.
But there still was a genetic pain. Which was soon to be pain as real and as mediate as a broken bone victor didnt have any money who does have money on a reservation. Except the cigarette and fireworks salespeople his father had a savings account waiting to be claimed but victor needed to find a way to get to phoenix victors mother was just as poor as he was and the rest of his family.
Didnt have any use at all for him so victor called the tribal council. Listen. Victor said.
My father just died i need some money to get phoenix to make arrangements. Now victor. The council said you know were having a difficult time financially.
But i thought the council had special funds set aside for stuff like this now victor. We do have some money available for the proper return of tribal members bodies. But i dont think we have enough to bring your father all the way back from phoenix.
Well victor said. It aint going to cost all that much he had to be cremated things were kind of ugly. He died of a heart attack in his trailer.
And nobody found him for a week. It was really hot you get the picture now victor were sorry for your loss and the circumstances. But we really can only afford to give you 100 thats not even enough for a plane ticket well you might consider driving to phoenix.
I dont have a car besides. I was going to drive my fathers pickup back up here now victor. The council said were sure there is somebody who could drive you to phoenix or theres somebody who could lend you the rest of the money you know there aint nobody around here with that kind of money well were sorry victor.
But thats the best we can do victor accepted the tribal councils often offer what else could he do so he signed the proper papers picked up his check and walked over to the trading post to catch it while victor stood in line. He watched thomas builds. The fire standing near the magazine rack talking to himself like he always did thomas was a storyteller then nobody wanted to listen to thats like being a dentist in a town.
Where everybody has false teeth victor and thomas built the fire were the same age had grown up and played in the dirt together. Ever since victor could remember. It was thomas who always had something to say once when they were 7 years old when victors father still lived with the family thomas closed his eyes and told victor this story your fathers heart is weak.
He is afraid of his own family. He is afraid of you late at night. He sits in the dark watches.
The television until theres nothing but that white noise. Sometimes he feels like he wants to buy a motorcycle and ride away he wants to run and hide. He doesnt want to be found thomas builds.
The fire had known that victors father was going to leave leave knew it before anyone now victor stood in the training post with a 100 check in his hand. Wondering. If thomas knew that victors father was dead.
If he knew what was going to happen next just then thomas looked at victor smiled and walked over to him victor im sorry about your father. Thomas said. How did know about it victor asked i heard it on the wind.
I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight also your mother was just in here crying. Oh.
Victor said and looked around the trading post. All the other indians stared. Surprised.
The victor was even talking to thomas nobody talked to thomas because he told. The same darn stories over and over again victor was embarrassed. But he thought that thomas might be able to help him victor felt a sudden need for tradition.
I can you lend you the money you need thomas said. Suddenly. But you have to take me with you i cant take your money victor said.
I mean i havent hardly talked to you in years. Were not really friends anymore it didnt say we were friends. I said you had to take me with you let me think about it victor went home with his 100 and sat on the kitchen table.
He held his head in his hands. And thought about thomas builds. The fire remembered the little details tears and scars.
The bicycle they shared for a summer. So many stories thomas builds. The fire sat on the bicycle waited in victors yard.
He was 10 years old and skinny his hair was dirty because it was the fourth of july. Victor thomas yelled. Hurry up were going to miss the fireworks after a few minutes victor ran out of his home jumped the porch railing and landed gracefully on the sidewalk and the judges award him and 995.
The highest score of the summer. Thomas ed clapped. Laughs that was perfect cousin victor said.
And its my turn to ride the bike thomas gave up the bike and they headed for the fairgrounds. It was nearly dark and the fireworks were about to start you know thomas said. Its strange how us indians celebrate the fourth of july.
It aint like it was our independence. Everybody was fighting for you think about things too much victor said. Its just supposed to be fun maybe junior will be here.
Which junior everybody on this reservation is named junior and they both left the fireworks for small hardly more than a few bottle rockets and a fountain. But it was enough for two indian boys year later they would need much more afterwards sitting in the dark fighting off. Mosquitos.
Victor nick. Turned to thomas builds. The fire.
Hey. Victor said. Tell me.
A story. Thomas closed. His eyes.
This story. There were these two indian boys who wanted to be warriors. But it was too late to be warriors in the old way all the horses were gone so the two indian boys stole a car and drove to the city they parked the stolen car in front of the police station and then hitchhiked back home to the reservation.
When they got back all their friends cheered and their parents eyes shone with pride you were very brave. Everybody said to the two indian boys. Very brave yea ah victor said thats a good one.
I wish i could be a warrior. Me too thomas said. They went home together in the dark thomas on the bike now victor on foot.
They walked through shadows and lights from street lamps. Weve come a long ways thomas said. We have outdoor lighting.
All i need is the stars victor said and besides you still think about things too much they separated then each headed for home. Both laughing. All the way victor sat.
A kitchen table. He counted his 100 again and again. He knew he needed more to make it to phoenix and back.
He knew he needed thomas built the fire so he put his money in his wallet and opened the front door to find thomas on the porch. Yeah. Hey.
Victor thomas said i knew youd call me thomas walked into the living room and sat down on victors favorite chair. Ive got some money saved up thomas said its enough to get us down there. But you have to get us back ive got this hundred dollars.
Victor said and my dad has a savings account. Im going to claim how much is in your dads account enough a few hundred sounds good when are we leaving. When they were 15 and had long since stopped being friends victor.
And thomas got into a fistfight that is victor was really drunk and beat thomas up for no reason at all all the other indian boys stood around and watched. It happen junior was there and so were lester seymour and a lot of others. The beating might have gone on until thomas was dead.
If norma mini horses hadnt come along and stopped it hey you boys norma yelled and jumped out of her car leave him alone. If it had been someone else even another man. The indian boys would have just ignored the warnings.
But norma was a warrior. She was powerful she could have picked up any two of the boys and smashed their skulls together. But worse than that she would have dragged them all over to the same teepee and made them listen to some elder tell a dusty old story.
The indian boys scattered and norma walked over to thomas and picked him up hey. Little man are you okay. She asked thomas gave.
Her a thumbs up why they always picking on you thomas shook. His head closed his eyes. But knowing stories came to him no words or music.
He just wanted to go home to lie in his bed. And let his dreams. Tell his stories for him.
Thomas builds. The fire and victor sat next to each other on the airplane coach section a tiny white woman had the window seat she was busy twisting her body into pretzels she was flexible i have to ask thomas said and victor closed his eyes and embarrassment. Dont victor said excuse me.
Miss. Thomas asked are you a gymnast or something. Theres no something about it.
She said. I was first alternate on the 1980 olympic team really thomas asked really i mean you used to be a world class athlete. I must ask my and still thinks i am.
Thomas builds. The fire. Smiled she was a mental gymnast.
Too she pulled her leg straight up against her body. So that she could have kissed her kneecap. I wish i could do that thomas said.
Viktor was ready to jump out of the plane thomas that crazy indian story tell with a ratty old braids and broken teeth was flirting with a beautiful olympic gymnast. Nobody back home on the reservation would ever believe it well the gymnast said. Its easy try.
It thomas grabbed his leg and tried to pull it up into the same position as the gymnast he couldnt even come close. Which made victor and the gymnast. Laughed.
Hey. She asked you to are indian. Right full blood.
Victor said. Not me. Thomas said.
Im half magician on my mothers side and half clown on my fathers they all laughed. What are your names. She asked victor.
And thomas mine is cathy. Pleased to meet you all the three of them talked for the duration of the flight. Cathy the gymnast complained about the government how they screwed the 1980 olympic team by boycotting sounds like you all got a lot in common with indians thomas said.
Nobody laughed after the plane landed in phoenix. They had all found their way to the terminal. Cathy.
The gymnast. Smiled and waved goodbye. She was really nice.
Thomas said. Yeah. When everybody talks to everybody on airplanes.
Its too bad. We cant always be that way you always used to tell me i think too much thomas said. Now it sounds like you do maybe i caught it from you yeah.
Thomas and victor rode in a taxi to the trailer. Where victors father died. Listened victor said as they stopped in front of the trailer.
I never told you i was sorry for beating you up that time oh it was nothing we were just kids and you were drunk yeah. But im still sorry thats all right victor paid for the taxi and the two of them stood in the phoenix summer they could smell the trailer. The saint going to be nice victor said.
You dont have to go in youre going to need the help victor walked through the front door and opened. It the stink rolled out and made them both gag. Victors father had lain in that trailer for a week in hundred degree temperatures before anyone found him and the only reason anyone found him was because of the smell.
They needed dental records to identify him thats exactly what the coroner said. They needed dental records. Oh man victor said.
I dont know if i can do this well. Then dont. But there might be something valuable in there i thought his money was in the bank.
It is i was talking about pictures and letters and stuff like that oh tomas said is he held his breath and followed victor into the trailer. When victor was 12. He stepped into an underground wasp nests his foot was caught in the hole.
And no matter how hard he struggled victor couldnt pull free he might have died there its dying. A thousand times. If tomas builds the fire had not come by ryan thomas yelled and pulled victors foot from the hole.
They ran then hard as they had ever had faster than billy mills faster than jim thorpe faster than the wasps could fly victor and thomas ran until they couldnt breathe ran until it was cold and dark outside ran until they were lost and it took hours to find their way home all the way back victor counted. His stings. Seven victor said.
My lucky number victor didnt find much to keep in the trailer. Only a photo album in a stereo everything else had that smell stuck in it or was useless. Anyway.
I guess. This is all it aint much shh better than nothing thomas said. Yeah.
And i do have to pick up. Yeah. Thomas said.
Its in good shape dad was good about stuff like that yeah i remember your dad really. Victor asked. What do you remember thomas builds.
The fire closed his eyes and told this story. I remember when i had this dream that told me to go to spokane to stand by the falls in the middle of the city and wait for a sign. I knew i had to go there.
But i didnt have a car didnt have a license. I was only 13 so i walked all the way took me all day and i finally made it to the falls. I stood there for an hour waiting then your dad came walking up what the heck are you doing here he asked.
Me. I said waiting for a vision. Then your father said.
All youre going to get here is mugged. So he drove me over to dennys bought me dinner and then drove me home to the reservation for a long time. I was mad because i thought my dreams had lied to me.
But they didnt your dad was my vision take care of each other is what my dreams were saying take care of each other victor was quiet for a long time. He searched his mind for memories of his father. Found the good ones found a few bad ones added it all up and smiled my father never told me about finding you and spokane victor said.
He said he wouldnt tell anybody didnt want me to get in trouble. But he said i had to watch out for you as part of the deal really really your father said. You would need the help he was right thats why you came down here with me isnt it victor asked.
I came because of your father. Victor. And thomas climbed into the pickup drove over the bank.
And claimed the 300 in the savings account. Thomas builds. The fire cut.
Why once he jumped off the roof of the tribal school and flapped his arms like a crazy eagle and he flew for a second he hovered suspended above all the other indian boys who were too smart or too scared to jump. Hes flying junior yelled and seymour was busy looking for the truck trick wires or mirrors. But it was real as real as the dirt when thomas lost altitude and crashed to the ground he broke his arm in two places he broke his wing victor chanted and the other indian boys joined in made it a tribal song he broke his wing he broke his wing he broke his wing.
All the indian boys chanted as they ran off flapping their wings wishing they could fly too they hated thomas for his courage his brief moment as a bird. Everybody has dreams about flying thomas flew one of his dreams came true for just a second just enough to make it real victors father his ashes that in one wooden box with enough left over to fill a cardboard box. He always was a big man.
Thomas said. Victor carried part of his father and thomas carried the rest out to the pickup they set him down carefully behind the seats. But a cowboy hat on the wooden box and a dodgers cap on the cardboard box thats the way.
It was supposed to be ready to head back home. Victor asked. Its going to be a long drive yeah take a couple days.
Maybe we can take turns. Thomas said. Ok.
Victor said. But they didnt take turns. Victor drove for 16 hours.
Straight. North made it halfway up in nevada. Before he finally pulled over hey.
Thomas victor. Said. Youve got out a drive for a.
Thomas builds. The fire slid behind the wheel and started off down the road. All through nevada.
Thomas and victor had been amazed at the lack of animal life at the absence of water of movement. Where is everything viktor had asked more than once now when thomas was finally driving they saw the first animal. Maybe.
The only animal in nevada. It was a long eared jackrabbit look. Victor yelled.
Its alive. Thomas and victor were busy congratulating themselves on their discovery. When the jackrabbit darted out into the road and under the wheels of the pickup stop the car.
Victor yelled. And thomas did stop back to pick up to the dead jackrabbit. Oh man.
Hes dead nature. Said as he looked at the squashed animal. Really dead.
The only thing alive in this whole state and we just killed. It i dont know thomas said. I think.
It was suicide victor looked around the desert sniffed. The air felt the emptiness and loneliness and nodded his head. Yeah victor said it had to be suicide.
I cant believe this thomas said. You drive for a thousand miles and there aint even bugs mashed on the windshield. I drive for 10 seconds and killed the only living thing in nevada.
Yeah. Victor said maybe i should drive maybe you should thomas builds. The fire walked through the corridors of the tribal school by himself.
Nobody wanted to be anywhere near him. Because of all those stories story. After story thomas closed.
His eyes. And this story came to him we are all given one thing. By which our lives are measured.
One determination mine are the stories. Which can change or not change. The world it doesnt matter.
Which as long as i continue to tell the stories. My father he died on okinawa in world war two died fighting for this country. Which had tried to kill him for years.
My mother she died giving birth to me died while i was still inside her she pushed me out into the world. With her last breath have no brothers or sisters. I have only my stories which come to me before i even had the words to speak.
I learned a thousand stories before i took. My first thousand steps they are all i have its all i can do thomas fills. The fire told his stories to all those who would stop and listen.
He kept telling them long after people had stopped listening victor and thomas made it back to the reservation. Just as the sun was rising. It was the beginning of a new day on earth.
Good. Morning. Thomas said good morning.
The tribe was waking up ready for work eating breakfast reading. The newspaper just like everybody else does valene labret was out in her garden wearing a bathrobe she waved when thomas and victor drove by crazy indians made it she said to herself and went back to her roses victor stopped to pick up in front of thomas builds. The fires head home they both yawned stretched the little shook dust from their bodies.
Im tired. Victor said of everything thomas added they both searched for words to end the journey. Victor needed to thank thomas for his help for the money and made the promise to pay it all back dont worry about the money.
Thomas said. It dont make any difference anyhow probably not and in it nope victor knew that thomas would remain the crazy storyteller who talked to dogs and cars. Hell listen to the wind and pine trees victor knew he couldnt really be friends with thomas even after all that had happened it was cruel.
But it was real as real as the ashes as pictures father sitting behind the seats. I know how it is thomas said. I know you aint going to treat me any better than you did before i know your friends would give you too much trouble.
Victor was ashamed of himself whatever happened to the tribal ties. The sense of community. The only real thing he shared with anybody was a bottle and broken dreams he oh thomas something anything listen.
Victor said and handed thomas the cardboard box. Which contained half of his father i want you to have this thomas took the ashes and smiled closed his eyes and told this story. Im going to travel to spokane falls.
One last time and toss these ashes into the water and your father will rise like a salmon leap over the bridge over me and find his way home. It will be beautiful his teeth will shine like silver like a rainbow he will rise victor he will rise victor smiled. I was planning on doing the same thing with my half victor said but i didnt imagine my father looking anything like a salmon.
I thought itd be like cleaning the attic or something like letting things go after theyve stopped having any use. Nothing stops. Cousin thomas said.
Nothing stops. Thomas builds. The fire got out of the pickup and walked up his driveway.
Victor started to pick up and begin to drive home wait. Thomas yelled. Suddenly from his porch.
I just got to ask one favor victor stopped. The pickup leaned out the window and shouted. What do you want just one time.
When im telling a story somewhere. Why dont you stop and listen thomas asked just once just once victor waved his arms to let thomas know that the deal was good it was a fair trade and that was all victor had ever wanted from his whole life so victor drove his fathers pickup toward home while thomas went into his house close the door behind him and heard a new story come to him in the silence afterwards you you .
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