Friday, February 27, 2015
It was time to use my “medicine”, my mojo, my special tool to rescue Clay, heck, rescue us all. I jammed my hand into my pocket and withdrew the object that usually called my brother back to reality.
I carried the spent shotgun shell, always, as a reminder and spirit guide. It was from my old 16 gauge, the one meant to send me to a new realm at age 14. It served a fitting symbol of tragedy turned triumph for Clay and I, one celebrating a new formed brotherhood. The gun was traded away for a ball glove that fit me better than the neighbor kid, yah, fit me like a…
I produced the shell and smacked it down on the dash in front of Clay. The lights went on for him and his face softened. Crow’s feet, the kind caused by squinting and laughter, formed in front of his temples. He reached out for it but I pulled it up before my face. His eyes tracked it and finally locked into a state of recognition.
“Clay, you droopy assed ole coot, how the hell are ya man?” I asked in a good humored tone.
“Ain’t It? Where you come from? We go out for some beers and I win a contest or somethun? Musta passed out I guess. Wow dude, I got a real thumper goin’ on in my noggin,” said Clay.
His Favorite Gal twirled her finger round and round, a signal to keep up the ruse, and walked back to the house to wait for us.
“Yes, yes, you won again buddy. When will I learn I can’t out drink you? So anyhoo, we sang our way to the car and took a nap. I woke up first as always. Yup, I got into town, met you at our hangout, and the rest is history as they say.”
“Who’s they? Anyways, you got my fish jerky? I got munchies goin’ on,” says Clay.
I reached into the back seat, produced an open brown sack, and offered it to my friend. He put his hand in and monkey fisted the cellophane wrapped item. Unwrapping it, he hawk eyed me.
“Fudge! Man, you…you…ah man, I can’t remember my line Ain’t It.”
“That’s okay brother. We’re both getting old and lame brained. Here, I got the real deal for ya.”
My brother didn’t seem to hear me. Eyes closed, he rubbed his temples with fingers sporting bright orange spots. His hands dropped to his thighs then slapped together.
“YouPee Apple! That’s it! That’s what you are Ain’t It,” yelled Clay, gleeful and relieved.
I was too. Yup, he was back. Tears washed over my eyes as I looked at my friend, my pitiful but still loveable friend.
I handed Clay the fish Jerky and suggested we go inside so I could get my stuff unpacked. He agreed. Clay went to the house while I pulled my travel case from the trunk. His Special Gal opened the door for Clay and held it for me. Fresh coffee was in the air and it did a waltz with my trepidation.
I plunked my case down by the door and joined Clay and his gracious companion at a messy dining table. The pan of steamy coffee sat on a holey pot holder in the center of the tabletop and I broke the silence.
“You know why I’m here Clay? You remember the call you made to me yesterday?”
“Well hell yes I know him officer. He’s my brother. Why do you ask?”
The cop mumbled something to his partner who, I presumed, showed him a sketch of Clay.
“Sir, you are a close match to the photo we have of your brother. You twins?" He asked.
“We act that way sometimes but no, different parents officer.”
“Is your brother okay? When’s the last time you spoke to him?”
Flat out lying, I bullshitted him about being in the restaurant eating and catching up, about me living 8 hours away and being back to visit. I told him Clay had hurried home ahead to get a room ready for me as I settled the bill.
“So yeah officer, I’m headed back to the Rez, to his place specifically. Yeah, he’s fine. He likes walking and sometimes forgets the time. He was out and about when I got into town and called him. Yep, told him to meet me here. Good grief, that woman of his, she worries too much. I suppose she called him in as missing. Does it often my brother says. Regardless, all is well. Thanks for checking.”
The police pulled away, happy to have washed their hands of any tribal matter. Jurisdiction conflicts were something to be avoided and the city blues were expected to cooperate with tribal enforcement.
I climbed into my seat to the unmistakable smell of nail polish, florescent orange of all colors. And there sat Clay, I mean Jovee, applying the stuff to toes planted on the dash. Where in the hell did he get it from? Oh well, Jovee and Clay seemed content and I was going to keep it that way as best I could.
I reactivated the Blue Tooth and called His Favorite Gal. I was relieved that she answered Clay’s phone and wasn’t at a cousin’s as predicted.
“Hi there, I got a nice young woman here by the name of Jovee who says she knows Clay. She’s showing me the way to his house and we’ll be there in a minute.”
“Oh cripes Ain’t It. You lucked out and I can’t believe you found him, yah, and found Jovee being the one looking out his eye balls. Lucky bastard you are for sure. Whew, glad you got to him. Okay then, I’ll get a pan of coffee goin’ for yas.”
We rolled into the rutted driveway. The yard, surprisingly tidy but not mowed, was free of junk. Tribal operations had been hitting the code hard and getting after people to make their places more presentable and most were.
Clay had already got his sock and shoe onto the dainty foot and was ready. His Favorite Gal hustled out to Clay’s side and spoke through the open window.
“Hey there Jovee, ya wanna come in for coffee? Clay has a flower waitin’ for ya.”
Obviously, His Favorite Gal was well acquainted with Jovee and “her” behavior. I wondered at the total number of people in Clay’s melon, people who were expressions of Clay’s gump, a term coined by his companion to explain his mental issues.
I looked closely at Clay who stared intently at His Favorite Gal. I saw a subtle change happening in his facial muscles as did Gal. I saw it her eyes, a look of increasing concern that only seemed to speed a possible shift in Clay. Just as my friend’s body started tensing up for fight or flight I intervened.
“Oops, sorry miss. I’m old and hard of hearing.”
“That’s okay, my grandpa is like you,” said Clay and resumed poking the ground where an ant hill seemed to be the target.
I stuck my hand in the right front pocket of my jeans. I had one last trick I hoped would bring Clay around. It had worked 4 out of 5 times in the past when he was seriously hurting.
“How old are you Jovee? Where are your folks? Is it safe for you to be here alone?
“I’m 17 sir and old enough to be on my own. I graduate next year. My parents are at work and I just got out of school. Oh, and I know self defense, not that I’d use it on you. I might kill you or break your hip.”
I was in awe as Clay spoke in a very feminine voice, was well mannered, and using words in a way I had never thought possible for him.
“Jovee, do you happen to know an older fellow, a tribe member, who has the name Clay Silver Otter?”
“Sure! I like that old dude. He always gives me a flower when I see him, if one is near him that is.”
I withheld my secret weapon by keeping it in my pocket. I had a scheme.
“Clay is a good friend of mine and I haven’t seen him in a long time. I’m not sure where he lives anymore. Do you know where he lives and if so, would you be willing to show me?”
Clay piddled around with the ant hill and appeared to be pondering my request.
“Okay, yes, I’ll show you, but first I need to dig a little deeper to see if it’s in there.”
“What is in that ant hill Jovee?”
I figured exchanging pleasantries might cause my mentally ill friend to warm up to me.
“The elders, the ancient ones, tell a story about ants. Gitcheh Manido, Great Spirit, has assigned certain special ants with a highly honored task, one involving mining.”
“And what do they mine for?”
Clay, after digging at the ant hill, stood and tossed the stick aside and avoided answering.
“Never mind, let’s go. You got a car? It’s only a little ways away but you’re so old.”
“Follow me Jovee. I’m parked at the restaurant by the train tracks.”
Clay, as if knowing the way, took the lead and in 5 minutes we were at the car. I hit the button on the key fob and unlocked the doors. Just after Clay climbed in, a city cop car drove up. I had one leg in the car and stood there a moment.
The officer nearest me leaned out his window slightly.
“You a tribe member? You look familiar. We’re following up on a B.O.L.O. for an elder tribe member, one such as you. We figured maybe you knew him. His name is Clay Silver Otter. You know him or seen him?”
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
Cutting into town, I looked for a place to park. I grabbed the first business building after crossing the train tracks and put the car at the far end of the lot. It was unseasonably warm at 78 degrees so I left my light jacket off and rolled up the sleeves of my blue plaid shirt. Walking away from my car I chirped the alarm. The tracks were 20 yards away so I hopped on them and headed for the dams.
Things had changed. The layout of the area was altered and dirt trails were paved. The improved paths offered a smoother surface and I swung over to one when at first chance. I was hoping to sneak up on Clay if he was at the river. I’d seen his moods, important when planning to approach or confront him.
A small new bridge crossed the river where the first of two dams, and Clay, should have been. A girl, college age, came my way and was about to pass so I spoke to her.
“Miss, where’s the dam that was here?” I asked while motioning to the river.
Pausing, she looked at me with a pleasant smile, one of those that silently said, “Oh look, the poor thing, he doesn’t recognize his surroundings anymore.” When she noticed I was sincere and not confused she offered a few words.
“I’ve been here several years and there has never been a dam here sir.”
She continued on and I heard laughter coming from under the bridge and recognized it. I made my way around the barrier fence toward the sound. Sure enough, it was Clay. I faked a cough and he looked away from the ground he was staring at near the water’s edge. His eyes met mine but there was no connection, no recognition.
He looked bad. Gaunt, pale, and palsied, Clay truly seemed missing from his body and mind. Squatting low while resting skinny ass cheeks on his heels like a little boy might, he poked at something with a stick and paid no attention to me.
“Clay, hey Clay, how you doin’ brother?”
Giggling like an adolescent might, he looked to me with a gentle smile. Three or four more of his teeth had vacated. Alcohol and poor hygiene had evicted them, or a brawl, maybe two, had gone thug on them.
“You are not my brother and my name is Jovee. My brother is away at school. He’s in college at a university in Lawrence, Kansas. See the shirt he sent me?”
Wow, he was gone. I had never seen him break with reality so completely. I peeked at the shirt, coffee stained and thin. The logo on it was a silhouette of a Native wearing a western tribe headdress, war bonnet I heard it called. It identified the shirt as legit and having come from the university in Kansas. The school served only native students. I would know. Heck, I attended it.
“Well, nice to meet you Joey. My mistake for calling you my brother,” I said in as friendly a tone I could muster.
Clay held his position but was quite aggravated.
“Not Jo-ey, Jovee!”
Chapter 2: Post 1
In Search of Clay
What if it is too late? What if Clay is gone and walked on, dead? What if I failed?
The remaining miles before entering the northern Rez boundary found me fraught with anxiety and dread. I gave up worrying about Clay long ago. Like most worry, it was unwarranted and lent nothing to a situation but worrying was back so what was different? Was it on Clay’s behalf or my own?
I rolled my eyes up and to the right and looked at myself in the rearview mirror and thought.
“You aren’t nearly as concerned for Clay as you are for your pride. Self serving bastard, shame on you.”
Eyes back on the highway, I gave response out loud.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. If I didn’t care about Clay would I have come all this way yet again? And yes, I’m concerned for myself. So what? I’ve been abused and misused too, to many times to count. What good is it if I don’t come into this thing carefully, wisely, and responsibly? Someone among the three of us needs to be anchored. Nothing but chaos there right now, always, so back off.”
It was close to 3:30 in the afternoon. I was making good time having kept my stops short and sweet. A smell of the air told me I was close to the Rez. It was rank with the stink of oil wells and cattle farms, a tell tale indicator I was passing by the village of Rose Bud.
I always intended to research its history. I was curious. Did someone sarcastically name the place or did the name precede the raunchy odors common to the area, odors that’d been there as long as I could remember? Apart from the fumes, it was a nice place.
A handful of tribe members lived there. Land allotments were disbursed to members by Uncle Sam around the 1870’s. Years later, after plenty of corruption to get the land away from them, a few retained theirs, some near Rose Bud.
As the last bit of foul air exited my car I hoped something similar might have happened with the time I’d spend with Clay. Maybe the same could still be true for him. Perhaps whatever corruption was poisoning him or stinking up his life might be purged. Yes, a spiritual and mental cleansing, that’s what he needed. Or maybe an exorcism was appropriate according to the way His Favorite Gal was talking. None it mattered though if we couldn’t find Clay quickly enough.
My exit was 2 miles ahead. It went into the small city adjacent to the Rez. The town’s city council and tribe’s governing body tolerated one another, barely. Boasting a nonexistent mount, the city and area lacked geographical character. Thinking out loud, I speculated about how the mount went missing.
“Well, the timber barons cleared the place of old growth trees and soon after, farmers leveled it for crops. Yup, that’s where it went.”
Taking my off ramp, an idea came to mind about the possible whereabouts of Clay. Years ago, he had disappeared and I was searching for him. Taking his preferences and quirks into account, I sherlocked his ass and found him at the dams on the river running through town. Train tracks (he always had a thing for trains) led to the place on the water. Maybe he went there. That’s where I’d start the search.