Life is not holding a good hand; life is playing a poor hand well.
-- Danish proverb
When day has fully begun, Cu appears to show her around.
As they walk down the road toward the hospital, she thinks, Everything is so desolate after the lush green of an Iowan spring.
"Aquí está su escuela," pointing to a barren patch of relatively level ground about a quarter of a mile past the last hovel, on the way to the hospital.
That's not a school! That's bare ground, and none too level, at that! Despina resists the impulse to blurt out "¿Dónde?" nodding sagely instead.
I wonder where he thinks the door is? "¿Dónde está la puerta?"
Cu's eyes widen slightly, then he walks over to a likely spot and makes two scuff marks in the dirt to indicate both sides of the door toward the road. Striding rapidly into the desert, he marks out two more on the opposite side to be the rear door.
Windows! "¿Y las ventanas?" she pushes, struggling to keep the horror and disappointment out of her voice.
Two Indians amble up, watching her reactions carefully. Cu wanders over, and following a brief conversation, they leave.
Cu and Despina roam on past the hospital, stopping at the tracks Paul Peter's jeep has left as it rejoined the road. He scowls at her, then they head back at the sound of the returning truck engine.
The Indians exit with a long string, some sharpened sticks, and hammers. Cu grins at her after he measures out the length of string he wants, anchors it in the center, proscribes a circle, and lays a chalk line. Soon the outlines of the "school" become visible in the desert.
He acts as if he just built the entire building!
Continuing the tour, Cu guides her to the local hospital, which sits on an enclave of USA territory, according to the sign. She meets Jacques Delano Rousseau, the White doctor, who shows her the facilities with a puffed out chest and a twinkle in his eye. The information about the area and its inhabitants is also an eye-opener.
"When you get to feeling so crusty you can't live with one more bath in the river, come on down and try out the shower in back. I'm sorry the water is cold, but most days, that'll feel good if you do it early enough. There's a sink, and flush facilities, always unlocked, always pristine. Next pit stop with indoor plumbing is Broken Lance.
“Why in the world would someone design a modern-day hospital facility and omit water heaters?” Despina’s nose and forehead wrinkle.
“The story I got is that some vindictive BIA official red lined the industrial sized water heater, but neglected to substitute a smaller, cheaper substitute, and all the phone calls/letters in the world haven’t seemed to move a soul to remedy the situation. Indians evidently aren’t supposed to get too comfy while they’re sick or injured. They might get to enjoy the experience.”
Despina’s lips part and her eyes widen as she listens.
With a Gaelic shrug, Jacques lifts both hands, palms up.
"I've been trying to encourage sanitation, not to mention nutrition and inoculation, with a remarkable lack of success. This is a place to come to die. I inherited that attitude, not unfounded, and it vexes me sorely. See if you can't start a 'shower, rinse, and flush' club with the lower elementary kids, and they might grow up used to it...
"Electricity comes from our generator. Half the time, we lack fuel for it. The local provider is pretty lax about fills. He's not lax on sending bills. I've caught him double billing, and ghost billing. I warned him I'd go further and pay more if it happened again. I always watch the meter with him now whenever he fills, sign for it, and have threatened to get the gal on the other end fired if she accepts any more bills not signed and okayed by me. I can't prove kickbacks, but it's likely. Nobody can be that sloppy.
"But, should I ever find someone who will allow me to cut on them, the operating room facilities are excellent. I have all the supplies and used to have a nurse, but she got bored and moved into Flagstaff. She promises to come back the instant I have need of her."
“Given all that, I admire you for not packing it in, too. A lesser man would.”
As Despina gets ready to leave, he touches her arm. "Oh, I almost forgot. Your milk can."
Despina’s eyes again widen. "What? I don't have a cow."
He rolls it around to the front of the building. "We'll put it in your truck and fill it from the hose once you unpack a little."
Returning to the hospital, he presses some tablets into her hand. "Your body is not river-hardy. Whenever you drink or cook with river water that was not brought to a full, rolling boil for 10 minutes, use one per gallon. Halizon." Handing her a dented pot with a cracked wooden handle, he answers her unspoken question, "For dipping."
Cu has wandered off. Despina pretends to ignore his desertion, smiling encouragingly at Jacques. Driven off by this barrage of English? Surely his "Spanish only" edict pertains only to interactions with the Indians?
"There's an evening service in Broken Lance if you'd care to attend. You're welcome to ride with me. I go to the Catholic church, but both Protestant churches offer meetings, too. They're only blocks apart, and I'd be glad to drop you off at whichever you'd prefer."
"Why don't you drive down about five, so we have time to fill up the water can, then we'll go."
Cu has impatiently returned to retrieve her in time to hear part of this discussion. Despina is not sure just when he re-entered. Cu frowns.
It's almost as if he can understand the English. Or, maybe it's just that I'm paying too much attention to Jacques. Oh, how vain I am that I can even think that!
They return through the desert to a part of the road where it exits the village and continue a mile beyond to the river crossing. A line of green marks the course of the river, the only "normal" color she sees in any direction. As they pass another dirt track heading north, curious, Despina asks, "¿A qué lugar va esta senda?"
"Allí está la aldea de Mound, dónde está la escuela secondaria."
Ah, so this goes to the village of Mound, where Paul Peter's school is...
"Mound está muy cerca del burial mound. La montaña en la distancia se llama Espíritu."
Burial Mound on Spirit Mountain? Surely Burial Mound is English, not Spanish. The mountain's name is in Spanish...
"¿Cómo se dice Burial Mound en español?"
"Se usa el inglés para los nombres en los mapas. Vienen más turistas en esta manera."
They use the English from the maps when it translates into tourist dollars for them...
"Ah, entonces, Stone Circles es la misma?"
"Sí. La gente que hace los primeros mapas son blancos, no indios."
White mapmakers determined the place names. That makes sense. I wonder if they just translated the Indian's name for the village into English?
"Entonces, ¿se llama la aldea Circulos de Piedra antes de venir los hombres blancos?"
"No. Antes de venir los hombres blancos, mi gente vive en México, y no fue una reservación."
"Oh, por supuesto. Ud. tiene razón."
Duh! Of course there wouldn't have been a village here before the White man pushed the Indians out of their native areas. He must think I'm a real idiot!
The south side of the road near the river is irrigated. Cu points to a driveway leading to a beautiful hacienda style house and set of outbuildings. "Ésta fue la finca de mi padrino, John Quantico. Mi nombre es de él. Fue un hombre muy respetado por toda la región."
Ah, the John Quantico the sheriff was telling me about. He didn't mention that the man was Cu's godfather, however.
"Entonces, vive aquí Genio ahora."
Giving her a quizzical glance, he says, "Sí."
He must be upset that I used the familiar form of Eugenio's name, as if he were an old friend.
"Lo encontré anoche." That's right. He didn't come until after I sang my little song at Genio's insistence.
A pickup draws up slowly, window down.
After a brief conversation, Cu turns to her. "Con su permiso," he says, giving a courtly little bow like the one he gave to Bradley last night, then climbs in, driving off in a swirl of dust that envelops her.
She walks back alone, starting to sweat as the heat increases. Reaching her hovel, she picks up a discarded, but dry, T-shirt, intending to change into it, but a myriad of bugs bug off. Dropping it hurriedly, she thinks, Okay, I'll get paranoid if all my clothing gets full of these infernal bugs.
Emptying the last of the tepid water from the cooler into Jacques' dipping pot, she takes her towel and dries the cooler's inside, gathers fresh clothes from the safety of her truck cab, storing a stack of undies, a stack of t-shirts, and a stack of jeans in the cooler, then carts it into the bedroom alcove.
Safe enough there, and handy.
Last updated 3/9/10 Corrected envelops. 12/20/09 Added “tells”. 12/6/08, put some of the Spanish in a glossary; separated scuff marks; (already okay in Pages); 6/11/08 undies for nudies; 11/29/04.
Word Count: 1577
Reading Level: 5.7
Wednesday, October 24th, 2001 7:25 pm (pandemo)