Every crowd has a silver lining.
-- Phineas T. Barnum
Once Despina has made a trip to her farm, selected a high percentage Arabian Pinto top of the line stallion and a kid-friendly, but shorter, mare, it seems inevitable that she will sit in front of Cu's house with them, in the middle of the only tourist road into the settlement. Not a month later, that is exactly what she does.
As she leads them toward Cu's hovel, she thinks, I sure hope this isn't like sitting in the cafeteria while trying to diet. There are all those hulking, starving, bottomless pits in the midst of a feeding frenzy. The memes in the air are all wrong, and soon you're shoveling it in, trying to join the clean plate club as rapidly as possible, when you were perfectly FULL ten minutes ago, and if you'd slowed down, your body would have told you so.
She eyes Cu's quiet doorway.
I hope this romance thing isn't a reaction to tribal expecataions, the desire to fit in, the thrill of having a beautiful man pay court to me -- being caught up in the ROMANCE of the setting, sucking the memes of anticipation in with every breath I take.
Paul Peters, heading toward his jeep, detours for her parade. "Where are you going with them?"
Brushing away small rocks and sharp-edged growths, she sits, facing Cu's hovel.
"You're offering him the same deal he offered you last month? What's changed?" Paul Peter asks incredulously.
"Nothing, really. Maybe I’m just getting accustomed to the idea, more willing to take it for real. I hope it can grow into a compatible relationship, like wearing comfortable old shoes with lots of soul and understanding -- something lasting and real."
Intrigued, he continues, "You never mentioned doing this when we were bringing them down here. When did this come up?"
"The memes here are all chanting "Here Comes the Bride" in Náhuatl."
Paul Peter, shaking his head in disbelief, says, "Wouldn't it have been a lot easier to accept his ponies?"
When she won't answer, he drives off toward town. Ah, but that assumes I realized at the time that it was a serious offer of marriage.
That evening, the chief and several of the tribal elders approach.
"¿Qué hace Ud.?"
Despina answers the chief with the truth. "Estos caballos son mi oferta a Cu. Quiero ser con él para siempre."
"Bien." The chief and his entourage leave, apparently satisfied.
I guess Jacques is right. The Indians have decided I'm an acceptable replacement for Cherylyn. I wonder if Cu is of the same opinion? Despina thinks. She resumes her old internal debate. However will I survive being married to a man who won't talk to me? I wish I had a working crystal ball. She reflects on that thought for a moment. With my luck, I'd drop and shatter it before I got a glimpse of my future life. Why couldn't I do something sane, like give my feelings for Mickey time to blossom?
Days pass. Despina sees no sign of Cu. The hovel is empty.
Adriana must have the children.
Everyone who aids her has to join her. Toward evening of the first day comes eighty year old blind, crippled María, with a helpful Juan in tow. He drops his haughty demeanor to carry the old rusted out holy water buckets from the river for her and the horses, carries Maria's chair to sit beside Despina, rigs a tent awning over the pair, then joins them.
During the next few hours, he broaches the town pump idea that was batted around in class, but shelved as too expensive to hire out, and too labor-intensive to tackle. He gets Despina into it by asking where to run the pipeline, where to erect the fountain, how to cover the area to keep it from getting muddy, and in general, lets Maria hear a superior account of what the village would gain from such a project. Maria, who has been enjoying regular soakings in Alberto’s bathtub, is much more inclined to go along with one of Despina’s hair-brained plots than anyone would have guessed.
Members of the Indian Police Force join, one at a time, caring for all present, bringing pickups loaded with water, then seating themselves among the waiters, their abandoned trucks carefully parked off to the side. Shovels appear, and a hole in the center, where Despina envisioned the pump, gradually appears. Dirt disappears by a method similar to an old fashioned fire brigade.
Unbeknownst to Despina, on the other end, the river water is creeping closer to the crowd on the road via a six foot deep trench. The man who used to work for a quarry, Gustavo, describes how to fish out rounded river rock smoothed by the water, and lay them in a pattern to cobble the area around the fountain. As men supply the necessary stones, those seated work them into a paste they create from adobe and other ingredients Despina can’t recognize by sight or Spanish vocabulary word. It sets up like cement.
Miguel daringly attaches himself to the back of a tourist's mobile home as it turns around, grabbing onto the bike fastened to the back, thus hitching a ride to Broken Lance.
Once in town, he makes his way to the sheriff's office, where he requests an interview with his "father". Tony, never one who could tell one Indian boy from another, and being very familiar with Cu's reputation, allows the "family member" to enter and talk to him through the bars.
When the sheriff comes in, Tony informs him that Cu's son leaped off a passing camper and came in to see his father.
After looking into the cell area, he patiently explains to Tony. "That's not Cu's son. That's Miguel." He holds open the door expectantly.
At a signal from Cu, Miguel goes through the door to the sheriff.
Squatting down so as to be less intimidating, he asks, "How do you plan to get back home?"
Miguel’s expressive dark eyes grow huge. "No sé, señor."
"Well, if you don't have a plan for that, I'll bet your parents don't know where you are, either. Is that true?" Miguel hangs his head.
"Sí, señor." Miguel will not meet the sheriff’s eyes.
"Have you eaten today?" he asks gently.
"No, señor. No puedo comer cuando toda la gente está en la carretera."
Mick starts. "My Spanish must be going bad on me. Did he just say that he couldn't eat when everyone was in the road?” Mick looks pointedly at Tony. “What in tarnation is that supposed to mean?"
With an elaborate shrug, Tony explains, "I don't know, boss, but I sure haven't been seeing anyone from the res around for a while... not even the drunks."
Mickey returns his attention to the boy in front of him. "Well, Miguel, this is your lucky day. It just happens to be my supper time. Why don't you come along with me, and we'll just take a look see at this road of people of yours."
Heading over to Ellie's Café, he chats casually with every shopkeeper he meets. Nobody has seen any Indians. Raising a general discussion as to where they could be spending the dollars that generally go into the town coffers, he gets lots of complaints, but no hard facts. Indian trade has been waning for days.
After stuffing Miguel, they head out to Stone Circles in the squad car. As he draws closer to the hospital, he sees a dark blob in the center of the roadway.
"A tent? There's a tent in the center of the road?” Reaching up into the visor, he pulls down a small pair of binoculars, training them on the road ahead. “And chairs? Someone having a carnival?"
Miguel’s legs swing rhythmically, banging into the dash at the height of their arc. "No, señor. Hay una boda.” His feet quiet. “Quiza."
Mumbling to himself, Mickey grumbles, "There might be a wedding? In the middle of the road? And I thought I knew this tribe's rituals inside and out, even several 'secret' ones." Aloud, he asks, "Who's getting married?"
Looking down, Miguel scuffs his foot sideways over a crack in the plastic mat. "No sé."
"No sabes? You don't know? Come on, now, Miguel. You always know everything that's happening on the entire reservation." Mick risks a quick glance at Miguel. "How's it possible that you don't know who's getting married?"
Miguel frowns in concentration, counting out his points on his fingers. "Primero, la señorita no les da agua rápidamente a los caballos." As he completes each idea, his Spanish increases in speed. “Entonces, el hombre no bebe el agua que le da ella. Después, ella se va y regresa con caballos. Pero él no está en su hogar, y por eso, no les da el agua."
"This story is starting to have a familiar ring to it.” Mick thoughtfully taps his nose before continuing. “I think I was here right after the man refused to drink. Are you talking about the day Despina gave away her wedding ponies without accepting the giver?"
When Miguel will not answer, Mick continues, "They're blocking the only road through the settlement. What are the tourists doing, besides complaining to me about the lack of a through road?"
"Oh, they take LOTS of photos, then turn around and go back the way they came.” speeding his Spanish up as he goes. “One boy on each side collects the money. Lots and lots of money."
Mick pulls the squad car off to the side of the road and stops. "Don't they get angry that they can't get through?" Mickey lifts his hat to smooth his hair.
Miguel’s Spanish speeds up even more. "Some of them do, but it's not a US road, and if the tribe blocks it off, that's their choice." He juts his chin out belligerently as if he expected to have to fight the sheriff to make him believe his words.
Before Miguel and the sheriff have walked past the fringes of the gathering, a CNN helicopter arrives, hovering at odd angles, camera whirring. Noise and dust go all over. When it lands, Despina's friend Brandon Gannon climbs out and makes his way to the center tent, where Despina sits.
Grinning in anticipation, Brandon opens with, "I see you're still living under that ancient Chinese curse."
Despina smiles in response. "Yes, life certainly HAS been interesting lately. How'd you happen to hear about it?"
"My stepmom just got back from their dream vacation, and she had the most darling shots of all the tribesmen in the middle of the road. And there you were, so I pitched it to my boss. He warned me that if I valued my job, I would NOT let you talk me out of printing a good story this time."
Glancing around at the tribe members who have turned into friends, Despina tries for spin. "I don't suppose you'd believe we're studying the tribal legends and ceremonies?"
Cocky, Brandon shrugs. "Oh, I'd believe it, sure enough. I'd still want to know if this were a real ceremony, or an elaborate re-enactment, and why it's still going on three days later. Where's your tall friend?"
With a nod of her head, Despina indicates, "Over there by the patrol car."
"No, not the sheriff; the blue eyed Indian all the females in the office pronounced the sexiest guy they'd seen in a long time. By the way, I'm supposed to ask if his sperm is for sale to non-Indians."
Despina blushes. "Uh, the tribal council is still discussing that issue."
"Deadlocked on it and fighting to preserve their heritage, you mean, " adds Paul Peter, wandering over to see who the celebrity is.
Brandon glances up, taking Paul Peter's measure. "Have you ever seen a potlatch? That's what this reminds me of."
"A little far south for that ceremony." Paul Peter blows a smoke ring into the air.
Glancing at his camera man and smiling as he notes the red light, Brandon continues, "So, what are we celebrating here? Marsha was pretty vague."
Ignoring the presence of the camera, Despina explains, "Even if she'd been specific, she might not have it right. 'Tourist bating' is a time-honored sport. They vie for the honors of whose tale produced the most gullible believer. I actually won the other day without even knowing I'd entered."
Paul Peter's ears pick up. "Oh, the 'Happy Indian family' scenario?"
Looking at Brandon, Despina elaborates, "One fellow came up and told me he'd never talked to a 'squaw' before, then videoed Cu, Juan and me as a family grouping... It was AWFUL."
Mickey has finally arrived. "Juan always wanted to be Cu's son instead of Tomás's."
Quickly, Despina fills him in. "He was the first one who watered me and the horses. María came with the food, then he brought her chair for her."
"This is significant?" a puzzled Brandon breaks in. “I'm sorry; I don't get it."
Paul Peter picks up the tale, cigarette punctuating his words. "If the bridegroom waters the horses, then the bride, there is a marriage."
Clarifying, Brandon opines, "I thought the men picked the women."
Happy being the center of attention, Paul Peter grows evasive. "Well, times change, you know."
"So, that big Indian is REJECTING her?" Brandon expresses his incredulity, remembering the conversation they'd been having when he met them.
"Well, we don't know, yet. He has to BE HOME first." Considering the pot sufficiently stirred, Paul Peter nails the problem.
"So, as small as this area is, and as big as this roadblock is, how could he possibly not know to come home?" Brandon asks, turning to meet the sheriff.
With a grimace, Mick explains, "He's in jail."
Despina explodes, "IN JAIL! Mickey, how COULD you?"
Mick takes an involuntary step back. "You didn't know?"
Despina is still in attack mode. "What did he do this time? This isn't another Rabbit problem, is it?"
Suppressing his grin, Mick looks down. "Not this time."
Despina slumps back. "That's a relief, at least. Is he talking?"
"No," he shrugs.
Despina snatches that hopefully. "Then are you sure HE did it? You know how he is."
Mick allows his frustration to bleed into his explanation, "Since he won't talk, I'm quite sure he did NOT do it, but unless he opens his mouth to defend himself, I can't go any further. The tribal elders know he's there, taking someone's wrap, and evidently accept that necessity. I'm sure his skills in running the reservation smoothly are being missed during this present emergency."
Innocently, Despina inquires, "What's the charge?"
Mickey looks down in sheer agony at having to tell her what an entire tribe has shielded her from so carefully. "Rape."
Her temper ignites instantly, bringing her sarcasm to the fore. "Right. And you BELIEVE that? Have you talked to Tomás?"
The sheriff meets her eyes squarely. "I haven't seen Tomás."
Hand on her hip, she snaps, "Have you made any effort to try to find him?"
Looking up, she sees the chief slowly approaching. His shoulders are stooped, his face drawn and haggard. Looking Mickey right in the eye, he says, "Ven conmigo."
Obediently, Mickey follows him, with Brandon and Paul Peter falling in behind.
As they set off toward the hills, the last of the Indian Police pulls up with another pickup load of water. Methodically, the people and animals are fed.
With a nod, Brandon indicates that his camera man ought to film the proceedings.
Turning back, Mickey calls to him, "Can you radio in for a loaded fire truck to clean the refuse out of the street before you finish here? Tell Tony I said it was urgent."
Several hours later, they return, with Tomás, who gets into the patrol car. Before climbing in and heading out, Mickey squats down, eye to eye with Despina, gently asking, "No regrets, Dee?"
"Just one. I wish we'd gotten to know each other better on a personal level. I wish every time I saw you, every time we were alone together, you didn't ruffle my 'mother hen' feathers by trying to arrest Cu, job or no job. I wish I were sure I would not really be more comfortable with you for the long haul.
"I also realize that as long as I'm working here, for him, living here, with these people, that can never happen. Nothing is NORMAL here."
Looking around at the sea of seated people blocking the road, Mickey stands up. "You've got that nailed dead to rights, Pina."
As the squad car pulls away, Paul Peter comes up casually, "You shouldn't have long to wait, now. Mickey says you can still file charges, and that it looks as if what happened was no aberration, but a pattern."
"When I can leave, I'll try for the detox placement. This time, it's REALLY going to happen! Cu might be the better chief, temperament-wise, but the hereditary leader is Tomás."
Last updated 7/25/08 -- added Not a month later, that is exactly what she does.; “...last month? What’s changed?"
"Nothing, really. Maybe I’m just getting accustomed to the idea, more willing to take it for real...”; “a compatible relationship like wearing comfortable old shoes”; “Ah, but that assumes I realized at the time that it was a serious offer of marriage.”; No regrets, Dee (9/17/04.)
Word Count: 2853