The most powerful ties are the ones to the people who gave us birth … it hardly seems to matter how many years have passed, how many betrayals there may have been, how much misery in the family: We remain connected, even against our wills.
-- Anthony Brandt, “Bloodlines” Esquire September '84
She is late. Paul Peter is late. The kids are not.
Angry shouts change to blows. Dashing around the curve of the building, Despina charges right into the fray. Paul Peter, backing the jeep out, looks over, and reverses direction, helping her separate the combatants.
"¿Qué pasa aquí?" she demands angrily, but only stony silence greets her demand.
Paul Peter glances at Miguel. "Nobody will ever tell," he says in English. "They're even more loyal that way than the kids we're used to. You look close to tears."
"How am I going to explain that the fight happened when I had not even bothered to show up on time?"
Picking up a shovel left from the posthole digging, he sends Juan for the one in her truck. "Kids will be kids. They fight. Maybe we should teach a new martial art so they won't actually come to blows..."
"Cudgels. Think Little John and Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest."
"Okay. I've seen it done."
"Take your shovel and follow my lead."
Shrugging, she accepts her shovel from Juan, holding the handle so it is diagonally across her body. Paul Peter moves opposite her with his shovel, raises it, and holds it out.
Gently, she taps her shovel against his.
"Can you put a little more effort into it?"
Under his constant goading, she eventually lands a blow that is the best she can manage. He deflects it easily, moving his "staff" low. She parries, moves forward, starts to raise it, then drops to one knee, sweeping toward his feet. He leaps into the air, so she dashes forward, bowling him over, then landing on top of him, accompanied by delighted laughter from the children.
"Low blow!" he laughs.
Hastily climbing off, she passes her "stave" to Juan. After showing him three moves, Paul Peter sets up an appointment to go "stave hunting" after lunch with those interested, and promises to give daily lessons before setting off to Mound.
Calling her class inside, she examines her charges more closely. All Cu's? No way. The variety in features, build, and abilities is too great to be half brothers and sisters. Juan, maybe, but even he does not seem to fit...
And surely the women's husbands wouldn't sit idly by while Cu serviced their wives as if he were a stallion. Surely.
"Okay, time for the math flash card drill. Remember to pay attention to the plus or minus sign. The two sets of cards are mixed together now. Jorge, it's your turn to flash them. Be sure you don't go on until they tell you the number you see on the back."
Alberto calls out answers along with the older students, then is suddenly at Despina's side where she's helping Juan master a tricky fraction problem.
Tugging on her sleeve, he asks, "Pina, what's a souse?
"Good heavens! Where'd you hear an English word like that?"
Juan's ear tips have turned color, and his eyes glaze.
Noticing, Despina carefully squats down beside Alberto, turning sideways to Juan to offer him a little privacy.
Alberto, instead of answering, leans his forehead against Despina's shoulder. "Did my dad really fight my uncle last night?"
"Oh." She rubs his back instinctively. So that's what the fight was all about. "Alberto, the sheriff and Cu took Tomás to a place where he can learn how to stop drinking. He has important work to do, and he needs to be sober to do it better. It affects everyone's future. He is the chief's oldest son."
The flash cards are done. Standing, Despina compliments everyone on his or her speedy and accurate answers, then calls for a water break.
Juan hangs back. "The other day, when you were telling how from a piece of hair cell attached to a mane or tail hair on a horse, they could get a DNA sample and tell which horse was NOT the father of a foal, you said they could do that for people, too."
"That's right. But people don't have mane or tail hairs. On people, they can use hair, blood, anything, really. They collect the samples in a doctor's office, or sometimes at a crime scene, then send it off to a different lab for processing. With an Arabian horse, it costs $65.00 for each animal tested. I have no idea what it costs for people. To be accurate, you need to test the mother, the father and the child."
Juan steps back and becomes belligerent. "My mother use to live with Cu. Sometimes. Before you came."
"Yes," Despina answers mildly.
"How do I know Tomás is really my father?" The words explode from him.
What a can of worms. I don't see a good way out of this one.
"Well, I think asking your mother would be the best way."
Juan kicks at the ground, frowning. "But I'd only know what she wanted to tell me, not know what really was."
Impulsively, she hugs him. "Oh, Juan. Did you ask her? Did you tell her what you're worried about?"
Mutely, he shakes his head. "Can you talk to Cu about it?"
"Not really. I want to KNOW, really KNOW."
The students are returning. Juan pulls away and turns his back to everyone, rigid.
Moving to the front, Despina claps her hands to settle everyone. "Let's hear the electricity reports. ¿Quién puede presentar su reportaje del eléctrica para la reservación?"
In the middle of the second report on ways to get electricity to the reservation, she spots Chief José Ignacio Quantico. He comes slowly into the schoolroom through one of the "windows", but nobody notices. He slides into a woefully small desk at the back of the class.
Quelling her initial reaction, she thinks, Not hardly an inconspicuous fight if he's heard about it already, wryly noting that she is not the only one who has no idea what Alejandro is talking about.
Soon two more tribal council members join him, carrying along a makeshift bench from the front of María's hovel. Parking it just inside the area protected by the roof, they sit, all their attention going to Alejo.
Maybe they intend to fire me. Boy, I really blew it!
Sarita arises next, reporting on the viability of erecting wind towers on the downwind slopes of the reservation hills. As she shows photos of the white towers, Guillermo volunteers to paint a bird of prey on one.
Soon a noisy babble takes over her orderly classroom as the students vie for the artistic rights to Indianize the wind machines.
"How far can we expect to hear the roar of the turbines?" inquires Chief Quantico.
The sheriff's car pulls up behind the electric company official, decanting Cu from the other side. Children rush from the roofed area, pulling him inside. A babble of childish voices proudly explains their part of the various presentations.
Despina examines the freshly sewed area on his mouth. The sheriff catches her eye. "I guess I may as well turn them loose for lunch and a siesta. It doesn't look as if much more serious work is going to get done today." Clapping her hands, she praises, "You all did well. Class dismissed."
Cheers break out.
"You got me in trouble, Mickey, I hope you know."
An eyebrow arches. "How so?"
"I got accused of causing Cu to participate in a barroom brawl over me, so severe that the sheriff arrested him after he'd been stitched up. It seems that in the eyes of the White Eyes, we're an item; I'm leading him on, but not putting out. My, how racy I am!
"Then I got told that the Native Am... Indians were upset with me because I was rejecting Cu!
"Now, if he had ever made any advances, I might be able to see that. But, honestly, the man has said nothing to me. 'Indian stoicism' my foot!"
Behind her, the noise level has diminished as the giddy throng disperses to regal new audiences with their exploits. A raised eyebrow warns her that her comments are being overheard.
"I also got told he understands English perfectly, but I've seen no concrete evidence of either statement."
"Is his speaking English or not speaking English a problem?"
"Oh, I guess not. It's a mystery. He very carefully explained in my terms of employment that it was Spanish or Náhuatl only. I agreed to those terms."
"So did he, when he returned."
"So long. I have to be getting back." He winks.
As the tribal leaders and children leave for lunch, Despina turns, spying Cu, one hand in Alberto's, the other captured by Sarita. He has arrested their progress as he listens to Despina and Mickey's exchange.
"A minute?" she calls.
Cu releases the children's hands, signaling them to run ahead on to lunch.
Waiting long enough for the others to be out of earshot, hands on her hips, she eyeballs Cu speculatively. "Well, my silent, enigmatic buckaroo, where have you been all day?
"Perdón. ¿De dónde vienes?"
"Es que no le gusta hablar en español? Tratas usar inglés algunas veces."
"No, no hay problema. Me olvidé."
"Bueno. Ahora mi estimido hermano está en el hospital para olvidarle ser un borracho."
"¡Qué maravilloso! ¿Es tu trabajo?"
"No, desgraciadamente. Es culpa de ti."
"Ah, pero piensas que es una buena idea?"
"Sí." Turning he starts to walk off, his stoic face again in place.
"Cu," her voice catches. "Lo siento. pero es necesario. Él va a ser el jefe. Es importante que puede funcionar bien."
"Why can't I ever hold a real conversation with you? Always I end up talking to your back!"
He whirls, anger snapping from his pale eyes. "¡Inglés! ¡Todo el tiempo usas el inglés! ¿Para insultarnos?"
"No," she replies sharply, tears of frustration springing unwillingly to her eyes. "Es mi lengua natal, y cuando estoy muy agitada,... lo siento."
"Y la policia no hace nada hacer en este asunto?"
"No. ¿Por qué no me hablas? En mi hogar, solamente los que no me gustan no me hablan."
He likes me. HE LIKES ME!
They begin to walk along in silence.
She continues as they walk along, "I had a bit of a problem here this morning. Several children were fighting, and I THINK it had to do with you and Tomás. Juan is especially upset. If you can, please talk to him about how people are SURE who his father is." She stops. "I tried to get him to talk to you directly, but he was, ah, unwilling, or maybe afraid to bring it up." Despina examines the freshly sewed area on his mouth more closely.
Staring at her, eyes widened, Cu says nothing.
Becoming unnerved, she continues without thinking. "Cuántos hijos tiene Ud.?"
"¿De veras? Todo el mundo me dice que tienes un número increíble."
"Sí, mi hermano y yo."
"Es una obligación."
"Me molesta pensar en que tienes relaciones con todas las mujeres del mundo indio."
"No hay remedio."
"¿De qué hablas?"
"Viene Ud. el sábado que viene a las seis de la manaña y voy a mostrarte."
When they reach her hovel, she turns off, still torn internally about the wisdom of having said anything about Juan's problem.
(Removed from "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" 5/3/02.)
Last updated 11/28/04.
Word Count: 1901
Reading Level: 4.7