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 to know what is going on.
Paul Peter gazes at Miguel, noting his belligerence, a distinct contrast from his normal personality. "Nobody will ever tell," he says in English. "They're even more loyal that way than the kids we're used to.” Glancing casually at Despina, he then takes a closer look. “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 instead of answering, Paul Peter 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..."
"What?" Despina gawks at Paul Peter as if he's daft. That's different. He almost sounds conciliatory.
"Cudgels," he confides. Seeing that her countenance still doesn't clear, he adds, "Think Little John and Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest."
"Okay,” Despina says tentatively. “I've seen it done."
As Juan runs up with her armament, Paul Peter instructs, "Take your shovel and follow my lead."
Shrugging, she accepts her shovel from Juan, holding the handle so it runs diagonally across her body. Paul Peter moves opposite her with his shovel, raises it, and holds it out.
"Hit it," Paul Peter commands.
Gently, she taps her shovel against his.
"Can’t you put a little more effort into it?" he gripes. "That won’t catch their imaginations on fire."
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? Her mind takes off on a tangent unrelated to her lessons for the day. 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. She forces her mind to return to the day's agenda.
"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?" Despina suggests, thinking they must have some sort of relationship if they all lived together.
"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 everybody pretends not to notice. He slides into a woefully small desk at the back of the class.
Quelling her initial reaction, she thinks, 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, instantly quelling the noisy babble without even seeming to notice it.
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.
As Despina examines the freshly sewed area on his mouth, the sheriff catches her eye. Needing to talk to him, Despina says, "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.
"We had breakfast this morning with the Edison Electric CEO,” Mickey begins with a smile. “Cu warned him the reservation is gearing up to acquire electricity, based on their research. The CEO told about visiting your class… It sounds as if your students did pretty well that day. I'm impressed, anyway! It’s not every day elementary age students create a demand for something this big that their elders then adopt."
"Thank you, Mickey. I think they bowled that electricity man over. He's not used to being put in his place by munchkins. And even Chief Quantico seemed pleased with them today.”
Checking to be sure everything under her roof is in order, Despina swings around in a full circle before continuing. "You got me in trouble, I hope you know, Mick."
An eyebrow arches. "How so?"
"I got accused of causing Cu to participate in a barroom brawl over me, so severe that the sheriff," Despina pauses, slanting her eyes to Mickey, “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. Mick's 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," Despina finishes dejectedly.
Lifting his hat off his head, then returning it, Mick asks gently, "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, Dee."
Despina's head snaps up, spearing Mickey's eyes. "What?"
"So long. I have to be getting back." He winks.
As the last of 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?
Wincing, she repeats in Spanish for him. "Perdón. ¿De dónde vienes?"
"Es que no le gusta hablar en español? Tratas usar inglés algunas veces."
Well, it probably seems like I’m always trying to use English because I dislike Spanish to him. Every time I use English, he seems to catch me doing it. "No, no hay problema. Me olvidé." I just forgot. Please don’t make a federal case of it… Her anguish is visible in her face.
"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."
If HE put his brother in a rehab clinic, how can that be MY fault?
Is he upset about having to lock his brother up? I wonder... "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." Don't you dare just shrug it off! You know good and well he HAS to be able to be a true leader! she thinks furiously at his retreating back.
"Sí," Cu acknowledges over his shoulder, not slowing down a bit.
"Why can't I ever hold a real conversation with you? Always I end up talking to your back!" Despina shouts in frustration. Oops! English again!
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." How can he even THINK I deliberately insulted him? Can't he tell I'm falling in love with him, no matter how illogical and problematical it is?
Cu's usually stoic face is alive with emotion. "Y la policia no hace nada hacer en este asunto?"
Could he be JEALOUS? "No. ¿Por qué no me hablas? En mi hogar, solamente los que no me gustan no me hablan."
Cu relaxes. "Me gusta."
He likes me. HE LIKES ME!
They begin to walk along in silence.
Finally, slumping slightly, she confesses in careful Spanish, "(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 widening, Cu contributes nothing.
Becoming unnerved, she continues without thinking. "Cuántos hijos tiene Ud.?" We'll see if that leads to some real conversation, then. I really want to straighten out this children business.
"Dos," Cu enunciates clearly.
The two he always claims, Alberto and Sarita. "¿De veras? Todo el mundo me dice que tienes un número increíble." Now for the claim of 68!
"Sí, mi hermano y yo." Cu does not seem to recognize a discrepancy at all.
How can he and his brother just accept that! Despina thinks, bugged. "¿Por qué?
Cu responds flatly, "Es una obligación."
How on earth can he be obligated to have 68 children? I'm even more confused now that he's explaining it to me! "¿Te gusta?"
Cu’s voice is clipped. "No."
Well, if you don't enjoy it, why are you having sex with any Indian who asks? This is really eating at me! "Me molesta pensar en que tienes relaciones con todas las mujeres del mundo indio."
No hint of denial in either tone or physical distress shows in Cu’s bearing. "No hay remedio."
Despina pauses, considering her options. Well, if he feels he's obligated to do it, then I need to introduce him to some SAFE SEX practices before he catches AIDS or something less deadly, but still undesirable! "Sí, hay."
Cu turns to face her. "¿De qué hablas?"
Ha! That's gotten his attention. But if I spill the beans now, he may wiggle out of it. I'd better just TAKE him wherever one goes in this area! "Viene Ud. el sábado que viene a las seis de la manaña y voy a mostrarte."
Typically, Cu does not answer. When they reach her hovel, she turns off, still torn internally about the wisdom of having said anything about Juan's problem.
Last updated 3/10/10 Corrected Not hardly to Hardly; 3/5/10 corrected That's different. He almost sounds conciliatory. to italics to indicate thoughts. Added quotes to "That won’t catch their imaginations on fire." Added and his brother Changed the second thinks furiously to thinks, bugged Changed bugging me to eating at Added in careful Spanish, "(I... is.) and "(I ... up.)" to indicate that Despina is using Spanish. 2/27/10 Corrected aids to AIDS. 2/26/10 Added “tells”. Integrated Electric Company material into story. 7/23/08 - changed nobody notices to everybody pretends not to notice.; “As Despina examines the freshly sewed area on Cu’s mouth, the; combined with material from Blabbermouth clear to the last paragraph. (11/28/04 ? 5/3/02 Removed from "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning".)
Word Count: 2595
Reading Level: 4.7