Photo by JENNY FRASER
reading the streets
The bus slowed in drizzling rain when the driver announced to passengers he had to stop in Akron, Ohio, a city near the Cuyahoga River, one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. The Cuyahoga caught fire thirteen times and was used as a garbage dump for oil and industrial wastes. Even with government help to clean it up, polluting a river for over one hundred years won't be cleared up in a few. The last time it caught fire, the Environmental Protection Agency started a restoration and still identifies it as a river of concern.
On a bus from Buffalo, New York, heading west, Lucinda Seabell looked out the window at the yellow, gold and red leaves and the brown branches of trees that made a maze as hard to bear as her broken heart. She felt nauseated and ran into the bus toilet to puke, stomach spasms bringing up shreds of a ham sandwich and chips. Feeling better, she traced the lines in both palms, planning to ask Grace about her lifeline, once she got to Minneapolis. The land around her was of little concern, although it had been to her Seneca ancestors.
During wartime, Haudenosaunee who left the influence of the Grand Council at Onondaga identified themselves as Mingo. They migrated along the shores of Lake Erie, meeting Algonquins from the north and east. From 1740 to 1758, the earth and water Lucinda traveled over supported life. At that time, refugees from Indian nations to the east and north, Mingo, Delaware, Mohican, Wyandot, Abenaki, Ojibwa and Ottawa gathered on Lake Erie at the mouth of the Cuyahoga River and established a village east of Cleveland, Ohio.
Lucinda Seabell, an eighteen-year-old Seneca woman, knew nothing of this history. She often thought it strange to be Seneca, even though her father taught her the strong Haudenosaunee Confederacy gave the United States its ideals of freedom and equality among all people. They went to ceremonies, but it didn't register as important as earning a degree in primary education. She wanted to teach kindergarten in Buffalo. The semester started out great, but went wrong in a hurry. Instead of being in her freshman English class, she was sitting on a hard bench in the Akron bus depot, trying to keep her legs from shaking. She killed Uncle Andre, her dad's youngest brother, but not on purpose.
From the depot's wide window she saw a larger maze of rectangular buildings filled with rows of windows. They rose up high and stretched over streets, and some of them punctuated by white were the imperial palaces where big deals got made. Lucinda feared this city. She didn't know where the fruit loops streets were, the tough side where brown people lived. She knew cops must be pursuing her and felt their hot breath on her neck beneath her waist length brown hair. She smelled what it was like inside a police car, because once they discovered her uncle's body and determined she had killed him, that's where she'd be. She imagined catastrophe and noticed the tremor now in her fingers. All she wanted was to get through Akron on the bus without incident and to keep going until she reached her sister's apartment in Minneapolis. After a furious argument with her parents, Grace, five years older, left home. Grace offered a safe place in the world. Uncle Andre was sweet and fun, but as she got older, he kept grabbing her like he did when she was little. It wasn't right for him to play that way. He was seven years older and stupid to think she wouldn't eventually fight back.
At 6 p.m. the October twilight deepened. When the bus came through the city, she saw a broad swath of brilliant crimson against the western sky. The next bus to Minneapolis was scheduled to leave in the early morning. In the growing shadows, the caverns created by the streets and shops between buildings turned it all a sad-ass blue. Was Uncle Andre still unconscious on the bathroom floor? She didn't call 911. He looked dead. Calling cops meant arrest, a life in orange or drab green. Why didn't she call? She wanted to take her chemistry test. She wanted to stay in college, but dad's baby brother couldn't take "No" from a woman. He should have moved out. She should have moved out. Her folks wouldn't listen. Her dad argued they needed the money Andre brought in to help pay for her education. They were family. They'd work it out, he said, but never got around to it. Her mom seemed oblivious. What else could she do but run away and act like she knew nothing at all.
Walking down a few blocks, Lucinda found Hot Mama's Media, with various columns and bins of DVDs, CDs, games and figurines for games. She was wandering through the aisles when a man with a deep brown broad-brimmed hat, a thin band of beadwork and a hawk feather entered the store and walked down the aisles on the other side of the room. She took her time to move toward him, until she was at the stacks of CDs in the Jazz section. He read the back of a Wynton Marsalis CD. His lanky frame and muscular shoulders, softened by long brown hair, his soft moustache covering his upper lip made her wonder, was he Indian? When he looked up at her, his cheeks shadowed by a small curve beneath his cheekbones, she felt communication. He was, she was sure of it. She took off down another aisle in the shorter columns of CDs. His black eyes didn't avoid her own; his eyes said it all.
She walked into the reggae section: Chronixx, Jimmy Cliff, Toots and the Maytals. Where were Sounds of Reality? She heard the squeak of boots behind her.
"I know you," he said, "I saw you at powwows around the country this year. You're from upstate, one of them towns with a watchtower. Looked a place where time stopped in 1954."
"You gotta be the dancer in the green shawl I saw up in Lewiston or Oil Springs. If not, you got a twin sister on this earth."
"Lots of us wear green, same as plants and sea and piney forests."
She saw a Jimmy Cliff CD and picked it up as she wiped her cheeks. "Hey, you ever hear a Jimmy Cliff song?" She sang, "Well, they tell of a pie up in the sky, waiting for me when I die? My dad sings it. I like it too."
He came around the column of CDs and lied about knowing the song. "You got a great voice," he said. Harvey Logan was twenty-five and lived in Akron, but he wasn't from there. Over coffee, she told him she couldn't stay long because she had to get out of Akron as soon as possible. She had to get to Minneapolis with night coming on. She blurted the question: Would he take her up there? Naw, he had stuff to do. In the coffee shop's soft lighting, his soulful expression, especially when he laughed about his powwow adventures lessened the terror she felt about the warrant for her arrest. He had such white, even teeth and such assurance in his eyes. Wasn't she at Anadarko Powwow last summer? No. Walking back to the bus, he braced against a sudden shift of wind and changed his mind. He'd take her after he got things together and called his mom about coming up. He was helping his mom with money, but she didn't raise him up. He hadn't seen her in a while.
He left for a half an hour to make arrangements. She got her suitcase and waited until he pulled up. She put her case in the back seat, climbed into his blue Chevy Impala.
"Now I let you in," he said, "you'll bird-dog me for the rest of my life."
His smile lightened her heart with its honest welcome as they settled in and headed west through the evening traffic with the radio playing 1970s rock, rain pattering the roof, wipers swishing back and forth, the hum of tires. He grew up in Oklahoma. After his father died, both sets of grandparents raised him up in an Indian community there. He moved to Akron to feel his people's homeland. He was Mingo and Shawnee. She noticed his voice was very deep with an edge of congestion. As he drove, she swung her waist-length hair around one shoulder or another and wiped the rim of her heavily mascaraed eyes with a fingertip, her brows moving like the trial strokes of a calligrapher.
He drove into the stream of heavy traffic and moved through lines of semis going eighty. Her father is from Cattaraugus and her mother, English, French and Saponi. They were Indian refugees sheltered by the Six Nations. Her mother often said she was at war with herself. Lucinda felt her throat closing up. The motor's hum, the slap of tires and swish of windshield wipers helped her relax. As they moved through Cleveland, Harvey told her about the refugee settlement back in the day. Imagine how along the valley and up river, creeks and springs surged over black rocks and cliffs, on the hills grew forests of beech and maple, and Cuyahoga, "the crooked river," created beauty and sustenance in its play of water, rocks and sunlit forests for one hundred miles. The sound of cascades and waterfalls filled the air. The dark, calm pools framed with overhanging tree boughs and vines gave refugees a few years of solace from constant warfare in their lost homelands. The place reminded them of home and they grew corn, beans and squash, hunted game, held ceremonies and preserved food, memories and ways of life. "Funny how life goes on," she answered.
When Harvey merged onto I80 toward Toledo and into Indiana, she didn't think Minneapolis would be very far. Maybe they'd get there by midnight. He laughed when she said midnight. They got burgers, fries and malts at a place just off the highway, talking about favorite movies. Back in the car, she nodded off and jerked awake, thinking the car had stopped, but Harvey drove relentlessly, tuned into private thoughts that made him tap rhythmically on the wheel and sing quietly with songs on the radio.
Somewhere in Indiana, she looked into the dark forests not too far from the road. "Look," she said. "There's people over there." The people flowed along at the edges of the forest and fields, men with scalp locks tied with feathers, wearing long leather shirts and leggings; some were bare-chested, wrapped in cloaks. The women wore buckskin dresses, all of them with beaded bags, the women's long hair flowing over their shoulders, children in leather shirts or dresses, not playing, but clinging to leggings, cloaks and skirts. Shadows come to life. A jolt of electricity thrummed through her and her whole body jerked. She felt shivers and rubbed her arms. "Do you see them?" she asked, wondering if he saw them, but he only glanced at them. What people would be out in the cold October rain at night, walking along like that? They walked in the rhythm of a stomp dance along the nearby tree line and kept up with the car like the full moon does.
"Put some of that tobacco out the window for them," he said, pointing with his chin at the pouch in the cup holder. "There's no people in this area. When spirits come, I offer them tobacco. We carry their pain and suffering in our bones. We're born with it. I don't get afraid, guess I'm like my ancestor, James Logan, the Mingo chief. He was Cayuga, but had left that homeland."
She put a pinch of tobacco out the window. The wind swept it away. His ancestor's family was ambushed in their homeland. Two British thugs, named Greathouse, gathered a group of killers and crossed into Mingo territory, ambushed Logan's wife, brother, nephew and pregnant sister and her small daughter. They set up ambushes along the river and killed all but the little girl whose father was British. They killed Mingo warriors who tried to rescue the family. These men were full of hate and invaded Indian land. Depraved men slaughtered Indians so they could cause a war and get Mingo land. Logan befriended the British, but he took revenge by killing British squatters. The Greathouse brothers started a war and got away with murder. Logan thought the British could be befriended and they killed his whole family.
She looked out the window to see the people again. They were gone. Colonization is violent. He scratched his chin and passed a line of semis with trailers outlined in orange and red lights. "Aren't they beautiful?" he asked.
What am I doing here? she thought, so far from home. "I hate history," she said. "What good is knowing about your ancestors and seeing their spirits? How is that possible? It doesn't help. I have to live right now."
"I don't know 'bout possible. It happens in certain places and times. We walk on earth and think about life, about where we come from, our memories and histories," he said. "Time isn't empty. It's spacetime. It’s energies weaving a many-stranded net that we feel both outside, but also in ourselves. We can't sense everything. We don't know how we're moving and toward what. That's a good thing, innit?"
"The past pisses me off," she said. "I don't want to know what happened this morning or yesterday. Were they ghosts?"
"Spirits is what I call them."
She curled into the seat and feigned sleep until it overcame her. When she woke in the deep night, he had parked at a gas station and was paying inside. Curiosity led her to open the glove box for a car registration and home address. The single object inside was a flat handgun with a black panel on the stock, a long shiny barrel, tabs for one thing or another and the glinting half moon of its trigger. She shut the glove box and closed her eyes again. He nudged her.
"Hey, baby cakes, wake up. Sing me that song you sang in Akron."
"I can't wake up and start singing."
"What? An' I thought you was a Seneca."
He parked and went inside the office of Sleepy Bear Lodge. Orion was directly overhead. Soon he opened the door and nudged her again. He had to sleep. He paid for a room with two beds. Once inside, he pulled off his jeans, climbed in and stretched out without a word to her. He slept all curled up under the blankets. She kept her clothes on and slid under covers on the second bed. He snored, deep-chested, grizzly hibernation snores. What was she doing here? She thought of all she'd tell her sister, and her mind kept talking, talking about spirits, death, escape.
His scent filled the room with a heavy male presence, disturbing her sleep, waking her up with starts, her body deceiving her into thinking she was back home. I hate history and live today. After stopping for breakfast, they left late in the morning and drove for so long, she felt like they stood still while the land rolled by outside the car. Silos and grain elevators once were the highest things, now it was the needle of a tower way in the distance sending microwaves. She wanted a farm when she was five, wanted a barn with horses and chickens. Long before that, this land held forests with now-extinct birds and animals. They'll never come back. The car's jiggling kept her aware of her thighs and breasts. They drove the interstate through Chicago with so many wooden houses and apartment towers whose rooms held food, flesh, sex, shame and joy. The land from Rockford into Wisconsin was the flattest land ever with golden cornfields stretching toward trees and behind them, another field or farmhouse. For no reason, she heard herself saying, 'Dad, Uncle Andre keeps pawing me' and her dad's answer, 'I can't throw him out on the street.' She didn't grow up in any of these houses with unusual pumpkins on the porches.
Harvey Logan left the six-lane highway at Hudson, just across the river from Minneapolis/St. Paul. He was tired of weaving in and out of increasing traffic. She escaped her family. Mom and Dad would see the note. Mom would freak. They didn't want their kids to leave them to their own selves. She was riding with a man who talked about horror and colonization. She wanted to get to Minneapolis. He took the curve and drove along the Minnesota River, the water rough and sparkling in the mid-afternoon sun. He went down Walnut Street and parked to get a view of the river moving on three sides of them. Out of the car, they stretched and Harvey needed a quick walk to loosen up from the driving. "Walkabout," she teased, leaning against the warm hood, waiting while he walked far to the end of the quay. She breathed deeply, reaching her arms up to the sky, and bending down to touch the earth.
A large man with a buzz cut and grey jacket came over. He looked fifty, his head oblong with heavy brows and a fleshy nose. The white guy squinted for a moment, then he lifted his chin and introduced himself. Cudleigh Moorecroft whom friends called "Cuddles" helped women in distress, 'specially pretty lookin' gals with long hair and tan skin. She needed help with the car. He was cutting trail for hunting and stopped in Hudson for a beer with fellow hunters. Upriver, a flock of gulls began keening, one cry leading to a round of cries and responses. The river began shining as if it answered. Thanks, but she wasn't in need of help. Cudleigh reached for her hair, asking how long it took to grow. Before he could stroke it, she pulled from the car hood, shouting for him to leave. She was not alone. Back off, scram, get the hell away from me. Her rage surprised her. His hostile answer: what was wrong with her? It was a normal conversation. He strode across the street, entering the Mossy Moose Tavern. A rat ran out from brush in front of the tavern, climbed the steps and disappeared.
She turned with wet eyes to watch how the wind riffled the river. It soothed her to watch waves. Then she saw Harvey jogging along the street toward her. Once he reached the car, he swung his arms back and forth, winded, renewed from the run and ready to drive on. The way he looked with the river behind him woke in her a longing for freedom, to feel safe in her own skin, moving wherever she wished. His hat stayed on his head and he pulled the brim down as he got into the car. She had never really observed a strange man so closely, his body turning and dark brown eyes looking here and there to get onto the highway. When he looked at her, he took her in and smiled. Men are remarkable beings, she thought.
They returned to the Interstate and moved through traffic, three lanes filled with cars and trucks moving in and out. She relaxed even more when they passed the green sign welcoming them to the state of Minnesota.
"Stillwater sounds like a lovely place," she said to break the silence.
"It's got a prison with lots of brown men like me inside. I wouldn't want to live there. Don't suppose you know the history of the Dakota here."
"What of it?"
"Like Ohio and Wisconsin. This is Dakota homeland. After the greetings, surveys, and treaties with the usual promises, whites drove the Dakota into starvation. Long story short. Lincoln approved the order for hanging thirty-eight Dakota warriors, all randomly selected out of three hundred or so."
"Why do you keep telling me about this? We're a peaceful country. We bring democracy to the world."
"Our country values democracy because our people, yours and mine, valued it. The real kicker is you, not knowing that horrific violence is part of the system. Once you know it, you'll see how we keep dealing with it." They rode past the sleek towers clustered opposite the state capitol of St. Paul. She braced on the curves going from St. Paul to Minneapolis.
Soon she'd be at Grace's and could cry all she wanted. Grace would know what to do. Lucinda would find a job in Minneapolis and maybe go back to college. Could she be a primary school teacher after killing her uncle? It may be possible if violence is part of the system. Crossing a wall of concrete and many on and off ramps, they spun into glittery Minneapolis with its larger grid of towers and twinkling lights, all golden stone and chrome edges. No one would expect her to be in Minneapolis in so short a time. The afternoon sun struck the faces of some of the buildings. One large building caught the clouds, making clouds flow on the rectangular face of the building.
He nodded at the building. "The power of glass."
"My sister lives off Lake Street on the south side. I have the address, so we can stop at a gas station and find out how to get there."
"Sure, baby cakes, but before we do that, you gotta help me."
"Aren't you going to your mom's?"
"We are. This won't take long. I need your help like you needed mine in Akron."
"I really need to go to my sister's."
"Listen, I know you'll help me because that's what we do, reciprocate. You're in some deep shit and want to keep moving; that's your business. My business trumps yours, because my business is in the trunk. If we get caught, it'll be your business too."
"What do you mean?"
She felt a slow burn in her chest. Life never went as planned.
"I'm in the pharmacy business."
"Pharmacy, baby cakes. Are you anywhere? Astro turf, Bud, Doobie, Gange, Sensimilla, GrandDaddy Purp, Weed, pezi, MJ. Want me to go on?"
"You are. . . . a . . . dope dealer?"
"What are you? You're a sweet kid trying to get out of every county she enters, so she keeps moving no matter what. What'd you do in Buffalo?
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Like I'm gonna say, 'You look messed up, so you want to ride with me, the dope dealer, to Minneapolis?' I don't sell hard stuff, no crank, snow, just pezi. I thought of coming up here and you offered the opportunity, help with gas, conversation and protection."
He stopped looking her way because it was tricky to get off on Lyndale, then he drove south for many blocks, passing two-story frame houses in working class neighborhoods like those in Buffalo. Farther south, she saw houses with large yards and landscapes, the neighborhoods of West 47th Avenue. She wanted but didn't expect to live in houses like these. She wondered how close she was to Grace's apartment. "Here we are," he said, as if she was going to help him with she didn't know what. He parked in front of a brown-shingled two-story house on a corner lot. A big pine tree grew in the front near the corner; pink and purple flowers danced on either side of the walk. This was not working class. There were curtains in the windows and every house looked like a prima donna.
"I'm not getting out of the car until I know what I'm supposed to do."
"Experience first, think later. When you get restless, come in. Mom isn't home. This won't take long. I need your help. You were glad 'bout the ride when we started out, 'n now you got attitude?"
"I need to see Grace."
"I'll get you there, but this is first and will help you in the long run."
"Yea, like it's good for me to learn how to deal dope."
"It'll clear your mind of troubles."
"What BS," she said, frowning and turning away from him, folding her arms tight against her chest.
She slid down in the seat. Would he drag her out in this neighborhood? He got out, opened the trunk, took several suitcases out and walked to the door. He fished out a key from some hidden place and went in.
Sitting there in the coming evening, the dream of the rat came back, how she opened a cupboard at home and reached for cereal, but found a huge grey rat sitting on the shelf, its beady eyes staring into her soul. She grabbed a knife and stabbed it in the flank as it turned and hissed before scurrying off. She felt itchy, scratched her scalp then pulled her hair to loosen the tension in her forehead and neck. Harvey didn't come back. She should get her stuff and go, but she couldn't. After all that talk of violent history and Indian lives lost to poverty, illness and oppression, she felt raw inside, and though he told her he got angry, she was more frightened of what might be happening back home. She was sleepwalking through her own misfortune. Why does everything go wrong? Her self-talk roiled into knots until the day unrolled itself on this corner. Why couldn't she go to college like an average white girl?
She was a college student, a freshman at the U. of Buffalo. She was Seneca, English, French, Saponi and modern. She remembered how she looked in the mirror last week, her thick, long hair curling over her shoulders, her deep-set eyes with black lashes well mascaraed, her new Buffalo tee and tight jeans. That's all over now.
A feeling flashed like a fever burning her eyes, without words or sounds, the intensity of moments ratcheting up from the depths of her sex into her heart. It was not a memory but a vision that wouldn't quit. A college dropout. Who could say why, what or who was to blame? The memory came from reflection and the smell of steam. She got out of the shower in the steamy room and was pulling on her underwear when naked Uncle Andre pushed himself in, his sex with soft brown hair curling over his rising penis. He clapped his hand over her mouth and started dragging her back into the shower stall. With his left hand he turned on the water, wrapping one arm around her waist, pulling, pulling. She had just gotten dry. Her head and chest were pounding hard. A fire of rage erupted, filling her muscles and fingertips, as she jabbed her elbow hard into his belly. No more. She was eighteen and going to college. He breathed on her ear and hair. He punched her left buttock and told her not to move. Growling in rage, she spun toward him and shoved him farther into the shower. He slid and she slipped free. She grabbed the plugged-in hair dryer and threw it at him.
It hit the wet wall and streaming water and cracked apart, a coil of wire hitting the flowing water moving over the shower floor. His expression shocked her. His drab boney face bloated suddenly. His piglet eyes bulged, his shoulder-length brown hair rose up like a puff ball, as his muscular body began convulsing, while from his lips flew foamy spit accompanied by a strange chortling, every cell screaming from life toward death. Before he lost consciousness, his left hip slammed into the shower stall edge, his limp penis hardened then got as flaccid as a spent balloon. With the balls of his feet glued to hot coals, he fell. In his eyes she saw excruciating pain erasing all memory. Lights out! He didn't seem to feel the ongoing convulsions, nor did he see the brief jet of sparks before the power went off. He jittered down, falling with a thud and landing, all twisted up, between the rim of the stall and the floor. She wasn't even thinking when she pulled the dryer out of the shower and left it near him but didn't unplug it. She looked at him, his face smashed against the rim, his arms and legs in haphazard positions. She felt strangely detached, like she was floating as she watched steam rising off him, the faint smell of burnt flesh reminding her of meat on a barbeque. She looked out at the sunshine and leaves turning red, orange, and yellow in the crisp air.
She gathered a few clothes and toiletries and got out of there, calling the Dean of Students office but hanging up when the message system clicked on. What to say? I'm withdrawing due to family problems? Grace lived in the Twin Cities and it seemed like a magical place to sort it out.
Honking geese overhead roused her out of a traveler's stupor. She got out of the car and looked at them. They made her ache more. Her mother told her they left spaces for those who died; these geese flew a lop-sided V. They were beautiful and heartbreaking. She never wanted to hurt anyone. She walked inside the house and found Harvey in a back bedroom. On the bed was a suitcase full of weed, packed into solid blocks and wrapped in plastic. He put out boxes of zip-lock baggies and told her to grab some of them and put this much, showing her with two fingers where to stop, then roll it up tightly and zip up the bag and move on to the next one. He was going to be breaking up the bricks and crumbling the leaves into bowls. As she worked, she stacked them in another bowl.
"How long have you been dealing?"
"How long you been on the run?"
"None of your business," she said.
"Ditto. I played trumpet in a band. We couldn't find gigs, and the scene was closing down, so I sold a little weed in Akron, a friend helping me out. It was getting risky, so when you appeared, I was figuring what next. You were a way to get here and hang with my mom. Let's get this done."
The smell of marijuana and Harvey working in the closed space of the bedroom made her more excited than scared.
"Is this your bedroom?"
"Naw. Ma's spare room. I never lived here. We're trying it out now."
"Your mom doesn't know about this?"
"She knows I gotta make a living."
"Will she turn you in?"
"We'll sell this and it'll work out all right. You'll make a great cover. Young, skittish, maybe murderous," he answered, looking up and winking.
He had his hat still on his head as he stacked baggies into a black backpack. His friend set him up with lookouts, so he'd get in touch with them. His expression showed he didn't like doing this. His lips closed tight and he clenched his jaws in the soft bedroom lights. She'd stay there until he sold it all. He'd stash the bag someplace nearby and she'd know where it was. If he got arrested, she should take the weed and put it in the open car trunk and hang around where they parked. But they weren't going to get arrested.
"I'm no murderer," she said, each word emphatically stressed. "I'm- I'm not going to stand out on the street and deal dope."
"You don't know the scene. You don't read history. You don't read the streets. You read books, and that's good. You're sweet, baby cakes! You're with me while I deal. If cops come along, we'll be like lovey-dovey and they'll cruise by."
"If I get caught, you get caught. That's worse for you, given what you're running from. You being with me will keep you from getting funny ideas about turning me in. Once the weed is sold, I'll take you to your sister's. Hell, I'll take you both out for supper."
"You're not getting near my sister."
"For someone who hates history, you have a knack for dissing the future."
The downtown streets had mostly restaurants and bars: tavern, bar, café, pizzeria, brasseries, tap rooms, taqueria, smokehouse, tavern, pasta bar, Belgian beer and bratwurst, Scandinavian, Vietnamese, Golden Garden, Somali, Italian, Mexican, Hallal, bakery, African, Cuban, French, the International Market. So in this magical place, people eat out every day? He drove around downtown streets until he found Lake Street and drove from a fancy shopping area east where each block looked rougher than the one before. He parked on Lake Street, near tracks and a cemetery, not the roughest place, but with bars and alcoves on the corners. They met his lookouts where two stores, separated by an alley, gleamed in the late afternoon light. The lookouts wore baseball hats and sunglasses. They looked muscular, agile, and studied her in a curious way, the same way they studied whatever went past.
She realized that all downtown was a temple of commerce from which their small circle had been excluded for generations. People on the street and in the buildings gleaming in the distance bought and sold. Teens from Edina with shopping bags, white lawyers, insurance salesmen, women bankers, owners of investment firms, social workers and every sort of agent who had a job in the tall towers beyond this corner bought and sold in legally recognized transactions. It wasn't a free market, but very controlled. Without work, what could she and these men do to stay alive? It didn't seem fair. People need meaningful work.
He didn't introduce her and wanted her nearby. Knife, a black man, took off his sunglasses and flashed twinkling eyes at her, then returned to the conversation. She smiled, but he didn't see it. He was shorter than Harvey, a bit jumpy with a wiry build and well-defined muscles. He gave her the feeling of being high-strung, every now and then prancing on the balls of his feet like a sprinter. Harvey gave him a number of bags and he tucked them inside his jacket, making him look heavier. Stony was a white man with a ticking right cheek and skin the color of a creek pebble. He and Harvey talked codes, while he puffed a cigarette, the smoke drifting in regular wisps up the street, until he flicked the butt into the gutter. He looked around often, standing different ways to check out the whole scene. He didn't look at her. Harvey gave Blood the gun. Blood, a large Indian man in a blue cap with a complexion the color of wet sand, lifted his glasses and looked up the street. She saw his thoughtful deep brown eyes and wondered why he took the gun. He spoke rapidly, hardly moving his sensual mouth. He said he couldn't stay long and didn't like the girl being there. She didn't even see where he put the gun, in a boot, under a hoodie, in his pocket, tucked behind him? Why did he have the gun?
Harvey told her where to stand and taught her one sign. Although signs changed, like any language, they were known to the users and precise. If she saw anyone of them take his hat and do this, no matter how far down she saw it, whether it was Stony, Blood or Knife or someone else farther down, if she saw a man doing this, cops were sighted. Walk toward the alcove and wait. He'd find her and they'd hug each other and act like they were out on the town.
In that moment she saw Lake Street differently. They gestured the signs of a counter conversation, which went up and down the street farther than she could see. They watched one another for signs that were outside downtown commerce. The system set them up. Like Mingo and Shawnee, like Dakota and many other Indian nations, the people survived by creating ways to cope with the violence of empire. She watched all kinds of people come talk very quickly with Harvey and couldn't tell how they did it. Young adults, mature men in dress shirts, women from offices, young and middle-aged were like the old woman crippled with arthritis who wanted some for her pain.
Way down on the street, she saw a lookout do the thing with his cap. The sign flowed along Lake Street, a message in a bottle, a dance of resistance in a place where everything became only a thing, never a being. How many things going on around her did she not see or understand?
When Harvey gestured to her, she went to the alcove next to a dumpster, near the street but hidden, a dead end where people had pissed, vomited, cried and bled. A big grey rat lumbered past her to sniff the dumpster. She stomped her foot, but it looked her over with sad, red eyes, reared up on its haunches, its nose working furiously, stretching up on two feet, challenging her like a boxer. Seeing it do this stopped her breath. Without thinking, she shushed it, swinging her purse. It hissed and scrambled off, giving her a look of distain. She felt overcome with anguish and fear and curled head to knees to hide her face, tears streaming, struck by life on the street. She felt Harvey put his hands on her shoulders. He pulled her up and encircled her in a bear hug, his back to the street.
Into her ear, he whispered, "Stop crying. One of us might die because you're crying. Blood has the gun and he'll fire, so stop. You gotta stop so the cops won't check us out or circle back."
Her shoulders shook; he tightened his grip, his legs between hers, then began swaying playfully, their bellies soft against one another's, his shoulders pushing into her face. "Don't cry," he whispered.
"I killed my uncle," she whispered into his neck and shoulder.
"Tell me later. You're in a cloud. Get back here on Lake where one of us could die."
He took her face in his hands, leaned down and kissed her at the moment the cop car cruised by. She didn't see the car because his lips were warm and welcoming. His face was all she saw as he kissed her so passionately she believed he wanted to give her this generous thrilling kiss that calmed her down, her feet and thighs, all of her falling through the earth and sailing on the moon at the same time. As the kiss went on, she realized she was falling. When he stopped, the city lit the damp streets in reflections of orange, green, yellow and blue against the darkness.
They stepped from the alcove. No cop cars. She felt herself spasm. Knife showed him what was left, plus the few left in the backpack. Stony came next and they exchanged signs and spoke briefly. Soon after, Blood sauntered up, stood facing the street, and with one hand behind him gave Harvey his gun. They had made enough and would split the remaining and share the money. Then men talk. Cool. Too risky. I'm no fool. "Don't beat your woman, Dude," she heard one of them say as they each left in a different direction.
He drove her to Grace's apartment, a bright turquoise two-story on a corner, way on the other end of Lake. Lucinda grabbed her bags and climbed the stairs on the side of the building. At the bottom, Harvey waited to make sure she had a place. I may never see him again, she thought, knocking on the door. Still in her nylons and short skirt from where she worked, Grace shouted surprise and happiness, hugged her, took her things and pulled her into the golden kitchen. Lucinda pulled her out to the staircase to see the man at the bottom, looking up at them both. He was leaving. Grace skipped downstairs to greet the stranger. Her short bob was cut longer on one side with a large curl over her ear that kept bouncing until she reached the bottom step. You can't stop Grace, Lucinda thought, Nobody ever could.
Settled at her kitchen table in the small apartment, eating chili and crackers and cups of hot Coco, they talked over the high cost of everything, until Harvey asked about that 'pie in the sky' song.
"Oh, Jimmy Cliff's 'The Harder They Come.' Dad's favorite song," answered Lucinda.
"If we complained about homework or about kids teasing us about being Seneca, Dad strengthened us with that song," added Grace. Then, Lucinda started singing, using the table for a drum. Grace joined in. Harvey watched them and smiled his winning smile. These Seneca women were something else.
But between the day you're born and when you die
They never seem to hear even your cry
So as sure as the sun will shine
I'm gonna get my share now of what's mine
And then the harder they come,
The harder they fall, one and all.
As the song ended, Lucinda's eyes filled with tears, her voice faltered, and she sobbed. Harvey looked at Grace, who looked back. She left and came back with a small water drum. In between sobs, Lucinda told about that morning, so hard to believe it happened. Grace began drumming the quick rhythm of the New Women's Shuffle Dance. "Dance, Lucinda," she told her sister who rose and began to dance around the table, remembering in her sister's voice a whole group of women, the lovely feeling of being together, being grounded and happy on the earth, feeling our mother's healing power: "Yo Hauuu." Grace stopped and started, Lucinda gradually growing fluid in her movements, knees and feet sliding along, until they stopped and grinned at each other.
"Lucinda, mom called to say they found Uncle Andre on the floor of the bathroom. The police investigated and said it appeared to be an accident."
"I can't go back for the funeral," Lucinda said very quietly. Grace agreed.
She thanked Harvey for bringing her sister from so far away and let him know he could come back and visit whenever he had time. Who knows what happens out there on the streets? You gotta be able to read people and as far as Grace could say, Harvey was now their brother. The two sisters hugged him and went downstairs to wave good-bye and watch him drive away on Lake Street.