greatest sacred thing is knowing the order and structure of things."
--Black Horse Mitchell, Native American
matter what you look at, if you look at it closely enough, you are involved in
the entire universe…." --Richard Feynman, physicist [referring to Faraday's 'Chemical History
of a Candle']
The wind tunnel sucks in fresh meat bleeding, sliced by
mad machetes, shot by the insane trigger finger of urban war, or leather lungs
gasping through a hole in the ozone, and this because we live out of
balance. When a drill press operator
loses his index finger in the factory of night, when a baby snaps her tiny
spinal cord because General Motors forgot, then they come to us, arriving
through the ambulance entrance, the wind tunnel, screaming in agony -- if it's
not too late -- because nature, the process, the structure of things is at best
unknown, at worst ignored.
Oh, gawd! A knife, he had. The sonuvabitch!" Glass emergency doors fly open and a moist,
summer afternoon delivers a manned gurney screaming through the tunnel -- a
gray body strapped down, sheets flying, a Christmas tree dangling a swinging
bag of plasma, tubes, and old Ben Chandler shivering and small.
Sylvia, rushes in after him, blown through the tunnel, down the corridor,
"Oh, my god! My god… my god…"
smack into the arms and breasts of the triage nurse. Sylvia beats her fists on
the younger woman, an Armenian nurse with deep brown, almond eyes darting --
practiced -- in all directions. She
grabs Sylvia's fists, gently squeezing both of the old lady's wrists together
using one manicured hand, and speaks calm and loud, heard by all above the
wind, raising her other arm, pointing the clutched end of a stethoscope,
"O.R. two is open," and back to Sylvia, warm but firm, "Sweetie,
you can't go in there."
automatically shut, the tunnel quietly waiting.
lobby, Sylvia softly cries, blotting her eyes with a balled tissue. From the television screen, four friends sit
joking back and forth on a coffeehouse sofa.
Sylvia doesn't see them.
swats the large round disk on the wall and two more doors swing open. Ben sails through on his gurney, answering
questions from police and a medical team, as if conducting a power meeting
concerning the circumstances of the robbery, "…and he was how tall? I see, right or left handed, would you
say?…" and when the doors shut, Ben feels a whisper of air behind his
head, becomes aware of his bloody red sheet, and realizes he is sailing down
Doctor Robert Johnson, a tall, athletic gentleman in his early forties runs
alongside the gurney. He sprints in
white sneakers, holding Ben's chart, flipping pages, his brain inputting data,
bouncing, reading, running and speaking, "Ben, can you hear me!" Doctor Johnson instructs his team using only
his brown eyes, set back behind high, tan cheeks -- never missing a beat.
but it hurts like --"
you're going to live, Ben. I'm going to
clean you up and sew you up, and save your life. And while I am doing that, I want you to consider your wife who's
in the lobby terrified because she thinks you're dying. I want you to think about all the money this
is going to cost you, because I'm so damned expensive there isn't an insurance
company in the western hemisphere that'll cover my fees, Ben. Living is very pricey these days, Ben."
in pain here! I'm the victim! The sonuvabitch, he had a fuckin' meat
huh, a meat cleaver?" Doctor
Johnson leans in close. His forehead
shines under thick, coal black hair, and he grins wide through a square jaw,
whispering to Ben, "You're lucky he didn't have a fucking shotgun! Next time, make with the money."
steps towards death and Doctor Johnson glances at his nurse. She's holding a small vial up to the light
in one hand, squinting an eye because she mustn't stop moving while precisely
filling a syringe.
--" He gives her the look.
yes, Doctor Johnson?"
Happy Hour." Having thoroughly
assessed the patient, taken Ben's vitals, prepared his pre-op shot, and never
stopped moving, the group now passes between two stainless steel doors marked
SURGERY. Ben feels himself being lifted
and turned, and then a sharp needle jabs his fleshy, old posterior. He lies face up again with lights shining
down. His skin feels dry, ashen, the
color of concrete, and he smells.
Someone asks him his social security number -- Doctor Johnson and his
team scrub at the station behind a thick glass partition -- his telephone
numbe- he's out…
firm, male hand is squeezing the fingers of Ben Chandler's wrinkled right
hand. He opens his eyes into a
different room, softer lights. Doctor
Robert Johnson loosens his grip on Ben's hand and speaks in easy tones, warm
and intimate. "What I was trying
to say, my friend," he sits momentarily on the edge of the bed placing a
reassuring grip on his patient's shoulder, "is that we have a
responsibility to value our lives and the lives of those around us. We pick up stragglers as we go along --
dogs, maybe a wife," both men laugh, "and we don't live in a
vacuum. The money is, well, you
know?" He rises off the bed, folds
his stethoscope loose into his pocket, and Ben smiles weakly.
stands in the doorway self-conscious, picking at strands of hair and pushing
them quickly into place, because when next he turns she wants to be his angel.
Saint John's Hospital rises with glorified determination on the back of its own
sixteen story skeleton, the result of heavy steel beams, miles of conduit and
optical wire, slabs of mortar and architectural masonry carved in a skyward
fashion: caulked, stacked, and spray gunned towards heaven, where, with the
right key, one may ride any of a dozen staff elevators from an underground
parking structure up a straight line to the first cloud break -- our
corporation does not overtly reveal human ingenuity with a structure such as
Saint John's. It stands a marvel of
mighty industrial servitude to religious power. It stands on an American quarter in mint condition claiming its
existence as the result of higher morality, a divine ethic.
monolithic glass doors, walls pretend humbleness, to recall their roots in
small statues of Jesus: Rabbi, yogi, rebel, healer, the blue-collar carpenter,
a homeless wise man, aesthetically ribbed and dying; walls that feel your pain,
and though you are an absolute stranger, you lie on a gurney under thin white
sheets knowing this place -- and that man and these walls know you. Watercolors hang in pastel shades, fields
and flowers, the unseen administration reducing your disease to a pastoral
blip. One day you find yourself linked
with a familiarity and faith in the unknown you had no previous notions
about. This is the phenomenal
institutional power of the industrial medical church; by the time you sleep
here, you want desperately to believe.
remembers when Saint John's did not exist.
At ground level, the parking lot spreads out tree lined under the
afternoon sun. Sidewalks sparkle. A subtle buffer zone unfolds. Only well beyond the zone do we find the
long hours, in this environment power rubs off on Robert's shirtsleeves. A doctor believes he is humble, in touch
with his patients, he believes that he remembers his roots, but he knows
he is powerful, and whatever academic, financial struggle came before life at
Saint John's, he works to forget.
Inside the technologically miraculous belly of an epidemic, he must
believe in free will. Any biochemist
will attest that on a cellular level free will is not empirical, not
scientific, and impossible. Yet, for
the sake of his sanity the doctor desperately believes he can construct a
personal safety zone. Robert holds
faith in this because he believes a part of him is not subject to hard-wired
physical responses, that something exists beyond the physical, a quality with
its own will. Although, asking for a
scientific admission of such beliefs only garners one a denial.
out of the great stainless elevator on the fifteenth floor, walking down a
quiet hallway, the only carpeted hallway in the building, each wooden door
hides an office cubical. Behind the
door marked 'Invasive Cardiology' sits a dark space save for a single ray of
light aimed at a pile of manila files with color coded tabs laying on a desk
top. A brown veined hand working long,
artistically strong fingers flips open a file and from the muted daylight above,
behind the desk lamp, a deep male voice, removed, reads into a telephone
transcription service today's surgical reports.
please." Snatching a ready tissue
out of its box, with his free hand, Robert wipes down his face waiting for the
proper cue from the computer menu.
"Doctor Robert Johnson, cardiology. Patient: William Ventura.
Location: Buena Vista Saint John's Hospital, Burbank, California. Date: August 21, 2001. Begin notes: Preoperative diagnoses are
multivessel coronary artery disease with angina. Postoperative diagnosis is the same. Operative procedure is a coronary artery bypass graft."
He wads the
tissue, throws one sneakered foot high on his desk, lifts his arm above its
shoulder, and tipping back the chair, Robert tosses the tissue dead center into
the corner trash receptacle.
-- left internal mammary to the diagonal and left anterior descending. Two -- sequential vein graft from the aorta
to the second and third marginal. Three
-- saphenous vein to the acute marginal branch of the right
coronary." Doctor Robert Johnson
closes his eyes. He hears drums. Of course, it's impossible, yet he hears
off with his foot and the chair spins around until he tugs suddenly at the
drape pull -- light floods the room.
The tree-lined parking lot spreads below, however, Robert tilts back his
chair angling his body, fixing his gaze above on the hazy, distant mountains
surrounding Glendale. The drums fade.
patient was supine with standard padding and positioning. Anesthesia was obtained and monitoring lines
were established. Cardiac sterile prep
and drape were performed. The sternum
was opened through a vertical midline incision. The left ankle was opened with a small incision, and the
saphenous vein harvested through a series of small incisions --"
lines of traffic flowing like blood corpuscles along the on and off freeway
--using laryngoscope and laparoscopic equipment. The sternum was divided with a reciprocating saw." Drums again.
in a black, hand-detailed BMW west from the hospital towards affluent Toluca
Lake, where the manicured streets gently curve, lined by well-lit two and three
story homes. Chopin plays through his
stereo while a breeze brushes the doctor's cheeks tickling his ears. Robert mildly appreciates the Romantic
classics and is passionate about abstract jazz, but at the end of a long, hard
day he drives absent-mindedly, thinking, Appreciation is all I can muster. Taking this next turn slow, he passes
familiar shadows falling long over the local golf course, past the golf club's
guardhouse, and swings a gentle left into his driveway -- this, and Chopin's
piano, send him crackling over dried leaves to an attached garage with an open
carport overlooking the lake.
He cuts the
engine, switches off the lights, and for a moment Robert Johnson sits gazing at
stars, which hang particularly low this evening. Astronomically he understands them, their gases and chemical
structure, their ancient photon emissions, although it's not enough. The answer of a physical universe is true,
but misses the point. A chunk of
important information remains inaccessible -- a deep, mysterious image felt not
seen, and buried. Einstein, I
remember it, and Robert's eyes travel a trail of bright pinpricks in
infinite space, …following in the footprints of God, he said. Thin, wet mist rolls off the water. He's attempted previously to grasp this
mystery, however, inevitably the doctor falls short and walks away feeling
ignorant, primitive and stupid.
later, he enters the kitchen directly off the garage, staring, growling under
his breath in the direction of the main room.
He hears party noise, laughter, exclamations, glass clinking glass. Lumbering across his floor like a bear,
Robert removes his sport coat throwing it over a chair. He folds up long sleeves revealing hard,
dense forearms and large, rounded shoulders, and gently slips off his watch. He scrubs his huge hands with surgeon's
fingers twenty-five times a day, but this time is different as he consciously
lets go of his focus, leaning over the sink, watching the water run, stopping
for the first time since five a.m., listening, and then he splashes the clear
liquid cold against his face and forehead, up into the front of his scalp, and
again over closed eyes.
a waterfall, a high cliff, wet boulders trapping the constant wild splash in
foamy pools, and a tree growing at the base of the fall where it empties into a
lake. Drums. A coyote cautiously crosses behind the fall – here, the
mountain's base broadens and water runs shallow. The hungry animal turns eyeing him. This coyote is healthy, intelligent, frighteningly sharp-witted.
In the main
room, he stands tall wearing a warm, tired smile for friends.
have everyone's attention, please?"
Maddie, his wife, twinkles, blue-eyed and blond, in her middle thirties,
and extremely pregnant in a black cocktail dress, round, a bomb about to
explode, and jumping up and down, an excited bomb. This prospect the room finds frightening as she speaks. The doctor holds her hand stabilizing
her. "The doctor is in!" the
Robert Johnson, still smiling, chuckles, holding down the bomb in the cocktail
dress and doing his best making eye contact with the room.
his friends shout.
Robert gently guides her by the shoulders, gazing down at perfect lips and
ivory features, her nose straight and turned up, "what's this?"
well, it's your 'First Year In Private Practice' anniversary!" She stretches, her dress rising, and
standing on tiptoes Maddie encircles his wide, nut-brown neck straining her
thin pale arms. Their eyes meet while
he leans over, and they kiss. For
Maddie, kissing him is feeling his oak tree roughness against her cheek.
is sensing the universe in a single blade of grass, an eternal moment, the
mystery again, and when at last they part lips he whispers in her ear, "If
I didn't have you, I would have nothing.
Be nothing. I love you because I
long to love you." With every word
she feels his hot breath.
silently watches. A balding,
ruddy-faced gentleman in the crowd finally raises his wine glass shattering
eternity. "It's nice knowing, the
man who slices flesh and saws through bone to hold a beating heart in his
hands, possesses one of his own."
winks at her husband. "Uh, do I
make your heart beat, Bob?" She
strokes his thigh through his trouser.
"Do I make it skip a beat, Bobby?
Two beats? Wanna try for a
'hands on' displaying a sinful grin, and he plays 'hands off' knowing what is
expected of him. This is their
vocabulary. They've invested years
polishing it, carrying it around, each of them in a hip pocket -- their
language an expression of their bond.
old, Kyle Johnson, darts nimbly between oversized feet, glasses set on the
floor, and furniture, landing with a grab onto his father's legs. The doctor reaches down covering the top of
his son's blond head with one hand, stopping him like a wall. "Congratulations, Daddy!"
allows his wife's hand to fall and he bends deep at the knees facing his
son. "Doctor Kyle, did we scrub
the O.R. ship-shape?"
I guess so. But --"
love you, Kyle. And I appreciate your
staying up way past your bedtime just to congratulate me," and in one move
he hoists the boy from ground-zero to a point barely below the ceiling while
peering up at his son. "And now,
Doctor," Robert spins the boy around pumping him up and down, "it's
time to operate. Say good-night to our
guests," and he lowers Kyle to his feet.
growing, you know."
I'm acutely aware of that, son."
I'm gonna be as big as you."
"No. You will never be as big as me."
he was my mother's father."
'cause Glowing Hands died."
smiles at Maddie and turns his attention back to the boy. "Glowing Hands
was my father's father. But my mother's
father was also my Grandfather – your great-grandfather.
accepted me at a difficult time in my life.
And I grew in the light of his acceptance, and he shrunk. Kyle, one day he was very old and small. He suffered from diabetes, The People's
curse, and I looked down at him in his wheel chair," Robert pounded a fist
over his heart, "but it was like looking at a giant in my life. I knew then that he would always be bigger
than me. Understand?"
"Yeah! Naw, not really."
alright!" In his way, Robert gives
Maddie a well-intended look, and she, grabbing the boy's hand, knows what is
expected of her.
edges behind his long, gray, marble bar, scooting past a steel sink towards the
wall. He turns a round switch softening
the lights. He's considering a scotch
and soda on the rocks, and Robert has grabbed the glass in one hand, holding
ice in the other, though bringing the two together, hearing the music of cubes
falling, is a homing signal for Ellen, a nearby friend.
across the bar on one bare elbow, bending her wrist and pointing at the
glass. Robert's drink has mysteriously
become Ellen's. "Easy on the soda,
Bob. No point in wasting my
and mixes her drink. "You know,
it's funny. Before I became aware of
women, I owned things."
I guess I took for granted. I had a
small place. The kitchen was mine. I came home at night and I remember it like
a dream, hanging my clothes in my closet.
Throwing my stuff in my chair. I
had a bathroom sink – it was mine!"
glanced around and then met Ellen's eyes.
"Sometimes I'm standing at the sink. I reach up to get a can of shaving cream and before I can bring
my arm back down she's there, and I'm not standing in front of my sink about to
shave. No, I'm standing behind Maddie
whose spitting toothpaste into her sink and will continue to work in front of
her sink for the next half-hour. And
here's the kicker," he carefully pours scotch watching amber liquid flow
between ice cubes, "ten minutes into the process she'll turn around and
look at me like I'm an invader, and if I know what's good for me I'd better
leave." He slides her drink across
don't have a closet either, or a dresser.
I do have a file cabinet."
then you must have the key."
sweetheart, I have the key."
do you have another glass?"
huh, and an inexhaustible supply of the good juice."
it is. Things aren't that bad. You see, you're just a typical male. You took her half of the bed while she was
still in it, but you expected to roll away owning the same amount of real
estate." Ellen stretches one long,
free arm draping it across his shoulder, pulling him towards her. "It doesn't work that way with nations,
and it don't work that way with women."
twisted her head around, momentarily glancing with familiarity at an older man,
grayish, sixty, sitting in the far shadows, Councilman Jack Macy, and then she
looks back at Robert, who without removing her arm has managed to finally fix
himself a drink. Ellen blows alcohol
breath into his face. "Now, you
take Jack and me – he doesn't have a key.
I took it away from him because he's pathetic. He allowed me to."
Doctor, what do you think about the popular vote versus the
electoral?" She swishes a finger
around in her glass and flicks her tongue over the end of it.
rattles his cubes. Jack and Robert
enjoy a thick bond, and Robert doesn't care for Ellen's remark. At the moment she is difficult to take. "I think I need something
stronger," and he reaches under the bar.
right, fine. If you won't say it, I
will. The Constitution clearly
separates religion and the state. But I
think the Jew has quite a different agenda."
is, he thinks,
surfacing with two bottles. She is
hard to take.
that he'll have any power, but he does represent the spirit of the team."
avoids Ellen's eyes. He examines the
bottles, but doesn't pour the drink.
Suddenly, being sober becomes critical, just because she is not. He lifts his head and stares at her,
don't just gawk at me."
not gawking, you bitch, I'm analyzing.
I'm trying to decide whether you're a concerned constitutionalist or a
racist." Robert picks up the
bottles removing them to their previous hiding place. "I suppose my only concern is that if we don't have a
president soon, Jessie Jackson's going to start flying around making foreign
policy, for lack of any true leadership."
wonders about your concerns. I'm going
to let the other remark pass. I'm sure
you've had a hard day, and here I was thoughtlessly insulting your
dark eyes search nervously for Maddie.
"I do all right for myself.
I'm not that concerned. I'm even
generous. Drown yourself with another
drink, Ellen. It's on me."
take it then, you voted Democratic, since you're giving it away. That makes you a minority in my
winces, struck by a short, stabbing pain in his brow. "It was nice of you to stumble by, Ellen. Would you excuse me, please? I haven't checked my messages or mail." Coyote The Trickster, you think I don't
In the dark
privacy of his den, sequestered from the universe behind a heavy Mediterranean
door, Robert Johnson's stocking feet escaped their shoes, and he crept across
bare wooden floorboards feeling his way along walls, running fingertips over
heavy bindings, thick shelves supporting volumes of medical books, until he hit
a rectangular metal box, pressing by rote a short series of switches. The front panel of his stereo system glowed
soft green, and he adjusted its volume for background music, late night music, Kind
seated himself in his overstuffed, leather chair, behind an antique mahogany
double desk the size of a billiard table, and pulled the chain on an amber
glass banker's lamp. The chair sprouted
wings enveloping his head, and he enjoyed stealing a moment, turning his face,
cheek flush to the leather, smelling its warm scent, as if an animal's blood
ran fresh beneath the surface.
knick-knacks collected dust scattered in cubby holes between sets of books: a
football ashtray, a gold sailboat business card caddy, a bronze golf tee and ball,
and the walls held several framed diplomas and numerous humanitarian
certificates, as well as a photograph of a grinning then President Ronald
Reagan shaking hands with a young Doctor Robert Johnson.
Opposite the doctor's desk sat an oversized,
serious, matching leather sofa, and above the sofa hung a long, two hundred
year old, handmade throwing spear. The
spear, a two-piece affair, exhibited its eagle-feathered ethnicity at odds with
everything else in the den. Robert
rarely honored it by way of a second look, but after his bout with Ellen he
settled into his chair, sniffed the leather, listened to Miles Davis torturing
sweet honey from his horn, and spent some moments grumbling, emotionally
connecting with the artifact.
open his bottom desk drawer, and from deep within pulled out a five by seven
photograph nestled in a well-worn frame.
A beaded loop attached to a small Native American dream catcher wrapped
itself around the frame. The doctor
carefully unraveled the dream catcher, setting it aside, and he gazed at the
old photograph -- a tiny stucco house with a tin roof and an Indian blanket
hanging in the doorway. A Native
American family stood uncomfortably posed in front of the house; a painfully
thin, careworn, codeine infested mother; a sunken-chested, beer-bellied father
wearing threadbare jeans and pointed western boots; and two sons sitting on the
hood of an old pickup – no smiles. He
tried wiping off the dusty glass and scratching his nail at a speck of dried
dirt, but the land in the little black and white picture extended itself bleak
and dusty, barren on either side of the tiny house, and behind the house. When Robert was young, he thought the reason
their chickens ran so fast was because the land radiated intense heat. It was, after all, a picture of dried dirt,
not the ocean shore they came from, but the valley floor inland where the
Chumash fled when escaping death at the hands of European missionaries. Most who ended up here died, as well as all
those souls who stayed at the mission, and cleaning the picture didn't improve
its oppressive ghost-like quality.
I don't know much 'bout those dream catchers --" Councilman Jack Macy
his neck, shocked, Robert swore the ceiling beams vibrated.
but aren't they supposed to be hung in the window, not kept hidden in the
dark?" Jack respectfully lowered
his tone. "Say, is your brother in
fumbled the photograph, and Jack lit a green cigar, the fire light flaring in
his face, flickering shadows over thick flesh, red, breathing through large
whiskey soaked pores.
no notion how long ago Jack sunk his large bones into the leather sofa. "Wherever you sit, you manage to look
like you've lived there forever. Please,
don't feel compelled to take that as a compliment." A long silence ensued. "Yes, Carl is in this photograph. I didn't hear you come in, Jack."
Jack blew a
slow smoke ring. "Ellen's a
whore. I keep her around just for the
challenge." He picked at a nostril
head, the doctor grinned. "Now,
what am I supposed to do with that? If
I agree, you'll kick me in the teeth."
life in the colony?"
really ought to move out to Malibu, Bob.
The ocean air is- well- it's better than choking on this horse
shit." Jack inched his huge frame
to the edge of the sofa. "Maybe
you ought to visit his grave."
"Carl's? I'm not much on visiting those I can't
heal. Death is an answer I have no
a thought." Jack pushed his
massive legs, shoving himself back into the sofa. His expression developed distance listening to the slow, easy
thump of a bass speaker, and then he returned to the living. "The war's over, you know?"
know. Today was my shift for ER, that's
all. It leaves my nerves-" and
Robert smacked his hands together, lifting his arms, running his fingers
through his scalp. He worked his jaw
from side to side. "The harder I
slave to heal humanity the less tolerance I seem to feel for them. There are days, my friend, when I actually
hate having patients. Does that make me
a poor excuse for a doctor? Jesus,
man! I'm scared, one day I'm going to
make an incision and just keep on cutting."
himself out of the sofa and sat on the edge of the desk. He manipulated the photograph an inch this
way and that, and peered at it through a blanket of cigar smoke smelling like
dung. He chewed the cigar with talent,
shifting it from cheek to cheek, savoring its acrid juice. "You said, 'them'", and he looked
up from the photograph casting a familiar sharp eye on Robert. "You have less tolerance for 'them' you
said, as if the human race is something you're not a part of? Hell, you're so far from the Chumash, Bob --
you're like a black man. 'They're' not
your people? Well, who are your
people? 'Cause, buddy, we all got
never die. You smoke like a burning
craphouse in the field at midnight and then you throw alcohol on the fire, and
you don't slow down. The older you get
the faster you think. You don't miss
anything. I respect you. I envy you, Jack. I hate your pickled guts. "For Christ's sake, Jack,
that cock cigar you're smoking stinks like a burning yeast infection and you
talk to me about changing my air?
And what do
you mean, 'a black man'? I'm like a
offended, Jack extended the distance between them walking over to a far wall,
feigning interest in the pictures and diplomas. He reached up straightening one, stepped back and lifted an arm,
one thick hand, and waved it in small circular motions conducting sax, Julian
'Cannonball' Adderley. "Hell, they
call themselves African Americans. But
they could no more go back to being African natives – I mean, they couldn't
live the life." He spun around
bending forward at the waist, not moving any closer. "Would they ever be accepted?" He ripped the wet cigar out of his mouth
shaking it at Robert. "No! They're Americans, by God! Forced, I'll grant you that. Oppressed, poverty stricken, imprisoned, and
with a serious two centuries old PR problem that runs so deep, now they
generate self-stigma from father to son -- but Americans nevertheless. Poor, luckless bastards. As long you live, you'll never hear a Jew
call another Jew a kike, or the Irish call each other micks, but blacks, they
call each other nigger all day long.
people don't choose to become disenfranchised at first, but I think, to an
extent, they perpetuate it as a lifestyle.
My group, your group, a kind of pride fueled by rage – it's a
disease. But some diseases get so huge,
so insidious, society can't eradicate them.
So, they hire politicians, like me, to manage the disease, to legislate
discovered Robert's football ashtray and stashed the stogy, wrinkling his nose,
viewing the crumpled butt as if he never really enjoyed the thing.
you go back to life on the reservation?" and Jack allowed himself a giant
fall back into the sofa.
head still as stone, Robert trailed him with his eyes.
over, elbows dug into his knees.
"We've got eight Native American physicians in California. Eight!
You made it. But your success
didn't come knocking without impunity.
By God, look at that room out there, buddy. Look at me. Do you see
one god-damned Indian out there?"
Jack went digging into his inside coat pocket for another cigar, and he grabbed
it half way out of its hiding place, but sniffing at the air like a giant Irish
beaver he tucked the plastic wrapped tube back into his pocket. "You're right. These things smell like shit. I smell like shit. Ellen says so. How do
women do that? She smokes and drinks as
much as I do, and she smells like a fuckin' rose garden in July.
Let me ask
you something, Doc."
shifted towards his old friend and his eyes widened. He parted thin lips without words. Uh, huh… It's coming.
you remember anything? When you look at
that picture – anything?"
audible, like an organic heart beat, Miles gently strained twisted, reaching
tones out of his trumpet, repeating a three chord structure hypnotically,
improvising with each pass, bending notes, drawing in on experience, blowing
out his past. And then the drums faded
in and up like a precision machine. The
stereo panel glowed in front of Robert, floating across his vision.
remember sitting on a cane chair in front of the small grocery store on our
reservation," and Robert closed his eyes.
He smiled, but Jack knew Robert too well to take it as anything other
than a bitter smirk. "It was as
hot as burning your cheek with a flat iron, and I was nine years old and dirty,
sticking my tongue so far out it hurt.
Man, I wanted to get the 'big lick' eating my ice cream. The big lick with the sun in my eyes meant
it was late, almost time to be getting home.
Ed Sullivan time, '…from New York City!'" he opened his eyes
slapping his hands on the desk edge.
my father, Frank White Bird, was busy talking to an elder, a crazy guy slapping
a sweat stained hat against his dusty jeans.
If I dared say a word, Pops would pick me up and throw me. One time I landed in the rear bed of his
pick-up. I bounced off his stash of
beer cans and two exploded. Pops beat
me for it, but I knew it was his fault, and when we got back to our little
house, Moms threw the blanket up out of the doorway and stood there
yelling. Pops dumped me out of the
truck and took off for a month. I
it was rumored that this elder – the old guy Pops was talking to -- knew all of
the stories, and that he still drank Datura.
I remember him waving his arms in the air, drawing circles with his
crooked old fingers, and trying not to whistle through the gap in his tea
stained teeth while he spoke. He said,
'It was a time when Glowing Hands stalked the earth as a bear and practiced his
healing in secret.'
asked, 'did the great shaman practice in secret?'
the bear doctor's vision of healing was misunderstood and The People feared it
as evil. Glowing Hands understood that
to heal the patient meant to heal the family, the village, the nation.'
you, old man!' Pops was a mean son of a
bitch. He beat me more than once. I remember.
And then he asks, 'How can a great shaman heal in secret?' But Frank didn't really want to know, and he
kicked up a little dust cloud digging the walking heels of his boots into the
dirt. That was Pops, Frank White
Bird. And he was talking to Gray Cat
Elder – an important elder -- but he didn't especially want to know that
searched his memory for an eternal moment.
"And Gray Cat Elder said, 'Because, the bear lived in the world of
no time and no space. Knowing this,
Glowing Hands stalked the earth through all time and all space.'
let go a short, whistling sigh looking into the dust. 'Now the family, the village, and the nation are not well in
their time,' he said. 'They are sick at
heart, sad of eye. Their minds are
agitated, sometimes raging like mad dogs down at the auto wrecking yard. It seems as if the soul itself is confounded
beyond repair. Truly, it is a time when
men stalk the earth.'
smiled, pushing his sunglasses further up along his nose, pressing them against
a ridge between his eyes. I could tell
he liked the elder -- lucky for the elder.
'So,' Pops says, 'what happened?
Where is he now, this great bear shaman, this Glowing Hands?' Not that Frank gave a crap.
looked at me and smiled. I was
lucky. That evening, Pops looked at me
and smiled. 'Come on, Bobby. Time to be getting home,' he says. 'Time for Ed Sullivan from New York
City. That elder, he doesn't know me,
doesn't know who I am.'
I ask him,
'What do you mean, Pops?'
Hands was my father, your grandfather.
The old fool.'
We took off
in his truck leaving Gray Cat Elder in a dust cloud. I remember it, but I'd rather not."
leg over the other, Jack pulled on the creases of his beige slacks.
played enough poker against Jack to know all of his 'tells', and this straightening
of his creases heightened Robert's senses.
The short hairs on his neck stood at attention. It seemed to him that the jazz had grown
complex and frenzied. He reached for
the remote switching the music off.
Bob, I'm not gonna pretend I don't have an agenda here. I do.
My district is steeped in my group, your group, politics – Native
American history – and the tribal chief is twisting my arm, and I'm inclined to
agree with him."
for Christ's fucking sake, spit it out!"
want to build a casino. They want me to
pressure the council. You own strategic
parcels of land between Malibu and Santa Barbara, and the Injuns want gambling
overlooking the ocean."
who? I ought a break your damned
wait just a minute here, Bob. The
historic titles to several parcels of your land are in question."
know that Malibu beach front property you hold across from Topanga State
the lagoon is? The museum and tourist
house? Nobody knows I own that. How the hell…"
cleared his throat. "I sit atop
the Bandini Mountain, buddy. I'm a
councilman. I do my homework. That land was Humaliwu. It was a village, one of the largest. Let's see-" he scratched his chin,
"-what did that mean? Very romantic. Oh, yeah, 'The surf sounds loudly'."
of his seat, Robert hovered over Jack like a bear in the shadows. Even his white teeth shone in his square jaw
like an angry bear. "And the
government stole it from The People, and I stole it back!"
shouted, "And it's got a Chumash cemetery site on it!"
"What?" The bear retreated. Robert sat down, staring at Jack with a
question mark scrawled across his face.
buddy. Lots of bones. Piles of bones.
Bobby, this is getting complicated.
However, as a full-blooded Chumash, you have a legal right in your own
nation to own that land, on the other hand, you don't."
do you mean, I don't?"
the secretary of the interior's office tells me whoever sold you that land was
acting without the permission of the United States government. It's part of the parks system, and their
office will contest the sale.
has informed me that there are tribal laws concerning who can own what acreage
within the tribal landscape. You see,
it's parceled out according to its resources versus your contribution to the
The pit of
Robert's stomach ached. "Keep
in close. "All right. If you were a medicine doctor, you know, one
of those shamans, and the land was rich in some medicinal herbs, well, you'd
have a claim to it under tribal law."
Turning away momentarily, Jack slapped his knee. Then he faced his friend eye to eye. "But you turned your back on the
Chumash. You left the reservation, the
community that needs your skills. The
Chumash nation is not happy with you, buddy-boy. You might as well be a pale fa-, a Caucasian, for all the good
you're doing them."
night the large house by the lake sat quiet, surrounded in light summer mist
floating just above the water. In the
upstairs master bedroom, Maddie and Robert stretched out under white cotton
sheets catching up on their reading and only vaguely aware of the television
flickering against a far wall. Robert
found his concentration scattered, shifting from the medical text in front of
him to his earlier disturbing conversation with Jack Macy. He lie bare-chested and Maddie kept glancing
over, studying the defined lines of his pectorals, her eyes journeying down to
her husband's etched upper abdominals.
He pretended not to notice -- his mood catching him on edge. Besides, he thought, I love her,
but the woman's about to explode. What
is she thinking?
She twitched her nose closing her eyes for a split second,
long enough to plan the assault. In
another second she dropped her novel over the side of the bed, grabbed his
medical journal and flung it across the room.
you're eyeing me like an insane woman.
Your bedside manners suck. So do
your library manners. Didn't your mama
teach you anything?"
"Oh? Am I not beautiful?"
but you're very beautiful."
with beauty like mine, Doctor, I don't need manners. I fed you, made you a party.
Now, you come across."
Robert smiled leaning on one elbow, and Maddie ran her fingers
along the curve of his bicep, trailing, cupping her hand over his large, dense
shoulder. "Have I mentioned to you
that you're pregnant?"
a doctor. You know what to do. How-to-do?" She lifted the sheets tossing them away.
spite of everything swimming in his head, grew hard, and he reached for her
because she belonged to him. "You
don't have any whips do you?" He
ran both of his strong hands over her smooth round belly and leaned over
her. He kissed her navel driving his
her head negatively, slowly, and a cascade of blond hair fell caressing her
face, and he stared up at her, rubbing one rough cheek against her warmth,
"Oh, that's too bad…"
hearts were slowing down when the telephone rang and Maddie picked up the
receiver. She laughed. "No.
We're- It's fine, Ellen. I
thought you'd be asleep by now."
She placed her hand over the mouthpiece whispering to Robert, "It's
didn't give his wife more than a moment to view the dyspeptic expression
crawling over his face before he jumped out of bed, turned, and made tracks
down the hall. In the shadows outside
Kyle's bedroom door, he paused standing on bare feet, wearing loose pajama
bottoms. Robert crept into the room
where his son slept. He closed the only
window, locking it, and standing over his son watching him sleep, he bent down
the great distance kissing the boy gently on his forehead.
Coyote, he thought, you will never
touch this boy.