issue 51: January - February 2006 

| author bio

Nora Pierce

The Arizona sun is already lighting up the reservation when Arlene finds her uncle passed out on the couch. He’s sprawled on the ratty plaid cushions, his mouth open, one arm reaching toward a turned-over beer can. Since he’s been away for four weeks (gone to Oakland with a bunch of friends in a rusty pickup to start a new life), Arlene calls her auntie at the phlebotomy lab.
      "Is he dead?" Auntie Bettie asks.
      "I don’t know," Arlene says, "I can check."
      "Hell, girl, I was just fooling. He’s passed out is all, stinking up the place. See if he’s got any money."
      "I can’t, Auntie, I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got English first and if I have to run extra laps, I’ll be late and Mr. Carver won’t let me into the classroom."
      "Just check his wallet before he wakes up. He owes us more than he’ll ever have, the bastard."
      "Alright." Arlene puts the phone down on the kitchen table and counts to ten. She keeps still, watching little spirals of dust rise around Uncle Jimmy’s open mouth. When he snores, the dust speeds up, making a little whirling nebula. At nine one thousand, she picks up the phone.
      "Are you sure? Did you check his pockets too?"
      "Yeah, I’m sure."
      "All right, then. Check what’s in the fridge. He’s likely going to eat us out of house and home."
      "I’ve got to go, Auntie Bettie."
      "Okay, but take the toilet paper with you."
      "Take it with you. Serves the bastard right."
      In Mr. Carver’s class last month, Arlene read a story about a maquilladora, a sweatshop on the border where women stitched knots into the zippers of the dresses they were sewing. The zipper would catch when a woman tried to put the dress on and tear clear down the back. "Passive Resistance," Mr. Carver called it. Arlene has since become adept at spotting it. Once at the lab, while Arlene waited in a sticky black chair, a skinny woman had come in and looked at Auntie Bettie as if Auntie Bettie were a dog who’d messed on her lawn.
      "Is that a new needle?" she asked as Auntie Bettie pulled on a pair of gloves. "Would you mind unwrapping another one so I can see?"
      Auntie Bettie said "Sure, no problem." She took her time unwrapping another needle and inspecting the woman’s arms before sticking her.
      "You just have the most stubborn little buggers," Auntie Bettie said, and she missed again and again until the woman’s eyes fluttered and two small tears eased down her cheeks.
      Arlene has noticed the passive resistance in herself too. When Uncle Jimmy asks her for a beer, she takes it out of the refrigerator and shakes it up first, so half the beer bubbles out. She’s even noticed it in her little sister Shirley, who’s only five. Arlene has seen Shirley pour drops of beer into the toilet as she carries it into him. It is passive resistance, she knows, this thing with the toilet paper, but Auntie Bettie will be angry if she doesn’t take it, so she stuffs the roll into her backpack before leaving.

After running two sprints, Arlene stretches out on the dugout benches. Running makes her feel purposeful, as if there is something urgent waiting for her to reach it, so urgent that she has to push herself as fast and hard as she can. But there is never anything satisfying at the end, so she just keeps running. The scholarship sending her to Yale in the fall, however, is not the end to which she’s running. Rather, it feels like something that has caught up with her, run right past her, and now sits waiting for her on the other side of the finish line. Sometimes she feels as if she can see it, an entire college with arms and legs, sitting on the bleachers. In these moments, she wants to sprint quickly in the opposite direction.
      The familiar caw of cheerleaders is spreading around the field. This week everyone has found out who has been accepted at the competitive colleges and who is headed for community college. Arlene is the reason all the cheerleaders are going to State; this is what they always talk about whenever one of them lays eyes on her.
      "You just have to be a Native American," one of them says. They say Native American in the same way they would say syphilis or special-ed. If you’re a Native American, they’ll give you everything. The girls look at her with eyes like window blinds rolling in their faces, up and down on her slender body. Then someone says loudly, "They’re just jealous cause you’re so guapa, Arlie." Arlene sits up on the bench. It’s Freddy. Freddy’s from Puerto Rico but everyone thinks he’s Mexican. "Go back to Mexico," they’re always saying.
      "I’m from San Juan," he tells them, and they say, "San What?"
      "San H-wan," he says.
      "This ain’t Tijuana," they say, "this is America!"
      He never gets a break. Also, he’s gay, and that doesn’t help. On the way to class he tries to cheer Arlene up. "What joo gonna complain about being Indian for?" Freddie counts on his fingers. Ring finger: there’s money for school; middle finger: that cool bar in the casino. He has to think for a moment, but what he comes up with next warrants two fingers: just the fact of being a freakin Indian.
      "It’s one big fat hole is what it is." Arlene traces a big O in the air around Freddy’s face, "One big nothingness."
Arlene listens outside Mr. Carver’s half-open door, not daring to step inside. Mr. Carver is the only teacher who does not view being a minority as a disease that is contagious, but she knows if she goes into his class late or without a book, he will stare her down and fling his arm at the door, shouting, "If you can’t come to class prepared, you might as well just get out!"
      When the bell rings, she goes in and apologizes.
      "Uh huh," Mr. Carver says, not looking up from The New York Review of Books. "Your aunt was here." He pushes a note across the desk toward her. She immediately recognizes the stationery: a teddy bear in the upper right corner, holding a bouquet of six balloons, and a banner with the shadow letters Mrs. Bettie Marie Horseherder.

      Wait for Uncle Jimmy after Scool.
      (Be nice)

      There is no explaining why she sets the note down on Mr. Carver’s desk right then and adds an h to the word school.
      She goes to the pay phone and calls Auntie Bettie.
      "What now?" she asks.
      "Oh Honey, it’s about time the man got some sense, he’s really changing."
      "Changing again? That’s the second time this month."
      "No, for real. He sent me flowers, had them delivered to the office where everyone could see. You got to wait for him and show him where to go. He got into the night school, baby. He’s gonna be an EMT."
      "An E-M- who?"
      "A paramedic. It’s a certificate."
      "He has to do that here?"
      "Yes, Arlene, that’s where it is. He wants you to drive home with him. You can just do your homework while you’re waiting."
      At the end of the day, she walks with Uncle Jimmy to the gymnasium where there are wilting and curling signs taped to the concrete walls. She drops him off under CPR and goes to the library, but who can get anything done with all the vacuuming? She glares at the custodian, but feels bad for taking it out on him. So she decides to run. She runs until the sun begins to sink.
      When Uncle Jimmy finally comes out, he pants across the football field, trying to catch up with her. Little sweat beads have erupted on his forehead and his face is flushed with the same red stripes worn by the Blackfoot warrior in the poster he gave her for her birthday. Under the chief is the slogan, FryBread Power!
      Shirley has inherited the poster, and she’s always pointing to the letters saying, "Fr, Fr, what’s it say again, Arlene?"
      "FryBread Power," Arlene says, and then Shirley heaves the cushions off the couch like they are giant boulders and tosses them around the living room. She holds her arms out to fly like Superman and shouts, "FryBread Power!"
      Arlene stops so Uncle Jimmy can catch his breath. He leans over and plants his hands on his bulging jeans, breathing rapidly.
      In the parking lot, he unlocks the truck door for her. "Let’s go, little Herder."
      Arlene gets into the pickup and opens her textbook. She bends over to shade him out with the black curtain of her hair.
      "You look like my old uncle, you know?" Uncle Jimmy says.
      "Now that’s a man could dance."
      "You ever learn how to dance Cherokee style? Your mother’s Cocopah, I know, but I learned how to dance Cherokee style, all the styles, when I was your age."
      "I could stay at them powwows all day. Everybody would go home without me."
      Arlene lifts her head to the window and rolls her eyes, but Uncle Jimmy wags his fingers inches from her cheek.
      "You ain’t listening, little girl, are you?"
      "You are about just as white as you can be, ain’t you? If we was living back in the Indian days, you’d be the first one to sell us out."
      "Shut up, Uncle Jimmy, just cause I don’t dance? It’s not even our tradition, it’s just a stupid show." Arlene jerks forward and catches the dashboard with the palm of her hand when Uncle Jimmy slams the breaks and pulls off the road.
      "Get out."
      "Get out."
      When she hesitates, Uncle Jimmy leans across her and opens the passenger door.
      "Where are you going?" she says.
      "None of your business."
      Arlene slams the truck door, but holds on to the open window frame. "Jesus, Uncle Jimmy, I’m sorry, okay?"
      He pries Arlene’s fingers off the door frame one by one and then puts the truck in gear.
      Arlene starts running. She’s relieved not to have her heavy backpack, but if it doesn’t show up for school tomorrow Mr. Carver will have her ass. After a mile she stops to check her time. She’s off by a minute and a half, so she curses Uncle Jimmy out loud and pushes her speed for the next mile.

Inside the trailer, Shirley is sitting at the kitchen table with a plastic baggie on her head. She says, "Hey, Arlene! Uncle Jimmy’s back!"
      "Lice," Auntie Bettie says. She removes the bag and lifts a soggy strand of Shirley’s hair. She waves it at Arlene as if it were a pointer stick. "Sent home for the third time this week for lice. I had to leave work and get her again this morning."
      Arlene goes to the bathroom and runs the water, pretending to wash up, but instead sits on the toilet trying to think. But Auntie Bettie keeps talking, shouting so Arlene can hear.
      "If that damn nurse would check the rest of the first graders’ heads, maybe she’d find out where it was really coming from."
      "Keep her home then."
      "Home with who, you? Where’s your uncle?"
      "I don’t know."
      Auntie Bettie comes to the bathroom doorway holding the lice comb in her hand. Arlene fixes her eyes on the little bits of inky shampoo dripping onto the floor.
      "What do you mean, you don’t know? Didn’t you wait for him?"
      "Yeah." Arlene takes her hair out of the ponytail she has just made, turns to the mirror and busies herself with putting it up again. "He dropped me off."
      "Aw Jesus, Arlene, what the hell are you two fighting about again?"
      "It’s not my fault." Arlene kicks the bathroom door shut.
      Auntie Bettie knocks. "Arlene." Knocks again, "Arlene!"
      Arlene sits on the edge of the bathtub and holds the shower curtain against her ears until she hears Auntie Bettie’s muffled footsteps, the noise of her key chain.
      "Finish this child’s hair, Arlene!"
      When the screen door slams, Arlene goes out to the kitchen. Shirley is separating clumps of her hair, pulling out eggs. Arlene lifts her into the bathtub and rests Shirley’s head in her palm under the tap (it’s so light). Shirley holds her nose so that her voice sounds silly and nasal.
      "I got cooties from Abel," she says. "He’s always trying to kiss me."
      "So next time run away, runt."
      Arlene wrings Shirley’s hair out. Syrupy clumps swirl around the drain. When Arlene lifts her out, she pouts, "Where’s Uncle Jimmy?" Her breath smells like Doritos. Shirley drips water onto the bathroom linoleum, scratches at her head, and begins to cry. Arlene presses the towel into her face, pushing hard at her eyes, trying to shove the tears back into Shirley’s chest.
      "Ow." Shirley smacks at her. "You’re hurting me, Arlene!"
      In the kitchen, Shirley pours soda into a plastic cup full of ice. She pours the soda in carefully, watching the foam fill up and almost spill out of the top of the cup, then recede. But the bottle slips and pours out steadily onto the kitchen floor. Shirley sits down in it, holding her emptied cup, and cries. Arlene tries to lift her out of the mess so she can clean it up, but Shirley won’t budge. She sobs and kicks at Arlene, "I hate you," she whines, "I want Uncle Jimmy."
      Shirley finally cheers up when she finds she has the hiccups, and Arlene cleans up all the soda. Shirley is holding her nose and trying to drink a glass of water at the same time when they hear Uncle Jimmy’s pickup out front. Shirley bolts to the door. He scoops her up, "You still awake, little woman?" Up high on his hip, Shirley leans her forehead into his and grins. When Shirley’s glasses slide down her nose onto Uncle Jimmy’s face, she giggles and Arlene feels something sharp like envy. Jimmy sits on the couch and drops his feet onto the coffee table, sending a flurry of congealed corned beef hash and paper plates flying onto the carpet. He chugs a whole beer and gives a six-pack to Shirley to put in the refrigerator. Arlene wonders out loud why he even bothers to refrigerate them. He opens another with his key chain. The air bursts out and the cap falls to the floor. Shirley chases after it like a firecracker with a trail of cold sparks flying after it.
      "I thought you quit," Arlene says.
      "I did. It’s a beer, ain’t it? It ain’t whiskey."
      "I didn’t say I was getting off beer now, did I? What I said is that I was getting off liquor."
      "Whatever," Arlene says.
      "Like, Oh-my-God, whatever," the two of them mock her. Jimmy squinches his lips up, rolls his eyes. Shirley flails around dramatically, "Whatever, whatever."
      Arlene leaves the room.
      "What you need," Uncle Jimmy calls. "Is some cultural education."
      The next day at school, while Mr. Carver is passing out copies of Animal Farm, he pauses at Arlene’s desk and places an office referral in front of her.
      "Busy social calendar, Ms. Horseherder?"
      On the way to the office Arlene stops by Freddie’s French class and waves at him through the door on the window. Freddie gets a bathroom pass from Mr. Gaylord’s desk and comes out to link arms with her.
      "Where joo going, Flacita? It’s not lunch yet."
      She hands him the note.
      "Mira," he says, when they reach the office door. "It’s your favorite uncle." He slaps her rear, imitating Uncle Jimmy’s nasally tones, "Buck up, Little Herder!" He kisses Arlene on the cheek before walking back to French class.
      When Arlene enters the office, Uncle Jimmy is holding his hand out for the principal to shake.
      "Healing Bear," he says.
      Healing Bear? Arlene sits on the free chair. Please.
      "Arlene," Principal Whitaker says, "We’re letting you go for a cultural activity."
      "A what?"
      "White Horse Inter-Tribal." Uncle Jimmy smiles. The principal’s face breaks out in happiness.
      "You’re taking me out of school to go to a powwow?"
      "Damn straight."
      Arlene stands up, "Fine, fine, James."
      And she tries to slam the door on Principal Whitaker’s shiny pumps.
The powwow is in the run-down gymnasium at Maricopa Middle School. The parking lot is packed with pickups and rusty old cars. Most look pieced together from twenty-year-old parts. There's half a Ford with a VW door screwed and duct-taped on, and a pickup with a bed made from two wooden doors sealed together. A woman in a booth is selling scraps of buckskin and plastic bins full of turtle shells. Alcoholics Anonymous flyers are stuffed in the metal trashcans with empty beer cans. Grand Entry doesn't start till three hours later, so Arlene sits in the grass next to Uncle Jimmy’s empty booth, eating gummy fry bread and drinking a coke. He sits behind an unadorned wooden frame with nothing to sell. He’s breathing heavy in the sun, overweight and overheated, sitting there with a stethoscope and a blood pressure pump around his neck.
      "You should have gotten a sign or something," Arlene suggests. Uncle Jimmy ignores her. Someone stops by, thinking he is someone else.
      "Ain’t you with the fire circle drummers?"
      Uncle Jimmy offers his hand. "Healing Bear," he says, "I’m doing blood pressure checks. I’m a medic."
      Embarrassed, Arlene makes her way over to the lawn chairs set up on the periphery of the dancing area. Her aunts, real and honorary, are passing around plates of fry bread and repairing loosened tobacco tops that have fallen off the smallest cousin’s jingle dress.
      "Arlene," Auntie V says. She pulls Arlene’s head down to her own and kisses her on the forehead. "We was just talking about you. I am so proud."
      Auntie Opal motions to Jimmy’s booth, "What’s your uncle up to over there?"
      "He’s a paramedic now." Arlene can’t help it; her eyes seem to roll of their own volition.
      "Maybe he’ll stick with it," Auntie Opal says, "Start treating your poor auntie right."
      "Doubtful," Arlene says.
      Auntie V offers around a plate of fry bread. "Arlene’s a half-empty type of person."
      "There’s nothing in the glass so far as I can see," Arlene says.
      "Well the roots are deep," Auntie Carmen says, "What’s an Indian without his land, that’s an Indian without roots, and how the hell can you stand up in the world without your feet planted in something?"
      "That ain’t it," Auntie V says, "You just inherited the same story we all got, Arlene."
      "Lemme tell you now, my father, he calls me from some rehab center, from the pay phone where all the sorry-ass injuns call up their kids and tell them how everything’s gonna be different now that they are sober, and all of fifteen minutes! Calls me up and says, ‘I’m sorry, you forgive me? I ain’t gonna drink no more.’ He calls me from that pay phone not four, not five, but six times, and I’m all of eight years old. "Here I come,’ he says ‘I’m coming home to see you, you just wait. Wait for me, now.’ So there’s me on the steps of our trailer, waiting, because of those goddamn words."
      "We learned it from the white man," Auntie Carmen interrupts, "how to use those words. Don’t cost you nothing. Just stay here, take these horses, we gonna give you all this land and you don’t got to worry about nothing. Here, take these blankets, sign right here under these words, here I come, you just wait. Yeah, you just wait until the buffalo start flyin'."
      She leans back in her beach chair and the sun skips across her tar-colored hair. Arlene notices jealously that it’s so liquid-shiny, the crown of her head actually reflects the sun. A giant fist points out from her T-shirt. ‘Free Leonard Peltier!’ it shouts.
      "Hush up, Carmen, would ya?" Auntie Opal takes Arlene by the shoulders. "My point is, words are shit. And they’re shit because they’re everything. Like any magic, they can turn on you."
      "Oh for Christ’s sake, what has Arlene got to be so bitter about? Who cares about that crap?" Auntie V hugs Arlene. "You’re going to Yale, girl. And the bottom line is," she points at each of the women, "I ain’t never heard a none a you injuns going to Yale."
      When Auntie V lets Arlene out of the hug, a terrible silence has spread out among the dancers. The Fancy Shawl dancers are standing still in a little clump under the basketball hoop, their bright red shawls and beaded fringe drooping onto the floor. A very old man in a blue lamé vest and turkey feathers is trying urgently to get out of his chair at the judges table. "Oh my God," Auntie Opal whispers. The fry bread tumbles out of her lap when she stands, "Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!"
      At the top row of benches on the bleachers, a young Indian man is swaying with his eyes closed. He still holds a beer in his hand. He’s drifting forward, drifting back, as if in deep, kinetic meditation. Groups of people are running up the stairs toward him, climbing over seats two at a time. A young woman has almost reached him when Arlene hears someone screaming. The man's hat falls off, bouncing down the bleachers, and then he follows, doing an entire flip off the side of the stands before landing on his back beside the bleachers.
      "Christ, he must have passed out." Auntie Opal winces, and they all watch Uncle Jimmy lumbering across the powwow grounds toward the bleachers.
      The sun is beginning to go down and they are calling for War Dancers when Uncle Jimmy finally returns from the hospital. He has ridden in the ambulance as if he was a relative and Arlene wonders what the poor man thought when he came to. People greet Uncle Jimmy like he’s just scored a touchdown, patting him on the back and walking up to shake his hand. The emcee waves him over and asks him to say a few words to the crowd. Uncle Jimmy leans over the microphone and bows his head solemnly.
      He says, "The most important thing in the world to me is my people."
      "Let’s hear it for Healing Bear!" the emcee says and everyone cheers and does the wave for him. Auntie Opal looks at Arlene. "Healing Bear?"
      Arlene rides home with the aunts, and by the time she steps into the trailer, Auntie Bettie and Shirley have already heard several versions.
      "Did Uncle Jimmy really catch the guy?" Shirley asks.
      "Jesus, of course not," Arlene says, "It was a full-grown man, the same size as Uncle Jimmy."
      "But he saved him, right?"
      "Yeah," Arlene says, "FryBread Power."
      Arlene stays with Shirley so Auntie Bettie can go celebrate with Uncle Jimmy. She helps Shirley make fish sticks, and then carries her to bed. Shirley lifts her head from the crook of Arlene’s shoulder and says in a groggy voice, "Tell Uncle Jimmy when he gets home, he can wake me up."
      But when Auntie Bettie finally returns, she’s alone. "Bastard," she slurs, "Goddamn useless drunk." And then she passes out on the couch where Uncle Jimmy usually sleeps. Arlene shakes a blanket over her and then sits on the floor in front of her. Auntie Bettie cares enough about Uncle Jimmy to get falling down drunk over him. Arlene can’t think of anyone she needs so much. She puts her sweats on and runs out to the edge of the road, then as far as the gas station, then down the highway until her sweat begins to chill her. It strikes her that Uncle Jimmy has saved someone. Saved a life. Another useless drunk like himself, but still a life. And what has she done? Run around in circles for no reason, studied analogies? What use will she be when she gets back from as far away and as strange a place as Connecticut, filled up with nonsense or full of meaningless platitudes like Auntie Carmen?
      She keeps running till she finds herself panting outside the Greyhound station. She studies the schedule as if it were a dinner menu, finally picking Tucson because it’s the cheapest, and slides her money under the plexiglass window. But almost as soon as the bus pulls out of the lot, Arlene’s heart speeds up. A heat crawls up the back of her neck and lingers at the top of her head. Out here alone, or on her way to being alone, she feels as if she’s spinning uncontrollably. There's nothing to hold her together, no boundaries to close her in. What am I? she thinks. Nothing? Nothing multiplied? She makes her way to the front of the bus.
      "Excuse me sir," she says, "Could you stop?"
      "There’s a bathroom in the back," he says.
      "No, I mean could you let me off."
      "In Tucson."
      "I made a mistake," she says, "I’m on the wrong bus, sir."
      "You’ll have to switch up when we get there."
      "You’ve got to let me out of here!"
      He looks over at her slowly, his face bored. "Suit yourself," he says, and pulls the bus to the side of the road.
      By the time she has run all the way home, she’s exhausted. She curls up next to Auntie Bettie on the couch and falls into a hard, dreamless sleep.

It’s funny how it doesn’t startle her, the steady knocking like an alarm going off. It begins gently, and grows to a crescendo. Auntie Bettie doesn’t stir. Arlene places her hands and forehead on the front door. It buckles inward, as Uncle Jimmy bangs and kicks it, making little swords of light through the cracks at the bottom.
      "Fuck," he says, "A man has a right to come into his own house!" She can see from the violent shaking where his fists are hitting the door, and she lays her hands on the spots as his fists move. When the knocking has ceased for a good five minutes, she opens the door. He is passed out at the bottom of the four rickety metal steps attached to the trailer. He wears a jacket with an elaborate Navajo design on the back. It has hitched up over his shoulders and covers his ballooned cheek.
      Arlene sits on the bottom step, pulls her T-shirt over her knees, and hugs herself in the night chill. She pushes lightly on Uncle Jimmy’s sleeping body with her bare foot and talks to him. "Will you save me, Uncle Jimmy?" she asks him. "Catch me if I fall off some bleachers? When I pass out on the quad in the middle of some cold Connecticut night, who’s gonna come out and keep me company?"
      She pulls her arms inside the sleeves of her shirt, wraps her cold fingers around her waist and feels the rigid fence of her ribs. After a while, Shirley’s bare feet pad down the steps and stop behind Arlene. She wraps her arms around Arlene’s shoulders and squeezes. "Let’s sleep out here," she says.
      In the late morning, after Auntie Bettie has emptied the entire bottle of aspirin into her purse, she steps right over Uncle Jimmy, carrying the sleeping Shirley, and goes to work at the lab.
      But he is gone when they get home. Arlene and Shirley try to talk to Auntie Bettie, who sits and smokes at the kitchen table with a hand of solitaire laid out before her. Shirley tugs on her. "Leave me be," she says, "I’m trying to think. Can’t you see I’m trying to think?"
      When Arlene gets home late from Tuesday track practice, she finds Auntie Bettie and Shirley sitting on the couch. Auntie Bettie holds the cut-off notice for the gas and electric, the overdue phone bill, and the notices to appear in court. She squeezes them tightly. "That’s it," she says, "he’s not getting another drop from me. As far as I’m concerned, he can rot in hell." Shirley begins to cry. Arlene picks her up and takes her into the bedroom. She braids and unbraids Shirley’s hair until she falls asleep.
When he finally does return, it is Shirley who answers the door. She peeks out of a little crack, the chain lock still attached, smiles, and unlocks the door.
      Auntie Bettie is washing dishes in the kitchen. The table is littered with spilled pork and beans and hot dog rolls. "What do you want, Jimmy?" Auntie Bettie picks up one of Shirley’s Ronald McDonald collector glasses and starts scrubbing it way too hard with a dishrag. A whiteness climbs up her fingers from pressing so hard. Jimmy goes into the kitchen, slips his arm around her waist, pulling her close.
      Shirley stays frozen in the doorway. "Hey, stupid," Arlene says, "stop staring." She nestles under Arlene’s shoulder. Arlene squeezes both of Shirley’s braids, holding on tight, for what might come.
      "I’m sorry," Uncle Jimmy says quietly, earnestly.
      Like he means it, Arlene thinks, silently rooting for him.
      He is so close to Auntie Bettie’s face, but she turns away from him.
      "God, Jimmy, can’t you ever come here sober?" She flicks her hair back from where it has swirled around her elbows and the staticky black strands float up around her face like the gypsy in the fortuneteller box.
      "I don’t want to hate you, Jimmy."
      "Don’t," he says.
      "I can’t afford a babysitter, and I can’t keep sending the kids over to Opal’s. I got to be embarrassed for you, Jimmy, making up excuses and trying to find my way out of the messes you get us in. I can’t even be angry with you. I don’t got any of that left in me. I just don’t want you here no more. You only make it worse for me."
      Shirley reaches up and holds onto Arlene’s arm. They stay together in the hallway, watching.
      "I’m changing, Bettie. Bettie Marie? I don’t know what got in to me. I just wanted to get a little breathing room is all. I swear." He takes her hand in his, kisses the top of her head.
      "Jimmy..." Auntie Bettie is almost crying, "Jimmy, quit it."
      He kisses her cheek, her forehead.
      When they come out of the back room, Shirley and Arlene are on the couch. Shirley has fallen asleep in the noise of cartoons. Her head rests in Arlene’s lap and her eyelashes flick like two little moth wings around a light in her face. Jimmy brushes his hand across her cheek, and tilts Arlene’s chin up.
      "Guess who loves me now?" he says.


© Nora Pierce 2006

This story may not be archived, reproduced or distributed further without the author's express permission. Please see our conditions of use.

author bio

Nora PierceNora Pierce is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her first  novel, The Insufficiency of Maps, is forthcoming from Atria/Simon and Schuster.

Contact the author


issue 51: January - February 2006


Niall Griffiths: Coming of Age
David Ramos Fernandes:
Nora Pierce:
Guess Who Loves Me Now?
Caroline Kepnes:
Katie Arnsteen:
Long Ride Home

picks from back issues

Pete Duval: Fun With Mammals
Adam Johnson:
Trauma Plate


James Meek


Harold Pinter
answers to last issue’s quiz, Harry Potter

book reviews

The People’s Act of Love by James Meek
The Blind Rider by Juan Goytisolo
Borrowed Light by Joolz Denby
Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol

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